The trials and tribulations of becoming a pro ski photographer

Fall-Line guest editor Oskar Enander on his journey to ski photography glory

There is no doubt, I have my dream job. I get to make living out of something I love. That’s the very reason I got into ski photography 12 years ago – I loved skiing and being in the mountains and wanted to spend as much time as possible doing both. I never took any photography classes; I was just shooting a LOT and learned from my own mistakes. At that time, it was all film and slides, so you didn’t want to make too many mistakes because it got expensive quick…

Oskar profile shot_enander_o_39648

It took me a few years before I could say it was my full-time job (I worked night shifts in a bar in Engelberg and shot during the day), but I got a big break in 2003. It was following my first ever magazine submission, to Powder in the US. One of my images was awarded Photo of the Year. In the ski photography world, that was the biggest thing that could have happened at that time. It didn’t give me a bag of cash, but it gave me confidence that I was doing something right.

Soon I was shooting with some of the biggest ski names in the industry, such as Jamie Pierre and the Crist brothers, travelling the world from Argentina to Alaska, and having a blast. But being a ski photographer is not all fun and games, and, like all jobs, involves hard work.

The hardest part of my job is the weather. It plays a huge role and is something I can’t control. The stress can get intense when you have a client who has paid you to deliver high-quality images on a two-day shoot and you have terrible weather or snow conditions the entire time. When that happens you have to re-think and be more creative.

Big break: the image that landed Oskar Powder’s Photo of the Year back in 2003
Big break: the image that landed Oskar Powder’s Photo of the Year back in 2003

Then there is the risk factor. Often we are shooting in the backcountry, on no-fall steeps, or on avalanche-prone terrain where there are risks for both the rider and me. So minimising the risk is key. I try to work with experienced riders who I know won’t make stupid decisions. It’s easy to get carried away, but if you want to do this until you get old you’ve got to be smart!

When it comes to getting the gnarly, wow-factor shots, I’m sure there are other photographers who push riders harder, but for me it’s always the rider’s choice. If I see a beautiful shot, I will ask the rider if it is possible. If it’s safe and has no consequences, but the rider backs down because he/she doesn’t feel like doing that turn, I’ll push for him/her to do it! In that case it’s a question of motivation and working hard from both the rider’s and my side. The more time I can be on the mountain shooting and skiing the more I learn – and that’s the best of all.

It’s a modest living, being a ski photographer, but if making big bucks, avoiding risk, and never having to worry about when the next blue-sky day is was a priority, I’d have stayed in engineering school. But I’d be much less happy person.

So, if it’s something you also want to do, then put down this magazine (after you’ve finished reading it), get out there and start shooting! FL

Taken from Fall-Line’s Photo Annual, out now.