Text and photos by Peter Lundström
Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you to
Hopefully I’m just overly anxious regarding getting a lot of grief for this article. Why? Because just by writing the headline I might have made myself out to be some arrogant connoisseur on the subject of professionalism. I’m not. And since I very seldom practise what I preach, I have to guard myself by quoting my old photography teacher. He said: "Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you to". Charming old man, he was. To be absolutely honest, and I guess I should be, I know nothing about the hardships of being a freelance shooter. I’ve just got impeccable timing and happened to show up at Onboard at the exact right time. But although I haven’t experienced many of the hurdles that come with being a free agent first hand, I’ve taken enough calls from grumpy old lensmen to know what will take you from the cesspool of snowboard photography scum to the upper echelons of Very Important Photographers. So here is the article that will cater to the young ’uns who are keen to know how to present themselves in a professional manner to the magazines. Onward.
Some genius once said: "Sometimes the impression of competence has more worth than the competence itself". What this means for photographers is that you need to look and dress the part. Since all shooters are basically caricatures of themselves, it is very easy to divide them and their guises into generalising descriptions of characters from which you will be able to choose one to fit your own style. These are obviously sweeping generalisations.
First off you have the angst ridden art fag (ARAF) poncing around with the trendiest of cameras in his all-black getup and preferably a rather flamboyant scarf. He will utter things like: "I’m an artist". Thanks to his Trustafarian lifestyle, he very seldom needs to have anything published, and hardly ever has. When it is brought up that he is in fact a work-shy bastard, he will most likely claim that "You can’t rush art".
The true artist, however, is unaware of his own artsyness and will almost never utter anything since he is way too busy being artsy fartsy. Thus, he hasn’t time to think about trivial things such as fashion, and will wear whatever is clean, or at least close to it. Just like Kubrick, the artist usually hates to do any work outside a 5-mile radius of his squatted house. Unfortunately, his work will, like for most artists, get its deserved appreciation when he is six feet under.
Just like for snowboarders, there are also the shooters who can be referred to as park rats. They spend, if not all, a copious amount of time shooting the park and pipe. They usually don a medium sized beer-gut and a puffy jacket, and always talk about how they would "rather be in Cali, shootin’ some ledges with Muska and the guys". Deep down he hates the cold, the snow and the entire industry. He is constantly bitter and always pondering over why he didn’t become a skate photographer.
Last but not least you have the almost extinct powder freak. He believes that all riding that doesn’t involve big mountain powder action shouldn’t be accepted as snowboarding. Since conservatism permeates everything he does, he is only shopping around for gear that looks as though it is dated circa 1991. He also believes the digital revolution is a fad.
On top of this, you can try to emphasise your overlord photography status by adding some sort of bombastic title in front of your name, such as Maestro, Sir, Lord or the already taken Doctor. If you push this trick for a few years, people will eventually start believing you are, say, a professor in photography.
OK, I can’t be arsed to plough through this once more, so just check the gear in this issue’s Rig. Sure, you can always get a cracking photo with a dodgy camera, but if you want consistency and good shots, you need good equipment.
There are days in the lives of photo editors where they, through a single photo submission, lose faith in mankind. It’s these days when you find them curled up in a dark corner of the office shivering and mumbling: "Why? Why?" The reason is most often a submission from someone who never in his or her life stopped and asked themselves: "Is this good enough?" Nowadays, with the digital revolution and all, it is so much easier to just look at the back of your camera and think: "Is this quality-wise close to anything I’ve seen in the magazines I read?" If the answer is no, there is a chance that you are a true photographic mastermind with absolutely original and awesome shots, or, more likely, you suck. The easiest way to heighten the quality of your shots is to try and mimic the photos you see in the mags, and eventually outdo them. Nevertheless, there are some rules, which if followed, will give you a greater chance of getting published.
Shots where you have no reference points (i.e. a kicker and landing) will only ever be published in shitty newspapers without a clue.
Sometimes you can get away with this, but the truth is, if you have a shot where the rider has his arse towards the camera and you can’t see his face, the photo editor will most likely press "Move to Trash".
Sequences with the rider touching the ground in the landing with his hands behind the tail will only ever get used due to the lack of anything else. On the topic of sequences, two landing frames aren’t enough. Neither is none of the take-off – start shooting early.
Unless seriously intentional and stylish, non-grabs are another bane of a photo-editors life. Sometimes, if they are a tickle, they go unnoticed though the entire production process of a magazine and lead to the ridicule of all those involved. No grab, no submission.
Snowboard photographers are by nature a bunch of opinionated bitches. I’m kidding. No I’m not. But seriously, we are. When it comes to submitting work, we get all hoo-hah if our shots aren’t used the way we want, if at all, and we never get the shots sent back to us when we want. This is because, generally, of course, we suck. We suck at supplying the mags with tight edits, names on the negative sheets or no information about the photos whatsoever. And if you want your shots sent back, for Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo’s sake, supply the mags with a proper frickin’ return address. Pretty please.
When you first make contact with a mag, you should also write a proper introduction if you don’t know the photo editor. Just because you are into the same sport doesn’t necessarily make him your bum-chum. Photo editors are suckers for flattery. Use that. And always CC the editor-in-chief in on the mail. Don’t ask me why, just do.
The best way to show off your creations are, however, to post them on a site. If you have the time and skills, or a computer-nerd buddy with both, making a selection that editors can check online is the best way forward. Here you can decide in which way you want the shots to be viewed. With email you risk the chance of the all the mishaps that can happen thanks to sketchy e-mail applications. And also think about the fact that just because you are sitting on some flashy 24in screen with a humongous resolution doesn’t mean the editor-in-chief is.
The worst way to submit shots, at least if it’s your first time submitting non-requested material, is to rock up at the magazine’s office. Unless you are completely confident that your photography is the dog’s bollocks, you don’t want to put the photo editor in the uncomfortable position of having to tell you that your shots aren’t really up to par. You also put yourself at the risk of the editor grabbing a few of your best shots, just to be nice, and you won’t see them for at least 6 months.
With digital shots your editing process will be much longer than with analogue, purely because you have shot a million more shots. It is not really the job of the photo editor to wade through your rubbish, so make your selection tight as a tiger’s chuff. Remember you will most likely be judged, and/or ridiculed, on the worst shot that you submit. The photographers who get shots in the magazines are those who supply tight edits, with all shots correctly labelled and, if a digital submission, supply a little book of printed shots of the work on the CD.
Show me the money
Even if you believe, like I do, that this job rocks more than anything else and you would be happy to do it for free, you still work in order to get paid. A marvellous article on the subject, entitled How To Get Paid On Time, originally written for designers but fits our purpose like a glove, is found through a rather lengthy web address. It’s http://forums.australianinfront.com.au/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=92440. Read it, embrace it and learn it by heart. One of the key points in that article however, is that there is nothing to be ashamed of when asking for your money. Over and over and over again. And then you call in the debt collectors.
Getting paid is in itself a full-time job. And compared to being out in bluebird skies shooting, it really sucks. Be prepared to spend several days on the phone with the accounts department, hassling them about the invoice they claim they never got. Because you did send them a proper invoice, didn’t you? There is also a bunch of magazines from a certain European country where they have a serious problem with paying people at all. All experienced photographers from all around the world know what place I’m talking about, but I’m afraid that if I try to print the name of the nation, I’ll be dragged in to court and eventually sent to the penitentiary for slandering an entire island. When all you rookies eventually find out what magazines I’m talking about, make sure you spread the word.
We shall leave you with this, because no matter how much you embrace what you have read here, the only way to improve your skills is to be out practicing. And although it might be very hard at the upstart, you should give it go, because there is still room for more aspiring young snowboard photographers.