Interview: Behind the Lens with Grant Gunderson

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Grant Gunderson is one of skiing's most talented photographers. He has shot for nearly every snow sports publication, is the standing photo editor for The Ski Journal, recently won the Salt Lake City Photo Shoot Out and was named one of the worlds top 50 action sports photographers by Red Bull. He does all this while still managing to ski 200+ days a year and brewing one of the finest beers around. This is what he has to say about photography, skiing and his career.

Well to start things off I would like to congratulate you on your slide show at the Pro Photographer Showdown.

Thanks man. The pro photo showdown was a pretty cool event to be part of, especially this year with such a deep pool of talented photographers in it.

When and where were you when you found out you got invited? What were some of the initial thoughts that went through your head at that time?

I was at my house and had just gotten back from one of my many trips this year, I've been on the road so much it all blends together. I was pretty blown away to find out that I had gotten double-invited. This was the first year that I submitted a slide show to the search, and they called saying that I earned a spot with the slide show, but that I was also on their list as one of the three invited photographers as well.

Not bad at all! Did you have to shift things around to put together your slide show? Were there any specific obstacles you faced when trying to choose which images to use?

Definitely. The slide show prep was during my busiest time of the year with photo deadlines looming, as well as coinciding with one of the best pow cycles of the year at Baker. You could say the timing was not so great. That and I bought finalcut to put my show together and it took me longer than expected to learn how to use the software.

As far as picking shots go I had a few in mind that I knew had to be there, but I knew from experience it is always best to have someone else help edit your shots. As a photographer you get too attached to your work and just like a writer always needs an editor not familiar with their work to check for grammar and such.

Who ended up being that person?

My girlfriend Re Wikstrom. She is a pretty amazing ski photographer specializing in chicks that rip and also the assistant photo editor at so she is pretty well qualified. That and the fact that she is my girlfriend, she didn't have much of a choice.

The end result was amazing, so I would say she did a pretty good job. You were alright too I guess. Were there any photographers you considered a major threat before the competition?

Brian. I knew that the rest of us didn't have a chance as soon as I saw that he was in it. The guy is a legend in surfing and has been a pro surf photographer longer than I have been alive.

His work was definitely on another level. Were there any other photographers that really impressed you?

Seo's flash work always impresses me, but I am really good friends with him so I was already really familiar with his work. Mason was pretty amazing, I had never heard of him before the show and he displayed a LOT of potential at a young age. I think he will do well in the years to come.

What were you doing when you were his age (24)? When did you start taking your photography seriously?

Hmmmmm, that was six years ago. I have to stop and think what was I doing...

Ah, that would put me in my 6th out of 7 years of engineering school. I was going to school full time, managing a camera store full time and shooting full time. That was also the same year I spent the summer interning for Powder. So I was pretty well into ski photography at that age, I had already had three or four covers and was shooting a ton. At the time I was definitely one of the youngest guys shooting, but I feel like there was a crew of us that all started about the same time. Things were also way harder then since we where still shooting film.

How hard was it making the switch from film to digital? Do you see similar technological advances having as big of impacts as that did in the near future?

I personally liked working with with film as you had to get it right in camera, and then you were done. It was easy for me to switch to digital after shooting film as it has a huge tolerance for fuck ups, but I am still not stoked with the immense amount of time that you have to spend sitting in front a computer to make your digital files look like they should. Even if you do everything right in camera, the digital files still look like shit until you tweak the levels a bit.

As far as new technological advances, that's tough to say and I am not even going to try to predict the future, but the prototypes I have been testing for Canon definitely show the potential for new ideas. Now if Apple would just make a computer fast enough...

Could you offer any advice to those amateurs trying to make the jump to pro? Whether it be in terms of shooting, personal goals or even the business side of things.

That's a big ball of wax to tackle and it would take a full book to just touch the basics. That being said, here is what i think the key is:

1.Only show your best work

2.Try new things. Don't imitate others

3.Be as professional as possible. Take a business class and learn by asking other photographers advice. Most importantly don't bite the hand that feeds you, that is what killed Wheels and Wax.

Personally I think the key to my success so far has been being nice and trying to learn as much as possible at all times. That's the cool thing about photography, no matter how much you learn, there is always more.

What were some life changing trips, experiences, photos, etc that have shaped you over the years?

Every trip I have ever done has changed my life, as I have learned from every single one. The goal is to constantly strive to do better than you did on the last shoot, but the two most life changing things have been my internship at Powder and my star trail shot at Alta. Reddick is an amazing photo editor and I learned a LOT from him. I think that image was truly special at the time and did a lot to further my career, that being said I am the first one to admit it is not perfect and that there are better photos yet to be taken.

Let's stray away from the photo side of things for a bit, because skiers are important in the whole process also. What are your thoughts on the industry at this moment in time?

SKIERS are the most important part, you can't shoot any ski shots without skiers. The industry... It's changing and it's interesting. Some of the biggest players in the game are no longer key players and there are a lot of upstarts that are starting to do quite well for themselves. As always it's really important to keep an open mind and be aware of how things are changing.

What do you see your role being in the future?

Our role as photographers has changed from documenting the sport, to helping drive the creative and artistic aspects of it and trying to showcase the fun of skiing to a broader audience. It is no longer about documenting the biggest air or the biggest named athlete. Personally I hope to see my role evolve to working with more brands to help define their image and culture through new and creative imagery.

Anything else you would like to touch upon?

The only other thing is that I would like to see our industry get away from focusing 90% on video parts and focusing more on imagery and creativity. Sure video has an important role, but personally I am not interested in seeing the same trick after trick. I would much rather watch video and film move in a more creative direction where it is more about the aesthetics of cool lines, tricks, etc and not about who does the most spins or who does the craziest dance on the same rail.

Are there any film companies that you think are doing a good job of going in this direction?

I got to be careful here so that I don't piss off any friends, but I think Jeff Thomas has done a great job of pushing the edit and ideas. Unfortunately the snowboard film crews seem to be light years ahead of any of the ski film crews. I do think there are a bunch of younger film makers and I can think of one crew in Whistler for example that is trying new things. We will have to wait and see if they succeed.

If there was one discipline of skiing you had to shoot for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Big mountain freestyle. Note I did not say freeride. Nothing gets me more stoked then shooting beautiful mountain terrain and seeing amazing skiers produce rad imagery with tricks that will compliment the terrain.

Which athlete would you take with you on that never-ending mission?

There is not a single athlete, every skier is different and that's half of what makes ski photography so interesting. However two skiers that really impressed me this year were Zack Giffin and KC Deane. Both have amazing work ethic and are equally at home in the big mountain or park environment and possess the skills to perform the trick that best compliments the environment we are shooting in.

Now for some shitty generic one liners.

Haha, go for it!

Favorite band/artist?

None, whatever is randomly playing on the ipod.

Best powder?

Mt. Baker

If you had to pick one ski to ride at all times, what would it be?

Lib Tech, more companies should use magne-traction. Or Black Diamond for touring.

Best beer after a day of powder?

Newcastle, only if i have no home brew.

Best snow sports publication

You really want me to answer that? The Ski Journal. Well ummm I mean SBC of course ;)

Of course!

Depends on who is buying more photos!

Good answer. Any closing thoughts?

Is it time for more beer?

It's always time.

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