The Garhwal Himalayas of India. Chamonix, France. The Republic of Georgia. These are all just a few examples of places photographer Jason Thompson is lucky enough to travel for work, shooting for brands like Patagonia. His early love for the mountains and the outdoors, plus his love for photography, put Jason down the path to combining these passions — and making a living while doing it. Says Jason of his photography, “I want my work to inspire others.”
We caught up with Jason to hear how he started shooting for brands like Patagonia, plus get his best business tips for adventure photographers hoping to follow his footsteps.
1. Tell us how you ended up shooting for brands like Patagonia. Did you pitch them? Or how did they discover you initially?
I grew up looking at Patagonia catalogs and knew that I wanted to make images that were good enough to be published someday. I submitted sheets of slides back in the day. I admit I’m embarrassed now by the pictures I submitted. But fast forward some years and I guess my work had improved enough for Patagonia to take notice.
2. Tell us about your most recent assignment for Patagonia. What was the vision and direction for the shoot? And what is the collaboration process typically like?
In my experience so far, the creative direction for different projects for Patagonia has been pretty wide open and free range. But to an extent, of course. Obviously there are some shots that need to happen to feature certain products, but direction is loose. It’s very oriented towards making sure the shots are original and authentic. And authenticity can’t be directed.
For the last couple of years, the trips I’ve been involved with were to shoot their High Alpine Kit. We went on two major expeditions to Alaska and India. Both trips had the same creative direction — to document our climbing objectives. This journalistic approach includes not only photographing the rad summit, but also the in between moments of traveling. It’s my job to visually document the whole experience that helps bring the story to life.
3. For commercial shoots on location, what are some challenges you can run into? How do you prepare?
I stand by the 6 P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
You know, I do very few “commercial” shoots in the traditional sense where there are 20 people on location and you’re working alongside hair and makeup stylists. Instead, I’ve been more involved with collaborations around shorter film projects.
When shooting for brands, regardless if I’m shooting alone or working with others on a project, I believe that doing your homework and envisioning how things may play out is key. You need to be prepared for what you think might happen, while also having a plan B and C. This kind of preparation will help to have things run as smooth as possible. There will be challenges that I can’t control, but I do what I can to “control the controllables.”
4. What advice do you have for photographers who want to connect with major brands like Patagonia? What should someone’s first step be?
Make sure your work stands out. You can’t score unless you shoot, right? So keep shooting. Shoot what you’re stoked about and be efficient. Be consistent with your outreach and follow up with creative directors, but never be annoying. Choose to conduct business on the phone versus an email, and a face-to-face meeting versus a phone call whenever you can. Remember it’s all about relationships. Getting to know and understand people is huge.
5. You’ve been shooting photo and video for 5 years now. What are lessons about running a business that you’ve learned the hard way? Any tips you can give adventure photographers who are just starting out?
Know what you can do yourself and what you should hire others to do for you. Save money and be frugal, but be efficient. When I started out, I tried to do all of my bookkeeping myself, but I’m not an accountant. The work kept me from making pictures.
Also know and understand your CODB (Cost of Doing Business). This will help you know how much you need to charge to stay in business and make a profit. Study business and marketing. Read as many books as you can. You don’t have to know everything, but you have to know where to find the answers.
6. What’s another brand you would be excited to shoot for? Why?
That’s a really complicated question for me because I’ve been so blessed. Being able to ski and climb in some remote places and experience new cultures has been a dream come true for me. I love what I do. I want to continue doing this for as long as it makes sense.
The idea of shooting for brands like The New York Times, National Geographic, Tesla, and Vice News all excite me for various reasons. Maybe it’s their journalistic approach. The raw documentation of telling stories — the stories that tell the ideas of innovation and new technology is very intriguing. Making images that continue to raise awareness of the importance of our public lands and our environment is not only gratifying, but absolutely necessary.
Down the road, I’d also like to investigate the connection between sustainable farming and population growth. I find that understanding those areas together will be very important to our society.
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