Last week I was driving home from a great hike up Mount Tallac and noticed Lower Glen Alpine Falls was really pumping. I came back several days later and shot a few landscape images of the waterfalls. They turned out ok but I felt like something was missing. The next morning my fiancée was walking out the door to her yoga class and the idea dawned on me for a photo shoot. Originally I was thinking about putting a hiker in front of the falls to give them some scale but I realized that a person doing yoga would compliment the scene much better.
The next evening we styled out Regina (my fiancée) in some proper yoga attire and headed down to the waterfalls. The clothing was really important in this shoot because she needed to wear something that would make her “pop” in front of the falls. We settled on a bright red top and gray tights.
The time of day was also extremely important for this shoot. The waterfalls needed to be in the shade. Long exposures would be crucial to blur out the water and give the images an ethereal effect. From my previous shoot I knew that the waterfalls stopped getting sun after 6pm.
We got to falls around 7pm and began shooting. I think the hardest part about this shoot was in Regina’s hands. All of my exposures needed to be just shy of a second to produce the ethereal effect I was looking for. This meant that Regina had to remain perfectly still for each exposure. Taking into account the difficulty of some of the poses that I wanted her to perform, this was no small feat. Any movement at all would render the image unusable. After we shot a couple test images, it was clear that she was more than capable of holding all of her poses without moving a muscle. What a rock star!
I am really happy with this set of images. It was such a fun project to shoot. I don’t always like putting people in my landscape images but this seemed like the perfect scenario to implement the idea. This shoot has opened my eyes to some really cool possibilities for future projects. Did I mention that I LOVE WHAT I DO!
When I think of an iconic image of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay is it. This glacier carved masterpiece on the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe is truly a site to behold. No matter how many times I visit the bay I am always awestruck by its sheer beauty and prowess. The sound of Eagle Falls echoes off the canyon walls cascading down to the shoreline with Fannette Island situated perfectly in the center of this natural wonder.
Admittedly, I don’t go to Emerald Bay as much as I used to. I have photographed the bay countless times, in each season and in all different types of light. It’s not that the mystique has worn off; I just feel like I have a solid portfolio of the bay and should concentrate my creative efforts elsewhere.
A few days ago a good friend and fellow photographer Brad Beck happened to be passing through Lake Tahoe and wanted me to show him around. It was his first visit to the lake and he only had one day to photograph before his departure. “Where should we shoot sunrise?” he asked. “Well, that’s easy,” I said, “if I take you anywhere but Emerald Bay you’ll probably never forgive me.”
An early wake up at 4:45am and we were at the first overlook by 5:15am photographing the bay with ambient light pouring over the horizon. After five minutes of shooting I told Brad we should head over to Eagle Falls. The large snow pack from a record winter was still melting and the falls were pumping in mid-July, which is very rare. The sunrise turned out to be spectacular. Clouds on the horizon illuminated and the light was incredible. I could tell Brad was really stoked on the situation.
We photographed until a half an hour after sunrise and then called it quits. “What did you think?” I asked. “Incredible!” he replied.
It was great to revisit Emerald Bay with a photographer witnessing it for the first time. His enthusiasm definitely rubbed off on me and the images I came away with are the proof. It just goes to show that sometimes no matter how many times you photograph something you can still create images that are fresh and rewarding. Cheers to that!
When it comes to photography destinations, there are a lot of places on my list. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park have always been two of them. Luckily they are butted right next to each other making a trip to both extremely easy and accessible. With winter still lingering in June in my home town of Lake Tahoe, I decided to hop in my car for a good old fashioned American road trip.
Buffalo graze in a field at dusk in Yellowstone National Park
I must admit there wasn’t much planning that went into this adventure. A good friend of mine and photographer ,Brad Beck, was already planning a trip to the area and asked me if I wanted to meet up with him. So a few weeks later, I did.
Beforehand, I did as much research as possible on what photographic opportunities to prepare for. One thing I knew going into the project was that the area had just experienced a record winter. I assumed most of the backcountry access would be difficult or impossible in many areas of the parks. When I arrived this assumption proved correct. Not only was the high country in both parks still completely buried but there was still snow in the forecast and the weather windows looked like they would be tricky.
A rainbow is created by the mist coming from Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park
After meeting up with Brad we began to formulate a plan to maximize the amount of images we would come away with. This began with a lot of scouting. Scouting is one of the most important aspects in landscape, travel and adventure photography. It involves a lot of driving, hiking, climbing etc… to find that perfect angle in the perfect location. After that, all you need is Mother Nature to cooperate and everything goes off without a hitch. Sometimes you get lucky but most of the time you don’t. When the weather, light and location appear to be lining up, it is really nice to have a good idea of what and where you will be shooting.
The first day we drove and hiked all over both parks and developed a good plan for the days to come. The next day we left camp at 4:00 am to photograph sunrise. From this point on we were shooting and scouting at least twelve hours a day. The middle of the day was always reserved for a well deserved cat nap while the sun was too high to make any appealing images.
The trip progressed and weather continually moved in and out creating brief windows of spectacular light. One such instance was an afternoon shooting at the Snake River Overlook (made famous by Ansel Adams). It was one of the highlights of the trip.
By the end of the third day the brief windows of light had been replaced by bad weather and it didn’t look like it was going to let up. Earlier that day Brad and I went our separate ways in Yellowstone National Park with plans to meet up in the afternoon. Unfortunately the cell reception was so bad, this proved impossible and that was the last time I saw Brad on the trip.
Later that evening I was in Lower Geyser Basin. The weather continued to get worse and there was an inch of snow on my car and the clouds were so thick I couldn’t see more than twenty feet in front of me. Just when I was about to completely give up hope, the weather began to break. A magnificent sunset began to develop on the horizon. In the distance I noticed the Clepsydra Geyser erupting. I quickly grabbed my gear and sprinted to a good vantage point. I wasn't sure how long the light would last and I had to work fast. Instead of fading, the light continued to get better. I shot over fifty frames pressing the shutter until it was pitch black. It was one of those moments I live for as a photographer. Mother Nature put on a spectacular show and I feel so lucky to have been there to capture it.
The next morning I awoke to more bad weather and was able to acquire an extended forecast. It didn’t look promising. I had a decision to make. Sit in awful weather for the next few days and hope something would break, or simply be happy with what was in the bag and begin my journey home. I opted for the latter. I knew I had squeezed every opportunity out of the trip and didn’t want to waste time hoping for something better that would, more than likely, never come.
As I sit in my office in Lake Tahoe writing this I know I made the right call. It turns out the forecast held and any more opportunities to create great images would have been few and far between. Sometimes you just have to know when to say when.
What follows is a sampling of images from a wonderful trip to some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. I will surely return. Enjoy!
The Tetons reflect in Schwabacher's Landing in Grand Teton National Park
An old barn in Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park
Photographer Brad Beck looks out over Grand Teton National Park from Grand View Point
A ranching fence in Grand Teton National Park in late afternoon light
A large field of wildflowers with Grand Teton National Park in the background
A detail of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
A detail of Emerald Pool in the Black Sand Basin area of Yellowstone National Park
The Mammoth Hot Springs located in Yellowstone National Park
Lower Yellowstone Falls cascades into the valley below in Yellowstone National Park
Dead lodgepole pine trees are silhouetted and reflected at sunset in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park
A baby buffalo follows its mother in Yellowstone National Park
Steam is illuminated from Castle Geyser at sunrise in Yellowstone National Park
A detail of the Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park
Chromatic Spring on a stormy day in Yellowstone National Park
Self Portrait at the Clepsydra Geyser at sunset in Yellowstone National Park
It is 4:30 AM and I stumble down the hall to my coffee machine. On the ground next to the door is a pile of photography and snowboard gear that I laid out the night before. I reach for my trusty cup-of-joe and look outside to see that it snowed two feet overnight. A quick glance at the night sky reveals several stars and I know it is going to be an incredible bluebird powder day and a perfect day for ski and snowboard action photography. It takes me half an hour to plow the driveway, load the car and start my drive to Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Once there, I’ll be hooking up with several pro skiers and snowboarders for an early morning photo shoot. So how did I get myself into this amazing position and successfully execute the shoot? The article that follows will give you the skinny.
There are many unknowns in the world of professional photography for people just starting out. A lot of time is spent trying to figure out “how” to find and obtain dream clients, and once obtained how to execute the job. While every commercial photography job varies depending on it’s specifications, one thing is certain. The more information you have before you start, the more chance of success you will have. After a long winter season of shooting a commercial project for Kirkwood Mountain Resort I thought it would be a good idea to demystify how the process works.
Getting the Job
It all started last Fall with a call from Aurora Photos (the photo agency I shoot for). They asked me if I was interested in shooting on a three photographer team to execute a large commercial project for Kirkwood Mountain Resort. I would be responsible for all of the ski and snowboard action shots, the snow cat skiing operation and some scenic images. The other two photographers would handle all of the lifestyle, ski school and interior images as well as some additional scenic shots. It took me all of a second to say yes. I was then informed that the agency would be in touch with further details of the assignment and my contract.
So why did I get this phone call? It comes down to several factors.
I have been shooting skiing and snowboarding for a long time and have a niche portfolio in that area.
I had done some photography for Kirkwood in the past and already had a relationship with their marketing department.
I have been snowboarding at Kirkwood for 10 years and have an intimate knowledge of the terrain and weather patterns.
I already had personal relationships with many of the athletes that I would be working with and have been photographing them for many years.
I live in South Lake Tahoe and was available to shoot at a moment’s notice when big storms rolled in.
Several weeks later the snow began to fall and I had a contract and shot list in hand. Now began the waiting game to get the perfect combination of snow, light and access.
Setting up the Shoot
Photographing skiing and snowboarding at a ski resort is a completely different beast than photographing in the backcountry. In the backcountry there aren’t any access issues and you can find perfect untouched snow weeks after a storm. This is not the case at a resort. The window for perfect conditions is short. You have to be able to gain access to the terrain before it is tracked out (snow that has already been skied over and has tracks in it is considered “tracked out”) by the general public. That requires a huge amount of communication with ski patrol and the marketing department.
On a big powder day, ski patrol is going to be extremely busy conducting snow safety routes (bombing the mountain to trigger avalanches) to get terrain open for the public. At a Class A Avalanche Mountain like Kirkwood, this is no small feat. So how do you get to the goods with your athletes before the public is allowed access to the same terrain? One word, COMMUNICATION!
In the winter I am absolutely glued to the weather reports affecting the Lake Tahoe Basin. Days before a storm is set to hit I am already on the phone with the marketing department setting up the potential shoot. From there, the marketing department takes the reins and contacts the athletes and ski patrol to keep them in the loop. Once the storm hits, a decision must be made on when it will break. The decision is generally made the afternoon or evening before the shoot happens. At that point, there is a ton of time spent on the phone letting everyone know that the shoot is a “go.”. Before I go to bed I gather and lay out all of my gear. It is one less thing I need to think about in the morning.
After a 4:30 wake up, I arrive at Kirkwood around 6 AM and more phone calls ensue. My first priority is to link up with a member of the marketing department and get a mountain radio. This allows me to communicate with ski patrol to find out what kind of access we will be allowed. Next, all my attention shifts to assembling the athletes. I always have the athletes meet me an hour before the actual time I’m anticipating loading onto the lift. It is not uncommon for someone to be running late or not show up all together. I like to have everyone assembled early so I can troubleshoot any problems that may arise. It would be really bad to get the green light from ski patrol only to look around and realize I am the only one ready to go.
Between 7:30 and 8:00am I get the call from ski patrol letting me know what terrain we can start shooting on. I grab the athletes and we load the chairlift. At this point I really have to focus. There is only a limited amount of time to get the shots I need before the public will have access to the same terrain. It is imperative to work extremely quickly and efficiently. One piece of equipment that is indispensible on these shoots is a set of two-way radios. At the beginning of every shoot, I always ask one of the athletes to be the last person to ski or snowboard for every sequence we set up. This way, they can communicate with the other athletes and let them know when to ski/snowboard and where to turn/air in relation to the camera. Using the radios maximizes the amount of images I will take home at the end of the day.
As the shoot progresses I will be lucky to photograph the athletes twice on the same piece of terrain before the public is allowed access to it. As soon as new terrain is cleared by ski patrol I am notified over the radio and immediately move the athletes to that location. The whole process is fairly stressful because at the end of the day it is all about the final images. If I’m not getting the access I need I’m not getting the shots I need. I always keep shooting until there is no more terrain to work with. This is imperative because there are only so many days in a season where you are going to get deep snow and perfect light.
Image Processing and Delivery
After many amazing powder days and early mornings it is the end of winter and all my shots are in the bag. So all the work is done, right? No, not even close. Now it is time to deliver the project.
Over the winter I shot thousands of images and only the best ones will be delivered to the client. There are two edits of the work. The first comes from myself and the second from Aurora. After days of editing and processing all of my images, I come up with 145 shots that are worthy of submission. After review by Aurora, 105 are selected as finals for the project.
So now I’m done right? Sadly still, the answer is no. There is one last thing to do.
Of the 105 final images 76 are selected for commercial stock distribution through Aurora’s image partners. This means all brands and logos must be removed from every single image. In ski and snowboard photos this is no small task. Each piece of gear someone is wearing is guaranteed to have at least one, if not several, logos on it. Some of the images only take five or ten minutes to complete but others can take hours. This is where I turn to outsourcing. All of the images that even look like they will take more than a couple minutes to complete are immediately sent to a company I trust with all of my extended Photoshop needs. Within several days all of the images are completed, giving me the luxury of working on other aspects of my business. Those images are then delivered back to Aurora and the project is completed.
I wouldn’t trade my job for anything in the world. I have been able to take a lifestyle that I love and turn it into a living. Much of the reason I have been able to do this is because of relationships I have established within the photography industry. In the beginning, there were so many unknowns on “how” I was supposed to acquire and complete large assignments for clients like Kirkwood Mountain Resort. I still don’t claim to know it all but I have come a long way since my humble beginnings. Over the years many older and more experienced photographers have been kind enough to share their experience and knowledge with me. This article is intended to return the favor for the all the upcoming pros out there. All the best!
Left to right "Dave Trout, Corey Welsh, Sean Cronin and me"
Just another day in the office. Here's to many more!