Snow Shooter: Jay Beyer

Travel is part and parcel to being a photographer, but Jay Beyer really gets around. He has been on the road for the last few months, capturing hunting images in New Mexico, Colorado and Montana and has finally settled back into the office, for a little while at least.

We were lucky to catch Beyer at his home in Cottonwood Heights, Utah in between adventures where he is now editing before the winter months. Beyer shared a few of his future plans with us and discussed how he finds balance in his fast paced world.

Jay Beyer taking a selfie in Slovenia. [Photo] Jay Beyer

#sloveniaselfie. [Photo] Jay Beyer

Backcountry Magazine: What drew you to photography as a profession?

Jay Beyer: My wife bought a camera. She doesn’t know a whole lot about cameras and my dad was really into it at the time, so I tried to learn as much as I could from him to help her learn. We went on a six-month rock climbing trip where we lived out of our van—that’s why we bought the camera—and the camera started out as hers but by the end of the trip it was mine. I just started taking it everywhere I went and taking pictures of what I was doing. Then I accidentally started selling photos and it turned into a career.

BCM: What was it about action photography that called to you over other genres?

JB: I really enjoy the fact that it’s hard to replicate, especially in the ski world. The snow is always different; the subject is always different. I find it to be a lot more exciting because there are many variables involved. The landscape is there, and you either nail the sunset or you don’t, but I feel like with action, it’s harder and I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture that still image of movement.

BCM: Where is your favorite place to work? Why?

JB: Wherever there’s good snow. I have been very lucky to have traveled all over the world since I’ve done this. Every place has its own beauty—Japan, South America and here in the Wasatch—I’ve spent a lot of time in Alaska, and, you know, I think they are all so unique. If it’s early in the morning and there’s good snow, I don’t really care where I am.

BCM: What is the most challenging part of being a ski photographer?

JB: I do most of my work in the backcountry. What’s really challenging for me is dealing with the snowpack. I have lost a number of friends in avalanches, and that’s always a thing that’s weighing on my mind. I have to come home to my son and my wife. It weighs on me more and more the older I get—just dealing with safety. I don’t want anyone to die on any of my shoots. That’s the hardest thing that I deal with—keeping everyone safe and trying not to push anyone too far while making sure the snowpack is legit.

BCM: Elaborate more on how safety has been a concern for you?

JB: It’s very difficult because we [photographers] travel from Alaska to Chile to Utah; the snow is all so different. The athletes I am working with are so amazing—the stuff that they can tackle is pretty mind blowing so I think just knowing the athletes, knowing everyone’s ability and then just staying small on stuff you know is easy. When you do start seeing bigger avalanche conditions, build booters and just hit jumps all day. You can be safe and still shoot, and everyone’s having fun. For me, I want to shoot what the athletes want to do.

The biggest thing is not getting into big terrain too quickly, especially when we are in the middle of nowhere. If you’re in Alaska for a month and you are doing everything all on your own—no guides, no nothing—you have to know what you’re doing. When you have 3,000 feet of spines above you it’s puckery, so starting small is huge because you can test the slope and after you understand what your snow’s doing and where your weak layers are, you can go from little slopes to bigger slopes, not getting too amped and getting into stuff too soon.

BCM: Do you have any trips planned that you can tell us about?

JB: I have too many. I have to narrow them down at this point. I am going to Morocco, and I am really excited for that. That will be in March. Last year was the first year in maybe 10 years that I didn’t go to Alaska in the spring and so this year I think I am going back to Alaska. I think it is starting to look like I have a potential trip to Japan. It is overdone but it is so much fun to go and ski pow. They also have a ridiculously beautiful culture. I think those are my big trips. That all changes as time goes, and it can get all turned around.

BCM: How would you describe your photographic style?

JB: Personally, I’m a sucker for backlighting. I have been trying to move away from it, but in my mind that’s what I want to shoot. I think it’s the hardest thing to shoot. To get your light correct and to shoot into the sun and have a red sun star, to me, that’s what I look for more than anything else. What I struggle with are the tiny moments. The close-ups. I have been working on capturing the micro moments.

BCM: What is the most spectacular thing you didn’t catch on camera?

JB: Well, I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I didn’t catch it would I? With action it can be hard to shoot the early morning when the sky is pink. In the ski world you need such a fast shutter speed that it is hard to catch these sunrises. There are so many times we are out right after a fresh snow and the skies are clear and you are just waiting for the sun to come up and you are watching the amazing sunrise or you see this untracked pow line, and I think those would be the moments where you just look at them and store them in your mind’s eye. Then you don’t have to shoot and capture everything all the time. You keep it to yourself.

BCM: Is it hard to balance capturing every moment on camera with your desire to just be outside?

JB: I struggled with that a lot in the beginning, when I was first full-time in the winter just shooting ski stuff, I remember it very distinctly—I was not necessarily the happiest I have been in my life. I am a fairly happy person and I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong. I was doing what I wanted to do with my life, I got to travel all over the place, and I couldn’t figure it out.

Gabe Rogel suggested that I was shooting too much. Every time I would go skiing I would bring my camera. Every time I was mountain biking or running, I always had my camera. He was the one who told me a long time ago, “You gotta make time for yourself. Whether it’s skiing or something else, you don’t need to bring your camera all the time, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to, because if you do, it takes away the joy and the whole point of some of these sports.”

We started doing family tours. No cameras. We put beer in our backpacks and ski mellow terrain, and it’s just fun. It’s what I used to do backcountry skiing. It took me a long time to learn that that’s OK. You are your own business, your own boss, and you want your business to succeed. You need to take photos for that to happen, but if you’re not happy, you’re not thinking with a clear mind. Then you’re not shooting what you necessarily could or should be shooting at the time. When I am away from my family on a trip I am shooting 24/7, and then when I get home, for the most part, I am working in my office or spending time with my family.

For more on Jay Beyer visit his website at Jay Beyer Imaging.

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