FREESKIER introduced its inaugural Photo Shootout in the fall of ’15, a web-based photo contest through which photographers could submit imagery for a chance at winning up to $10,000. With more than 4,000 photos entered by 1,126 photographers, the affair was a smashing success.
Our readers cast north of 65,000 votes for their favorite photos, helping us narrow the vast pool of imagery down to a batch of worthy finalists. From there, our esteemed judging panel had the tough task of picking winners for categories including action, scenic, lifestyle and abstract, as well as top overall. Next, having crowned victors, we took the winning photos on the road for a full-fledged gallery tour—the frosting on our Shootout cupcake.
The tour made appearances at Denver, Colorado’s Tavern Uptown; Steamboat Springs’ Base Club; Copper Mountain’s Incline Bar & Grill; Portland, Oregon’s Base Camp Brewing Company and Bend, Oregon’s Velvet Lounge. Each stop featured 20 blown-up photographs on display in addition to gratis, tasty hors d’oeuvres, DJs spinning tunes, raffles and prizes—plus hearty fraternization among mountain folk. Hosting these swanky soirées allowed us to effectively put the “art” in party, and to provide a fun, unique setting in which to thank the hard-working photographers out there. After all, what good would our magazines and digital products be without ‘em?
Earning top honors in FREESKIER’s inaugural Photo Shootout was 35-year-old Tal Roberts, of Portland, Oregon. No stranger to the pages of FREESKIER, Roberts has been documenting truly radical skiing moments for the past eight years—many of them around his old home of Sun Valley, ID. Having befriended dozens of top-name skiers through the years, a day on the hill for Roberts is, more often than not, simply an opportunity to create pictures of his pals having a blast. Yet, he doesn’t think of himself as a “ski photographer.” The man craves variety in his work, shooting everything from skiing to snowboarding, to fishing, surfing, baseball and studio photography. This versatile mindset helps to bring about images like the one seen on this page: images that stop you in your tracks and allow you to escape your surroundings.
To put an exclamation point on Roberts’ Photo Shootout win, we’ve showcased a sampling of the man’s photographs in our 2017 Resort Guide (now on newsstands). At the same time, we picked Roberts’ brain on matters of thriving in the challenging, ever-changing landscape that is pro photography. You’ll find our Q&A, as well as some of his images, below.
2016 PHOTO SHOOTOUT WINNERS
Overall ($5K) — Tal Roberts
Action ($1K) — Tal Roberts
Scenic ($1K) — Steve Shannon
Lifestyle ($1K) — Cam McLeod
Abstract ($1K) — Kristi Barile
People’s Choice ($1K) — Eric Hobbs
Q&A with Tal Roberts
Is it possible for aspiring photographers to make a living shooting solely skiing these days? Some well-known photographers have thrown in the towel on winter operations, opting for greener pastures in the realms of fashion, summertime lifestyle, etc. Do you think that sends a negative message to up-and-coming artists who wish to work in the skiing space?
Oh yeah, I think it’s totally possible—not super easy, but possible. There are so many variables that come into play shooting in the snow that make it hard to just go out, make great images and get paid for them. You really have to accept that and be patient. I don’t think up-and-comers should be too discouraged, though. If you really want to do this work you’re probably doing it out of a love for being out there rather than thinking people will just be throwing money at you. There could be a lot of factors for why some photographers are stepping away, and trouble making a living could be one, but some could just have a lot more responsibility these days and need a more reliable income or want to be home with their families more… or their interests have changed. It might just mean that there is more room now for the up-and-coming artists to get in.
Speaking of art, where do you see yourself on a spectrum of documentarian to artist? That’s assuming the former simply “takes” a photo, while the latter spends time “making” photos. Does one ultimately serve you better in the end when it comes to getting paid?
I’ve always subscribed more to the idea of a photograph being made rather than taken. I’m always trying to do things to make an image unique, whether that’s through the way it’s lit or a not-so-obvious composition. But, on the other hand, a lot of the stuff I’m shooting is a form of documentary, hopefully with some art blended in there. Maybe I could be an artistic documentarian? The images that I’m most happy with are the ones where I’ve been more of a participant rather than just a spectator. As for getting paid, the more creative images have always been best for me.
As you mentioned earlier, shooting skiing comes with its tough times. Everything from weather to snow conditions to a skier’s performance on a given day can stand in the way of photos being created. What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced personally? And how do you work to overcome those variables?
Bad shooting conditions, injuries, avalanches, sled breakdowns, human meltdowns… any number of things can go wrong at any time, especially in the backcountry. You really need to keep these factors in mind and have a solid plan going in. A big thing for me is trying to keep a positive attitude because it’s easy to be negative if you’re running into those problems and that sh#t is contagious. You’ve got to keep your crew motivated.
Overcoming challenges is a form of success. Getting paid is another form of success. The same can be said for landing photos in a magazine or in a brand’s marketing material. What’s the greatest measure of success for you?
Yeah, all of those things have been and continue to be measures of success. Getting shots run in magazines was the first big goal and is still great motivation to make better images. I think the greatest measure of success for me is that I have been able to figure out a way to make a living by doing things that I still really enjoy.
Sun Valley has obviously played a special role in your career. What elements of that place have contributed to your growth as a photographer?
For sure, Sun Valley is where I took a shot at working as a photographer and a place that opened a lot of doors for me. The biggest thing that helped me develop as a photographer was having a great group of super-talented friends who were willing to shoot photos with me. They made it easy and fun to capture great stuff. As for the area itself, having such good access to outdoor recreation definitely helped, it’s a lot easier to motivate going on a mission when it doesn’t need to start with a two-hour drive. The access both on-resort and in the backcountry is amazing.
To the average Joe reading this, what are the top three reasons somebody should consider a trip to Sun Valley this winter?
No lift lines, super fast, fun terrain and a mellow scene full of rad locals.
Where do you turn for inspiration most of the time? The outdoors? Sports? Other artists?
Sometimes ideas will come from just walking around and noticing how the light works within the environment. I also draw a lot of inspiration from other artists—all artists, not only photographers—and for the most part people outside of action sports.
Words of wisdom for readers, before we sign off?
Work super hard to make unique images and create the kind of images you want to see more of. Also, keep a good attitude because to do this type of work you need people to want to hang out with you.
See more of Roberts’ work at talroberts.com
The gear behind the shots