Garrett Grove: Photographer Spotlight

Garrett Grove: Photographer Spotlight

This commercial photographer spotlight features Garrett Grove. Garrett’s career in photography developed out of the world of action and adventure sports. He has worked with companies such as Patagonia, La Sportiva, Necky Kayaks and for publications British Airways, ESPN, National Geographic Adventure and Skiing. Garrett lives and works in Washington state, close to the mountains and adventures in his photos.

When did you first pick-up a camera and when was it you got serious about it?

I first picked up a camera with sincere intrigue when I was 19. A Canon film camera from Costco. I got it because I was heading up to British Columbia for the summer to guide folks in the Coastal Mountains. I knew I wanted something that would take better pictures than a point and shoot.

I got “serious,” aka realized I could turn this into my job, when I was approached by the Marketing Director for Necky Kayaks and he asked if I wanted to take some photographs for them. He had been following my blog that I put up for family and friends. At the time I was working at Backcountry.com as a studio photographer taking pictures of the products they were selling, so I was pursuing photography and trying to get better but still hadn’t connected the dots of photos can turn into a living.

What drew you to outdoor adventure shooting? Was it something you were always passionate about?

Outdoor adventure has been a passion of mine since I was 18 and taking photos of those activities has been something I have done since the get go. Whenever I went out, paid or not, this is what I was doing. If I wasn’t getting paid at all, I’d still be doing it. So my passion for outdoors and photos go pretty hand in hand.

I loved taking photos when I was out skiing and would get a lot of good comments from family and friends. They found it inspiring so it gave me encouragement. There were just so many amazing things that needed to be documented. It’s why I try to keep my blog user friendly and share places of where I have been. I don’t get too gear techy or the DIY stuff. I try to keep it about the photo and the experience. I try to get an idea of what some readers want and give that back.

Tell us a bit more about your style and how you developed it.

I think I am still defining my style and I am sure it will continue to evolve and change as I do. But right now I like a clean photograph without too many distractions in it. When I started taking photos I was using inspiration/copying the other outdoor adventure photos I saw which were primarily really bright, wide open shots. I was trying to fit in as much as I could which in turn caused a very “busy” photograph. Now I try to get a more focused, clean photo with darker silhouettes and black tones.

All along my constant dictator has been and forever will be the feel of the day (sunny vs. cloudy) with the environment (forest vs. open glacier) and how we are interacting with it. If I’m on top of the world and the suns bursting, that’s what I’m shooting. My style is really dictated upon the people and the weather conditions.

If it’s a prescribed shoot, then we’ll go find that. I’ll still shoot within my style, but if that’s what the client needs you need to give them that. That happens a bit more rarely though. The people I work for just like what I shoot and they say “go do it,” and later they will pick through a selection of images from a shoot and find what works for them. I try to work with those types of clients that let me go out and get creative with it – and they usually love the end result so it’s a great relationship.

How do you prepare your equipment and keep it safe in some of the harsher climates you encounter?

I don’t really prepare my equipment other than making sure the sensor and lenses are clean and dust free before heading out. While out there I find that most of my equipment can handle adverse weather pretty well, the biggest caution I take is changing my lenses.  If I know it is going to be really stormy all day I might just bring a general zoom (Nikon 24-120 f/4) so that I don’t have to change my lenses at all but can still get a variety of perspectives.

What kind of production level goes into most of your shoots? Are there a ton of people out there with you when you’re on the slope, or is it just you and the talent?

Not much production at all, 99% of the time it is just me and the friends/athletes.  I like to keep my images as authentic as possible and I want to be part of the moment. If there are more people there then typically the shots are staged and the photos reflect that.

The most production is the logistics that go into looking into an area. I did a shoot with Ski Magazine and it was all looking at maps, looking at Google Earth, looking at cell phone maps, trying to figure our spots. Then there’s coordinating the food stuff, bringing lots of spares for gear in case anything breaks or fails, lots of extra batteries. A lot of the prep doesn’t go into the actual shoot, it goes into the logistics of the adventure.

You always seem to be in just the right spot at the right time to capture the action and an amazing scene behind it. I assume this is no accident. How much are you scouting to find your shooting spot?

Man I wish I could say that I prep and go out and actually scope the area but really it is luck mixed in with just knowing the area will be gorgeous and those moments nearly always happen if you are open to them and looking. For certain things I will scout ahead of time or if I go on a personal adventure and see potential I will then contact a client and pitch and idea to them. But usually I fly by the seat of my pants and the objective for the day typically leads to standout images.

Getting talent who can climb, ski, mountain bike, etc. at an expert level seems pretty necessary in your work. How do you get access to such talent, and how could someone looking to build a portfolio in this type of work find them as well?

I have never been one to just call a person because they are talented/sponsored and then go out with them to get photos. The relationships and friendships are what motivate me so much. If I am just calling someone because they are good/talented at a given activity but they are also cocky or egotistical my motivation disappears. I get more enjoyment going out with people that are “normal” and participating in the given activities we love, then snapping photos. Sure as I do this more my friends slowly end up being folks that are sponsored athletes but their talent quickly gets outweighed if their personality is not down to earth or positive.

For people trying to get into adventure photography… find athletic friends if you can. I know others who do work with sponsored athletes and just call them up and take shots, I just have never been one to do that. I just had friends who were talented at it. I think you have a lot more fun working with those people. So I recommend people work with their friends for this kind of work. Photograph what’s around you, because if you’re getting into it you probably have friends who are already doing this.

How important is your website in today’s world? Where are buyers finding your work, or are you finding them?

Websites are very important. I have never owned a printed portfolio or have done any mailers. I think visiting a client, calling or emailing goes much, much farther than anything else. Most of my current clients have come from me looking up their information and directly contacting them and referring them to my website. I have tried some repping and portals but I typically find your own motivation and drive will do as much or more than they can for this line of work. If you want to go to New York or L.A. and work within that market then that might be the way to go but in the small outdoor world I don’t see it as necessary.

Where do you see your work in 10 or 20 years from now? Anything you’re really looking to develop in your portfolio?

In 10 or 20 years I hope my work reflects more than just the outdoor activity. I hope it has spread to wider facets of life and involved more people from different paths. I would love to use this skill to enable traveling to lesser known or privileged areas where we might climb or ski but the main goal is the exploration of a different culture and seeing how that impacts you. So yeah if you looked at my website in 10 or 20 years I would hope that the people, lifestyle, landscape galleries would dominate the action where as right now I think it is the opposite.

Any tips for our readers on improving their own photography?

There’s the 10,000 hour rule. It takes 10,000 hours to master anything. The more you shoot, the better you get. What’s taught me the most is shooting with a spot meter and shooting full manual. So you are absolutely in control of the image. The great part of digital is you can check the image and the histogram and see right away what’s right or wrong. I started learning more about why the image looks this way and how to influence it doing that. I never did any assisting or anything like that, I just learned by going out and doing it. I think that’s the real trick. Lots of shooting and making yourself better.

Where can we find more of your work or hear more about you?

Well I try to keep my blog updated on a daily basis with photos, trip reports, links to things that inspire me, new music and such. I really enjoy that aspect of getting people involved and hearing back from all of you. So go check that out at http://garrettgrove.tumblr.com. And an even better way to stay updated is by visiting and liking the Garrett Grove Photography Facebook page. It will have links to the blog plus more of a candid view of what is going on and where I am at. Come this fall my wife and I are moving into a truck and camper for a year or more. We hope to circumnavigate North America and stop at places along the way to go skiing, biking, climbing and running and to see family/friends. So the blog will be a great place to get updated on the where-abouts and fun stories.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

Some Older Comments

  • melinda ramage January 19, 2012 05:36 am

    He definately is a outdoor photographer. Be very very cautious hiring him as a wedding photographer. All of his efforts were in what he had going on with the outdoor photography. We never saw one photo on the blog and then got the photos and not one was balanced, edited or cropped. =( emails were long in coming with no issues addressed. Bride had to do her own editing.

  • Jason Feldman July 12, 2011 02:05 pm

    I agree with the author - shoot in manual and LEARN for yourself how to make the image the way you want it. WHen I got my first DSLR - I refused to use any auto or "P" mode. If you start with that crap it will be your crutch. And if you think that will slow down your career as a photographer... GOOD! I didn't start www.bestexposures.com by purchasing a DSLR putting the camera int auto and starting a career... but so many people have! Prosumer camera's are a double edged sword. On one hand it lets us have fantastic full frame 5d mark II at a reasonable price - and not pay 8000 dollars - but then look on craigslist with folks offering wedding photography for 300 dollars!

  • Garrett Grove July 11, 2011 02:38 am

    10,000 hours is definitely just a general guideline pointing out that no one is a genius and just starts taking amazing photos, it takes time and dedication. Glad you all enjoyed the read. Cheers!

  • ShooterMum July 9, 2011 10:34 am

    Cool!. Love the people portraying perspective. Hey, I found the 10,000 hour rule comforting - means than each small increment of improvement I make is worthwhile!

  • Margaret July 9, 2011 03:22 am

    Beautiful work. Nice, clean images with interesting angles that really give a sense of what it must feel like to be right there.
    Hm, 10,000 hours, huh? Working on it!

  • scottc July 7, 2011 09:23 am

    Making a living that's in synch your lifestyle, photographing what you love to do is the way to keep photography from becoming like the proverbial mechanics car.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5852829477/

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com July 7, 2011 09:02 am

    Yes I totally agree about the 10,000 hour rule. I also did the same when I started out. I think what I do is almost similar to Garrett's photography.

    I do Car Photography for my website http://CustomPinoyRides.com.

    A lot of what I do also involves events and extreme races and drifting and stuff. I also have to keep my gear safe, and also have to shoot in different types of conditions.

    It's always nice learning what other photographers do, how they take care of their gear, advice to fellow photographers and all. I learn and utilize best practices from others to perfect my craft. I thank those whom i learned from as my skill now is molded through the help of others. Thanks for sharing it is much appreciated.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck July 7, 2011 12:30 am

    Hi

    I really like the comment about taking 10,000 hurs to master anything. I think that is fair, but with technology changing so quickly, we need to continuous reinvent ourselves to adapt, learn new techniques etc. It seems like that 10,000 just keeps extending itself. Now back to work and log a few more hours in LaJolla!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/06/23/la-jolla-shores/