Discovering the West Coast of Canada when you are originally from the East is kind of a curse. The idea to leave the white mountains and endless forests to come back here, in Quebec, sounds slightly crazy to you. It’s normal, the West Coast has this kind of beauty that is impossible to forget, especially for someone obsessed with outdoor activities. Some find it nice for a while, while others want to become a part of that place. For Todd Easterbrook, he didn’t only want to become part of that place - he wanted to capture it. After a trip to Whistler back in 2000, he decided that his passion for snowboarding could become a potential career if he puts the right amount of time on it and enough motivation. Now in 2016, Todd is well established in the snowboard industry in Canada, but also in other places such New-Zealand. Originally from Montreal, Todd moved back to the West a few years after his first trip to the untamed mountains for one idea - chasing his dreams.
We aren’t typically talking about snowboarding, I admit, but once you discover the work of Todd, you will understand why we switched our mind about the cold weather and the snow, which we thought was the worst thing that could ever exist. By seeing his pictures, we find ourselves facing huge mountains and impressive snowboarding skills by some of the best snowboarders, in unknown backcountry locations. The challenge of getting the perfect shot is something that requires a good knowledge of the mountains and patience through different conditions. Snowboarding is more than a simple sport, especially for Todd - it is a way of living. Putting his emphasis on not only snowboarding, but the landscape as well, we get transported into destinations we may never see and parts of the mountains we will probably never have the chance to explore, but the simple idea that these places exist and that the mountains offer us a moment of joy surrounded by this kind of beauty is simply unreal.
Because of his approach on the moments and his interests about the nature in itself, Todd offers us moments that are worth remembering. If someone ever said that nature can’t make you feel something, they were wrong - nature makes you feel so small that every inch of your body can hurt you until you’re able to find yourself next to it.
Some call it magic, others call it the mountains.
We decided to jump on a call with Todd to learn more about his work and his future goals towards his photography.
Where does this obsession for Whistler come from?
I grew up skateboarding, which led me to snowboarding and it made me want to go out to Whistler and ride the powder. I finally did that in 2000 for pretty much the whole winter season and went back to Quebec. That’s kind of where it all started, because my uncle had given me a camera as my birthday gift before going to Whistler and from there, I got interested in photography and snowboarding photography as well. After being there for about 6 months, I went back home and started doing non-credit photography classes at Dawson College. I then found out about Commercial Photography, so I enrolled myself into the night program that they had, which was two and a half year.
Do you think the program helped you learn the skills and knowledge that you were lacking in? Because the main focus was commercial photography.
Commercial photography is still a big part of snowboarding photos. You deal with everything - I had photojournalism classes, I also learned film, which was a cool thing. I think I had only one or two digital courses. It was a weird transition period between digital and film. By the time I was finishing the program, people that were joining the school were starting right away with digital. The dark room doesn’t even exist there anymore.
The snowboard industry is quite tight and especially back in the West Coast. How did you do to join in?
When I first moved, I didn’t even shoot at first! [Laugh]
I think after being in school, I just needed a break from it. I just shredded powder every day. It took me a few years before I decided to start pursuing photography more actively. It was probably around 2010, so it has been like 6 years! I was just working small jobs and having the routine to work during the evening and snowboard during the day.
What happened next? You woke up and decided to pursue back your goal?
Yes, I think in 2009-2010 I was shooting a bit more my friends and stuff like that. I got a position for photo blogging for Whistler Blackcomb in 2011 and I think that’s what motivated me to pursue more photography.
It allowed you to explore new places as well in the Whistler area I guess, no?
For sure, that gave me quite a bit of exposure because a lot of people were looking at it too. From there, I tried to approach more sponsored athletes. I got my first work published in 2011 in a New-Zealand magazine.
Oh yes, it seems like magazines from New-Zealand really like your work!
I shot with many New-Zealand riders at first and in New-Zealand, it’s just kind of everything on mountains. To get a shot of a New-Zealand riders in the trees on Whistler backcomb was what they wanted - they don’t have trees like that there. I went to New-Zealand once for a month and did a story for a magazine, New-Zealand Snowboarders.
Have you ever thought of moving somewhere else? Whistler Blackcomb is probably one of the best places on Earth, but there are so many places around the globe you could go and discover.
I know... But I think that you need to live somewhere and Whistler is my home. I’ve been to New-Zealand, Japan, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington though.
You mostly do backcountry nowadays, isn’t?
Yes, I don’t shoot on resort anymore. The Whistler Backcountry is the best, there’s so much back there. Sometimes you just go around looking for spots, but there is also spots you go back to every year, like classic jump spot. You definitely need to do a lot of shuffling around and moving the snow. Sometimes it takes a full day to build something and you just shoot the next morning when you go back.
Is it quite dangerous to go into the backcountry?
I mean, it can be, but fortunately, Whistler backcountry has pretty stable snowpack and obviously, you don’t go out when it’s high risks of extreme avalanche conditions or if it is, it’s just like anything else when you go out there, you just play it smart and stick to the trees.
What’s the craziest experiences you had while shooting?
I spent one month in Alaska in April 2015 and a lot of the shooting that they do there is with a helicopter, so you’re shooting with doors off, strapped in, feet dangling off the helicopter. That’s definitely the most exciting and funniest way to shoot cause it’s like being on a roller coaster and trying to take photos at the same time!
[Laugh] I can just imagine, it must be so challenging!! Must be really scary for the snowboarders as well, isn’t?
Yes! And Alaska is no joke, everything there is big and steep.
When you go out to shoot, do you have an idea in mind already about how you want to capture the photo or you just go with the flow?
It depends obviously on the feature. Sometimes I like to build something during the day and wait until the next day to shoot because I have a bit more time to think about it and think about my angle. It’s really hard to have a picture in your head and go out to create it because you never know how the weather is going to be like, what tricks the rider is going to do. I always have a loose idea, but try to let it grow more organically.
You really like landscapes - are you trying to push this aspect through your photographs?
I used to be really big in Black and White landscape photography. I usually think: “Would this be a nice image without someone in it” and I just try to incorporate the rider in. I think it is a waste to not use the rest of the beauty.
When you pick the snowboarders you’re going to shoot with, do you pick them by style or you just go with the same usual people?
When I originally tried to shoot with sponsored snowboarders, I actually used to add a bunch of them on Facebook and send them all a message. Not the same thing, but just introducing myself with the link to my website. I didn’t do that until I had a snowmobile though, because I try to think a bit prior to that and it’s the first question that everyone asks. Next to the camera, that’s the thing you need - it’s equal to it.
What do you mostly bring with you when you go into the backcountry?
Currently, Nikon D3s and for the lenses usually 80-200mm, 24-70mm, 50mm, 20 mm and a fish eye. Even when I was in Alaska, I could have used something like a 400mm, but I didn’t have it. It was a really short notice when I learned that I was going so I tried to rent one, but it didn’t work out. Shooting from the helicopter was fine because I was shooting with my midrange zoom. I even bring flashes with me a couple of times. It’s not great, but I have only ever done it when it’s easy to access with the snowmobile, allowing me to get a unique shot.
What about standing out in the industry? It looks like a competitive place as you need to always offer something new.
I think the important thing is to, once you developed your style, to stick to it for a bit cause it becomes your brand. I’ll try different things, but I do have a style, whether I admit it or not!
There isn’t snow during the whole year, so what are you doing when you cannot go up the mountains?
Not much this time of year! [Laugh]
November is pretty quiet in the industry. But I try to do as much work as I can with a camera, I’ve done a few weddings. It’s kind of a love/hate relationship. I don’t mind shooting the wedding, but it’s dealing with all the editing afterwards. When I shoot snowboarding, there’s maybe one or two photos that I’m really going to work on, but with wedding, there’s like thousand photos. There’s good money in it for sure. It is a saturated market here though, there’s a lot of photographers in the Whistler Area.
What are your plans for next?
To be honest, I would like to get a bit more into commercial jobs outside of the snowboarding industry. Companies that would enjoy my style of photography because action sports and outdoor adventures are used a lot by brands related to the industry. Usually, they come with bigger budgets. It’s not something that happens overnight, it’s just by being more aware of this industry and trying to make connexion. We will see!