Tell me a little about your background and how you got into ski/snowboard photography. Which came first: skiing or photography?
I’d have to say skiing because what I first liked about photography was how the photos I’d see in magazines (mostly motocross, skiing, snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding mags) could communicate to me how it feels to be in that moment of action.
I’d sit and stare at photos of a surfer arcing a cutback, or a motocross rider doing a tail whip, or a skier turning in powder, and try to really absorb how it must feel to perform those tricks well and quite possibly how to do them myself. So, that sparked the concept of visual communication, which I think relates a lot to imagination and being able to have clear mental images.
What’s an average day on location look like? Are you doing everything the athletes do but with a camera?
The only thing that’s really average about production days is that they typically start early and go on all day. Skiing is already a very gear-intensive sport; when you add camera gear to the mix, the mental checklist nearly doubles, so camera guys normally have to wake up even earlier to make sure their shit is together and then take time after we’ve been in the mountains all day to download media cards, dry sensitive gear, charge batteries, and at least roughly organize your gear for the next day.
Often included in the mix is shaking off a light-to-severe hangover as well as jet lag and travel atrophy. So it can be just as taxing as it is rewarding.
As far as on-hill production, time and safety are probably the primary things to consider, and both can be drastically helped by planning. You really need to scope out areas you intend to shoot, because you want the intended activity to work (whether it’s a powder turn, or a cliff air, or a man-made jump) and be worth the effort it takes to set up cameras. And you need to consider all the dangers that exist before you can think about which angles you can shoot from.
Then you have to get your gear to the spot you want to shoot from and get ready to shoot as efficiently as possible. You don’t want to keep the athletes and production team waiting, and they’re in extremely good shape and typically very fast.
I’d say it’s rare that I ski the same lines as the athletes, but I’m in the same general terrain and have definitely gotten into some very sketchy situations that’d be hair-raising even without 45lbs of expensive gear on my back. The video guys have it even worse with their heavier gear and massive tripods, but you can still have fun.
You can still rip pow and get down most fun stuff, but you also must be careful because that extra weight makes it that much easier to tweak and tear joints, not to mention wrestle you to the ground and leave you wallowing in the pow like a stranded turtle on its back.
Ok, for the average skier or rider out there who wants to shoot some of the their experiences on the hill, what are the top 5 tips you’d offer for shooting stills or video of their buddies?
Be safe – This is definitely the most important thing. Skiing is inherently dangerous, so make sure you know what to do if something goes wrong and take steps to make sure additional people don’t get hurt. Especially if you’re shooting in or around a ski resort, make sure you have someone who’s sole purpose is to prevent other skiers from getting injured by skiing into the landing or standing in an avalanche path.
Choose your angles wisely – Being below the rider when they’re making pow turns makes it look a bit steeper, but it’s also more dangerous if heavy stuff or an avalanche comes down on top of you.
Use radios – If you’re getting more serious about shooting, radios are extremely handy and allow you to shoot from farther away without having to yell like a bunch of hyenas.
Get a clear idea of what they’re going to do – The better you know where they’re going and exactly what they’re going to do, the better you’ll be able to shoot it (and it’ll help in the safety department).
Use rapid fire – You’ll have a much better chance of getting the right moment if you have more frames per second.
What’s your craziest story you can tell from a shoot?
Probably the craziest thing I’ve seen is an avalanche rip from wall to wall in Haines, Alaska. We knew the avalanche hazards were high, but thought this one slope might be ok because of its orientation as well as straight forward terrain.
Luckily, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa (a Bend local) was smart enough to ski cut the face at the very top, because when he did the entire mountain below him fell and took everything surrounding it along with it. The photo I have of the debris pile makes the helicopter look like an ant.
What trips do you have coming up this season?
Production trips tend to happen fairly last minute because of snow conditions, but I’d love to go back to Europe. It’s so nice to have some culture to accompany epic skiing.
Where has been your favorite place to shoot? What’s your favorite trip?
Oddly enough, Croatia. But that’s what probably made it so amazing. They don’t typically get massive amounts of snow, but the week we were there was an exception. It was waist deep and snowed the whole time.
The mountains there are similar to Vermont, but with so few people that you wonder if the lifts are open and if they are, why. The snow was just enough to bury the underbrush and leave wide open lanes to ski for 2,000ft of continuous vert. At the end of the week, it got warm and started to rain, so we went to the coast and ate oysters. Not too bad.
Has the proliferation of smartphones and wearables like GoPro hurt professionals or helped?
I think it has helped in that more people are interested in photography, but it’s definitely making it easier for anyone who hasn’t studied or practiced as much to take a good photo.
Currently the lenses and capture capabilities of the smaller devices (GoPros and smartphones) are in many ways inferior to the more specifically designed photo gear, but they’re catching up, so it’s really the ability to consistently deliver compelling photos that is the difference.
What’s your favorite photo you’ve shot?
This photo of Jeremy Jones that I shot in Haines, Alaska. I’ve shot many photos that I’ve loved since, but it for some reason marked a turning point where I decided that this was the trade I was really good at and that I should continue to pursue with passion.