A talk with Dean “Blotto” GrayJuly 1st, 2011 by admin received Comments Off Tweet
Some people really don’t need any kind of presentation. You can be far from knowing by name all these sick rotations and tricks riders are pulling down nowadays, or even don’t be in touch with all the rows of AM coming out each season. Maybe you don’t have even watched this season’s snowboard movies. But well, it’s just enough that you opened a snowboard magazine once in your life to know the one I’m talking about. Here it is, one of the most prolific sport photographers of the last decade, local at Burton’s headquarters, with an undefined amount of covers on Transworld and other magazines. THE Photographer himself, DEAN “BLOTTO” GRAY
[Photocredit: Gabe L'Heroux]
Hi Blotto, thank You very much for getting in touch! Let’s present yourself to the readers: how old are you, where do you come from and how long have you been shooting ‘til now?
I’m forty-one years old and I was introduced to both skateboarding and snowboarding while living with my family in the great state of Arizona (USA). The low elevations and dry climate of Phoenix was perfect for year-round skateboarding, while up North in the city of Flagstaff, heavy snow is present each winter, so it was a perfect place to learn both activities. I shot my first serious photos while living in Vail, Colorado while working for Technine Binding Company.
Do you still remember the day when you took your first pic with your camera? After the first approach, when did you realize that photography would have become more than just a hobby for you?
For sure I remember this day because we’d spent two days digging a massive backcountry quarter-pipe in Colorado, and now I would be shooting it! Right around this time Technine decided we needed to produce our own images of the team and create the catalog. I picked up the camera; Ethan Fortier (Technine Founder & Snowboarder Magazine USA Senior Photographer) got the computer and learned photoshop.
My first shot in my first roll of film was Travis Parker (Robot Food Founder) on the quarter-pipe and it was run in a magazine called Stick. I knew right away that I really liked having a camera in my hand, total freedom.
In a world evolving so fast – countless new models, new softwares, new techniques – how much is important for a photographer to be up to date with the latest releases? Is it worth running for the top or is it just a main street hype?
[<- Photocredit: Gigi Rüf]
I think any camera from any era will work fine for producing great images; it isn’t like photos nowadays are that much better than say forty years ago. A great photo is a great photo, what device you use to capture it really doesn’t matter, it’s up to the photographer and how they feel like presenting their work.
However, newer digital cameras allow you more creative freedom because their burst rate, high-iso shooting, etc is finally at a point that allows you to do almost anything with this device. When the early DSLR’s were introduced to the market, they had some serious issues to work out, unlike the SLR cameras (film) they were replacing. It took me quite a few years to finally go one hundred percent digital because I had trouble producing images as satisfying (digitally) as compared to pushing and pulling film. Nowadays I’m very happy with the Nikon products and the limits you can push their products to.
If you feel that the newest DSLR or editing program will offer you techniques you can’t get out of your ‘dated’ equipment, then you should consider upgrading.
[Photocredit: Susie Floros]
Maybe we have tons of very good photographers but just a few are at the top level. What do you think are the qualities that make the difference between an AM to a Pro shooter?
Documenting snowboarding, like it or not, is all about teamwork. Yes, the act of snowboarding is an ‘individual sport’ for sure, but getting photos and film shots nowadays requires a whole lot of help from everybody in the crew. It’s not about setting up a couple of flashes and finding a nice angle to secure your spot amymore. You have to dig, pile snow, fix landings, run the winch, fix the snowmobiles and deal with anything else that comes up.
I believe one’s commitment to working hard, never complaining and making shit happen is the key to making your way into solid film crews and staying there, while always taking good photos.
My equipment of choice is the Nikon D3s, which will become the D3x if they decide to produce an updated version of this camera. Nikon Nikkor lenses all around. Pocket Wizard high-speed flash sync units (TT5) trigger Elinchrom Strobes and Sunpak 544 Flashes. Burton F-Stop camera bags for all equipment and Burton wheelie bags for traveling.
[Photocredit: Zach Hooper->]
Past season has been pretty hard for weather conditions in some sense. How it was for you? What’s your best highlight from the past winter?
I guess the saying ‘too much of a good thing’ could be attached the North American 2011 season! It really snowed a lot, which played havoc with the backcountry film crews because there were very few sunny days in between the storms. But, these same systems dropped a ton of snow in the cities, which is where I spent my season from December through February. From March through the middle of June I stayed with park and pipe shooting, and those same storms that wreaked havoc on the backcountry crews had us waiting day after day at every park shoot waiting for sun!
[Photocredit: Gabe L'Heroux]
It was an interesting season for me in the fact that I didn’t spend one day in the backcountry, which was quite strange, that’s where I spent most of my time annually. While on New Years snowboarding vacation with family and friends, another snowboarder crashed into me and broke my wrist. Since I had a cast on for all of January and February, the doctor told me no snowmobiling for the winter. With Europe having a terrible season, there was no chance of visiting The Alps for hiking in the backcountry, so I morphed into Urban/Park shooter dude for the season!
My highlights could be broken down between the technical riding happening in the urban environments and man-made features constructed for the Burton film Standing Sideways.
Most of us know Dean Blotto from Burton Snowboards and Transworld Magazine. But you’re a damn fine photographer also in non-snowboard related topics. Are you working on any side project at the moment?
The summer months have become quite busy for me because of bicycles: riding, building, sharing, shooting. Many days are spent getting more and more friends and family to utilize a bicycle in their everyday lives, reduce the amount of time in the automobile, stay healthy through pedaling. Also, searching out old discarded road bikes and converting them into commuter bikes for friends has been a blast.
Beyond dealing with bicycles from a humanitarian perspective, I’ve been shooting a lot of mountain biking with the GT Bicycles team, along with documenting a fair share of the commuter bike movement in various cities. I have to say that after learning how to document snowboarding (and how difficult it truly is), going out shooting bicycles is much easier when speaking of ‘access to terrain.’
[Photocredit: Jeremy Jones]
I’m comfortable lugging lots of gear into the mountain or streets, waiting on weather, maybe getting kicked out of a spot and wearing big boots and warm clothes. After getting used to this process for many years, heading out in the summer months when it’s warm, dry and no chance of being asked to leave a spot, shooting bicycles is much easier from that perspective. Of course the photographic part of the process is just as technical and challenging, so there’s no chance of being bored, so I like that!
Each season I get stoked looking at the amount and the quality of Bside shots – the shots that aren’t good enough for magazines, websites and stuff – and well, I’ve to say some of them look so crazy and terrific that the idea that they’ll rot in some hard disk sounds simply awful. But also the sick quality of the latest works is upping the bottom level. What is that make a shot to be good enough for a cover or a publication, in your opinion?
The subject of what makes a good cover shot or not could be argued until you’re ‘blue in the face.’ I know I like seeing an epic image on the cover, but that doesn’t always work with the content in between the first and last pages, what they’re trying to convey with that issue and the demographic they’re reaching out to. If you’re going to spend time worrying about whether your shots will be on the cover or not, you might be in for a lot of stress! I learned a long time ago that something is going to end up on the cover, for better or for worse, maybe it’s my shot, maybe it isn’t, I’m going to keep shooting everyday anyway.
[Photocredit: Aaron Leyland]
The fact is there are too many good photos and not enough pages to run these images. So many guys and girls are amazing photographers and there’s so many kids filming video parts that the supply is much greater than the demand. With that said, good photos are used, but much of it is based on the content of the magazine, therefore determining who will be published.
Also, there’s rarely page count for the images that cover the process of getting the great action shots, so that was my main motivation for creating my own website. I believed people would get just as inspired by travel photography and behind-the-scenes imagery as they would action photos in print. It was the perfect outlet to explain the process, show the faces, the people and the travel.
How do you feel when you’re up in the mountain for a photo session? Do you ever feel under pressure about getting the right shot, on the right trick?
My role starting out at Burton was Road Manager (1999), who also shot photos and filmed. For many years I set up photo shoots for the likes of Jeff Curtes and Kevin Zacher, getting everything in place so they could spend their time focused only on photography. While at many of these shoots (and the contest scene) I found time to snap many rolls of film and concentrate on learning how to take good photos. In 2003, Burton asked if I would be a Principal Photographer, along with Jeff Curtes.
At that point my photo career went from ‘taking a few photos as second or third angle’ to having to ‘get the shot’ for exact catalog and advertisement needs. I felt a bit of pressure then, but I knew if I kept doing what I was doing with my photo style and work ethic that everything would be fine. I learned very quickly how to capture and deliver ‘commercial photography’ while maintaining one hundred percent ‘creative freedom.’
[Photocredit: Al Page]
Sometimes this can be a difficult line to walk, but with Burton’s backing of my style and techniques in shooting, it’s worked out great, they trust what I do and how I translate any given snowboarding session. I have to give a lot of credit to Burton for allowing (and believing) their photographers to capture these situations how we see fit.
Do you feel the challenge of the other photographers? When you’re up sessioning and maybe you know just a few shots will be published? Or maybe it’s something that push you to do your best?
I really don’t spend any time keeping an eye on other photographers, I’m pushing my skill level and creativity as much as possible, so that doesn’t leave me much time for anything else! ‘Creativity’ plus ‘seizing the moment’ is enough for me.
Stoked on Blotto! Follow him daily on www.blottophoto.comYOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Tags: Aaron Leyland, Al Page, blotto photo, blotto photto, burton, canon, dean blotto gray, dean gray, Gabe L'Heroux, Gigi Rüf, Jeremy Jones, nikon d3, snowboarding photography, Susie Floros, Technine Binding Company, Zach HooperPosted under: INTERVIEWS, PHOTOGRAPHY & VISUAL ARTS, SNOWBOARD