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The Report

Six Mountain Instagramers To Take You Higher

Embark on a jaw-dropping virtual ascent with a new breed of photographers giving fresh meaning to the phrase “social climbing”

  • Photograph by Mr Andy Mann

Larger than life, rough at the edges, unattainable and otherworldly, mountains – and the people who conquer them – are the ultimate symbols of ambition and endurance. And they’re almost as good to look at as they are to climb. It should therefore come as no surprise that you can file mountainscapes next to cats and brunch in the broad category of Things That Are Currently Popular On Instagram. In fact, since the platform dropped its restrictions on cropping this summer, it’s become an even more suitable place to showcase the wonders of the earth’s topography, the long portrait format allowing Instagramers to capture awe-inspiring heights and the ability to shoot in landscape making it great for, well, landscapes.

Behind every great Instagram mountain, of course, is a great mountain Instagramer. These intrepid photographers, filmmakers, climbers and hobbyists come in all shapes and sizes, but are united by a common desire to push higher and further than most and a seemingly inexplicable ability to create National Geographic-worthy images on their puny phone cameras. Here’s a selection of the best of them. If you want to feel the rush of waterfalls, hear the cheeping of birds, and feel a mild touch of vertigo-induced nausea as you scuttle between your desk and Pret A Manger this month, it’s time to tap “follow” now.

The Dreamer

Getting lost in Mr Morgan Phillips’ Instagram feed is like reaching nirvana (or whatever the Insta equivalent of that is). Misty vistas, long, empty roads and angelic women float around the perfectly composed squares in a state of bliss. The 30-year-old photographer from Los Angeles has always been a dreamer. “As a young kid, everything was an adventure,” he says. “If I was in a department store, in my head I was in the jungle playing hide and seek.” His visual travels have taken him all over the world to many varying landscapes and locations, but mountains are a recurring theme. “Mountains are something to conquer,” he says. “I think people relate to the challenge of climbing them because it is an easy visual for the challenges they face [in life].” Mr Phillips pauses, and then continues with a smile, “Or they are just pretty, and we like pretty things.”

Top photography tip: “Just keep shooting. Don’t get discouraged.”

Essential kit: “I can’t live without my Nikon 24mm Lens, Lightroom, VSCO Cam and a good pair of boots.”

The Outlier

“I want to get the photo that nobody else got,” says French-born, North America-based photographer Mr Alex Strohl. “There are a lot of people on earth these days, and there’s always going to be someone who got that little bit further away. I want to be that guy.” Mr Strohl, who started taking photos to document the short trips he took with friends at weekends, has just returned from an epic three-month, 10,000-mile expedition across Norway and the images that populate his awe-inspiring Instagram feed are about as far-flung as it gets: icy blue waters under snowy peaks, lonely little wooden cabins and tents pitched like postcards. “The goal is always getting there,” he says. “It’s about photography, but it’s also about living in the photograph. It’s not staged. It’s become natural now.” Mr Strohl has amassed a huge online following, based not just on his aesthetic, but also on the sheer scope of his work. “My goal is to get people out there and show them there’s more to see than an all-inclusive trip to Cancun,” he says. “There are places in the north of Canada that are equally as amazing if you like wearing jackets.” But why mountains specifically? “I like weather!” he laughs. “The horizon is never the same.”

Top photography tip: “Understand what you’re photographing and find a unique angle.”

Essential kit: “My Canon EOS 5DS and the VSCO Cam editing app.”

The Storyteller

Mr Forest Woodward’s dad was one of the first people to kayak the entire length of the Grand Canyon. So it should come as no surprise that adventure is in his blood. Growing up “building forts and roaming the hills of western North Carolina”, Mr Woodward is now a citizen of the world, taking photographs and making films in the places and with the people that fascinate him. So what keeps a man motivated to live such a peripatetic lifestyle? “I want to know the world as much as is possible,” he says, “I am forever tantalised by the seduction of the unknown, the next corner, ridge or turn in the road.” In Mr Woodward’s Instagram feed, every photograph tells a story – his shots from great heights are loaded with drama and poise.

Top photography tip: “Don’t know the rules? All the better – make your own.”

Essential kit: “My favourite app is Instagram – not a huge shocker there, but I have found it to be such an amazing way to gather information and inspiration and also to meet and connect with interesting folks around the world. For editing software, I dig VSCO and I don’t leave home without a pocket-sized Moleskine journal and Micron Pen.”

The Landscape Artist

When climber, artist and filmmaker Mr Renan Ozturk ascended the Shark’s Fin route on Meru Peak, a mountain in the Garhwal Himalayas in India, with friends and fellow climbers Mr Conrad Anker and Mr Jimmy Chin, he spent a month “living on the wall” to pull it off. Mr Ozturk calls it “the vertical world”, a place very few people will ever experience, but one you can live in, vicariously, through his kaleidoscopic Instagram feed. “I think mountains fascinate people because you have to look up at them,” he says. “Up has always been an integral part of all religions and spiritualities.” Mr Ozturk explores his passion for mountains not just through climbing, photographing and filming them, but also through painting them. His bright, beautiful, abstract pieces interpret the “glacial moraines and high alpine meadows” of places such as Meru, where he travelled with a canvas in his duffel bag, in stunning tones. His ongoing motivation to keep going up? “Remote mountain regions and cultures whose stories are yet to be told as well as continuing to effect positive change in places close to my heart like Nepal,” he says. 

Top photography tip: “Shoot in great sunset or sunrise light and try to have fun because it will bring out the great moments you share with the people around you.”

Essential kit: “Snapseed is the app I always use as my go-to.“

The Cliffhanger

For Boulder, Colorado-based photographer and filmmaker Mr Andy Mann, the Chilean mountain range Torres Del Paine is the most beautiful place on earth. His Instagram images of the formation – jagged slivers of rock rising out of a pristine lake and piercing the sky – make you feel very small. “I think inherently we are all drawn to things that make us feel mortal,” he says. “Mountains call to our adventurous spirit and there is a certain wilderness and unpredictability to them. Any time you are in their presence, you take something away from that experience and want to return.” Through his jaw-dropping photography and prolific production company 3 Strings Productions, Mr Mann brings us closer to impossible landscapes: a herd of bull sharks underwater, a man dangling precariously from an overhang. His images are immersive, because he is central to the action, and suggestive, hinting at something about to happen. It’s a life of ups and downs, so what keeps him pushing into the unknown? “The addiction of documenting places no one else has ever been with a camera brings adventure, experience, laughter, joy,” he says. “I let the passion for the story take me there.”

Top photography tip: “Get close to people and expose their raw sides. It sounds easy, but it’s not.” 

Essential kit:Essential for my pack these days are Arc’teryx outer layers, Mountainsmith camera bags (I designed them specifically for these locations), Sony A7 series cameras, Red Cinema cameras and ZEISS prime lenses. One piece of kit I absolutely cannot do my job without is a Goal Zero solar charging station.”

The Highlander

Mr Dean Mackay grew up fishing and exploring rock pools on the west coast of Scotland. He may have resented his parents for dragging him on long walks across the Highlands – the mountainous heart of Scottish culture – but it was these trips that inspired his obsession with the wilderness. “I’m pretty lucky to live where I do,” says Mr Mackay, who escapes into the mountains as soon as he clocks off from his retail job in Inverness. “I’ve got access to some pretty incredible scenery in almost every direction.” He continually challenges himself in the rugged terrain – a fact that transpires in the strange beauty of his Instafeed. He has summited 10 Munros (Scottish mountains more than 900 metres high), and he’s eager to tackle the other 272. “Many people die at 25 and aren't buried until they are 75,” he says. “That’s a quote [from Mr Benjamin Franklin] that really resonates with me. It’s easy to lose that sense of adventure you had as a kid and never step out of your comfort zone. It’s important to keep exploring.”

Top photography tip: “Don’t stress about the quality of your equipment. Shoot what you enjoy on whatever camera you have handy.”

Essential kit: “Lightroom is my go-to photo-editing software. I recommend picking up the VSCO film packs for Lightroom and having a play around with those. When editing on my iPhone, I’ll most likely use the VSCO Cam app, too. When it comes to equipment, I rarely leave the house without my Yashica T4, a 35mm film point-and-shoot camera (all the images you see here were shot on it). Its size and weight make it a great option when travelling light.”