Legends Behind The Lens: James Bryant Interview

In the Legends Behind the Lens series, supported by Nikon, we talk to celebrated action sports photographers about their craft - and their all-time favourite shots

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James Bryant is a Photographer based in London, who’s work includes portraits of both famous and non famous faces, and documenting urban landscapes, and capturing the breathtaking views of the mountains. However, his first love remains snowboarding. Bryant has been the Editor and Photographer of Document snowboarding magazine where, during his time, he shot a veritable who’s-who of the sport.

I first started tinkering with photography as a teenager, which is when I bought my first camera, a Pentax SLR. It was a great camera, and stayed with me a long time. I went on to study photography as a BA at Arts University Bournemouth, which was a humbling experience. The beauty of it is that it opens up so many points of view and different perspectives. It’s incredible how 30 people can be given the same brief, and respond with 30 totally different projects.

Then I got a second-hand Nikon F4, which I found was perfect for sports photography. After that I added an FM2 as a lighter second camera, and then a load of older Nikkor lenses. All the equipment worked so well together, so I just carried on updating the lenses before eventually moving to digital with the D200, D3s and now the D800. The cross compatibility with Nikon’s old lenses and new bodies is such a positive.

My style captures in-between moments. Often when I plan a shoot, there will be a moment just before or after what I’d anticipated, and that will be what really works. Since 2000 snowboarding, mountain sports and the life around them have been a huge part of what I shoot.

I take inspiration from people, stories, and light. Sometimes I will have a really clear idea of what I want to achieve and will use this as a starting point and other times I will just explore through the lens – constantly looking and playing with light and composition.

My heroes are too diverse to list. There are so many. But, most important thing for me is a kind of authenticity; people who wholeheartedly believe in what they are doing and communicating, making images for themselves. To me, it doesn’t matter if somebody likes a natural look, or constructs images in post-production, or who has a very clear and articulate visual style, or somebody who’s aesthetic is quite crude. They’re all different approaches to a kind of storytelling and everything has its place.

I really like the work of Deeli (Tuukka Kaila) who used to shoot for skateboard magazine Kingpin. I loved the 5×4 portraits he shot of Peke in 2007 and his newsprint photobook, ‘Based on Truth’. But really, there are just too many amazing photos to say “I wish I’d taken that on, or this series.”. There’s so many it’s impossible to say. Once it’s been shot it’s difficult to re-imagine in a different way.

Mark Ruparelia, Austria. 2008. Shot on Nikon D200 with a 16mm f/2.8

This is how to make the most of a bad weather day: shooting on little cliffs in the trees where there’s a just enough definition to see and the landings are deep with no-one else in sight. For me this moment just makes me want to be in those boots, on that day, charging amongst those trees with my friends.

Mark is one of the first people I started shooting photos with. We met in France a few years before this shot was taken, while he was filming with the Hungerpain collective. I can always rely on him for his unflinching feedback.

James Thorne, Zillertal, Austria. 2009. Shot on a Nikon D200 with a 80-200mm f/4.5n AI

This was the last morning of a 10-day trip to Austria, shooting for Document Snowboard Magazine. The snow was great and we just had to wait for the cloud to burn off before capturing this from the other side of the valley.

Even with radios, communicating with the rider can be so hard. The wind and the cold make short work of batteries and, aside from all the logistics of just staying warm and safe, you have to be keeping an eye on your equipment. Condensation on your lens is the worst, if that freezes …that’s really not what you want when someone is about to drop in.

James Thorne, Zillertal, Austria. 2009. Shot on a Nikon D200 with a 80-200mm f/4.5n AI

Searching for tricks during the 2009 Jib Vid we stumbled across these great conditions that opened up a few simple cliffs in Mayrhofen. Rich went to work with no messing around. It was spring and the snow didn’t last long so I was happy to get this while we could.

Ethan Morgan, London, UK. 2013. Shot on Nikon D800 with a 70-200 f2.8 VRII, and an Elinchrom Ranger RX

The original plan for these Ethan Morgan portraits for Whitelines had been to shoot outdoors on the roof, in colour, but wind and rain soon had their say and I set up in a disused office downstairs. It’s amazing what you can get out of some pretty unglamorous shoot locations. Ethan was in London with the Nike Snowboarding team to present their latest film.

Birds, Garmisch #1, Germany. 2012. Shot on a Nikon D3S with a 24-70mm f2.8

The weather was deceptively cold when I shot this. I was exploring Garmisch, a small town in Germany. I was trying to get back to our vehicle and passed some kind of brewery with this flock of birds soaring overhead. It was a poignant moment in the grey light. It’s a classic example of a candid picture I would never have imagined taking from that trip.

Follow James on Instagram at @snowboarddigital and check out to see more of his incredible shots.

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