While Grant Gunderson is one the world’s best-known mountain sports photographers, first and foremost he is a skier. Luckily, his forward thinking parents had him on skis before he could even walk.
As a professional photographer who specialises in mountain culture, Grant is travelling the world more often than he is at home in Bellingham, Washington. Taking time out of busy schedule recently to talk with Nomads on the Road, Grant discusses his photography, how skiing influences his work and how he stays creative in the mountains.
“My childhood was basically composed of being very active in the outdoors. Both my parents were avid skiers and hikers so we spent every free minute in the mountains.
“That pretty much made me want to spend as much time in the mountains,” Grant explains.
The Washington state native grew up with the mountains as his playground, spending his formative years shredding with friends. It was a natural progression for Grant to start documenting their pursuits on the slopes.
“I had them take some shots of me,” he says. “But the photos I took were always better than the ones of me.”
Not getting serious about photography until he started college, Grant was successful from the outset.
“One of the first days I went out with the intentions of shooting I sold two separate snowboard ads. Not a bad way to get hooked on making a living doing this,” explains Grant.
As one of the preeminent and most dedicated outdoor photographers, Grant has shot for every major snow sports and outdoor publication in the world, including Powder, Outside, ESPN, Backcountry and Kootenay Mountain Culture.
As the founder of the Ski Journal and Grant spent six years as the magazine’s photo editor and currently is the senior photographer for Powder Magazine.
His travels, meanwhile, mean he is away from home frequently, from Iceland to Patagonia, Japan to Sicily, where his unique photography captures powerful imagery and documents the lifestyle and culture of the mountains.
“Growing up in the mountains, I have always been drawn towards mountain culture. The mountains bring together people of different backgrounds so you get a lot of interesting personalities,” Grant says.
With his photography heavily influenced by the athletes he works with, Grant is constantly amazed by the ideas they come up with. “Especially when it comes down to what is possible on skis or bikes. Photography, for me, is a collaboration between the athletes and myself.” Grant says.
Stepping beyond his editorial work, Grant’s photography is featured regularly in marketing campaigns with top outdoor brands such as Patagonia, Salomon, Eddie Bauer, Black Diamond and Outdoor Research.
Grant’s photography is obviously steeped in mountain culture but he says his photography is becoming less about documenting the experience and more about how he can showcase it in a new and creative way.
Every photographer has their definition of what makes a great photograph. The majority will rightly cite light as their primary answer, Grant does too. But he also delves deeper.
“For me, a great photograph is one that truly conveys the spirit of the sport. It should entice people to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.
“Great light, locations, and good athletes all make that easier, but some of my favourite photos were taken in my backyard with my friend’s on a rainy day. So you don’t have to travel to the most exotic places with the top athletes to get good imagery,” explains Grant.
Digital photography has made photography accessible and economical for the masses Grant says, resulting in more people taking photographs. This means Grant has to continuously look for new ways to create unique imagery and continue to stand out.
“I started out shooting film, so I’m not the biggest fan of spending a ton of time working on an image on the computer. I would much rather get it right in the camera, so I can spend more time outside,” says Grant.
Grant says: “Technology has also made it a lot easier for me to manage a large database of imagery and get the images out to all of my clients worldwide, whereas before ,with film, I was limited to just North American outlets.
“Everything has become more global. It’s now easier than ever to send imagery to clients around the world. It has also gotten a lot easier to travel to the far reaches of the globe resulting in all sorts of new locations to ski and bike that most people have not thought of. For example, I am currently mountain biking in the Lofoten islands of Norway, above the Arctic circle.”
Grant’s work has seen him travel the world, only Antartica is left out of the seven continents. The challenge for the majority of photographers is connecting with his subject, that is not the case for Grant.
Grant says: “The vast majority of the time I am out doing the same activities as the athletes so it’s pretty easy to connect as we are sharing the same experience.
“I strongly feel that you need to be an active participant in the activities that you shoot, so you see the images through the eyes of the participant. This creates more authentic images.
“Once on location, I like to let the mountains tell me what to shoot and when. I don’t like going out with a preconceived notion of how a shot should look or a specific image in mind.”
Photographing in the mountains is not always easy but Grant says that his favourite days to shoot are the stormiest of weather days. “You can’t control the weather,” he says, “especially in the mountains so I instead choose to work with it.”
“Storms always seem to provide the most dynamic light and experiences. Whether it be snowing a metre plus a day or those moments at the tail in of a storm where the sun pops through the clouds.
“One of my all time favourite days was a few years ago at Mt. Baker during a massive snow storm. We ended up getting nearly a meter of snow during the day. I ended up destroying two Canon 1Dmk4 cameras that day, but ended up with over eight magazine covers and numerous ads, so it was well worth it,” Grants says.
Shooting exclusively with Canon, Grant alway taking two cameras (1DX) on a shoot as well as a variety of lenses, from a full frame fish-eye 8-15mm to a 400m zoom lens.
You can follow Grant’s adventures at the following links: