Snow Shooter: Louis Arevalo

There are people who believe that taking a photo of someone is a way of capturing his or her soul. Photographer Louis Arevalo believes it’s no easy thing to capture the essence of a person or place, but he works hard to achieve this, and while his intensions are not ghoulish in nature, he tries to use photography to convey a deeper meaning.

We talked with Arevalo to discover more about his passion for certain photographic genres and how his action photography and portraiture each present advantages and challenges.

Office time at basecamp, Zion National Park. [Photo] Louis Arevalo

Office time at base camp. Zion National Park, Utah [Photo] Louis Arevalo

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

Louis Arevalo: My photography goes back to taking pictures as a kid, but when I went to the University of Utah I studied journalism so I had these two different foci. I had a hobby of taking photographs and I was studying to be a writer. Throughout that time when I was going to school 20 years ago, there were people who told me that I could either be a photojournalist or a writer. I had to choose one or the other. I kind of went down the writing path to begin with, but with the way things have been with journalism in the last 25 years, photography made sense, and people kept asking for photos. So, I became a guy that takes photographs and writes words.

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

LA: I am an active person, and you go out on these trips and you want to come back with memories, so photography is a way of documenting that. As far as pursuing photography as a profession, I saw an opportunity that spoke clearly to me, and I thought that maybe I could do better than some of the stuff I was seeing, so that was a motivation.

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

LA: I kind of like working everywhere. In general I love being outside. I do portraiture and studio stuff, too, but I love being outside. It mixes it up, and you never know what you are going to get. If you do a shoot outside, you might know the area, but the weather is different every day. I like that. Sometimes I get sick about it because I never know what to plan for, but it still drives me.

BCM: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while shooting?

LA: I was out doing some trail-running photographs with local athletes and we were setting up one of the last photographs of the day. We wanted to go get some shots on a peak and on our way back to the trailhead we were coming down this canyon. The athletes were like, “Hey, we should take a picture here!” As I was setting up the shot I wasn’t in love with it. Internally I didn’t know if it was going to work but they were like, “Yeah, this will be awesome!” So they stepped out of frame around a corner, and one guy was like, “OK! Are you ready? Just give us a whistle and we’ll come running.” So I am getting ready and I was like, “Uh, what am I doing?” Almost thinking about putting the camera away, and the next thing I know three guys come running out, buck-ass naked toward me. They were just messing around with me. They just thought they would run at me and tackle me.

BCM: What is the most challenging part of being an action photographer?

LA: Sitting at a desk is challenging. A lot of the time I am out in the field, but just as much I am at a desk. I think a lot of people don’t realize, it is not just editing. You have to run a business and there is a lot of desk time to be had.

With the photography the most challenging thing that is also the most rewarding for me right now is shooting portraiture. I find that really nailing a good portrait is one of the most difficult things. When you can compare portraiture with climbing or skiing, or any action sport photography, I think nailing a good portrait is 10 times as hard. You are trying to capture the essence of a person, so when anyone knows that persona and sees that photograph, they can be like, “That’s so and so, I can see them right there.” That is difficult.

BCM: In what way has safety been a concern for you?

LA: Safety is always on my mind. In the course of backcountry skiing, the couple of decades that I have been doing it have definitely changed my mindset. Now I am a little bit more selective about who I go out with. That has translated over to my work. Especially when I am shooting with athletes, I like to know who they are. I like to have a meet-and-greet before we even go out, just on a safe, mellow tour, just to see what the dynamic is because no photo is really worth it. I usually talk to the athletes and say, “We are just going to keep it safe and make it look nice.” It is cool to shoot extreme stuff, but you can go out and keep it nice and safe, you can totally make that into an awesome image.

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

LA: I am going to be in Portland, Ore., which is exiting. I have never been there. I am going to be shooting some portraits there.

I am also looking forward to winter because I am planning on skiing the southwestern zones around Taos and the San Juans. I have heard that El Niño favors the southwestern zones, so I have plans to head south and explore those places that don’t see as much traffic.

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

LA: There are so many. Most recently, a couple weeks back, I was in Telluride and I was just mountain biking with some friends and I brought my camera. When they showed up that afternoon I was intending to taking pictures, but we were having such a good time just riding that I decided that this was not a job, this was just going to be for me. We were riding at sunset and the sky lit up and it was just magical. The grass around the trail had that golden hue to it. Instead of stopping and pulling out the camera and setting up the shot, I thought, let’s just ride. Let’s keep doing laps until we can’t see anymore.

BCM: How do you find the balance between enjoying the outdoors and feeling constantly obligated to take photos?

LA: Every once in a while you have to leave the camera at home. Or, you can just leave it in your bag. Obviously, if you are on a job, you have to take images. But when I am not on a job and I am just taking stock images, images for myself, I find that I have to leave the camera at home because if I have the camera with me I feel guilty when I am not taking pictures.

I find more and more that I’ll go for a run and leave the pack, leave the camera at home. I don’t know if I have the balance yet; I definitely want to bring the camera all the time but I have been getting better at leaving it, and I am doing more personal things as I pick up more jobs. I figure it balances out. I don’t need to always be producing, and sometimes I need to get into a little routine because if I am going for a run, for me running is meditation. So if I am running and thinking about, “Oh, I really should set up a shot,” at that point I am really not meditating. I am braking up the mindset.

BCM: How do you define you photographic style?

LA: So, I guess when I am creating a photo I have to ask myself: what am I trying to show? What am I trying to relay? And that can be a sense of place, a sense of emotion. Also, my style isn’t necessarily to go for the complicated look. I know there are some really fantastic photographers where you can get lost in their photos and it is really beautiful, but I don’t shoot that way. I just do basic compositions, and hopefully when you look at my photos you’re not looking at it going, “What am I seeing?” So, I am obvious with my composition. I try to convey a sense of place and emotion and feeling of the moment.

On the technical side, when I am working, I am shooting the normal things: the wide picture, the medium picture, the tight picture. Every time I set up I am working with those three scenarios, unless there is only one chance to get a shot. I am always thinking, what am I trying to say here? What am I going for? I try to shoot those in different ways. Then it can come down to depth of field, shutter speed and all those things: the focus point, the writing, all of that plays into what I am trying to convey.

See more of Louis’ work at Louisarevalo.com

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