Message Boardin’: Photographer Tim Zimmerman Talks Camera Gear, Travis Rice, and His Favorite Era of Snowboarding
There's no doubt that Tim Zimmerman is one of the most talented photographers ever to push the shutter in the world of snowboarding. Since the early 2000's, Tim's time spent within the peaks of AK, the streets of the East Coast, the pillows of Japan, and the steeps of British Columbia—anywhere, really, that offers unique terrain covered with snow—has allowed him to create stunning and iconic images that showcase some of the best riding of the past two decades. His POV has helped to shape the way we see snowboarding, in both the literal and figurative sense. Zimm has landed over twenty covers for snowboard magazines around the world; shot plenty of film crews including Think Thank, Travis Rice and company, and Grenade; and logged plenty of powder laps while shouldering a heavy camera bag. As the staff photographer for Mervin, Zimm's impressive photos can be seen in print, online, and of course, by following him on Instagram at: @fotomaxizoomdweebie. In addition to being a purveyor of timeless imagery, Zimm is also an outspoken voice in the snow community, offering a well-respected viewpoint that has snowboarding's best interests in mind, because at the very heart of everything, Zimm loves making turns. All of this and more is why we have tapped Tim to share his thoughts in this edition of Message Boardin'. Take it away, Zimm. – Mary Walsh
Tim, do you have an absolute favorite photo you have taken over the years? – @mjonzie_photo
You might not like this answer, but I really don't. I have a few that I really dig but there's nothing I've shot that I don't look back on and think, "This could have been better if I…"
How do u feel about film photography when compared to digital? – @morkyyy
I feel like a photographer should shoot whatever and however they like. 99% of my photos are digital but I don't think it's "better." It's just what I like and what the company I work for needs. Honestly, I could care less what medium is being used. I only care if the image is good. A shitty photo is not magically "better" or possessing more artistic value because it was shot on film. That said, I admire people using film to it's fullest potential. Shout out to Jerome Tanon and Matt Georges for that inspiration!
What was your favorite era to shoot during? – @scottyarnold_
Right now, right fucking now. There are so many incredible things happening in snowboarding right now. The scenes are all so diverse and interesting. I can never get bored because there'll always be a new surprise or challenge. There are still so many places left for me to go see, ride and document. The riders still in the game and those coming up are incredibly talented and I'm always excited to see how they'll interpret the terrain they want to ride. I don't remember who said it, but while I think respecting your past and knowing your roots is a good idea: Nostalgia is a form of death.
Hi Tim, it's an honor to have a chance to ask you a question! What types of lenses are your go-to in the backcountry? And what type of camera do you shoot with while working in bottomless pow? I'm a Canon fan, myself! Thanks for everything you do for snowboarding! Any chance you need an assistant? – @charliecoyphotographer
I'm a Nikon guy, tried and true from the beginning. At the bare minimum I'm usually carrying a D850, 16mm fisheye, 24-70 2.8 & 70-200 2.8. If I'm hiking or splitboarding I'll usually try and keep my kit as light as possible. If I'm using a snowmobile or helicopter to access the pow I'll bring an extra camera body, 300 f/4, tripod and transceivers so I can set up a remote camera to double the amount of shots I can get. I always bring have all my backcountry safety gear as well: shovel, probe, saw, first aid kit, water, lunch, extra layers, SPOT, etc.
What do you get the most satisfaction from: taking the greatest photo of the best rider on the craziest face in Alaska or snowboarding in deep powder with your friends and no bag at Baldface? – @jos_robyphoto
Well, getting a great photo in Alaska is crazy challenging, so when you do get one it's really rewarding. But, Baldface is my personal favorite place to snowboard, so I'm going with that. Thanks for making powder paradise, Jeff Pensiero!
What first steps would you recommend to someone who is just starting out with photography and wants to become a snowboarding photographer? – @probablynotaverygooddrummer
Great question! I think the first thing you need to do is love snowboarding and want to know as much as possible about it. Move to a place where you can ride all the time. Find the people in your scene and start documenting their riding. Shoot as much as humanly possible, compare your photos to your favorite snowboard photographer's work and think about how you can improve on what you see. Most importantly, have fun, always be willing to help shovel and don't be an asshole!
How did you make the jump from aspiring, motivated amateur snowboard photographer to working full time for a brand or a mag? – @spitzerphoto
The saying goes, a rising tide floats all boats. The people I started my career shooting were getting better at snowboarding while I was improving my photography. When they started getting sponsored the companies started approaching me for photos since I was already working with their riders. I started submitting my photos to magazines and when they became good enough to use my name started getting out there more. It was the best kind of advertising you could ever hope for. Honestly though, I owe everything to the riders that shot with me in the beginning of my career. You have nothing without them.
How do you approach sharing your images with a company? – @thevillagewolf
The best way is to show your photos to the sponsored riders you're working with. Ask them to introduce you to their team/marketing managers. When you get great shots you can email them low-res versions to check out.
What are your most memorable street and big mountain trips you've been on and why? – @sneif
The most memorable street trip I've gone on was to Grand Rapids, Michigan with the Think Thank crew when they were filming Almanac. It was so wild; we'd hit up 2 or 3 spots during the day and then a night spot when the sun went down. There were so many riders on the crew and they were each setting something different up at each spot. I was making interesting photos all day long for three weeks straight. That crew is so creative and it was really inspiring for me. And man, the food in Grand Rapids is out of this world. I'm already fat, but if I lived within 100 miles of Marie Catrib's I'd immobile in 6 months.
The most memorable big mountain trip was probably my first trip to the Tordrillos for the Fourth Phase. I'd been to Valdez a few times and I was familiar with the terrain around Haines, but the Tordrillo range is a different animal entirely. I was stunned at the light, colors, textures and terrain. I couldn't stop shooting everything I saw. It'll probably always be my favorite place to document.
How do you balance family and snowboard trips? – @marty_mcstark
I'm not sure if I can take credit for the balancing act, that honor goes to my wife Jenn: the solid rock foundation that makes pursuing my passions possible. It gets harder to be away as my daughter gets older but we've set up our life to make it as easy as possible for them when I go on trips, sometimes without even a full day's notice. Facetime helps so much, as does sending each other photos of our days when we can't be together.
How do you get a shot that isn't blurry? – @_sammieshute
Man, ask my photo editors and let me know when you figure it out. I could use the help! Okay, seriously though: First thing, make sure you're focusing in the right place. Second, make sure you're using a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action in your shot. My rule of thumb is 1/500th of a second for action coming straight at you, 1/1000th of a second for action moving across your scene far away and 1/2000th of a second for action moving across the scene close up.
Who do you prefer taking photos of: Travis Rice or Dave Marx? – @big_air_jare
Wow, you might as well have asked me if I've stopped beating my dog. I can't win with any answer I give. They're each special ferocious shred beasts that deserve their own respect.
When are you gonna take your daughter to see Gwar? – @90deathpod
What does it matter? When Yig comes you die, you all die.
Tim, how has social media changed the world of photography? – @_liamaustin
I love this question. My favorite part of social media is that it's given my photos a chance to be seen by far more people than ever. My number one goal with my work, above all else, is to inspire people to snowboard. Snowboarding inspired me leave my tiny hometown and build something for myself. It's taken me around the world and given me incredible experiences I want other people to share. It's hard for a photo to inspire someone if it's just sitting on a hard drive or filed away in a cabinet somewhere.
There are some problems though: even though it's any brand's most powerful form of advertising, many don't want to pay for quality photography. That's a topic we could go into, in depth, but I believe there are far more benefits to a photographer using social media to show their work than drawbacks.
Tim, amazing photography. I am interested in the whole process from picking the spot (angles, distance, etc.) to shoot from to the settings used. Aperture, ISO, and any other used, I would also find it useful to know what they affect specifically for snowboarding photography. I am greatly appreciative of the time you take to answer my questions. Thank you for doing what you do. – @snowboardexcursions
Thanks for the kind words! My process usually goes like this: I let the snowboarders decide what they want to ride then I move around the zone trying to figure out what angle is going to make the trick look the best while making sure that there's enough context for the viewer to figure out what they're doing. I usually want to see the take off and landing in my shot, but at least one of those is mandatory. Then, I try and find a clean background. I hate busy-ass confusing backgrounds. I'll pick a shutter speed that'll stop the action and like to choose an aperture that'll allow enough things to be in focus to help tell a story about the scene, or one that'll throw distractions from the action out of focus. I always try and use the lowest ISO I can to prevent unnecessary noise in my photo, but the Nikon D850 is so good that I never really have to worry about pushing it up. Thanks for asking a great question!
What's your go-to lighting set up?? Do you like to work with strictly ambient? Do you bring a speed light while shooting for some fill? Or do you go full portable strobes to overpowder the sun? – @jordantkraft
The majority of what I shoot is using ambient light, but I love using flashes. It's so much fun to figure out creative ways to light up a snowboard scene or portrait. When I do light things I use Elinchrom gear. I just picked up new ELB 1200 & 400 Hi-Sync kits that I'm really excited to use. The riders I ask to wear my flash kit backpacks are going to be stoked at how much lighter they are than my older gear too…
Strictly in terms of utility, what is the most valuable accessory or item in your gear pack? When did you buy it? Do you remember why? – @darrenzemanek
Believe this or not: toilet paper. When you're in the backcountry and nature calls, that stuff is more valuable than gold. They don't call it mountain money for nothing.
Also, have you ever taken a digger on you way down and broken any gear? If so where, when? – @darrenzemanek
Yes, more than once. It took bending expensive bayonet lens mounts a couple times to realize that I shouldn't ride around with a lens attached to my camera body while I was riding. Though nowadays the camera bags are so good that your gear stays really well protected when you tumble.
How much does your camera backpack weigh, and whats your go-to snack packed within? – Jeanne Cavenaugh via facebook
My camera bag always weighs too much, no matter how much or little gear is in it. Honestly though, it's 20lbs at a minimum and close to 60 at its worst. Its weight is usually determined by how easy or hard it'll be to move the gear around the mountains. If I'm on a snowmobile with a rack I'll bring everything. If I'm hiking or splitboarding I'll bring as little as possible. My go-to snack is so boring, but I love peanut butter crunch Clif bars. Anyone at Clif reading this, slide into my DM's for my address, ha!
What was the biggest and most challenging kicker build with Travis Rice?? – Gabe Langlois via facebook
It's always the one he calls a "mellow build" that you start just before the sun goes down, and AFTER you've already spent 8 hours building the one you started that morning. I'm sure whatever one it was, you worked twice as hard on it than I did…
DO YOU HAVE ANY STRONG FEELINGS ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHERS WITH BEARDS? – Cooper Quinn via facebook
Well, I love my beard and I love almost all Canadians. Love is a strong feeling, right?
What was the most challenging shoot you've ever done, and why? – Hugo Beauchamp via facebook
I have two very different answers:
Any shoot where my remote triggers won't reliably fire my flashes will drive me insane. Why can we land a fucking satellite on a comet in space but we can't make a flash trigger fire a strobe 100' away with more than 50% reliability? I can't deal with faulty camera gear, it's the worst!
On a more serious note, any shoot where someone gets hurt is absolutely the most challenging. I've been very lucky in my career with this, but I've been through enough to experience some real lows. It's important to be prepared, be able to make good snow stability decisions, understand the risks your crew is taking, know wilderness first aid and be able to contact help at all times. But, when someone gets injured it's devastating regardless of your level of preparedness.
What was your main influence or inspiration to become a photographer? – Beth Meholick Lanzoni via facebook
My main influence was an obsession with snowboarding. I knew I was never going to be a pro snowboarder and was trying figure out a way I could be involved in it on a way more serious level than just as a weekend warrior (which there is nothing wrong with, get it when you can!). I clearly remember reading an article in Transworld Snowboarding that Colin Whyte wrote and Ken Achenbach shot. I was reading about what they were calling "cloud day" in Chamonix, where the snow was so deep and light that they couldn't see each other because of how much powder spray they were throwing into the air when they turned. On the next page was an action shot in amazing light with The Alps in the background. That's when it occurred to me that someone was getting paid to take those photos! I took out a loan the next day, bought a small camera kit and started shooting my friends at the mountain, rather than trying to compete against them in contests.
Best piece of photo advice you have ever received?? – Krista Mathis via facebook
Don't be a dick, because there are a lot of good photographers out there no one wants to work with and a lot of successful average ones that everyone loves. I haven't always heeded that advice, but it's the best I've gotten. Also, don't dry your lenses in a pizza oven and make sure you pay your taxes. Thanks to Trevor Graves for all that wisdom!