I’m not gonna lie, when I was speaking with Nic Alegre about his career in action, environment, and lifestyle photography, I about cuffed him to the table, forcing him to hand me his life. Weird, maybe; warranted, yes. The dude travels the globe alongside elite athletes, photographing their almost annoying beautifulness.
Rest assured, I held myself together. Alegre’s not chained up. Instead, he’s kicking it in New York, recouping after a whirlwind year, a large part of which he spent sidled up to TGR for the filming of Tight Loose.
I asked Alegre what the whole experience was like, hoping he’d confirm my vision of endless face shots. He said, “Well, it was tight…and it was loose,” and continued, “It was such a team environment, and that’s why I love working with them. They know the balance, and that’s why the content works.”
Apparently, action photography requires a little more than just a camera. Nic Alegre photo.
Alegre’s fairly new to professional photography, but his innate talent has shot him up the ranks, and fast. Just a few years ago, he was one of those fancy people at a fancy desk in fancy Manhattan, doing fancy marketing and advertising.
But all it took was three smartly-dressed years and Alegre was done. He and his desk weren’t jiving. The latter wanted commitment, Alegre wanted adventure. He was over the cubicle in the room in the building on the street in the city. He wanted mountains.
The mountains have intrigued Alegre since he was a kid. He grew up surfing in New York—apparently the state’s more than just black clothing and shopping for black clothing—and while he loved the water, he felt a pull for more rugged terrain.
Hate to rain on my own parade, but this is probably the closest I'll ever get to doing Alegre's job. Nic Alegre photo.
That pull was put on the backburner until his mid-twenties, when Alegre plucked up enough courage to do what all good pioneers, I mean people, do and head West. He landed in Lake Tahoe, where he spent the winter doing all the miserable activities you do in that hideous part of the world, like snowboarding, exploring the backcountry, and drinking beers by the lake.
Meanwhile, Alegre’s camera joined him everywhere.
Alegre taps into athletes' emotions by putting them where they thrive. For some, that’s cruising through snow-covered trees and sending it off pillows, and for others, it's standing atop cliffs, scoping out lines. It’s in these happy places that you get that glow, and where Alegre can capture the rawness his photos are respected for.
Holy mother of snow. Now you see why he does what he does. Nic Alegre photo.
To make it in pro photography, self-taught Alegre says you’ve got to be crazy critical of your own work, take criticism constructively, and “just keep chopping wood.” It also helps to actually know what the eff you’re doing in the backcountry; an athlete’s not going to photograph well if you’re out there floundering about on your planks.
You’ve also got to have the right equipment. Sure, there’s the camera, but there’s also the knife, saw, radio. Alegre’s always got these safety tools, and he uses them. Once, he had to cut himself out of trees.
Cutting himself out of trees isn’t the worst Alegre’s experienced out shooting though. There was that “oh shit” moment on a sketchy weather day in Whistler when he triggered an avalanche on his snowmobile. Alegre was riding up a chute after the crew pulled the plug, but had to turn off because he wasn’t going to make it, and in those few seconds came the infamous crack. Alegre escaped the long slide uninjured.
Just a casual morning at work. Nic Alegre photo.
Avalanches aside, photography’s been everything Alegre expected. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he’s driven by pushing the envelope. Alegre’s quick to say the industry’s not actually the part that’s hard; it’s yourself, and the fact that you’ve got to push yourself to exhaustion. There’s also the pressure and commitment, not to mention the guts it takes to express your true self. You’re literally fully exposing yourself.
Alegre describes his style as dramatic, gritty, and low-key expressive. He won’t stop until he’s got the photo that speaks a thousand words without saying anything, and he finds that magic shot often comes at the end of the day when the subject's tired. In their fatigue, you find real feeling.
Behind-the-scenes on location. I guess this could beat the city desk job. Nic Alegre photo.
With a love for the past—Alegre studied History at Villanova University, with a concentration in War and Peace—you’d think he might look back on his desk job days, but that ain’t so. If anything, he’s focused on the future, with goals to just keep shooting new people in new places. He’s thinking the South Pole and Patagonia, and he’s also thinking about war-torn zones. The guy’s fearless and hungry.
To learn just one more thing about this photographer who put following his passion before having a stable desk job, I asked Alegre which three people he’d invite to dinner. His response: Todd Jones, Bill Murray, and Emily Blunt, “because she’s a total babe.”