PetaPixel

Striking Adventure Sports Photography: An Interview with Garrett Grove

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Garrett Grove is the type of photographer it’s easy to be jealous of. Looking through his work you’ll notice an effortlessness to the beauty he captures. This element of his photography is deceiving and likely to cause hours of frustration in your personal photography as you try in vain to achieve the same impressive results he nails on a regular basis.

This dual nature, of ease and awe, is what’s so appealing about his work. We recently got to talk to Garrett to try and figure out how he makes it look so easy, and why it really isn’t.

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Peta Pixel: Hey Garrett! How has the year been treating you thus far, what have you been working on?

Garrett Grove: I celebrated the turn of the new year in Japan with my wife, Bridget, and four long time friends. It was definitely a special way to usher in the new year. At that point I had been on the island of Hokkaido for over two weeks and had three more to go. I was shooting 90% with film and documenting the snow-covered culture that exists on that island.

Next was a two-week trip for Patagonia down on the southern island of Japan, Honshu. I was accompanied by Sweetgrass Productions for video, and skiers Carston Oliver, Eliel Hindert and Pep Fujas. We were exploring a small traditional village in the Hida Mountains, hardly anyone skis in this area but it is stacked with amazing mountains and culture.

PP: Have you always shot with film, do you prefer it?

GG: No, film is a very new endeavor and I am learning a ton from it and still am a total amateur compared to some who have been shooting with this medium for a very long time.

Like many, I shot film in high school for photography class and took the few odd rolls before digital took over. So it has probably been 10 years since I shot film. I can say I do prefer it now, the look and feel of the photos are not reproducible in the digital format. The whole film process has really refreshed my love of a photo and made me respect the process all the more.

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PP: How did you get started shooting outdoor and adventure sports photography?

GG: Shooting outdoor and adventure photography was a pretty natural transition, the moment I started partaking in skiing and climbing I also started taking photographs. It wasn’t really a deliberate move, more of a subconscious reaction. The things we were doing and seeing demanded documentation, there was just no way I could come back from a day in the mountains and not take photos.

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PP: What is it about outdoor and adventure sports photography that first attracted you?

GG: Climbing, skiing and biking were never really a part of my upbringings. My family went on plenty of camping trips, and being outside was a big part of my youth, but spending the night in a tent on a glacier and waking up before sunrise to hopefully stand on top of a peak was a very new, beautiful and foreign experience.

It was the kind of experience that really made everything stand still and slammed life right in your face. Due to this type of experience I find that the people who devote their lives to this way of existence are really motivated and intentional about so many other things. It’s a captivating way to go about living and really causes other parts of your life to improve.

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PP: What sports do you prefer to shoot, and why?

GG: I guess I lean towards skiing but in reality the seasons are what I love. I could never shoot skiing 12 months of the year, I need the variety that each activity and season brings. That said, ski and snowboard photography are very dynamic with the way that light interacts with snow so it really is inspiring to photograph.

PP: Is there a sport you haven’t had the chance to shoot yet that you’d like to try?

GG: Surfing of course, there is nothing quite like surf photography. Maybe that is why I gravitate towards ski and snowboard photos because it is about as close as you can get to surfing. A backlit wave, with offshore winds at sunset can create some extremely dynamic moments and the simplicity of the surfing life is attractive.

So many of my activities are very gear-intensive, which can inhibit some travel options and just clutter your life a bit too much, thus the surfing idealism.

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PP: What are the biggest challenges or dangers when shooting adventure sports?

GG: There are plenty of both. Some of the challenges are dealing with the elements like snow, rain, wind and cold, all while trying to be creative at the same time. The elements can be debilitating at times. It can really break my motivation to take out the camera because I am so concerned with maintaining the safety and well-being of myself and the group.

I see skiing and snowboarding as the most dangerous sports to shoot due to the unpredictable nature of avalanches. Many friends and acquaintances have been killed in the last 5 years due to them, so much so that it really has caused me to rethink my approach to it.

Reflecting back on my late teens and early 20s I think luck is a big reason I am still around. I wasn’t very savvy about interpreting the snowpack, ignorance truly is bliss, so we would go out and ski in conditions that I would not approach now. I really have a hard time with that aspect of the sport, there really isn’t anything like it in any other discipline.

I wonder how many people would mountain bike if at any moment the ground could give out underneath you? It is a really serious danger that I don’t think many people understand the gravity of. Sorry for the rant, it hits a pretty personal trigger…

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PP: Do you have any suggestions or tips for somebody trying to break into the world of adventure sports or outdoor photography? Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you were first getting started?

GG: It always helps to understand the sport and be fluent in its language. There is something to be said for that outsider’s perspective but specifically concerning backcountry skiing/snowboarding and climbing there are so many skills you have to have in order to keep up and be safe. So I guess get educated and really dive into the activity before you try to shoot it. Being a photographer already makes you slower and holds back the natural flow a bit, so the last thing you want is to be even slower and be a liability to the group.

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PP: What has been your most essential piece of gear for shooting outdoors?

GG: Besides cameras and lenses I would say my backpack. It’s pretty funny how important that single item is, but having a comfortable and reliable pack is huge. I’ve been using F-Stop packs for many years and luckily I was just picked up on their Pro Team so now I can have access to all their new gear and can also give feedback on improvements.

PP: What about in terms of lenses or photography equipment, what have you found to be essential?

GG: I shoot 99% of my digital work with 3 lenses: a 17-35mm, 35mm and a 70-200mm. Keeping it simple is a big motivator for me, trying to not get bogged down in lens choices and such makes me focus more on what is happening. I could probably shoot an entire assignment with a 35mm lens and be happy.

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Shooting the Redbull Rampage mountain biking event for 2012.

PP: If you weren’t shooting adventure sports and outdoor photography what kind of photography do you think you’d shoot?

GG: I probably wouldn’t be shooting anything; if it weren’t for outdoor photography I am not sure if this passion would have become such a big part of my life.

But now I have a ton of interest in a lot of creative editorial stories. From profiling an interesting artist, diving into a new town or culture, or covering a crazy festival, there is so much in the world to take in and document, I am just grateful to have found this medium because it causes me to really examine so many ways of life.

PP: Often times transitioning from a hobby into a paying profession is the biggest challenge for photographers, how have you been able to do it?

GG: It was a very organic process from the start. I was not trying to pursue photography as a profession but I kept a blog and was shooting a lot of photos for pleasure trying to learn more about it.

I was contacted by a friend who just landed a job as a marketing director for a kayak company who asked if I could photograph some of their products and put together a shoot. It was a lucky break and they offered to pay which is when it clicked, photos could turn into a paying profession.

That was about 7 years ago, I kept my day jobs for the next 3+ years and slowly cut back hours until eventually taking the plunge and quitting all other work except for photography. I am definitely not an overnight sensation into the photography world.

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PP: How do you approach a shoot? Do you plan a lot of it out ahead of time or mostly work on the fly?

GG: Each shoot is so unique. For example, in a couple of days I am flying up to the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains for two weeks in order to capture imagery for Black Diamond Equipment’s 2014/15 marketing. Other than planning out all of the logistics of getting there and the gear needed we cannot do much else, it is in the hands of Mother Nature.

I always try to get a grasp on the client’s needs, so I’ve been corresponding with their marketing team about next year’s advertising direction and any potential key shots that cannot be missed. When it comes to actually taking the photos most of it is on the fly, which is the way I like to work. I find motivation in interpreting a scene as it unfolds, too much staging and planning can kill the soul of a photo.

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PP: What location has been the hardest to shoot, what spot presented the most obstacles?

GG: The most difficult location to shoot was probably up in the Ruth Gorge, AK last winter. It’s located in Denali National Park and while we were there a very big cold front took over the area plunging temperatures to -25 F.

It was a chore to just keep your feet and hands warm so taking out the camera wasn’t easy, luckily the area is by far the most stunning place I have seen so mustering the motivation to take a photograph wasn’t too difficult. I learned a lot on that trip about gear and general management of self in trying conditions, so I am excited to head back up to Alaska with the same crew and see what we can find.

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PP: What is one shot that sticks out in your mind as particularly fun or exciting?

GG: There is definitely no shortage of fun and exciting moments, which is why I keep shooting in this field.

Last year a huge highlight was spending 3 weeks in Japan and traveling over 2,000 miles from the southern island of Honshu to the northern island of Hokkaido. There was a group of 4 of us and we made about 15 stops along the way into random towns, ski areas, or anything else that caught our eye. It was a shoot for Patagonia that melded so many aspects of what and how I like to shoot. Patagonia gave us tons of creative freedom with very little pre-planning, it was a true travel adventure filled with copious amounts of skiing.

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PP: What do you have planned for the rest of 2014?

GG: After Alaska I am headed straight to the 5 Point Film festival. I was asked to be their featured photographer so I cannot wait to see what happens, so many creative and inspirational people will be gathered in one place so it is bound to be fun.

After that it is time for a personal vacation with my wife somewhere secret, followed by a speaking engagement with the North Cascades Institute, then finishing up a feature for Powder Magazine in mid-May. In August I will be chasing winter via a trip to South America for 5-6 weeks! I have been pretty taken aback in the last year by all the doors that photography is continuing to open up, it is constantly surprising me and continuing to widen my perspective.


Image Credits: Photographs by Garrett Grove and used with permission.