Industry Profile: Professional Photographer Larry Pierce
29 Aug, 2008
Larry: Hmmmmm. 56 years old but a kid at heart! There’s a lot to tell but I can try to be brief. I skateboard with my son who is 17, and we ride mountain bikes and go surfing whenever we can. I have a job doing what I love to do, still hard to believe I get paid to take pictures!
Now I can backtrack a bit…after high school I got into construction work, became a carpenter, much better than being a laborer. I was taking super 8mm movies back in the late 60’s and slowly went to taking still photography, mostly surfing as I was living in Hawaii during this period. I had a short career shooting for Surfing Magazine. My wife and I moved to Steamboat in 1980, where I easily transitioned from surf shooting to skiing and snowboarding photography. I also do travel and catalog shoots as well as all kinds of editorial and advertising photography. I would say that my photo career has been going for about 30 plus years. My camera is my best travel companion and taking photos is still a passion!
Shay: What is your job title?
Larry: Currently the still photographer for the Steamboat Ski Resort, almost 15 years now.
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Larry: My parents, both deceased now, never questioned any job that I decided to do, always supportive.
Shay: What was your first camera set up?
Larry: First still camera was a very old 35mm Kodak camera, with a fixed lens. You had to look through a viewfinder and guess on your exposure, no meter’s in those days.
Shay: What is your current camera set up?
Larry: Nikon D-2X with all Nikkor lenses. 300mm, 80-200mm, 17-35mm, 28-70mm and lots of lighting equipment.
Shay: What pack do you use to carry your equipment?
Larry: I use Lowe Pro camera backpacks exclusively for the last 20 years. The “Mini Trekker AW” is my workhorse, small enough to be light and still accommodate my equipment for my on-snow needs.
Shay: What was your first job?
Larry: First Photo job? That would be shooting images for Surfing Magazine in 1976.
Shay: What’s a great day of skiing to you?
Larry: That’s easy. 20 inches of fresh pow and untracked lines through the trees!
Shay: Who are your influences?
Larry: So many, surf photographers from the early days in the 60’s and 70’s. I look at lots of photo books and absorb what I see.
Shay: How long have you been skiing?
Larry: Well, since I moved to Steamboat. So 27 years now.
Shay: How many days do you get to ski a year?
Larry: That’s a hard question. Free skiing or skiing for work? I’m usually putting in 75 to 80 days a season on skis. Going out with friends and free skiing, maybe 15 days.
Shay: What is your role at Steamboat Ski Resort as the staff photographer?
Larry: Basically it’s to shoot all the stills needed for web, brochures and ads both local and national.
Shay: You also do freelance photography, what magazines have your photos appeared in?
Larry: Honestly there are so many images my work has been in. All the ski magazines and a couple of the snowboard mags, surf mags, National Geographic World and Traveler, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, several airline inflight magazines, Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and Rolling Stone.
Shay: How did you get into photography?
Larry: I started shooting 8mm movies of my friends in Hawaii surfing. That lead to a still camera and a love of taking photos. Since I was about 15 I’ve always had a still camera. A hobby turned into a serious hobby, then the passion turned into a career.
Shay: Is understanding composition, lighting, exposure…important to becoming a photographer?
Larry: The digital revolution has made photography easier, but you must know all the basics such as lighting, composition and exposures. Point and shoot will only get you so far. If you want to be a working professional you have to know your stuff.
Shay: How do you keep your hands warm?
Larry: No tricks there, keep gloves on till I need to shoot, then off they come. It’s only a problem when the temps get below zero…ouch.
Shay: Do you often travel to take photos?
Larry: I used to travel quite a bit 5-10 years ago. Now 3-4 trips a year. Digital has changed a lot of that now, as everyone wants to be a photographer. Most of my travels were in the Pacific, tropical islands and surfing.
Shay: What pro athletes did you capture on film this year?
Larry: For 2007-2008 I shot with Travis Meyer, Nelson Carmichael, Carlone Lalive, Jonny Moseley, Glen Plake.
Larry: All depends on weather. If it dumps, shoot skiing and riding. Back in the office I edit and file away the images. Some days half the afternoon is spent sending out images to AP, local newspapers, Denver Television stations. PR is a big part of the job.
Larry: Great place to work and I’m surrounded by very talented people. Lots of different things to shoot. Key events are things like the Winter Carnival and of course the Cowboy Downhill.
Shay: What’s the best park you’ve gotten from your job?
Larry: For me it’s the ability to work with so many very talented athletes, of course skiing whenever I can is a bonus!
Shay: Education vs. Experience…which do you think is more important?
Larry: For me it was experience as I have no formal training, did not go to any photo schools. But I believe you need a good education, not just for your future job, but to get out there and make it in the world. You get one shot at it, so don’t mess it up!
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to become a professional photographer?
Larry: Learn all you can, the web is a wealth of knowledge and through schools. Try to get on the job experience, such as becoming an assistant to a photographer, you can learn a ton. In photography there are so many different avenues to take, find your photo niche.
Shay: Final thoughts?
Larry: I still can’t believe I get paid to do what I love. I pinch myself from time to time!