Ivan van der Veld is a passionate hobby photographer and the co-founder of Xpozer. As an engineer, he loves the technical aspects of photography. But even more, he loves how photography continues to inspire and motivate him to try new things and go on new adventures. We talked with him about his newest photography goal and how working toward it has changed his life.
The best reason in the world
I’ve always loved to travel, to be out in nature and to experience other cultures. Photography gives me the best reason in the world to get out and do things that I wouldn’t otherwise push myself to do. If I want to capture the shot I picture in my mind, the photo I imagine hanging on my wall, then I can’t stop halfway up the mountain. I have to reach the summit to shoot it. Photography gets me there.
Aiming for Son Doong
The Son Doong is the largest cave in the world, with spaces so massive that a forty-story skyscraper could stand inside it, yet fewer people have been inside than have stood on the summit of Mount Everest. Underground jungles, mist from its own localized weather system, alien-like stalagmites and stalactites and baseball-sized cave pearls: I just have to see it and capture it myself. But to do that I will need to pass an extensive medical and fitness screening.
Stronger than ever
I never used to be a sporty person, but now my mornings begin with a workout. The only way to reach Son Doong is by trekking 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) through the Vietnamese jungle with all my gear on my back. Inside the cave, there are freezing rivers and a 300-foot (90 meter) cliff so steep that it’s called the Great Wall of Vietnam. I need serious climbing skills and endurance for multi-day treks. And I need to get over my fear of heights. Now, thanks to some new routines, I’m nearly there and stronger than ever.
New people and new skills
Preparing for this photo expedition has helped me meet new people and learn new skills. Every Sunday I now go out with new friends from a bouldering club to practice climbing over large boulders and rock formations up to 20 feet high (6.1 meters) without a rope. I earned a K2 climbing certificate and can now safely rock climb up to 100 feet high (30 meters). I’ve even started building up a tolerance for cold water by making the temperature of my morning shower a bit colder each week. It’s not always fun or easy, but picturing myself in Son Doong with my camera makes it totally worth it.
Goodbye, my fear of heights
In the cave, I don’t want my fear of heights to interfere with my photography, so I needed a way to overcome it. I signed up for a hiking trip to the summit of the Italian Dolomites, a height of 5,500 feet (1,700 meters). The path had us climbing horizontally along virtually sheer cliffs and then scaling the mountain using a narrow metal ladder that was installed in World War II as a shortcut from Italy to Austria. About halfway up the mountain, I froze in fear. It was too high. The ground was too far away. My body locked down. I wanted to turn around but was too scared to do even that. The guide came and spoke with me calmly. He attached a climbing rope to my harness and pulled me up the stairs. Eventually, I grew accustomed to the heights and I was finally able to climb the stairs myself. A daunting, but crucial experience for me.
Showtime in the sky
I continued the hike and made it to the summit, where the other climbers congratulated me and made sure I got the best spot to capture that moment and that view with my camera.
That night we camped out under a blanket of stars. The show in the sky was so amazing that I could barely sleep. It’s when you’re out in nature that you really realize just how small we really are on this big earth. The bigger the landscape, the smaller I always feel. But at the same time, there’s an exhilarating feeling from being part of something bigger. I still don’t get a kick from looking down and seeing the ground 300 feet (90 meters) below me. But heights no longer stand in my way and I know I’ll be fine at Son Doong. If it weren’t for my trip to Vietnam, I wouldn’t have done it.
What I mostly want from this trip is the electric feeling of having done it. That positive energy will stay with me for years, especially if I get to hang an enormous photo from Son Doong in my living room, just as I imagine. I’ve noticed that when I hang photos from my adventures in my home, the energy from those experiences stays close and I benefit from it every day.
Every few months I exchange my biggest photos because I find that the bigger ones have more of an impact on me. I’ve noticed that as I get used to a photo, its effect lessens. It’s similar to what I experience with music — I fall in love with a new song and get energy every time I listen to it. But after a while, the song is less powerful. It doesn’t give me the boost it once did. When that happens with my photos, I simply replace them with new prints using the same frame. I keep all my prints and will often rehang a photo that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s like having a revolving, personal photo gallery of my life.
“To work on my endurance, I first went to Scotland and hiked around Loch Ness. My girlfriend joined me and each day we hiked about 13 miles (22 kilometers) up and down mountains around the lake, carrying our own 41 lb (19 kilograms) packs. It was quite a trip. Not until the last day did we understand why everyone else thought we were professionals. We were the only ones who carried our gear, everyone else used the hotel porter service to get their bags from one hotel to another around the lake. But at least now I have serious, multi-day trek experience.” -Ivan Van Der Veld
You’re reading “Amazing Photography” on Photofocus and own the printed version, too
Every other week a new photo and the story behind it will be published here on Photofocus. Clemens and Ivan have made copies of “Amazing Photography” available for the cost of shipping — $8.99 alone. The book retails for $29.99 regularly. Here are some highlights …
- More than 100 breathtaking photos by professional and hobby photographers
- 13 personal stories from pro’s and hobbyists such as Albert Dros (pro-photographer), Laura Vink (pro-photographer), Andre Kuipers (astronaut and photographer), Ori Guttin (co-founder Viewbug) and Evgeny Tchebotarev (co-founder 500px)
- 4 practical photo guides to help you enjoy your photos to the max
- 7 DIY quick fixes for unexpected photography situations
- World’s top 15 under-the-radar spots for stunning photos
- Would you rather …? A hypothetical photography game for friends
- The science behind how your photos can affect your happiness and well-being.