How did a Dorset lad, who loves the outdoors and looks like he should be competing at the Crossfit Games end up shooting for some of the biggest names in adventure sports? Well by his own admission he didn’t really mean to. From a simple guy who loved to run in the great outdoors, to picking up a camera and jacking in his day job Jack Atkinson turned his passion of trail running into a learning experience of a different kind, learning to use his camera on the run (literally) and carving out an impressive career for himself in the process.
We sat down (at a distance) with Jack to find out how it all started and what drives his love for fitness and the outdoors as well as discussing with him about being the community manager for the NeverStopLondon community alongside being full time photographer for TNF as well as many others across the globe.
So Jack, tell us a little about yourself, how did you become an ‘adventure photographer’?
I went down a route of getting into trail running and started bringing a camera along, I got used to running with a camera in hand. A few friends and I would run huge days out in the mountains shooting photos, would always have the cameras in hand. I started sharing my photos, trips and training on Instagram and it really kicked off. At the time I was in a job I didn’t enjoy too so that was a huge driver to move onto something else; I decided I needed to shoot and edit every day, ask as many photographers as many questions as possible and was a sponge. I took my camera everywhere and found that my shots started getting traction because of two reasons, 1) they were at that point never staged as I was just out for a run and 2) because I actually did (and loved) the sport I felt I had a better appreciation of what a runner would want to see in a photo. Although my photos were getting noticed I don’t think any photographer has ever made it without networking and hustling like their life depends on it. Being a photographer is like being terrible at dating, rejection is going to happen! You have to put in pitch after pitch, play the long game, get that coffee and build relationships not just with brands but with people. Living in London actually helped me get to the mountains more. I was able to have those hundreds of meetings and be a face to a brand / agency rather than a portfolio on a list or another instagrammer. Now most of my clients are actually really good friends.
We’ve followed you for a while on your Instagram (@KnowJack) because of your love for fitness, how did that come about?
I was always super competitive with my brother so sport and fitness was embedded from a young age. However it was at university when I really dived into fitness. It all started with CrossFit which helped drive a thirst to find out more. I didn’t want to turn up and work, I wanted to know why. I then found trail running and a purpose for all the training. A year later I ran my first ultra marathon and trail running had me hooked. I’ve actually not raced for a while now as I picked up a few injuries and learnt a new appreciation of the sport for enjoyment and not just a new PB.
Has the current landscape of the world at the moment changed how you’ve trained?
Quite dramatically so! With not being able to run trails my first thought was to take a break from running and work on any niggles and imbalances. That quickly turned into a serious daily bro sesh. I’ve been building up a garage gym set-up for a while now so when everyone was panic buying dumbbells I already had a pretty mad set-up for strength training. For me it’s been crazy interesting having such a controlled environment to see what works and what doesn’t training wise.
Ok, so walk us through your home gym set up, what equipment do you use?
My main (and favourite) has to be the Assault Bike. It’s a brutal bit of kit that an all out 10 second effort can leave you on your back questioning life. Then I have a few dumbbells, kettlebells, bench, box, battle rope, punch bag, 45kg atlas stone and some bands.
What does a typical workout and how do you structure it?
I’ve never been one for much of a plan. I go off daily feel but I have been moving from muscle group to muscle group to avoid over training / injury during lockdown. I get one rest day in a week and there are definitely days when I’m not feeling it but feel like I should do then I usually jump on the assault bike and 10mins later I always have a plan and feel good to go. A typical workout will be 5-10mins on the assault bike, either all easy or ramping up pace. Then shoulder / wrist mobility or specific exercise mobility. I’ll then either be doing a strength component and a conditioning finisher (if I’m feeling good) or all conditioning. Generally there’s one full conditioning workout a week and the rest is focused on strength. I also have a whiteboard which I write the workout on beforehand for accountability. All the strength work is generally 6-10 reps range and big rests in between.
What are you top 5 gear essentials on any adventure?
How did you find your love for the outdoors?
I don’t think there was ever a eureka moment for this as I was always fairly exposed to the outdoors. I grew up in Dorset so the outdoors was fairly normal but once I started going on climbing and running trips abroad that’s when I really knew I was definitely an outdoors man.
This lockdown must be driving you nuts not being able to get outside properly. Where’s the one place you’re going to go on a trip after all is over?
It is and it isn’t in all honesty. I’ve found routine for the first time in a long time and actually quite enjoyed that. I’ve also really enjoyed throwing myself back into strength training. It’s obviously a horrible situation for us all but we need to find what works for us to keep morale up. Narrowing it down to one place is really hard…I am desperate to see the sea but if it was one place it has to be where I grew up in Dorset. There’s no place quite like home and running local trails with the dog is always amazing.
You’re the community manager for The North Face’s NeverStopLondon, can you tell us what NeverStopLondon is?
Simply put NeverStopLondon is a community project bringing people together to help them explore their city and it’s surroundings. We organise weekly training sessions, trail runs, hikes, workshops and talks. A lot of the time it’s about showing people just how easy it is to get outside of the M25. When I moved to London in all honesty I felt quite trapped but now I know how much of an enabler London is. The transport links are phenomenal and there are so many people with the same mindset, wanting and needing those adventures. For me personally this project allows me to help show people just how awesome London and it’s surroundings are as well as introducing people to outdoor sports. To take an awesome bunch of people running, climbing and hiking and capture those moments through photography and then call that work is something pretty special.
Finally, the world has seen huge improvements in the climate and massive decreases in pollution since the lockdown started globally, a quick Google and you can see incredible images of how things have improved in such a short space of time. How do you think we as a society should move forward to help keep that change happening?
Living on an island like we do it’s in our nature to escape and flights have been beyond easy and become cheaper and cheaper. Now I think people should and will look for adventure, but should just go on holiday closer to home. The NeverStopLondon project made me realise how there’s endless adventure to be had in the surroundings of London let alone across the UK. I’ll still want to travel further and experience new cultures once I can but I will definitely be prioritising that less.
To learn more about Jack follow him on Instagram