Armed with suitcases stuffed with outerwear and a backpack full of photography equipment, our in-house photographer, Kelly Smith, took to the mountains of Utah with two camera-ready athletes and a limited number of snowshoes. Keep reading to find out how she planned a western photo shoot from her desk in Philadelphia (and what it was like to see bison roaming the wild).
Instead of hiring models, you worked with real Salt Lake City residents for this shoot. How did you find them, and why did you pick them?
We’re always on the lookout for local athletes when we travel for shoots, and the Salt Lake area is full of ‘em. Sasha Turrentine, a Brooklyn-based climber we worked with for a previous catalog, connected us with Kati Hetrick, an athlete manager and all-around badass. Kati introduced me to our athletes Dave ( @dave.burleson) and Jo ( @savagedangerwolf) at Outdoor Retailer, the trade show we also happened to be attending in Utah that week, and it all fell into place pretty nicely.
You planned this entire photo shoot from Philly. How did you select where to shoot? What went into the planning process?
Internet sleuthing for locations is one of my favorite parts of traveling for work — I get to know the area pretty well before I even step foot in a new place. I use AllTrails, one of my favorite apps, to sort through local spots suited to the activities we’ll be doing on the shoot. I then narrow down my options, map potential routes from point A to point B to point C, and determine which gives us the most time on-location with the best views and terrain. There are always potential hiccups like road closures due to inclement weather, especially when you’re shooting in mountainous areas in the winter, so I make a point to look up local transit laws and predictable seasonal road closings.
Andi (our Wholesale Customer Support Rep) and I did a dry run of the route I’d mapped out: the Lake Blanche trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon to Antelope Island about an hour north. (Location scouting is just a functional excuse to spend the day hiking, so it’s a win-win.) No matter how much research I do online, nothing can ever prepare me for how breathtaking these places are in person. So I get to spend my scouting day getting all of my oohs and aahs out of the way before I have bags full of clothing to shoot.
What really blew you away about this location?
The Lake Blanche trail was an absolute dream. Hiking several miles in gave us sweeping views of the mountains and evergreen trees slouching under the weight of the snow. We didn’t make it all the way to the lake due to time constraints, but I’m definitely planning to do that trail on my own soon.
Antelope Island was something we were especially excited for since it’s known to be the home to wild bison, and I’d never see one in the flesh. On our scouting day, conditions were complete whiteout. We couldn’t see five feet in front of us, which was especially disorienting knowing that a bison could nudge its large, fuzzy head out of the fog at any moment. When we finally spotted some about 20 minutes into the hike, we just sat in the snow and stared at them for a while.
Since you frequently shoot outside, weather is always a major factor (and often way different IRL than it looks on film). What was it really like when you were out there?
All over the place. For the most part it was unseasonably warm, so we worked up a sweat pretty quickly hiking the Lake Blanche trail in our winter gear. On shoot day, Antelope Island was clear, sunny, and damn chilly (way different than the whiteout during scouting). Having an arsenal of bison-insulated outerwear came in handy.
Your shoots are always so active — how did you settle on snowshoeing this time around?
The snowshoeing was sort of out of necessity! The snow was so deep on that first hike that we’d be sunk (literally) without the snowshoes. We teamed up with our friends from Yukon Charlie’s to put together a set for Jo and Dave. They really did the trick and made the hike much easier for them. I was still sinking into the snow left and right, but it’s cool.
What were Jo & Dave’s favorite things to shoot in?
They were both big fans of the first outfits on Antelope Island. The temperatures had dropped pretty significantly from our time in Big Cottonwood at sunrise, but luckily we had them both in Ultimate American Jackets and our soft recycled polyester pom beanies to keep them warm.
If you could go back for 24 hours, what would you do?
10/10 would do that full Lake Blanche hike and drive around more of Antelope Island. It’s really extensive, and 24 hours wouldn’t even be enough.