Creative Director: Winslow Taft
Associate Art Director: Lucy Quintanilla
Production Assistant: Aliya Best
Photo Researcher: Kendra Rennick
Photographer: Scott Dickerson
Heidi: How was being an Alaskan through and through shaped you as a photographer?
Scott: Alaska often feels like the edge of the earth. This is true not only for the natural environments I work in, but also for the business environment. I was raised with a homesteader attitude – we make do with what we have. As a creative this means not just working with the tools, subjects, and opportunities available to me, but really making the most of them. To work effectively in ‘The Last Frontier’ one must constantly adapt to the demands of nature and know how to get around. My lifelong experience and connections around the state are some of my greatest assets when it’s time to get work done.
Last summer I put together a shoot with ROXY. They were familiar with my fly-out surf trips in Alaska and wanted to shoot a campaign based on that story. Having worked with them in the past on several projects they relied on me heavily to bring all the pieces together. And it was a lot of pieces, we had two floatplanes and a helicopter in the mountains one day and then a floatplane and a boat at a beach scene the next day. My experience working with all the service providers and knowing what was realistically possible within the budget and schedule was crucial to making the shoot a success
Patagonia was just about to introduce their new drysuit made for kiting. This is a product that makes it not only possible, but actually comfortable to kite surf in extremely cold conditions. Or at least they thought. They came to Alaska to test out the suit and get some dramatic images of what would be possible wearing this new piece of technology. I jumped in the motorhome with them and we had what they all claimed to be a trip of a lifetime. We were kiting with icebergs just hours from their arrival into Anchorage airport, over the next few days we flew in two bush planes and fulfilled long time dreams for the crew. The icing on the cake was a floatplane day trip out to a glacial lake to kite with more icebergs in a total wilderness setting. The suits were well proven by the end of the trip and they went home with some striking images.
Have you surfed all your life? What drew you to winter surfing and how cold is it?
I started playing in the water at a young age. Before my friends and I borrowed our first wetsuit water activities were limited to the hottest days of summer. As the available equipment improved so did the time I spent in the water. Now with modern surfing wetsuits there is almost no limit to how cold it can be and still be enjoyable playing in the ocean. What made me want to start surfing? I really couldn’t say – I’d never even seen someone surfing in Alaska when I was overcome with the desire to play in the waves. The reason I still surf in Alaska is the adventure and natural environment. Imagine seeing an incredible ocean landscape with snow covered mountains towering in the background. There is no better way to really experience that scene than to literally immerse yourself in it. Even better if you get to ride waves of energy pulsing in the ocean!
How do you capture the surf shots?
Surfing is a particularly challenging subject. The athletes and photographer are very much at the mercy of the weather and waves. The right conditions are almost never easy to find, especially in a place like Alaska. Once we do find good surf the next challenge is finding a place to photograph from. I often put my equipment in a dry bag and swim into shore, arriving soaking wet to stand around in the cold for 1-4hrs. Alternatively I might shoot from a small skiff or sitting on a stand up paddle board right next to the breaking waves – a risky place to be when your attention is fragmented, camera gear exposed, and the water so cold. If the conditions allow, I will also shoot with a water housing right in the surf which is typically cold and exhausting. The large tides in Alaska make for strong currents to swim against and diving under waves in a thick wetsuit is not easy.
Clearly you’ve incorporated your lifestyle into your work, which came first?
Perhaps this means I’ve reached the perfect blend – I can’t tell them apart anymore!
My career as a photographer was launched by an overwhelming desire to share the spectacles of nature I witnessed while commercial fishing on the Alaskan coastline. This original inspiration has stayed with me for the decade plus I’ve been making images professionally.
I’ve been careful to pursue projects and subjects that I’m passionate about from the start. The reward has been that my work and personal interests are indistinguishable.
Photography has also given me opportunities that are otherwise out of reach – I’ve always loved aviation personally, but it’s my photography work that allows me to orchestrate the flight path of three helicopters through the mountains.
I’m also the beneficiary of a trend where photographers are hired for more than just their images. Many of my clients are aware of my lifestyle and they want some of that story to show through in the projects.
What was your first paid assignment?
As a self taught photographer I started out small. My first paid assignments were things like taking photos of Bed and Breakfasts for local business owners or photographing the Winter Carnival for the local newspaper. Looking back it’s humbling to see where this all began. Since 2001 my primary source of income has been photography.
Do you come to the lower 48 for meetings, shop your portfolio?
I was an early adopter of digital and online so much of my work has come from social sharing or people finding my images through searches. This has really helped me to overcome the challenge of being so far away from the major hubs.
I’ve done well over the years photographing my passions and finding a way to leverage the images after the fact. Sometimes those images are just marketing tools that attract a client, and sometimes they sell as stock. The unique subjects and locations that I photograph often market themselves with even a small amount of exposure.
That being said, my business and marketing efforts are evolving. Recently I’ve been to NAB, visited stock agencies I work with, and invested time getting to know folks at clients like Patagonia. Maybe this is the homestead way again, I look to find friends and establish long term relationships that more work and adventure can grow from.
For your aerial shots are you using a drone, in a helicopter?
Aviation is a part of life in Alaska. I’ve flown and photographed from almost every type of flying contraption from self propelled paragliders all the way up to Coast Guard C-140s. I’ve been toying with drones a little the last couple years but for much of my work manned aerial vehicles are still the way to go. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time in helicopters as a Cineflex operator shooting perfectly stabilized motion content for a variety of clients with www.ZatzWorks.com. For still photography I’m usually in helicopters or fixed wing aircraft for commercial work. When I’m just itching to fly, or the weather is just right and I can’t stay on the ground I often fly myself in a motorized paraglider (paramotor).
Did the Adventure trips come first and then the ability to market the imagery?
First it was adventure in the Alaskan wilds and then photography brought a new richness to those experiences. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time aboard the m/v Milo as both a photographer and USCG Captain (www.OceanSwellVentures.com). We invite people to join us as we explore the endless coastline of Alaska. The trips are roughly half for private adventurers and the rest are media productions for editorial or commercial clients like:
Patagonia (surf ambassadors on four different trips now)
Red Bull – boat based surfing adventure for the web video series – Brother’s on the run
FOX (apparel brand) – photographs of professional surfer Ian Walsh surfing in Alaska
Alaskan Brewing – ongoing contract to produce Alaska adventure images
Taylor Steele surf film – This time tomorrow
Alaska Sessions – surf film trip
Magazine work includes: Surfer’s Journal, Surfer, Fluir, Tide, Slide, tracks, GQ Spain, Mental Floss, National Geographic Adventure (online), Red Bulletin, Wavelength, Alaska.
What’s the best and most challenging aspect of being a working photographer in AK?
The best aspect of working in Alaska is Alaska itself. The unadulterated wilderness is such an inspiration for me. When I find myself in an urban environment it’s as though I can’t take a deep breath. There’s a feeling I’ve only found in the wilds of Alaska, a chest expanding peace and connection with the natural elements – something that I try and share in my images.
The most challenging aspect is that same rugged wilderness that I love comes with a cost. It’s untamed, the weather is extreme and it’s entirely out of our control. Much of my work depends on the weather coinciding with the schedules of my clients or the availability of resources.
Tell me about your creative role with Alaska Brewing, how did that project develop?
My work with Alaskan Brewing started when they were relabeling their IPA. It had a drawing of a surfer on the label and packaging. The formula was being changed and they were sick of being told ‘People don’t really surf in Alaska!’ so they took the opportunity to use photography instead of illustration to prove they weren’t being phony. After a few more image sales they approached me with the idea of being a ‘sponsored photographer’. I believe the idea came about after receiving requests from adventure sport athletes for sponsorship but it never seemed like the right fit. Then they had the idea to sponsor a photographer instead. Smart thinking in my opinion. It’s a new endeavor for both of us but the first year was a great success so I expect it to continue to evolve.