When we were growing up as enthusiastic snowboarders in the mid nineties, apart from the yearly snowboard video, magazines were the only access to snowboarding that we had. Whilst the odd Pepsi Max or Lucozade commercial helped quench the thirst a little, magazines provided a window into a void we rarely saw. My friends and I would spend days scanning though every magazine, reading every caption and plastering now iconic images over our bedrooms.
Fast forward to today and magazines are unfortunately being forced to switch off their printers and focus on online content. Whilst this might be an inevitable sign of the times, I wondered what effect has that had on the quality of snowboarding photos of today? So I set out to ask several of the businesses best-loved photographers to pose the question, is the Internet killing snowboard photography?
Firstly we have Volcom staff photographer Vernon Deck in his own words.
I started shooting snowboarding before I even knew how to snowboard (or ski). I actually learned to snowboard as a means of transport. I remember being terrified trying to keep up with 16 yr old Nicolas Müller, Jamie Philip and the Buvoli Bros as they ripped around Laax back in 1998. The first 3-4 seasons I earned bugger all and spent the summer driving excavators to save money for the winter season. In 2004-2005 I shot with Cheryl Maas in Oslo and Volcom purchased a couple of shots and that was my first contact. Sometime during the following year I met up with Jan Prokes the Volcom TM, it was a typical snowboard business meeting, pretty drunk at a film premiere in Munich. We hit it off well and ended up working together. Whilst many others have come and gone, Jan and I still work together to this day.
Listen, there are many others ways to earn more than being a snowboard photographer. For me though, the lifestyle outweighs the monetary. This industry and Volcom in particular supports a whole circus of weird, wild and amazingly talented and diverse human beings and it’s a great pleasure to be a part of that.
Do you feel lucky being a staff photographer at Volcom, when some people are struggling to make it in photography?
Luck is just Organisation waiting for Opportunity. I feel fortunate that for over ten years I have been able to shoot with some of the best snowboarders in the world. Volcom has allowed me pretty much total freedom to document snowboarding from my perspective, for this I am very thankful. During my career I have met many many young photographers more talented than me that have been unable to make ends meet in this business. It’s not easy.
How can someone make it as a snowboard photographer now?
It’s not going to be easy. Basically the only way to earn enough is to shoot for a industry brand. The days of being a freelancer, selling images to magazines etc are pretty much gone I think. Freelancing was the way to gather experience, grow a network and hone your skills while earning enough to survive before hopefully working your way up to a staff photographer position. It’s a big step from beginner to staffer and many young hopefuls can’t make that jump.
Is there a decline in quality in photos since the internet grew so big?
Thats a tough question. The images have less worth I would say. People just scroll through and if they stop, go back to take a second look then I guess that’s a success. I have never been too excited about seeing my work published as I always have the feeling that by the time it comes out its old and my new work is much better. That goes back to the early days and I still feel that way today so I hope that I’m still progressing and improving my craft.
Do snowboard photographers get paid fairly for their shots in this day and age?
Of course not, we never have but that’s no secret. I have just returned from a Volcom shoot in Australia and OG US photog E-Stone was there too. I was discussing this with him. Its definitely a lifestyle choice and you have to make sacrifices in order to survive. Personally I love it and don’t see myself giving up this lifestyle to earn more money somewhere else. In the whole industry there is maybe 10 full-time snowboard photographers making a decent-ish living. Companies used to pay around $2500 for an image to be used worldwide in a print advertising campaign. Nowadays they expect that same image for around $100. They say “its just for Social Media”. Whereas they used to use 1 image worldwide for a whole month now they use 1 image per day on social media. Obviously they are not going to pay $2500 for an image that will be forgotten in 24 hours. So everything has changed, you have to collect many crumbs to make a sandwich now, gone are the days of getting a whole baguette at once.
Cyril Müller started out shooting the Burton team, whilst acting as the team manager before becoming a freelance photographer. During this period, Cyril travelled far and wide and his images have been held in high esteem and has subsequently been hired by the biggest brands including Nike before their snowboarding exit. Now Cyril is stepping away from freelance photography and currently studying to become a highschool teacher. Whilst he might be reshuffling his priorities, he isn’t turning his back on photography completely as he has just launched a new image based magazine with his business partner Yves, called A2 Letter.
Have you quit being a snowboard photographer because of a lack of work?
By no means, but I have a family now and with that, priorities change. The ice has gotten thinner when it comes to making money in snowboarding, sure, but there are still plenty of people out there who are committed and making it happen. In my eyes, it’s just a gig that doesn’t go well with the responsibilities that come with family life. I don’t want to be on the road for weeks on end anymore, I realised that two winters ago and I decided to follow a different path. I’ve been shooting shredding for almost fifteen years now and although I love snowboarding more than ever, I get more and more disconnected from what is happening in the snowboarding scene. My priorities are just more with the faith than with the church, the older I get. I might as well make room for someone young and ambitious.
Now I see myself more as a snowboarder shooting photos rather than a photographer shooting snowboarding and although I got into shooting off snow stuff for quite a while now and I get enough assignments outside of snowboarding to make a comfortable living, I don’t like the reality of being a photographer off the hill. I feel like if I continued shooting professionally, it would ruin my love for photography.
I have worked with many very successful commercial photographers during the past years, which hate the work they have to do and the environment they work in. On many shoots, you can tell that people only turn up because of the paycheck. I think that´s the worst motivation of all.
I have carried that thought of becoming a teacher around with me since I finished high school. I’m one week deep into my studies now and I’m stoked about the new environment, the scientific and the practical approach of teaching people. I think it’s insane that I have this opportunity to just dive into something completely new at age 36! I tried to inspire kids to go shred with snowboard photography, now I´ll try to get them amped on learning stuff in school.
In your experience do snowboard brands pay less now than they once did?
Not really, instead of buying one banger, they’ll buy your package of b-grades to share online. The web and it’s channels want to be fed and that opens up a lot of opportunities. But your one banger shot won’t be worth as much as it used to be and people won’t cherish it the same way as they did in the past, because it sits right next to all the noise on instagram. All the iconic shots I can think of are from the times when print mattered more.
Do mags pay less for online shots than they did for mag shots and how has this affected the industry?
Absolutely, the same shot will pay less when published online versus print. Even with big commercial gigs that is the case for buyouts in my area. The reason might be that content becomes so disposable online, which makes prices harder to negotiate from a contributor’s side. I think the influence of this fact on the industry is marginal; it’s biggest problem still is how to even deal with the challenges of the new media environment.
Tell us about your new project A2 Letter and what do you hope to achieve? Did you create this because of a lack of quality mags?
I do not think there’s a lack of great magazines out there, but their format might be out of date. My latest project is called A2Letter, it’s a biweekly printed inspiration delivered to your doorstep. I created A2Letter together with my friend Yves who is an entrepreneur in publishing, and the idea was to come up with a slowed down, curated inspirational feed for the creative community – printed on paper. We all love our instagram channels that deliver inspiring content every day, I screenshot a lot of that stuff all the time (I know there’s a personal collection thing now on insta, I’m just old school). But I look at it on a tiny smartphone screen for a few seconds and I never take the time to reflect on it or let it grow on me. With A2Letter, you get a printed copy in size DIN A2 every other week to put on your wall. It will show a piece of work which our curators, (the best in their field) have carefully selected from the entries we get from all around the world (submit your own piece of work on www.a2letter.com!). You will open an envelope twice a month with a poster inside that showcases something entirely different every time. Whatever can be printed on paper could be on there. Let it sink in for two weeks (like when you listen to that song one hundred times over and you realised it’s actually awesome!) and then replace it with the next issue, or add the following issue next to it and use all those letters as wallpaper! It’s subscriber funded, completely free of ads, costs 2.99€ a month. Skip one coffee and get two letters in return. Sounds like a great deal to me.
Sami Tuoriniemi was Onboard Magazine’s chief photographer before finishing at the end of last year. Here is what he had to say.
I was a rider who had a passion for photography, I had a darkroom at home and I was shooting quit a bit as a hobby. Then when I got injured in 2003, a difficult knee injury ended my career as a snowboarder and I permanently moved behind the lens. In 2005 I started at Onboard Magazine as a photo editor and a photographer and finished there at end of last year, that was such a sick job. Now I have been doing all kinds of freelance jobs and still shoot snowboarding every now and then.
How can someone make it as a snowboard photographer now in today’s industry?
That is a good question, there used to be several photographers who did only shot snowboarding photos for a living but it’s different these days, I can only think of one guy who can do it all year around today.
So to be honest I would not even try to make it as a 100% Snowboard photographer. But if you have the real passion for the lifestyle and for great adventures with the coolest people on the planet, I guess you have to shoot a lot, meaning practice, practice, practice so you can handle any weather/light situation coming up to your way. Its also good to get to know industry people and of course the riders, it also helps if you have a good social media account or accounts and a website where people can check your talent.
Keep in mind that the problem is and especially in the beginning of your career, is that the trips you need to go on will cost a lot and you will not get the money back until months and months later,and that’s if you sold any photos. So I would advice to shoot other things than snowboarding and to build your network and skillset also outside of the industry. Therefor you can also earn money for you winter adventures.
Has the quality of shots gone down since the internet exploded?
I think the quality of the top shots has always been going up but as an average maybe. These days magazines and snowboard companies are quite often using their staff members which are not photographers to take their photos, instead of paying a real photographer. Some of their shots are all good, but overall, the quality really suffers. In the worst cases it can just lower their image as a company or a magazine instead of the opposite.
Would you rather take a cover shot or have your photo regrammed a million times?
I would take a cover shot for sure, that’s something real. One account close to 5 million followers grammed my shot, I mean that’s a population of Finland there and I thought it would have been cool but I felt nothing and the shot was buried within hours, so who really cared? You can find an old magazine after years from your shelf and be stoked about it, but you will never see that shot buried in the cyber space again.
Do snowboard photographers get paid fairly today?
Yes, I think they do but only if you get your shots sold. There are less income sources than there were before, I mean there are less companies and magazines inside the industry that have money to buy photos, the budgets are way down. So the issue is not even the rates but how to sell enough photos. I guess its time to look outside the box and look for alternative ways to create cash flow.
Besides money, snowboarding will bring you a lot experiences and great adventures, which is a big bonus worth mentioning.
And last but by no means least, we cross over the Atlantic for a US perspective with Snowboarder Magazine editor Tom Monterosso aka T-Bird. T-Bird has dedicated 11 years to Snowboarder Mag, one of the most influential snowboard magazines ever.
Do you put more emphasis on the magazine shots or social media, which is more important to Snowboarder?
Magazine shots for sure. Social media photos may be seen by more people but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they resonate with more people. “Scroll ’n go” photos do amazing on social media; a beautiful landscape photograph or a gigantic powder plume behind a rider, stuff like that. They hit it with a like and keep on scrolling. In the magazine, we feature 100% action all the time, which really resonates with our readers. That’s what SNOWBOARDER has always been about and always will be, so we continue to put huge emphasis on our magazine shots while our social media photos are catered more to what that audience might like to see.
Has the rate of pay changed for snowboard photographers since the internet came out and are photographers paid fairly?
It’s changed for sure. It’s lessened over the years but in some ways, the opportunities have grown with social media and the internet. There are a lot of companies out there that pay pretty good money for social photos as they see that as a legitimate cog in their business. In terms of photographers being paid fairly, that’s a tough question, as I don’t know what other magazines are paying their photographers and a lot of it comes down to what freelance photographers are requesting for pay.
Do you find it a struggle to have that many shots for your social channels?
No. The amount of photos we have for our social channels is directly tied to the fact that SNOWBOARDER has over a million followers. Constant content is what put us on the map and that audience can’t consume enough so we’ll keep it comin’.
Will the internet eventually kill of snowboard magazines?
That’s a tough question, but eventually I’ll get to, no. For a media publication, it comes down to figuring out what percentage of your audience actually picks up a magazine and reads it and tweaking your distribution channels. We pulled away from newsstand and are now distributed through core retailers because let’s face it: How many SNOWBOARDER readers are walking into Barnes And Noble or Hudson News and buying a copy of our magazine for $7? Not many. But how many SNOWBOARDER readers walk into their local shop to gear up for the season and would be really psyched to see a copy of SNOWBOARDER Magazine that they can take with them after they check out? Personally, I believe that to be a shitload. So you just have to adapt. Those publications that aren’t willing to do so will go out of business but I wouldn’t necessarily blame that all on the internet. I would blame that more on an old world mentality in terms of how media is consumed by their particular audience.
You can follow all the photographers mentioned above on the following links.