In the UK, we are no stranger to a cooler climate, but action and lifestyle photographer Ross Woodhall is a professional at navigating himself through tough climates to get that perfect shot.
Based in the UK but working globally, Ross specialises in winter sports, having spent many years living and perfecting his craft in the mountains.
It’s the perfect time of the year to be inspired by Winter Photography, so we caught up with Ross to discuss his insight behind the lens.
*A small warning, after reading this blog – you may find yourself wishing for snow…
How long have you been interested in photography?
I have been interested in photography since my late teens, but my interest increased massively when I ended up in the alps in 1991 – that type of scenery demands to be photographed.
Was there a deﬁning moment that set you on your career path?
Sunsets in the alps and an absolute determination to leave behind a career as an electrician! In fact, rewiring hotels is how I came to be in the mountains.
How did you become a professional photographer?
I am self-taught – with a little help from my friends. It was never part of the plan as I originally wanted to be a professional snowboarder. I was actually modelling as a snowboarder when it dawned on me that the guy behind the lens had a better career path – I ended up blagging a job with him. I’d swapped a crash helmet for an old Zenith camera and I was keen to use it. So, I ended up becoming the person standing at the top of the chairlift asking to take a photograph of the skiers as they got off the lift.
First day on the job, I’d forgotten how to open the camera to load the ﬁlm, which was all very embarrassing! I had to learn how to develop ﬁlm in a baby bath ﬁlled with warm water, how to use a Patterson tank and bring the chemicals up to temperature in a small room that was halfway up a mountain in a cafe. The job was quite a tough gig. You had to develop a thick skin as some people told you to “go away” in no uncertain terms. But, I shot a lot of ﬁlm every day and I really learned how to use the camera in manual. Plus, I was making money from day one.
What inspired you to become a commercial action and lifestyle photographer?
The guys we worked for were professional action and adventure photographers – travelling the world and shooting for magazines and clothing brands. It was a job that I didn’t even know existed. I shot negatives for the day to day chairlift shots, but they shot transparencies for their commercial work. As soon as I saw the Fuji Velvia ﬁlm, I knew that was the direction I needed to be heading.
Has there been a deﬁning moment in your career that helped you become successful?
The moment I knew I was really on to something is when I signed for the Visual Communications Group (VCG) – Rupert Murdoch’s library. I had a bit of a battle to get in, but once I signed that contract, I knew I could cut the mustard. They were soon to be bought out by Getty Images, which is when things really started to move.
Have you ever had a real ‘pinch me’ moment?
To be honest it’s all ‘a pinch me moment’. I’ve done so many crazy jobs over the years in some really amazing locations. Anything to do with helicopters and mountain tops is pretty out there though.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography is a fantastic vehicle to earn a living doing something that verges on obsession. I really don’t like to miss a shot whenever I see it. I’ve nearly crashed the car many times pulling over to catch the scene in the rear-view mirror.
How would you describe your style and approach to photography?
What do you hope people think/feel when they see your photographs?
Do you have any inspirations?
Mother Nature and Colin Prior.
Do you have a favourite story or experience that led to a great photograph?
In 1999, I started shooting the FHM winter sports features. It really was a different time – the internet was in its infancy and magazines still ruled. They were selling eight hundred thousand copies a month and were awash with cash. We went up to the Swedish arctic and spent a week racing around on Skidoo’s and in a private helicopter. With 24-hour daylight, we could work whenever we wanted. It was quite an experience. That job carried on for the next few years with shoots in Canada and Alaska.
Ross’ Top Tips for Photographing Winter Sports
1.Most importantly, be aware of your surroundings and the hazards that are present on that day.
2. Make sure you have the correct equipment with you if you are going off piste. An avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe are essential kit for all parties. An avalanche air bag backpack is also a very, very good idea. They are expensive but worth every penny. And of course, a basic knowledge of how they all work!
3. Keep your gloves in your jacket whilst shooting. There is nothing worse than putting cold ﬁngers into cold gloves.
4. Always zip up your bag. Models don’t mind if they ﬁll it up with snow if they come in too close.
Trick of the trade – If your AF stops working, use a bit of grease from behind your ear on the lens and body terminals. Works a treat every time!
Keep Up with Ross
Your Adventures, Preserved Forever
If, like Ross, you’ve captured a series of photographs that deserve to be showcased, it’s time to create a CEWE PHOTOBOOK. Whether you are preserving memories of a beloved family holiday, collating a body of work or crafting an anniversary present, we have a wide range of paper types, cover options and sizes to choose from.