How Do You Become an Action Sports Photographer?
Armin Walcher, a leading ski and surf photographer, reveals the secrets behind the best job in the world
Based in the heart of Austria with ski resorts 5 minutes to the left and right of him, it’s easy to see how Armin Walcher became a pro skier. Deciding to move from in front of the lens to behind it, he talks to Mpora about what it takes to become one of the world’s top professional action-sport photographers.
“I grew up with ski racing and fully got into free-ride skiing, getting sponsors and stuff like that, and it was then that I decided to buy a camera."
“With the camera in hand I found out that it’s a cool thing to shoot. At that point I decided to go fully into it"
“Action sports photography was a good entry point. If you’re coming from the sports scene you can move much better and you can see different angles in a different way."
"Knowing the movements and how the body works in different sports; it definitely gives you an advantage."
“There’s also the connection between the landscape and the athlete - if you just go fully into it the whole time and just see the athlete, you don’t see the whole thing. - I always want to see the beauty of the whole thing as well."
“For sure, I have an ideal frame in my head but if you go out it’s all outdoors and the weather plays a big role. When it changes you can’t always plan for it, but it becomes all natural when I look through the camera."
“Sometimes if I look through the camera the magic moments just happen. Sometimes I’ll think about a shot just minutes before."
“If we look at the scene at what we can do the athlete tells me where he wants to go and I think about how we can connect the whole thing."
“There’s always a good mixture; athletes always have their point of view and what they want to do and the photographer has his own - if you link those views I think the perfect thing comes out."
"When you’re coming from the scene it’s a little bit easier. They respect you as a skier and they don’t need to think whether you’re an idiot – so yeah it’s a good base."
“If I can see that the athletes are motivated to do something really cool then I’m totally happy. The motivation thing I think it’s what you want as a photographer – to feel motivated that they’re happy and not pissed at all."
“When I go out there and I shoot with athletes, it’s when they see those mini mini pictures on the camera screen of that moment, and they have a big smile on their face. That’s when the fun part starts.
“This always surprises me. If they can see the result and see that it can be better, they do better and I do better."
“I was skiing a steep couloir with pro skier Tobi Tritscher where the snow conditions were not so perfect and where it was getting more silent and more risky as we went up. When he started his run a lot of sluff came down."
I was looking up through the camera, saw all this sluff heading toward me and wasn’t really sure if it was getting more like an avalanche.
"I was looking up through the camera, saw all this sluff heading toward me and wasn’t really sure if it was getting more like an avalanche. There was a point when I was like ‘Yeah, this isn’t the best thing to shoot if you’re not really on the safe side’ and I remember thinking normally I would do something else right now."
"It’s not about the shot at all but the reactions of the people. Everybody who saw this shot above was thinking ‘where is he coming from?’ ‘what is he doing’, ‘it’s not possible’ like that in that moment; nobody could work it out."
"This shot was on the beach at Hossegot in France. I was just thinking this could be a cool spot when I saw the surfer coming. I was grabbing my camera, looking through the lens, on the trigger and just got the perfect frame out of it"
"It was just pure reaction. One minute later or a minute earlier and it wouldn't have happened."
"Sometime you need a bit of luck. It’s not always thinking about the perfect framing. Sometimes it’s out of your mind, perfect timing and everything is good."
"I’m really a water guy. It’s much better sometimes than walking on the beach, just to swim out from the shore and play around in the water. It makes me feel alive."
When you walk on ice that isn’t so safe anymore and you hear it crack beneath you, you tense up pretty quick.
"Speaking to these wakeboarders we started for a lake at four in the morning. Everyone’s thinking: weather’s perfect, we place the winch, we do some runs, get some cool photos, we drive home. Nobody was thinking that the lake would be frozen! But the guys punched some holes into the ice and managed a run."
"When you walk on ice that isn’t so safe anymore and you hear it crack beneath you, you tense up pretty quick."
“I have fun with my work and what I do and if you work hard and if you have the eye to shoot, then everything is easy."
“Photography isn’t the most complicated thing in the world, but it’s not about learning and stuff like that, I would say sometimes you need to have the eye for it."
“Success comes if you do it with your heart, if you’re really in love with what you are doing. If you’re really focused on it then the money comes, but if you’re just doing it for the money then I would say it’s hard."
“My father inspired me by the way he looks at shots: a really good job is a shot that isn’t cool for just an hour, a shot is cool if you can look at it after one year and you still can say ‘I really love this shot’."
“Do what you love, not because it’s cool or because you think it’s the good life because sometimes it’s not always the perfect ‘Instagram’ thing, the ‘all is good’ moment. There’s always a flip side."
“Everybody out there not knowing what they want to do in the future should just listen to themselves and not to the expectations of others."