Scott Markewitz is on his 27th year as a professional photographer. His reputation in the outdoor industry is one of reliability, creativity and quality. Markewitz learned a lot about photography while skiing in front of the lens as a pro skier in his 20s. He attributes much of his success to his deep understanding of the sports he photographs. Today, Markewitz is shooting more and more commercial work. He loves the challenge of creating under pressure. We caught up with Markewitz in Provence, France where he lives part time with his wife Veronique and their son Julien. He’ll shoot a Salomon trail running and hiking campaign in Spain before heading back home to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Do you remember the first bike photo you had published?
No, but I remember back in those days it was rigid bikes and no helmets.
How did you evolve from ski photography to bike photography?
It was pretty natural. It was basically just one of the summer activities I like to shoot when I’m not skiing. I love to bike and I know a lot of cyclists, so it was natural thing to do.
What are the differences between bike and ski photography?
The lighting. When you shoot skiing, everything is white and blue. The snow changes the way everything looks. With biking, there is more variety as far as the trees, the different colors of dirt, the rocks…You can be in mountains, rolling hills, grassy areas…There are all these different types of terrain you can bike in. Skiing is more uniform. For me, the lighting is the obvious difference.
It also depends on what type of biking you’re shooting. There’s cross-country riding and there’s the freeride extreme type stuff—those require very different mindsets of shooting. Shooting road riding is another animal in itself. Within mountain biking, you have the freeriders, the downhillers, the Enduro and all-mountain guys, the single speeders and then the hard-core XC guys who wear Lycra. There are all these niches in cycling and they all have a very different spirit and style about them. You have to understand the different aspects of the sport and what they mean in order to know the right kind of image to capture. In skiing, it’s either jumping in the air or skiing powder—that’s pretty much where most of the photography happens.
With skiing and biking photography, does one prove more difficult than the other?
It’s probably easier to ski with my full size pack than to bike with it, but when I’m biking I’ll carry a limited amount of gear—I just adapt to the situation.
They both have their different challenges, but I really enjoy them both. It’s all action sports and capturing people who are pushing their limits.
How does understanding the sport or activity that you’re photographing help you really capture it?
It’s important to have a feel for the sport you’re shooting. You can’t be an outside observer and try to capture it—you won’t get the heart and soul of it unless you really get the sport.
It’s pretty natural to me because I participate in these sports. I’m not a crazy freerider by any means, but I was a freestyle skier, so I understand moving through the air. As I watch those guys do what they do, I understand it and know the right time to capture the action.
How would you describe your style?
Pretty dynamic, pretty crisp and clean. I’m very particular about composition and lighting—they are very important to me. I pay attention to details. It’s not just about capturing someone flying through the air. I’m really trying to capture the heart and soul of the action and the spirit of the sport.
What do you consider as your “big break”?
For me it was a series of breaks. I bought some camera gear and took some photos with some pro skiers one spring and sent them to Powder magazine. That summer I went to Europe and coached a ski camp. I came back to the U.S. and walked into a magazine shop in New York and I saw my photo on the cover of Powder. That was a big moment.
Do you think there’s something about your personality that makes you a great photographer?
What’s helped me—especially from the start—is my background as a pro skier and being a really avid athlete. That’s given me a different viewpoint from a lot of photographers and helped to give me a more authentic look. Even though things can be completely set up sometimes, I’ve always aimed to make my photos as authentic as possible. And again, really paying attention to detail.
From being on so many assignments, I’ve learned to adapt to any situation. To reliably come out with really good images is a challenge, but I’ve learned how to do that and it makes clients happy. If someone sends me on assignment, they’re relatively confident I’ll come back with something good. It may not be the original plan, I’ve learned to adapt to situations to create something that will work well.
How much of it is planning and how much is spontaneity?
It’s a little of both and it depends on every shoot. Some clients have a layout and the shot is pretty much sketched out before you get there. The other extreme is to just go out and shoot and see what you get and be creative. Most shoots fall somewhere in between. You have a concept, you know your parameters, and you go out on location and work with what you have.
Sometimes you go into a situation and it’s awesome. Sometimes the weather isn’t that good or the location isn’t what you hoped for or the people you’re working with don’t look good.
Photography is always changing and evolving. What was current ten years ago looks dated now. I’m always pushing myself to create new things and come up with new styles. I need to explore things creatively to keep it interesting.
How do you do that?
I’ll see a shot that’s kind of cool—it could be a fashion shot or a funky lifestyle shot—and I’ll say, “I’m going to try that lighting.” One of my goals going into every shoot is to try something new. It could be a new angle or using a lens a different way or trying a different exposure or playing with the depth of field. I’ll go back to a location I’ve shot many times and shoot it a different way. Or I’ll find a new sport, find an athlete and shoot it. If I try something new each time, it keeps me on my toes. It helps to keep me evolving and keep me relevant.
How important is it to be fit in this profession?
For me it’s super important. For the sports I photograph, I have to get into pretty out-there situations. I have to hike in a long ways or be able to bike for days or ski tour or keep up with pro athletes. Being really fit is essential and also an advantage I have over a lot of people. Especially in outdoor sports, you have to be pretty fit to keep up with the athletes on some level. You have to talk their talk and walk their walk.
How important is it to live somewhere that inspires you?
It’s super important to live somewhere that allows you to do the things you love to do. Utah is great for skiing and biking and mountain sports and it’s also easy to travel anywhere I need to go. Utah is a great place to shoot. The light is amazing, the weather is good, the snow is incredible and in summer, the biking is great.
Being a talented photographer is just one part of running a successful photography business. What else is important?
You have to be really reliable, you have to work super hard and you have to follow through on everything you do business-wise. That’s a super important part of it. Shooting is the fun part. The business side is the real work and you have to be pretty dedicated to it.
Where is your photography headed?
I’m doing more commercial work and that’s really where I want to go with it. It’s interesting and it’s a different challenge. When you’re shooting editorial, you have more leeway and room for error. You can usually go out and shoot and get some decent shots. When you shoot commercial, you’re on the spot and you have to get it done. I enjoy the pressure and getting results. There’s a lot of preparation and planning that goes into the shoots. It’s super competitive and not like you just jump into it. It’s the natural evolution of my career.
To see more of Scott's work, drop into http://www.scottmarkewitz.com/