Bag Check is an all-new TransWorld SNOWboarding series dedicated to the many photographers and videographers we work with on a daily basis to bring you the premier snowboarding media that you have come to know and love. Each week we will be showcasing a different contributor by taking a look under the hood of their camera bag to see what each of them rely on in the field, before diving a bit further and tapping their brains about what it takes to create the work we celebrate. Make sure to check back next week for another installment of Bag Check with today’s leading photographers and videographers.
In our fourth installment of Bag Check, we catch up with professional photographer, Andrew Miller. Since his start in Southern California, Andrew has traveled the world with the best snowboarders of the time, to destinations both near and far. From the peaks of Nepal to the mind-boggling spines of Alaska, Andrew has managed to provide a unique vantage point that lends a profound and rare relatability to his images. Most will never have the opportunity to experience the places he photographs first-hand, yet his images allow the viewer to share in the experience. For Andrew, sharing this is the ultimate goal. Continue below to see how he does it.
How long have you been shooting for, and how did you get involved with shooting snowboarding?
I have been messing around with cameras since high school, but it’s been 11 years since my first paid photography job, and for the past 5 years I have been 100% full-time shooting snowboarding. Growing up in Southern California, I was skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding from an early age. As the years went on, snowboarding became my main focus and led to some brief sponsorships and dreams of going pro. I destroyed my knee overshooting a jump at Mammoth in 2006 which completely shifted my focus. I wanted to still be involved and just happened to have a decent camera. And my friends were really good too. I would just hang out in Main Park shooting them and any pro that was lapping through at the time, which eventually led to selling my first photo. Things went slow, but every season I would get more and more jobs and sell a few more images. Eventually, over the years it led me to be able to quit my full-time job as a Laboratory Assistant in a Hospital and just shoot photos.
Which photos/videos that you saw inspired you to become a photographer?
A lot of skate and jib stuff. I grew up in Southern California going to Bear Mountain, so I couldn’t really relate to all of the pow and big mountain riding. In middle school, I was watching movies like The Resistance, Neoproto, Robot food, Nixon Jib Fest, The End,and Fulfill the Dream. My group of friends was always making little edits and shooting photos on disposable cameras of each other skating and snowboarding to try and copy what we saw in the magazines and videos. I always had the goal of being a pro snowboarder, and it wasn't until later when I got hurt that I even considered becoming a photographer.
List and describe what camera & other gear that is featured in the overview image.
- f-stop Lotus
- Canon 1DX
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- 15mm fisheye
- 100mm macro
- DJI Mavic Air
- Jones Avalanche Shovel
- Mammut Pulse Beacon
- BD crampons
- Board Straps.
What's your go-to setup?
It always depends on what I'm going to do, so my kits vary a lot. But usually just for day missions one body and two to three lenses 15mm, 24-70 & 70-200. For me, I think more gear just makes things more complicated and I always try to bring less if I can.
Anything you are looking to add to the collection?
I'm pretty happy with what I have and I'm not really a huge gear head. But a few really nice primes or a few lighter f/4 lenses to lighten the load on big splitboard days would be nice. A Leica M6 has been on the list for a bit.
What’s one piece of gear (apart from camera gear and avalanche gear) that you couldn’t live without in your pack?
I'm a minimalist when comes to gear, but a headlamp, Multi-tool and for sure a ton of ski straps are always a lifesaver. You can pretty much use those for everything, to fix skins, hold shit together, broken binding straps etc. I always hide an extra snack in the bottom of my bag for an end of the day treat, usually some chocolate or almond butter.
Why do you carry that selection of lenses to shoot snowboarding?
Well, it always differs on where I am and what we are going to do; but for how I shoot, the range of lenses from 24mm - 200mm covers just about everything. Most often, if I am going to AK or shooting a big line in the Sierra, I will bring out a 400mm for those far away angles. Sometimes I will only bring out one lens to challenge myself to find more creative angles or force myself to stay close with the crew for the day which can be challenging and sometimes a little scary when you’re out splitboarding or hiking lines.
What are your most exciting environments to shoot in?
Anywhere that I can be the most involved as possible. I always consider myself a snowboarder who takes photos. I want to be out there taking runs, being apart of the decision-making process, helping pick out lines or navigating terrain in new areas. Whether on foot, splitboard, resort lift, snowmobile, bike, boat or helicopter, I tend to gravitate to the more adventurous expeditions, to new places or camping missions. Those always seem to be the most productive, fun to shoot, and experience.
What environments are toughest on your gear?
For me, I have had the most issues with gear in British Columbia, Washington, Chile, and Alaska. Usually, it's just the dramatic temperature shifts and weather in these zones. It's always tough to deal with lens and mirror condensation. Shooting in heavy snow that turns to slop and then back to super cold, mixed with some wind and everything on your camera freezes over is pretty much a day ender. Trying to keep your bag dry is key, and making sure everything completely dries out each night is so important especially when snow camping or shooting multiple days in soggy and super snowy weather. If things didn't totally dry you’re dealing with instant fog in the lenses, and that can totally shut down and ruin your day for any type of shot.
How do you protect gear from these elements?
Besides temperature and moisture regulation, I really don't do much. Maybe some basic rules like don't ever bring your bag in the warm lodge after shooting in the cold snowy temps, especially if you still want to go back out and shoot. I trust my gear is as weather sealed as they claim. Camera gear is meant to be used and get the shit kicked out of it. You should never be scared to pull out your gear due to weather. I have a rule if you ever feel like you shouldn't pull your camera out, it’s usually the best time to do it. If it breaks then that's what insurance and warranties are for.
Any packing rituals the night before a big shoot?
I'm usually fully packed with everything besides batteries early the night before. Everything from my bag, to shred gear, to clothes to food and water. The more dialed you are the longer you get to sleep in. Every extra 10 minutes counts when you’re getting up at three or four in the morning.
Flash vs. Natural Light
For me, hands down natural light. I rarely shoot much flash. Most of the stuff I'm doing I want to have less gear, shoot super fast and keep a good flow going. Hard to do that with a big set up and dealing with pocket wizards not working. But if a specific shot or location calls for it I'm always game to get the strobes out.
Any favorite people to shoot with? Why?
I'm stoked on any motivated person who has a good turn. That being said, developing relationships and trust with people over the years is huge. Particularly when out shooting in the backcountry where things can easily go wrong and you can find yourself in a life or death situation in which you have to rely on your crew and the collective experience to keep somebody alive. I want to be out with the kind of crew who knows their shit. I rarely go on trips or missions with a totally new crew and people I don’t have prior experience with. My list is pretty short but those guys know who they are.
What projects have you been working on this past season?
This year I spent the most time at home that I have in quite a few years which was nice especially since my daughter is now three. I'm on staff now with Jones Snowboards which has been awesome and keeping me busy. I shot with a few film projects and have really just been doing way more of what I want to do. I have been pretty selective about what companies and riders that I want to support and align myself with these days, and I got a lot of days riding without a camera pack which is super important to me.
First cover shot/ favorite cover shot?
My first and only TWS cover shot was in 2014 of Jeremy Jones riding a 21,000ft spine in Nepal. I don't think I will ever shoot anything that comes close to that image and the crazy adventure and effort it took to get that shot. It was a 40-day expedition that almost didn't work out at all. By far a trip and shot of a lifetime for me.
What's your favorite TransWorld cover of all time?
- 94' Jamie Lynn Road Gap by Jon Foster. I was only 8 at the time but looking through all the classics this shot always caught my eye. I just love a good road gap and that gritty black and white. Both Jamie and Jon Foster's styles are some of my favorites as well.
- 08' Photo Annual: Pat Moore and Jake Welch by Ian Ruhter. For whatever reason, I really loved this issue. I still have it in my collection and Ian Ruhter's feature from Chile just really drew me in on how he integrated the landscape and culture into the images with such a unique style and editing at the time. Also, just a clean cover not overly designed and minimal text which is something I miss. Nothing worse than a bunch of text and random graphics on a rad photo.
- 10' Photo Annual: Stevie Bell by Cole Barsh. Hard not to enjoy a nice silhouette…something that you don't see that often on rails. The shot is so clean and simple and I remember really being blown away at that whole series Cole did with bringing massive studio backdrops into the park. I miss photo annuals so bad!
Style is important in both riding and photography. Tell us how you identify your own personal style with photography.
Style is everything and always has been. But it’s so much more important in this day and age of quantity over quality, and particularly with the visual overload that is always at your fingertips. It’s kind of crazy to think of how many photos you scroll through on a daily basis, and what it takes for an image to actually stop that scroll or page flip of a magazine. It’s hard to get an immediate reaction of, “WOW that image is amazing,” and have the viewer dive in and really explore a shot for a while. These days I think it takes way more to get that reaction and for me, the ultimate accomplishment for a photographer is recognizing a shot based on the photo style of the person without seeing their name or credit first. I can only hope that my images have the same effect on others, that so many photographers have had on me. I have always operated with more of a photojournalistic style approach with a tendency to have looser compositions and I'm drawn to more vast landscapes with a smaller rider in the frame. I don't like to set up much and usually like to be in the background shooting so the group almost forgets I'm there documenting. Shooting follow-cam photos is one of my favorite things to do. Just telling the rider to go for it, slow the shutter down and try to keep up and not stop. I hate stopping. Creating a flow is key and usually when the best shots happen.
What influences your approach in photography?
The love of doing what you love to do. For me that is snowboarding, traveling to new places, and documenting the journey along the way. That will never get old, and the list of places to check out will only get longer. Looking at guys who have been in the industry for a long time both in front and behind the lens, and are still finding ways to keep things new, and the passion alive is extremely influential and inspiring to keep it going.
What’s the best line or trick you’ve nailed with your camera pack on?
Most of the shooting I try to do involves staying close to the riders and shooting from either the top of the lines or on a slope, partly to try and get a more of a dynamic and layered angle and most importantly to get a run in. Some highlights have definitely been in Alaska with the Absinthe crew. There is always plenty of leftovers after the boys have handled business. Hard to beat getting a run on any type of terrain out there, but there is something incredibly special about getting to ride spines.
Who are some of your favorite photographers / filmers?
Too many to list and I enjoy looking at tons of images but some personal favorites and guys that I really respect their work are Oli Gagnon, Chris Brunkart, Endo Tsutomu, Mark Gallup, Andy Wright, Tim Zim, Cole Barash, Ian Ruhter, Matt Georges, Jerome Tanon, Todd Glaser, Woody Gooch, Jake Price, Nick Kalisz... the list goes on.
What's your Instagram/ handle and website?