Photographer Steve Shannon captured the stunning image on the current issue of KMC. Here’s how he got the shot. Feature photo by Lindsay Donovan.
There has been a lot of amazing feedback about the cover on the Summer 2021 issue of Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine, which was photographed by Steve Shannon. We caught up with the Revelstoke-based photographer to ask about how he got started in the biz and what was involved in the river braid photo that now graces the cover. What we learned is it’s hard to paddle in shallow water. Here’s the interview.
Hey Steve, thanks for connecting. First off, how’d you get started in photography?
After growing up near Rossland skiing, snowboarding and biking throughout my childhood, my parents gave me a camera as a high school graduation gift. I started documenting my adventures during my holiday and reading week breaks while attending university in Edmonton. Around 2006 I started doing some side work for Big Red Cats, which eventually turned into a part time gig when I returned to Rossland after graduation in 2007. I was really big into dirt bike racing during that time, so I would bring my camera to the races and on my travels overseas which lead to my first assignment documenting the Red Bull Romaniacs race in Sibiu, Romania. In 2009 I was laid off my engineering job so I took a leap of faith to pursue photography full time. With some help from the Community Futures self-employment program I started my business, then proceeded to try and carve out a career. I bounced around for a few years, moving to the Okanagan and jumping back into engineering for a bit. In 2012 I was offered a photography position at Selkirk Wilderness Skiing (now called Selkirk Snowcat Skiing). I quit my engineering job, moved to Revelstoke for the winter, and never left.
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What are your favourite subjects to shoot?
That’s a tough one. I’m a huge geography nerd so I’m always a sucker for a beautiful landscape. I love getting out on adventures, whether that be by bike, skis, motorcycle, a rope and harness, canoe/kayak/raft/sup or snowmobile. If it lets me access beautiful places, I usually like doing it (except for ice climbing). I definitely like the tiny person/huge landscape images. For me, these activities are all about the places they take me. I’m less interested in the pure act of sport (though I’m learning to shoot that more) and tend to lean towards images that give a sense of place. Lately I’m getting drawn more towards nature photography, or finding projects with more of a story. Last year I shot with Michelle Salt, a Paralympic snowboarder-turned-sledder who has a very interesting story after having her leg amputated following a motorcycle accident. I was supposed to shoot a project with my friend, Tyson Rettie, a ski guide who lost his vision and the founder of the Braille Mountain Initiative, but unfortunately that’s been postponed until next winter due to Covid.
What’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you as a photographer?
My camera has lead me to meet some really interesting people and be invited on some really cool trips. A few years ago I had a last-minute invite to join my friend and fellow photographer Mary McIntyre for a week-long sailing and skiing trip in Iceland on the Aurora Arktika sailboat. We had the best time climbing and skiing ocean-side couloirs, skiing from fjord to fjord, watching the northern lights and seeing arctic foxes. I actually ended up about three metres away from an arctic fox, with only a wide angle lens as I’d left my telephoto lens on the boat. They’re really cool creatures and this one was very inquisitive. I’ve been fortunate to travel and have some great experiences, including spending a month bike-packing the Annapurna circuit and upper mustang regions of Nepal, skiing in Iceland, Norway and the Alps, rafting the Grand Canyon, biking in Peru and the Canary Islands and riding my dirt bike on three continents. I also met my girlfriend, Lindsay Donovan, through photography, so it’s safe to say my life would be a lot different without the camera.
What’s one of the most embarrassing things that’s happened to you as a photographer?
Probably being my awkward self while receiving an award at the ROAM awards in 2019. It was down in Boulder, Colorado in a packed theatre, plus being live broadcast online. Sasha Digiulian was presenting the award but missed the rehearsal earlier that day. I’m way more comfortable behind the lens and standing in front of a huge audience is definitely not my strong suit. Between the nerves and lack of rehearsal with Sasha, we ended up having a slightly awkward meeting on stage in front of 800+ people and however many more watching online. I extended my hand for a handshake, she held up her hand in what could’ve been a hug or a high-five, thus resulting in an awkward highfive/handshake/hug. I’ve never been the cool guy, and this one just confirmed it yet again.
Tell us what was involved with the photo that now graces the summer cover.
When Covid hit last March, I went from a jam-packed schedule to having all of my work cancelled, as did most people. There was epic snow in the mountains but we were all told to stay home and keep it mellow. I’ve been inspired by the river braid photos popular in Iceland, and I had taken a few aerial photos of some creek deltas in previous years at a few locations in the Kootenays. I started scouring Google Earth and some maps looking for potential spots where the water in the reservoirs around the area was really low. This particular spot outside of Revelstoke was really cool, with really interesting colours in the braids. I made a few trips out there wandering around in the mud and shooting some photos with my drone. I decided I wanted to try and get a human element in the shot, so I called up my good friend, fellow photographer, and kayaker, Dan Stewart to see if he was game. He was also sitting around home so he was keen to come help me out. We headed down to the creek, Dan got his gear together, I got my drone ready, then he put in the creek… and got stuck. The water was super low so he kept getting grounded. We had radios so I tried to point him towards the deeper spots and we played around while I burned through a few batteries. We shot a bunch of different angles, and the shot that ended up on the cover was actually taken at the end of the shoot when he was out in the reservoir just off shore.
With Dan begin a photographer too, did that make him an easier model or a harder one?
Definitely easier. We also have a great friendship and working relationship shooting photos of each other so he just followed my direction as it’s tough from the ground level to figure out what’s going on. Thanks Dan!
What’s next for you?
That is a great question. At the moment I’m finishing up my editing from the winter to get my submissions into all my editorial clients. I’ve also been chasing more river braid shots before the reservoirs fill up over the next few weeks. I’m hoping to get a bigger project off the ground using these river braid photos to help bring awareness to the Columbia River Treaty and Columbia Basin Trust. The project has just been a personal one up to this point, so if anyone out there is interested in this, please get in touch with me as I’m looking for some help with funding to do some more shooting and eventually bring the project to a larger audience, like maybe a book, or a gallery exhibition. Beyond the river braid project, I have a stack of proposals to write to drum up some work for the summer, which thanks to Covid, has made running a small business even more challenging, as you guys surely know.
Any last words?
Thank you KMC for keeping print alive and publishing my photos! It’s an honour to have my photos grace your pages, and getting the cover has been a career goal for me since I started pursuing photography over a decade ago. I grew up in the Kootenays and KMC was a big inspiration for me and this career path. Thank you!