Interview with photographer Tal Roberts
SNOWBOARDER, SKATER AND ORAGE’S PHOTOGRAPHER FOR 7 YEARS.
Mountain lover, Tal discovered his photographic talent while exploring nature. He is currently bouncing back and forth between Portland (Oregon) and Ketchum (Idaho) with his four legged friend and pursues his passion for photography.
What do you do these days?
These days I am working full time on photography, doing a mix of commercial ad shoots and spending the rest of the time making the type of images I want to see, putting together some collaboration projects that get my super talented friends involved, and trying to stay as active as possible.
How did you develop interest in photography?
I had played around with cameras in middle school, mostly shooting snapshots of my friends skateboarding, but I didn’t really get heavily into it until I was around 20 years old. At that time I knew a guy from the skate park I grew up skating in Tacoma who was into photography and worked at a camera shop. I told him I was interested in getting a camera and he had me come to the shop and helped pick one out. From there I started shooting things like landscapes and long exposures of the city. Soon after I became really interested in shooting my friends having fun on skateboards, and in a way that’s still what I’m doing.
Do you have any formal training?
Not really. But going back to the friend working at the camera store… what was really cool was that he developed all my film for free for a few months and gave me tips and feedback on why the shots turned out however they did. I got to learn a lot and shoot more than I could afford to. Around the same time there was a website called skateboardphotography.com that was a great place to learn the technical side of action photography. But there was still so much trial and error, getting whole rolls of film developed and finding out I had messed up the settings or the technique I tried just didn’t work the way I thought it would.
How does shooting skiing defer from skateboarding?
Skiing is usually on a much larger canvas, and if you’re in the backcountry it’s a lot more work to get there and move around the scene you can’t just easily walk all around the spot to find the perfect angle. You need to start from far out and work your way in so you’re not putting tracks all over the snow that will be in the frame. But the basics are the same, you’re trying to capture the athlete in the peak of their movement while making an interesting composition.
What special gear do you need to bring when you are out shooting in the backcountry during winter?
First off, you want to be wearing the right gear for the conditions. As a photographer you will have times when you are standing still for a long time, waiting for the sun to pop out, or waiting for athletes to get back up to drop in to a jump. So you need to make sure you can stay warm because it’s way harder to get shots when you are shivering uncontrollably. On the other hand, there will be times when you will be working your ass off hiking through waist deep snow trying to find the perfect angle or running up a hill with all your gear on your back trying to stay ahead of the athletes. For these times layering well is super important so you can shed some when you need to cool down. The other things that I always keep on me are a bag to cover the camera with if you end up shooting in the rain and snow and lots of small lens cleaning cloths.
If you had to own only one camera, which one would it be?
If I had to only keep one it would be the Hasselblad Xpan. (This is the camera the favourite photos were shot with)
Which is your favorite lens?
I couldn’t really pick one lens, I like different focal lengths on different camera formats. I almost always shoot wider lenses on rangefinders, but I prefer longer lenses on my medium format cameras. When I’m out shooting skiing I feel like I’m always moving around, changing angles and changing lenses trying to find the perfect combo.
Let’s talk about the trip we took together last year. What camera gear did you bring along?
As usual I brought a pretty full pack, especially since on this one there wasn’t an option to run back and grab another lens out of the truck. I brought a Nikon D5, a Nikon Z7, seven different lenses between 16mm and 200mm, a tripod, and a macbook and hard drives to back up the images each night. In the past shooting with Orage I have also used a mix of film cameras, but since we were sledding out to a hut for a few days I wanted to keep everything I planned to shoot with in one pack I left them behind.
Hardest shot from the trip?
I wouldn’t say it was too hard for me, but the shot of Banks backflipping next to Rory on the sled was probably the hardest for Banks getting towed in at 60kms, doing a huge backflip, and touching down in a landing the size of a speed bump.
Funny anecdote from the trip?
Don’t send your sleeping bag with a heli drop because the pilot might forget to unload it and you’ll end up sleeping in all your ski gear for a week…
Which photographer impresses you with his work?
I was always inspired by the skate photography of Brian Gaberman. Flipping through the skate mags you could tell which shots were his, the images were different and really stood out, and the portraits he shot seemed to have a bit more thought put into them. Much of the inspiration I get these days comes from outside the action sports world, from photographers like Danny Clinch and Anton Corbijn.
Among your works, which one is your favorite?
It would be impossible to pick out only one favourite, there are many things that can make a photo special, like how much work it took to make the image or that it just reminds me of a good time. But a lot of the time the shots that stand out to me are similar to these.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Pro Photographer Showdown?
Pro Photographer Showdown is a competition where five of the world’s top action sports photographers are invited to edit their favorite images into a slideshow to music which is then presented at an event in Whistler during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. This is my slideshow from last year’s event.
Excluding skiing, what sport do you like to photograph?
Other than skiing I shoot a lot of skateboarding, snowboarding, and mountain biking.
Besides photography, what is your passion?
Skateboarding, snowboarding, mountain biking, dog walking.
What’s the last song you listened?
Sweet Revenge by John Prine.
LISTEN TO THIS SONG >
Last book you read?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Do you have a life goal or a dream?
I be able to keep making a living doing this would be amazing. I’ve been really lucky to be able to this far and I have a lot more that I want to explore with photography.