Jess and her new little one.
Everyone is a photographer these days. It seems like any idiot with a camera can luck into a cover, but it wasn’t always so. For Jess Mooney, who has been shooting since the days when images were captured on film (by everyone), there was no luck involved. She works hard, shoots amazing images, and has established herself as one of the best snowboard photographers out there.
It might seem like breaking into a male-dominated facet of a male-dominated sport would be the hardest part about being a female snowboard photographer. But for the Aussie lass, the tribulations of her early entry into photography had little to do with her gender. The biggest problem was sacrificing great days on hill. “When it was a sunny day it was hard to shoot photos,” Jess said. “I went through a transition period of probably a couple of years, and then it just became shooting because I could sell the photos in the Australian industry.”
Jess Mooney Photo.
Growing up in Sydney, snowboarding was a luxury, but after being introduced to it at 17, and meeting her then boyfriend who loved the sport as much as her, she would drive the seven hours to the mountain every weekend of the three-month season. She became embedded in the snowboard scene through her boyfriend, and after about three years riding she and starting to shoot photos. Though she wasn’t studying photography officially (she was an art major at UNSW in Australia) she had learned to shoot in high school. “I just was in touch with all the pro snowboarders in the scene so it just kind of made sense,” she said. “I was traveling, I had a camera, it just worked.”
Selling her first images was easy in Australia, mostly because the riders she shot with needed photos for ads. But with the short Aussie season and small scene, it would be nearly impossible to make a living off photography, so Jess traveled back and forth to Whistler, B.C. during school holidays. In Canada she was able to sell images to OnBoard and Snowboard Canada, (provided they were they were good, and of the right people.) But breaking into the US market was harder. “It was a more cliquey scene and no doubt more competitive,” she said.
Even living the endless winter and shooting as much as she did, Jess worked several day jobs to make ends meet, including “cheese expert” at a fine foods store and cleaning vacation rentals in Whistler. It wasn’t glamorous, but it paid the bills.
Frederick Klabermaten. Jess Mooney photo.
Jess got her big break in the US through Dano Pendygrasse, who she knew from her time in Whistler. He was familiar with her work, so when he took a job as Photo Editor for Future Snowboarding, he gave Jess her first travel budget. Getting out of Whistler, and seeing different people and things, helped her career tremendously, and also had another, less anticipated benefit. It was on a trip to Stewart, B.C. for Future that Jess met up with Jeff Curtes. The legendary Burton staff photographer was actually tagging along on her shoot, and the two hit it off. Only a few months later, they were married. “He’s just great and really inspirational,” she said. Being in the same field, the couple often works together. “We assist each other a fair bit and that’s where a lot of people probably think it would be quite unhealthy, we manage it rather well. We find each other’s process a little bit frustrating but at the same point you learn a lot along the way.”
Jeff has helped Jess meet even more of the right people, such as filmer Mike Hatchett, but connections are only part of the battle. In order to shoot backcountry film trips, as she often does, you have to be able to keep up. That means riding a snowmobile, something Jess said was almost more difficult than proving she was able to take great photos. “It’s really physical. It genuinely was hard to prove myself in that capacity. Being not a terribly strong girl didn’t help me out back then, but now I’ve been doing it so long, and guys have said complimentary things about my snowmobiling.”
Jussi Oksanen. Jess Mooney photo.
To be a photographer, the images are the most important, but to be successful, there’s a lot more too it. People have to want to work with you, and Jess has taken the slow and steady approach to making it happen. She works hard and with her quiet, humble attitude, she’s made plenty of friends in snowboarding.
“She is a real trooper out there. She can sled up to stuff that half the pros can’t,” Jess’s recent cover-subject Jussi Oksanen said. “She is awesome to have around, super easy going, always helping out building jumps and she takes sick photos.”
For Jess, the best part of her job as a photographer has to be the travel, but ironically it’s also the worst part. “The people and places you meet and go to along the way (are the best),” she said. “But the lack of routine and dragging heavy bags in and out of awkward places gets old. Another big buzz kill about the job is getting money earned out of some companies.”
After over ten years shooting snowboarding, Jess’s advice for someone who wants to get into photography is simple. “Shoot as much as you can on and off the mountain — the more well rounded you are will pay off along the way.”
Wolle Nyvelt. Jess Mooney photo.
So you want to be a real snowboard photographer? Here are a few suggestions for getting going.
Put Yourself in the Right Place. “Go and live in the mountains and get the snowboarding out of your system so you don’t feel a compromise between shooting and riding,” Jess said. Also being in a photogenic place, with people who are good at snowboarding, will greatly improve the quality of your images.
Learn To Shoot Action. Shooting snowboarding is definitely a different skill, and there are a few things you will have to learn as you go. “Getting in close enough to the action, what angles made things look bigger as opposed to making something look lame,” Jess said.
Work with Your Subjects. “Learn the fine line between encouraging your subjects and ‘pushing’ them,�? Jess said. You don’t want to be known as the photographer who always wants riders to try things they aren’t feeling, but you need to be able to get people to try something if you know if will make a great shot.
Pay Your Dues. Making it happen will take time, and you’ll have lots of times where you shoot all day and come away with nothing, but it’s all part of the job.
Check out the full gallery of Jess’s images. Click any thumbnail to enlarge.