On the surface, photography is a passive undertaking. An image is created, at the touch of a button, simply by light passing through a lens and then hitting a sensor when a shutter snaps open.
The magic of photography is sleight of hand. Feet on the cold floor instead of hitting snooze on the alarm, an hour (or two) sitting under scudding clouds, six extra breathless steps through waist deep pow. Those moments of hard work happen out of view. As interesting as that backstory can be, it remains irrelevant. The final image is bound to a single overarching premise: a photograph must stand on its own merit.
Examine the closing photograph of this year’s photo annual, Mason Mashon’s shot of KC Deane (below), though. Two skis and KC’s body create a geometric form, instantly recognizable as a skier. That shape fits inside a triangle formed by the sun (or the piece of sun that sneaks through a small hole in the clouds) reflecting off some snow stuck between a few ridges. Click, boom. You’ve got the closer of Freeskier’s photo annual.
The rest of the story, however, might not be clear at first glance. This concise image starts with a skier practicing a trick for years. During those years the photographer presses the shutter button time after time, learning focus and exposure while accumulating the knowledge and confidence required to frame the shot, not in the most blatant way (takeoff, air, skier, landing), but in a way that tells a bigger story. If Mason was 10 feet lower, or if KC stalled out before getting the grab, this frame would have been relegated to a folder of outtakes.
In the end, a successful ski photograph includes it all—technique, action, location, aspiration. The horizon splashes across the frame and the shadows are filled with detail, but our eyes instantly snap to that triangle and the skier caged within. The more time we spend staring at the page, the more small stories emerge. We want to be there and, for at least an instant, we are.
– Nate Abbott