Ahh, snowboard photographers. Chicks love them, dudes want to be them. Oh wait, that’s the actual pro snowboarders. Snowboard photographers are the ones with cold fingers and (probably) massive debt who, let’s face it, probably weren’t very good at snowboarding. But a few lucky and talented individuals have had the pleasure of living the dream (at least for a little while) thanks to a camera and a photographic eye and Summit Country-based Dave Lehl is one of them. That’s not to say he goes home and rolls in piles of money, but Dave is what many want to be: a professional snowboard photographer, traveling the world and (usually) getting paid to do it. So what does it take to make it in the tough world of photography? Dave, like everyone else, is in someways still trying to find out, but that’s no reason not to put him on the spot and ask about it.
Who is harder to shoot (and get good photos of): cooperative girls or dudes trying to film their sweet video part?
Oh man, I’d way rather shoot a motivated chick. I like shooting with the girls! They’re always fun and the stress level is usually lower.
Have you shot with any girls who were especially impressive?
Jamie Anderson always charges so hard, I always love shooting with her. Although I didn’t really see her this last season, MFR cracks me up all day long. The shit that pours out of her mouth is pure comedy gold.
Jamie Anderson, model/snowboarder. Photo: Lehl
Who is your favorite person, in general, to shoot with?
That’s a toughie, I’ve got a ton of people I like to shoot with. I love shooting with (Dan) Brisse because you’re on the edge of your seat the whole time while he’s doing life threatening shit. Marius (Otterstad) is always fun to get out on the sleds with and bang out some gnarly shit. He’s also really fun to feed booze to every once in a while
I hear you are going to be on HGTV soon. What show and when can we see your debut?
Actually the show doesn’t have a name yet, we’re the pilot episode that gets shown to focus groups and junk. As far as I can tell it’s going to run in July some time.
What was it like filming home improvements, is it as much work as it looks like, or do they have goons to do the heavy lifting?
Shiiiiit, not on my show! It’s a show where I do all the work, and then at the end, if I can fool a panel of General Contractors into thinking I spent more money than I actually did, then I win some money. It’s been kind of a nightmare actually, because we’re on a pretty gnarly time schedule. Abbra and I have been working until 11 p.m. or midnight pretty much every night this week.
How bitchin’ is your house now?
It looks a goddamned middle eastern war zone at the current moment. I’m not done yet. The reveal date when they film the final shots is two days before Christmas and I’ve got a lot of holes to patch.
Only a real grown up would pull this shit. Dave (top left) Easter Bunny, Jon Kooley, Piere Minhondo, Manchild, Ryan Thompson. Anchorage Alaska.
Speaking of, I assume that means you are a homeowner. How does one afford to purchase a house on a snowboard photographer’s salary?
It’s because I’m a money hoarder. For the past 10 years I’ve never taken a vacation or bought anything that I couldn’t pay cash for. All I did was stash it away and save it, and with the way the housing market is and interest rates are right now, I’d have been dumb NOT to buy a place.
Are you still the staff photo guy for Rome?
I still have no idea what’s going on with that. I’ve talked to Runke and they just don’t have that part of their marketing plan for the season worked out yet. I’m hoping they hire me again, because that was the best season I’ve ever had! I had so much fun hanging with all the guys (and girl).
Nick Visconti, Denver Colorado
How does one go about scoring an awesome staff photographer position?
Shit, you tell me! Not partying like crazy doesn’t help, I’ll tell you that much. Everyone wants to be around party-guy.
What’s the best part of living in Summit County?
The best part of living in Summit County is that you’re no more than 15 minutes from a ski area.
The worst thing is everything else. Freezing cold, tourists constantly in your way whether you’re driving or in the super market, ski and snowboard doofuses everywhere.
Summit County good times. Ryan Thompson, Vail Pass, Colorado
Do you know Jesse Csinsack? Is he as big of a douche in real life?
Actually I don’t care what anybody says about Jesse, I like him. I used to be a big hater just like everyone else, but then I got to know him. If you can just sit down and have a normal conversation with him over a couple of beers, you’ll see he’s not a bad guy.
I’ve heard rumors that certain people don’t like you. Do you think it’s important to be liked to be a successful snowboard photographer, or can you be a dick, like in fashion?
Like I said before, everyone wants to hang out with party-guy. I don’t think being a dickhead ever helps out anyone’s situaton. The guys in question just thought I was cranky because I didn’t want to shoot stock shred spots and because I wasn’t too into 3 a.m. fireworks extravaganzas in my hotel room.
Ninja shit. Dave and Harold.
Why do you think so many people want to “break into” snowboard photography? Any especially-not-glamorous parts of it you’d like to share?
Oh my god, I seriously have NO idea why so many people want to be snowboard photographers!!! I don’t even know why I wanted to be one. First of all, you’re cold ALL of the time, you’re constantly up at 4 in the morning looking over your shoulder for cops. You can’t ever just go snowboard and have a good time because you’ve always got two backpacks filled with 50 pounds of shit, and to get one good shot, you have to build a jump for about 8 hours. And then at the end of it all, it’s a total crap shoot as to whether the shot you just spent all day getting will ever even see the light of day.
At the same time though, I love getting out there on the sleds and playing around in the backcountry and catching some mind blowing shit! It’s tough as hell, but still totally worth it.
I see you have a SpoT photographer profile, are you trying to break into skate photography?
Yeah, I saw that on there too a while ago. It’s just some random shot I got of Steve Reeves when I was shooting for Windell’s a couple of years ago. I wish I could shoot skateboarding, but Colorado isn’t exactly the place to do it and I’m not about to move to California.
If you could be a successful pro photographer in any field, what would it be, and why?
I used to assist on a ton of catalog shoots, and while it wasn’t exactly always super action packed, we always went to sick places and partying with the models every night didn’t suck. Natty Geo photog wouldn’t be bad!
Dylan Alito, Red Mountain Pass, Colorado
What is the worst thing, photography-wise, you’ve ever done for free?
Back in the day I shot some super lame fashion show shit that I never got paid for. I haven’t done anything for free in a while. Zimmerman’s the best at giving you the worst guilt trip ever for giving away free photos. I think I’m still on his shit list for letting TWS run a gallery of my shots like a year ago.
It seems a lot of people get into shooting photos/video because they are bad at snowboarding. Is that the case with you? What tricks can you do?
Oh man I suck so bad nowadays! At least I can say I USED to be good! Back when they just came out in like 95, I did a backside rodeo over the motocross gap at Copper. I don’t think that means shit to any kids these days, but that was about a 50 foot jump, which was really big at the time. I’ll bet Otterstrom knows which jump I’m talking about. I boardslid the 100 foot rail at Copper once, too. Between the bindings all the way, not one of those sissy nose slidey things.
Remember when you successfully pulled off all four one’s in Japan? Was that your life’s greatest accomplishment?
The ones were good times and you know it! Nobody else did them that week!
On the job in Gilman, CO
What’s worse: shooting events or shooting sketchy backcountry?
I’d MUCH rather shoot sketchy backcountry! Contests are the most boring things of all time! Practice is alright, because it’s like boom, boom, boom, dudes are going for it but when the contest starts, you’re sitting there for 10 minutes between runs and you just sit there and freeze.
How often do you go snowboarding without a camera?
I used to go all the time, but it seems like if I’m not shooting snowboarding I’d rather go snowmobiling than shredding. I used to be the WORST snowmobiler ever, but through the intense disgust and tough love of Trench Ludwig (Rome/Quik filmer), I got to where I could actually do some shit, and now I love it.
Jonas Michelot, lipslide, Quebec City, Quebec
Check out more of Dave’s work at Davelehl.com