Colin Adair is a jack of all trades. He has climbed the ranks from being a filmer, to photo editor at Snowboard Canada, to DC staff photographer, this Canadian native has done it all. Recently he has signed on to be photo editor over at Later Mag (a surf publication) while still shooting full time for DC. Adair is a photographer who is always on the move, looking for new subjects and locations to shoot. His home turf is the Whistler Backcountry these days, and when he's not sledding the peaks of British Columbia, he's out capturing urban snowboard scenes and traveling the world. I had the opportunity to shoot alongside Colin in Terrace BC a couple years back, and I distinctly remember him saying that he likes to keep his photography very simple. And that's exactly how I would describe his images: clean, with great attention to detail, and powerful.
– Mike Yoshida
Home Mountain: Whistler Blackcomb
Photo Gear: Hasselblad 501C,Contax G2,Canon EOS 1D Mark 1V, Lenses from 15mm fisheye, 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 70-200mm, 300mm, Elinchrom Ranger Flash Kit, Canon Speedlites, Pocket Wizards x 4, F Stop Gear Photo Bags, Satori, Loka, Guru, Literoom Roller and Brooklyn Sling.
How long have you been shooting snowboarding?
Professionally, it’s been about 10 years now. I started shooting stills about 15 years ago. I think it took me at least two years before I had a bag of lenses that was big enough to get the right shots……before that I had a16mm camera and was shooting for snowboard videos when I first moved to Whistler. Brad McGregor from TreeTop Films hooked me up with film and I chased around the locals like Matt Domanski, Gaetan Chanut and guys like that. I shot snowboarding with Rick McCrank once too. That was pretty cool. But I didn’t like the fact that the footage I shot was out of my hands because developing was so expensive and you would have to beg the editors/producers to see your footage at the end of the year. I figured photography would give me more control and I could see my results more immediately.
What was the transition like working at Snowboard Canada for so long, and then moving on to work as the DC staff photographer?
It was a great opportunity that happened to me at the right time. I’d been at SBC for about 7 years and felt like I’d done everything I could do and wanted to focus on shooting more full time. Then one day, Sean Lake who was marketing manager at DC at the time, called me and offered me a six month contract to shoot for them. It wasn’t a total surprise because Devun Walsh had talked to me a few months earlier letting me know that DC was starting a snowboard and outerwear program to go with their boots and they wanted to hire another photographer. But I had been told things like that in the past so I was a bit skeptical and didn’t want to get my hopes too high. I still remember the day I got that call and how it all went down and how stoked I was. I’m pretty sure I went out and did some celebrating after that. That was 5 years ago. I’m going into my 6th winter shooting all the snow stuff for DC. I gotta give thanks to Devun especially but also to Iikka Backstrom and Lauri Heiskari because when DC asked them who they wanted to be their staff photographer my name came up. I don’t know what other names were in the hat but I’m glad it worked out. SBC was an amazing experience and I would not be where I am today without that opportunity. So another thanks goes out to Steve Jarrett the owner/publisher of SBC and my main man Matt Houghton who was the editor of Snowboard Canada and who brought me in and taught me the ropes……………… this shit is starting to sound like a retirement speech.
Other than snowboard photography, what other photography gets you psyched?
Photography in general is what I love to do. When you are a photographer you are an addict. You need new images constantly. Lately, I love shooting landscapes. Especially winter landscapes because not that many people do it and not that many people get to go to the places that I go to. I think that’s something I’m going to concentrate more on in the coming years. I’d like to get a nice 4×5 camera and bring it out to the mountains or an insane Medium Format digital camera so I can blow up the images to fill an entire room. Landscapes look so shitty in small frames. They should be huge. It would be amazing to partner up with Jeremy Jones and Protect Our Winters or Travis Rice’s gallery and do a big fundraiser photo exhibit. I’ve been really into surfing over the last decade and I started a travel/surf mag called Later. with two friends, Eric Greene from KingSnow Mag in Canada and Andrew Sayer. I’m not planning on shooting surfing but I’ve always loved surf photography since I was kid. Now I get to work with some of the best surf photographers in the world. Being part owner of a magazine is something I’ve always wanted to do and we pretty much do whatever we want (within reason). We are just getting off the ground and have absolutely no money or budget but it’s a work in progress and the response has been really positive. Check out www.latermag.com and @latermag on instagram…………sorry I have to plug it……………if you want a print copy you pretty much have to subscribe or be lucky enough to live within walking distance of our distribution network of shops.
You spend the majority of your winter in the Whistler backcountry. What are some of your favorite spots to shoot outside of sled land?
I love Europe even though every time I go there the weather sucks. I like getting away from North America and going to different places. Chile is really sick when the snow is good. New Zealand had shit snow when I was there but it was fun. Not much compares to Whistler and British Columbia. I hate to be that guy but we have it so good up here. Every crew spends a big part of their season filming up here so it must be good. I love Mt. Baker but wish I knew the area better. Alaska is obviously the ultimate goal but heli is just so expensive and the time commitment it requires is a tough sell for a lot of people. I’ll go there in a heartbeat if someone has budget and needs a photographer.
You¹ve shot with the best of the best, that being said, who are some of the new talent that you are stoked on snapping photo of these days?
I shoot full time for DC so I can only really speak for the DC Ams over the last few years but Anto Chamberland is one of the newest guys on the scene with DC and he’s great. Very hard worker and really skilled. Ryan Tiene isn’t really that new but he might be new to a lot of people because he’s Australian and just got put on the pro team. He is an awesome human and we have a lot of fun. All the DC ams are great. Justin Fronius, Jody Wachniak is a real gem and best guy to have on a roadtrip, Logan Haubrich, Cam Fitzpatrick. Phoebe Novello is one of our female ams and she hit the biggest jump I’ve ever seen at Mammoth this spring which was really impressive. The Euro riders are awesome too, Mons Roisland, Mats Hoffgaard, Matt Shaeur……………the kids are all usually pretty stoked and fun to be around but they make me feel goddam old!!!
Iika and Devun are such unique characters in snowboarding. Please indulge in a funny Dev/Ikka story.
Oh fuck. So many. They are like older brother/younger brother or father/son maybe. Most of the stories involve roadtrips and boozing which when you think back was the best time ever but doesn’t really translate if you weren’t there……………that’s why I love the intro to MUST BE NICE so much, because that is us, minus all the broken bottles and smashed beers, we would never waste alcohol like that. But we just like to get together and have fun and if we are doing that then everything else falls into place. We are all usually on the same level and if we aren’t our team manager, Nick yells at us, and that’s what makes it work. Day to day we have our differences but long term it’s awesome. There was this one time in Chile……………………..
How do you have such a beautifully manicured beard? Have you ever shaved that thing off, or have you had it since birth?
The beard stays. I’ve had it for a long time now, at least a decade. It doesn’t go below #4 on the shaver. Actually, I almost shaved it off and dyed my hair for halloween so I could go out as myself 15 years ago! Back to the Future. Maybe next year. But I actually went out for Halloween this year as the guy from Just For Men, I made a giant box of Just For Men and stuck my face in it. I got runner up in the costume contest so it was a good night.
What is your take on the digital revolution, and how quick it is to learn how to shoot almost anything.
Photography is really easy now compared to 10 years ago. I’m not saying this as a salty old vet. It’s just a fact. It’s easier for me too. I had to shoot some product/studio stuff the other day and I’d never done that particular kind of photo before so I just watched a bunch of Youtube videos and got the general idea. After the shoot the client was stoked so it worked out. At the same time the market in snowboarding is shrinking so it’s harder to break in now I think. Maybe I’m wrong there but it seems that way. The thing about digital though is that it allows a whole new batch of people to be creative. A lot of these people would give up if they had to shoot only film or they wouldn’t have started to shoot in the first place because film is a big process. But now they can be out the camera store door and learning photography instantly. The progression is good for photography in general I think. New ideas and new ways of looking at the subject matter. I know so many graphic designers that have picked up a camera and just instantly kill it. Plus they have the design skills and sensibilities to put it all together to make it work.
Do you miss the days of film, or is the digi cam a more useful tool these days?
I miss the film days for sure. One thing I hate more than anything is all the shitty point and shoot digi cams. I’ve had so many of them and they are all shit and break after a year. But that’s just the point and shoots. When I was the photo editor at SBC, I used to fly to Toronto from Vancouver with my backpack full of hundreds of pages of slides from all the contributing photographers. James Bond type shit. I still shoot film all the time and I never really stopped so I don’t exactly miss it. The thing now is that it can be a real hassle to deal with the workflow of film. Processing, scanning, editing. If you don’t have it all dialed your shots will look like shit because everything is set up for digital now. To me, it’s completely worth it. The results speak for themselves. I just wish more magazines and media could cough up some budget to help keep it alive but money is tight these days so if you want to shoot film you have fund it yourself most of time. I usually try sneak it into a shoot budget and then when a client sees the results they are on the same page. What I really love about film is that it slows things down. You don’t have everyone looking at the LCD or monitor checking out every shot. It’s kind of like, “hey, you hired me for a reason so just let me shoot.”
Being staff for DC, has that opened the doors to any other action photography? Do you get to shoot Ken Block in his rally car, or any dirtbike/skateboarding?
Not really. Everything is pretty departmental. I keep trying to get sent on surf trips but so far no luck.
I imagine you have quite a bit of downtime in the summer months. Aside from photo editing and the occasional South America trip, what keeps you busy in the off season?
Well. Later. Mag as I said earlier. Lots of surf trips to Vancouver Island and Washington state. The snowboard shooting season is pretty intense. You are always on call and just waiting for weather to change. I basically have 6 months at best to get all the shots I need. A company like DC uses a lot of photos so there is definitely pressure to get it done. In the off season, I also do some shoots for clients in Vancouver whenever I’m available. Mostly lifestyle and editorial stuff. The summer doesn’t last long up here so I just try to enjoy it and soak up some sun. There’s usually beer involved.
If you had never picked up a camera, what would you see yourself doing?
Fuck who knows! I’d probably be selling cars or maybe my beard would have landed me a gig as a talkshow host on local cable. But I wanted to get out of Ontario and snowboarding was the reason I left. Maybe I would have opened a restaurant or something like that because I had a lot of restaurant jobs and liked that type of work. Plus you have instant access to alcohol all the time. I really don’t know. It scares me a bit to think about that. I definitely made the right choice. I’ve been really lucky but at the same time I’ve always worked hard. I”m at the point now where I”ve reached some of the goals I had when I started out but I still have some things I want to accomplish so there’s a lot of motivation.