Sitting Down with Kevin Arnold

Kevin Arnold is a veteran Lifestyle photography and his client list reads as a “who’s who” in outdoor apparel: Helly-Hansen, The North Face, Sperry-Top Sider, Columbia Sportswear and JanSport. We sat down with Kevin to pick his brain about a few of his personal projects and in the process he opened up about his background, experience, and his close calls with mother nature along the way. After the conversation, be sure to check out his website

Given your background and love of the outdoors it seems as though that photographing skiing, and the lifestyle, was a natural progression for you. How did you get your start?

I got my start shooting mountaineering and other outdoor adventure sports that I was doing personally. I was inspired by the beautiful places that these sports took me and I wanted to capture that on film. I realized early on, though, that I wasn’t interested in just shooting the next ski magazine cover; I was more interested in documenting the lifestyle around these sports.

You’ve been working on a series documenting the lives of the Avalanche Patrol at Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia. How did you get involved with them? And, what initially drew you to them as a subject?

It was a project I had in mind for a few years. I really love to document people doing what they do, and the fact that these guys also work in a beautiful environment in harsh conditions just made it that much better for me. There is a built in seriousness to what they do that I knew would translate well to film.

There must have been some close calls with Mother Nature while working on this project. Does any particular instance stick out above the rest?

Before I was even given permission to shoot the project, I had to get to know the head patrollers and prove that I could not only ski alongside them without adding any hazards, but that I also had basic avalanche safety knowledge. The night before it was finally time to shoot, a huge snowstorm descended on the resort. It’s funny because I almost decided to postpone the shoot but went ahead anyway, and in the end the massive amounts of snow and harsh conditions are really what made the shoot visually successful.

However, keeping my camera dry was impossible. I would just shoot away until it stopped working and then would switch to another camera until that one was done.

I also injured myself on the shoot. I was following one patroller down a steep out-of-bounds area taking shots of him detonating explosives. It turns out that the only way out at the bottom of the slope was launching off a 10-foot cliff onto a small patch of snow above another huge cliff. Hard enough at the best of times for me and with a big camera bag it was dicey. I lost my balance on the landing and ended up bashing my hip into a hidden rock. To be honest, though, I was just thankful that I didn’t’ fall the other way and over the cliff.

Shortly after this, another group of patrollers accidentally set off a huge slide across the valley from us and I just happen to be in a perfect spot to shoot it. So that was lucky. One of those patrollers actually broke his hip just after that in a fall because of the harsh conditions.

Is this a project you see yourself continuing as a new ski season approaches?

I’m not sure. It has actually blossomed into a larger ongoing set of projects where I am documenting people who do sort these hardcore behind-the-scenes jobs. Another group I’m documenting are the Anti-Poaching Rangers in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.

A few years ago you did some work for Helly-Hansen and you mentioned you used the Red Epic camera exclusively, for both video and stills. Besides the obvious differences, what was it like producing still imagery from a motion camera?

Yes, this was another ski project that I shot in Whistler. The goal was to shoot a short motion piece on the RED Epic but also to test the ability to pull stills from motion capture on the camera. We rigged the camera so it was lighter and more versatile, so we could capture a very organic shoot without too much production. It worked incredibly well for motion capture. Shooting still with the camera wasn’t as successful. The resolution is certainly there – even more so with the new Dragon sensor – but the two mediums call for very different shooting styles when you’re outdoors. There are also technical challenges like shutter speeds – fluid motion capture calls for slower speeds, whereas sharp stills call for fast shutter speeds – the weight of the camera, and also the malleability of the files themselves in post.

Recently I’ve shot two combined motion/still projects, the first for Confluence Outdoor and the other was a PSA for the Whistler Waldorf School, where I’ve shot the stills on a dedicated still camera and directed the motion on a RED or Sony. This approach worked a lot better and really suited my style of direction. Approaching a shoot this way yields a no-compromise set of images for both the still and motion campaign. Everyone walks away happy!