Adventure Photog Scott Markewitz on Embracing The Backup Plan

Adventure Photog Scott Markewitz on Embracing The Backup Plan

This piece originally appeared in our guide Building Your Outdoor & Adventure Photography Business – for the full article download the guide here.

Scott Markewitz is an adventure photographer who splits time between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Provence, France. Called one of the world’s greatest adventure photographers (Men’s Journal) and “one of the most influential people in snowbiz,” Scott learned the trade on the slopes himself and is also ranked among Ski Magazine’s “100 Most Influential Skiers of All Time.”

Since transitioning to be a professional photographer, Scott’s images have appeared on over 400 magazines covers including Outside Magazine, Powder, Bicycling, Runner’s World, and Men’s Journal. We talked to Scott all about all the minor catastrophes, and everyday trials he’s dealt with, and why embracing a backup plan is all part of the gig.

Scott Markewitz

Scott Markewitz

What are the most typical setbacks action adventure photographers encounter? 

The first thing you have to deal with as an adventure photographer is weather. There are situations where, if the shoot doesn’t work out the way we had planned, then we have to go with a plan B. Half the time I’m out there I’m going with a plan B. You learn to adapt. When you have perfect conditions it’s awesome, but those days are actually pretty rare, especially when you’re on assignment and have to a job on a certain day. Part of that is dealing with the weather and accepting that you may not be able to get the shot you had in mind.

What’s an example of when you had to use your backup plan? 

I was in Bella Coola, British Columbia, once and normally when I go to a place like that I know the weather is going to be an issue and we’ll to wait for clouds to break in order to shoot. But on this occasion, the day before we arrived, a big wind storm had come through and destroyed all the snow. It had made it hard and crusty and we couldn’t ski. So we needed a storm, but it was sunny. And it just stayed sunny. We were there for 12 days. Days when you’re waiting out weather are called the “down-days.”

Usually it’s snowing or raining, but we had sunny down-days. Finally after those 12 days I just took the athletes to Whistler. We went out in the helicopter, the conditions were much better and we ended up getting great shots. But that was our plan B—we had to change locations.

You have to give yourself a lot of time on film production shoots. Sometimes there comes a point when you just have to pull the plug.

Photo by Scott Markewitz

Photo by Scott Markewitz

How do you keep a client happy and stay within budget?

Well in that particular case, there was some extra budget involved, but when it came to the point of needing to change locations, I called the client and told them that we just weren’t getting anything. I suggested the location change, and told them that the conditions were much better. They approved and we went for it.

Most importantly, when I’m out with a film crew safety is always first. When conditions are unsafe, it’s not worth thinking about budget if it’s going to sacrifice anyone’s safety.

I’ve had other trips like that. Up in Alaska once we had bad weather for about 11 days, and when it finally got sunny, the storm had made the snow very unsafe. We went out one day and there were avalanches everywhere. The next day we just left and went to another part of Alaska where the conditions were safer.

How do you come up with a Plan B?

The plan is always to go with PlanA. We have people traveling to a location, the logistics are set, so the plan is never to have a backup, and instead, we’ll figure out a different way to shoot what we need. It’s very rare that I come back without anything, I’ve never come back with nothing at all.

On a ski trip for Salomon we had one sunny day and got some great shots, but the next day some weather came in and we couldn’t shoot. So we hopped in a car and headed down to a little ski resort that one of the guys had heard about and went skiing. We did get some lifestyle shots, but sometimes when there’s no Plan B you just have to go have fun.

scott-1

When has a risky situation or a fumble turned into a great shot?

I’ve been skiing in Alaska, biking and hiking all over the world; I’ve been to a lot of amazing locations and captured a lot of incredible moments, but one that stands out was shooting Dave Watson jumping over the Tour de France peloton on his mountain bike, in 2003. No one knew if we could pull it off, or if we could do it without anyone knowing about it beforehand.

I was contacted to do the shot probably because it was thought that if a French photographer did it then more people would find out ahead of time. We got in touch with the mountain biker Dave Watson, who wanted to do it. He went over to France in the spring, did some recon and built the take off. But when he went during the spring there was still snow on the ground so I told Dave he should show up at least a week in advance to practice the jump. Any later than that and people would be camping out alongside the road. Instead, he showed up four days in advance and there were already motor homes and people everywhere. He hadn’t practiced, hadn’t even done a speed check. We had no idea if he’d be able to do it up to the last minute.

We went ahead and set up anyway. Dave had his bike covered with a tarp and had his regular clothing on over his biking clothes. We had a crew of people ready to clear the crowd if he decided to jump. As the race approached Dave thought that the first group had too many riders in it and he wasn’t sure he could clear them. He finally saw a group- ing that looked good. He whipped off his clothes while the crew cleared the crowd from the runway, and then Dave just went for it. I had four cameras on him and we got this amazing shot of him jumping over the tops of the riders.

He crashed the landing though and the police came running down to him. We all thought we were going to get in trouble. They took Dave to their mobile home, called the paramedics and checked him out. I casually walked down to him, like I was just a friend and not with a film crew making a production. We thought they were taking him away. But then the policeman got in the van, and drove away. Since it was just some crazy guy trying a stunt and nobody got hurt, they let him go. Only in France. Pretty cool moment.

For a more extensive version of this interview, plus many other tips from the pros check out our guide Building Your Outdoor & Adventure Photography Business. Download it today:

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