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Renan Ozturk is an American filmmaker and photographer with German-Turkish roots. He travels all over the world – preferably so he can scale cliffs at minus 20 degrees Celsius.
Everything had already been planned for Renan Ozturk’s vacation over Christmas 2015: sun, beach and some chilling out. But then he got a call from three young men in Great Britain who wanted to do something really different before starting their university studies: instead of getting drunk like many of their peers, they had another plan for how to test their limits: they wanted to cross Iceland unassisted from its northern to its southern tip. And they wanted to do it in December, Iceland’s coldest time of the year.
Such hopelessly extreme experiences are just the type of thing that Renan, a professional climber, photographer and filmmaker, seeks out for his work. Extreme cold is his normal working temperature. For these conditions, Renan will happily travel to Nepal or other far-off corners of the world. This time, too, he and his fiancé Taylor simply packed up their camera equipment and left for Iceland.
The expedition, called “The Coldest Crossing”, was a complete failure. The three novices and their photo team had to be evacuated three times from risky situations, and ultimately they broke off the tour completely. But for Renan and Taylor, the trip was still worthwhile from a photographic perspective and the struggle and misadventures is what makes a great story in the end. They created images that make you shudder from the cold and remind you that nature is much more brutal than you can ever imagine when sitting in your comfortable recliner at home watching nature documentaries on TV.
Brutal cold is visible in the photo of Taylor Freesolo Rees who like Renan Ozturk is a passionate photographer and adventurer. Her middle name, by the way, is not a nickname; it was given to her by her parents, who are also adventurous spirits. When Taylor and Renan met, the young woman still didn’t know which direction she wanted to take in life. But for her boyfriend, the path was soon apparent: “With a name like that, you should live like that.” The perfect adventurer couple was born. Today it’s a trio: their dog Baloo, a husky-wolf mix with the temperament toward the wild, accompanies them on many of their expeditions.
When this picture was taken, it was minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), but the temperature quickly rose. “Suddenly everything was wet. Even the best clothing can’t repel wetness,” recalls Renan. Both their camera and the lens withstood this situation, and indeed the entire trip. It’s never pleasant encountering unwanted surprises on the other side of the globe, which is why Renan only had ZEISS lenses in his pack. During treks through the mountains, where every gram counts, the Sony α7R II was Renan’s first choice because it’s the lightest full-frame camera. His favorite lenses are the Batis because they’re also very light and allow him to take sharp pictures — even using just one hand along a cliff — thanks to the autofocus and, in case of the Batis 1.8/85, the image stabilization.
The excellent features for creating video were another argument for using this camera/lens combination. In fact, Renan describes himself more as a filmmaker than a photographer. Sometimes he crops photos out of a film – that’s how good the image quality is. The ZEISS lenses allow him to choose between both options, and further support him with features like the De-Click function, with which the grid on the aperture ring of Loxia lenses can be deactivated. As a result, taking along a second piece of equipment to film is unnecessary.
For his spectacular landscape shots, Renan often uses lenses with a short focal length and large angular view. But even in Iceland’s icy landscape, there are situations where a portrait telephoto lens makes sense. For example in this picture, which shows one of the members of the expedition in the tent. Because of the picture’s tight crop, the fur hat and down sleeping bag look even puffier. The only light source is a headlamp hanging from the roof of the tent, which provides enough brightness for the fast lens. The spotlight throws spooky shadows on the face of the young man. It almost looks as if he’s getting ready for a meeting of Goth fans.
When you look at the entire photo series of this trip to Iceland, you notice how with each picture the three young men look increasingly worried and depressed. The team had to be rescued three times from dangerous situations because icy snowstorms swept over the mountains. Twice the group decided to continue – which the rescue workers thought was unwise. “They were pretty angry because the three guys simply couldn’t be convinced to give up their plan,” comments Renan. For the third (again free-of-charge) rescue – a powerful snowstorm was moving in – the rescue workers picked them up only because a helicopter happened to be flying nearby for a training mission. The picture above shows the group climbing up an icy hill. The star created by the Loxia around the floodlight of the helicopter has the effect of being a ray of hope in an environment hostile to life. “No other lens makes such beautiful stars,” says Renan.
The photos that Renan took in Nepal for an outdoor clothing brand were taken earlier than the Iceland expedition, in February 2015. This picture of the world-famous temple complex Swayambhunath has since gained historical value, as two months after it an earthquake destroyed parts of this ‘Monkey Temple’.
During this trip, Renan only used Otus lenses. “The sharpness of the Otus 1.4/55 exceeds that of all other lenses in this focal length.” Separating the objects in different distances also works effectively with the Otus. And its speed means the Otus is also ideal for situations with little light – such as in the photo with the towering Ama Dablan mountain in Nepal. This 6,814-meter mountain is the spiritual heart of the Sherpa people who guide tourists to the peaks of the surrounding eight-thousanders.
Nepal was also the destination of Renan Ozturk’s following trip. For National Geographic he documented the dangerous work of the last honey gatherers in the Himalayas – a tradition that unfortunately is dying out. The collectors climb vertical cliffs to reach the beehives, which are stuck to the cliffs. As always, Renan only took the essentials in equipment. “Do more with less” is his motto. ZEISS lenses are definitely a part of this.
About Renan Ozturk
Renan Ozturk lives in Park City, Utah. He was born in southern Germany, where his parents went to university. When he was one year old, the family emigrated to the US. Together with two colleagues, Renan is co-owner of Camp4 Collective, a company that photographs the best action and adventure athletes in the wildest places on earth. Renan is a well-known climber himself and has been the first to conquer several cliffs. His expeditions frequently take him to the Himalayas, the jungles of Borneo or the deserts of Africa. Renan has won several prizes for his expedition photography, most recently the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival for his documentary of a climbing expedition called Meru.