Jason Thompson grew up backpacking in the mountains of Washington State. After moving to Montana, his love for outdoor adventure really took off. He has photographed for companies like Powder Magazine, Patagonia, The North Face and ESPN-just to name a few. Thompson is living the photographer’s dream. Nevertheless, the life of a photographer is far from glamorous, it requires hard work, commitment and a whole lot of passion. We gave Thompson a call to find out just what goes into making a living as an adventure photographer. Here’s what he had to say about it.
What inspired you to start making photos?
Jason Thompson: Moments in time and moments in the mountains. I was passionate about being in the mountains and pursuing memorable moments in the mountains and I wanted to capture those moments with friends and be able to bring those pictures back and show other people who maybe didn’t spend time in the mountains why I loved being up there.
What is the most important characteristic of a professional adventure photographer?
JT: I don’t know if there’s one perfect answer for that…but I think something that sticks out for me is being willing to pursue whatever it is you’re really passionate about doing even though there will be a lot of hardships along the way. It’s a career with a lot of struggles and obstacles that you have to overcome along the way.
How do you stay focused when you’re on a shoot?
JT: Think about the trip or think about the shoot before it starts. Make sure to have a framework. Have that framework preplanned and pre-visualized then once you’re on the shoot, get the shots that you want and from there it’s a good jumping off point for building a little bit more creativity.
How do you know when the moment is right?
JT: Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes the light is just perfect. Maybe there’s a little bit of clouds or a little bit of mist in the air…Those are the moments that are pretty obvious. Other times you have to work a lot for it and it may not seem like the moment is perfect. There’s certainly a lot of hard work that goes into it on everybody’s side…from my side as the photographer and the athletes all working hard in order to get in position to be able to capture that perfect moment of ice or snow or whatever it may be.
How does gear factor in?
JT: Gear factors in a lot. Lighter gear and the gear you trust definitely play into success on a trip. You need to have confidence in your gear. There’s a lot of camera gear that you have to be intimate with and you have to know how it’ll produce an image for you and produce a certain look or feel that you’re trying to achieve.
Which camera lens or piece of gear will you never leave home without?
JT: I shoot with Canon equipment so I really like the 24-105 Canon lense. It’s a workhorse and gives me a lot of options for angles and depths and apertures. I also really enjoy shooting images on my iPhone. That usually comes with me on trips. Solar panels as well, depending on how long a shoot is, are a really good resource for recharging batteries.
How do you get your images out into the hands of the consumers? How’d you nail your first big client?
JT: It’s been a long process. When I first started off I was shooting everything on slide film and during that process it wasn’t quite as easy to get my images out to the masses. With the onset of digital it became a lot easier to share images with the world through the internet. I use a lot of social media now. Instagram, for me, is a big one. Instagram is really fun for me, I really enjoy it, I love the community aspect of seeing what other people create and capture.
In terms of my first big client…I came up with my top five clients I wanted to work with and just continually made submissions until they eventually took notice of my work…Staying positive is a big thing. You’re going to get a rejection letter 99 out of 100 times but just continue to make submissions and don’t take no for an answer.
What’s your favorite photo or photo project from your own collection?
JT: I have several favorite images. A lot of my favorite images have to do with the moment. They’re more memory based for me.
I really like this one image from Chamonix France. That was a cool moment. We knew the light would be really cool so we stuck around and waited to make that image and it turned out really well.
This other image is of Conrad Ankor on a route here in Bozeman…It was really cool to see his dedication to this route. It took him a lot of work and a lot of dedication over the course of almost two years. I really like to be able to share the story behind the image for the viewers to gain an understanding of what is going on in the image. It’s not just that one moments of time, it’s all the work and effort that goes into getting that one image. Sometimes it’s ten hours of hard work, sometimes it’s two years of hard work.
Top 3 tips for an aspiring adventure photographer?
JT: Networking with other creative types is really important. I think always being humble and willing to learn is really important. One of the most important parts of being an adventure photographer is to spend time learning and understanding business techniques. When it comes down to it, you’re running a business. Understanding business tactics will set you apart from many other creatives. Another important tip is to remember that it’s a people based industry. If you have a chance to have a phone conversation versus an email, definitely talk to people on the phone and if you have a chance to be face to face with a person rather than on the phone, be face to face with them.