Laura Austin

decent exposure:MIKE BASHER

09 March 2010, 03.18 | Posted in Decent Exposure, Photography, Snowboarding | 2 comments »

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Mike Basher… this guy has a lot to say… and he should after working for Snowboard Magazine for the past six seasons. He was one of the guys who helped create the magazine and since then has gone through the ranks as photo editor and most recently, editor, of the mag. But as of January 2010, Basher took a step back from his spot at Snowboard. He decided it was time to move on since, with his new position as editor, he was spending much less time doing what he loved, shooting photos. Included in this interview are his reasons for moving on, why he thinks Colorado sucks, and his big plans for what is to come. Read the what he has to say after the jump.

To see more of his work check out his site and follow his blog.

BASHER

Basher and his baby… well his other baby… 4×5 camera. Photo: Steve Jones

First and foremost, you just had your first kid, Holden… congratulations. How does it feel to be a dad?

Well, sorry it took me so long to get to the interview…the first week has been a bit of adjustment. It’s awesome, though. He’s rad, and getting better by the day. Parents that tell you stories alluding to ideas that your life is going to suck after having a baby, and this and that are out of their mind. Being a parent is selfless, and like many things in life, I think it’s important to remember that at all times.

You’re most recent position was Editor of Snowboard Magazine, but what led up to that?

Years and years of persistence. When I started snowboarding 20 years ago, I wanted to work for a snowboarding magazine. The photos in the mags as a kid started to build my perception of snowboarding, and turned me on to photography. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I started to go down the photography route. I had been into motocross, and was always interested in the way things work, so one choice was to become a motorcycle mechanic, and the other was to become a photographer. Eventually, the two kind of blended into one.

I did the photo college thing, and really got into commercial photography. The time and patience of “making” photos really interested me. I always liked shooting landscapes, but the idea of being able to play God with lighting and little tricks here and there were a big draw. I was lazy, though, and instead of venturing down the commercial route, I chose photojournalism, because I had been getting into motocross photography. I don’t regret it at all, though…

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Straight out of college, I was hired by a publishing company in SoCal, and was thrown into the mix with their two motocross mags: Motocross Action and Motocross Journal, putting together 18 issues a year. At 20 years old, it was a real eye opener, and I learned a ton about publishing and was shooting nearly every day in the studio, and out in the field and was responsible for most of the photography in each issue. By the time I left the company in 2006, I was shooting 90% of the photos in each issue, and working in the BMX and mountain biking world, as well. It was awesome, shooting non-stop and with different subjects.

To take a step back two years, I had met Mark Sullivan, the former Editor of Snowboarder Magazine at a motocross race in Massachusetts, and became buddies with him. We kept in contact for the next bit, and he informed me that he was going to start up a new snowboard magazine, and invited me up to Portland to meet these guys Jeff Baker, Aaron Draplin and J2 and help put it together. I took a week off of work, and headed up to spend probably 100 hours over 5 days putting it all together…picking fonts, layout designs and the whole deal. At the time, I had four years of magazine experience, but this was working with a blank slate. Watching it all come together was incredible. Over the following issues and years I became more involved, and titles became more and more serious.

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Adam Dowell

You recently left your position as Editor of Snowboard Magazine… what made you decide to do that?

As my role at the mag became more serious and involved, that left less time to shoot. I’m a photographer at heart, and I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do, and I didn’t have the time to devote to shooting for the mag, since I was the Editor, Photo Editor, and staff photographer. I was responsible for checking things off of lists, keeping in touch with over 150 photographers, tracking down photo files, color correcting, making sure stories were done, maintaining a strong relationship with key people at each brand, going to deadlines in Portland, and when time permitted; shoot. It had gotten to the point that I would dust my gear off one day a month to shoot some boots, or whatever the products were. Trust me, I don’t regret any of it. I did far more in the magazine business than I set out to, and the experience is so valuable. It was a good ten years.

With you and Baker (and now Draplin) gone what do you think is going to happen to the mag?

That’s a touchy one. Being involved with SNOWBOARD from day one, it’s a part of me, and I want it to succeed. In ten years, I want to go to the newsstand, and pick up a copy of it, and it’s still incredible. That is going to take a lot of work, as it took a lot of work to get it to where it is today. It’s up to the new crew.

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You’re based out of Colorado now, but in a previous conversation we had you didn’t seem too fond of it…Are you planning on moving?

I have a house here, but I don’t live here. The fishing is good, but everything is set up to be a mission, any time you want to do anything. If you’re fortunate enough to live in the mountains, that’s rad, but you’re stuck in a mountain town. We all know how that can be. If you want to live near civilization, it’s going to take you at least an hour and a half each way on a windy interstate (if the roads are dry) to go snowboarding. That’s not the big complaint. It’s the “we live in the mountains” mentality here. Denver and Boulder ARE NOT in the mountains. You can see the mountains, but you have to venture deep…real deep to go snowboarding. The backcountry is nonexistent, and the scene…I’m not going to go there. Let’s just say that Colorado snowboarding doesn’t have the purity that I’m looking for. I’m a snowboarder at heart. I’ve been doing it passionately for the past 20 of my 30 years, and I’m not going to give it up anytime soon. Since moving here three years ago, I don’t snowboard anymore. There’s no draw. I’m going to Seattle.

Ok so photo pricing…you seem pretty opinionated about that. What’s up?

You’re used to paying $2.50 for a gallon of gas, right? It’s just the norm. Say you’re driving through the hood, and you see a gas station that has $0.99 listed on their sign, or a banner in the front window that says “Free Gas!” Of course, you’re going to stop and fill up. But, you’re going to wonder…is this even gasoline? Will it ruin my engine? Well, the “engine” that is the snowboarding industry, or any other area of commerce, for that matter needs good, quality fuel. Burton needs to keep making high quality products to fuel their business, just like how photographers need to produce high quality photos to stay alive. If Burton started giving away their goods, they would go out of business, right? And Ride would be dragged down, as well, because then what is their gear worth, if Burton stuff is free? NOTHING.

Same goes with photography. Sure, Brand X doesn’t have enough to pay you for a photo, or they give you the age-old “We only pay $500 for ad photos” or my favorite: “We’re a small company.” Sure you are, that’s why you’re spending thousands of dollars to advertise in magazines. You want to know a small company? Mike Basher Photography. That’s a small company.

Unfortunately, there’s no rate card for snowboarding photography, but services (photos) are NEVER free. They are not payable by trade (unless it’s money), and the photos that a brand “has to have” are being used to represent that brand. They are valuable. If brands didn’t need photographs, they would use illustrations, and I don’t see many illustrated ads in magazines. There’s a definite market, so please, charge for your photos, and charge what they are worth.

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Joe Sexton

With focus being shifted more onto web content, how do you see that affecting photography since people normally aren’t willing to pay as much for photos used on the internet?

The internet battle has been brewing for years. Everyone’s got a website and a marketing budget, but the two rarely coincide. There are industry rate cards for web usage, but they are generally far out of range for the client, where print, for example, is always within reason. What sites need to realize is that they are the future of media and advertising. Just because you can’t physically touch a photo doesn’t make it worth less than a printed photo, per se.

If a brand buys usage rights to a photo from you to run in a print mag of 50,000 copies, you’re likely to get $2,500. However, if that same brand wants to use the image as a banner on their site, for hundreds of thousands of people to see, it’s worth a tenth as much. It doesn’t make sense. It’s easy to understand why, but when you break it down by viewership, it doesn’t add up. There are sites out there that pay well for editorial usage, though. Surprisingly well, actually.

Some say print is dying, but as someone who was working as the editor of a magazine, do you agree?

Print is dying, but you can still get creative with it. In my opinion, people want to hold something that they love and they want to feel a part of it. You can’t feel a part of a website, or a PDF. That has been a huge part of the success with SNOWBOARD Magazine. It has been on far better paper than its competition since day one. You can compare it to Frequency. Both retain that coffee table feel that you can’t put down. Both have soul. The competition is quantity over quality, which pays the bills, but doesn’t hold up in my mind.

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HDRs…. I hear you do them the long way. What’s your method?

It’s bound to happen. The “real world” does it, so why not the rest of us? Good things happen in moderation, and sometimes, the conditions aren’t quite what you want them to be when you capture an image. Yes, I do some HDR stuff, but with subtlety. I don’t use a program that magically melds 16 exposures into one, making it look like a Rembrandt. I put a little elbow grease into it, because some automated computer program doesn’t know what I want out of a final image, and every image is different, and needs to be treated individually. I usually work with chunks of separate files and lots of adjustment layers, painting in highlights and shadows individually by hand. It’s a careful craft, takes a lot of patience, and can easily be overdone, but it’s similar to working in the darkroom, with precise dodging and burning. I prefer a natural looking final image, usually adding a stop or two more range, not ten. Yes, an image with 20 stops range looks cool, but for $39.95, anyone can get a program to do that, as well.

HDR

HDR shot

Are you more into really concepting/planning out a photo before you shoot it? Or are you more of a spontaneous/shoot things as they happen photographer?

I’ve never been the “Hey, you want to shoot?” type of photographer. I like to have an idea of what the final image is going to be before I even take my camera out of my camera bag. Call me a kill-joy, but it’s just the way I am. I like to be calculated, and prepared for a specific situation. Prepared doesn’t mean having the right gear, it just means knowing what’s going on. I like sketching photos, and lighting diagrams. A perfect example was our December issue cover, which we shot at the DC Mountain Lab with Jonas Carlson. DC sent me a few images of the hip they were building, and while sitting in my basement in Colorado, I sketched up exactly what the cover was going to look like, angle and lighting and everything. It’s just the way I like to have control over a shoot. Obviously, you can’t plan each and every shot, but I like to have a really good grasp of at least a few go-to images.

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Cover shot at DC Mountain lab with Jonas Carlson

You seem pretty attached to your 4×5, on that subject what’s your opinion on film vs. digital?

Through college, I learned the magic that is 4×5. 35mm was quick and easy, medium format was a complete waste of time, and 4×5, although it was incredibly involved, was the tool used when the shot counted. The resolution, the control, the precision…it’s always fit my style. I have never owned a 4×5 camera, and last year, on a rare craigslist visit, I came across a field camera, for $340. The guy had just posted it, and I hit him up right away. One of my favorite photographers is Jake Stangel. He’s a wiz with 4×5 and all things analog. His photos speak the honest truth in such a clean documentary style I rarely see these days. Anyway, Jake’s 4×5 work has been a bit of an inspiration, and we geek out on 4×5 stuff all the time. $1,100 later, and I have a full system that rarely leaves my side.

My reasoning for buying a 4×5 in the first place was to change my style of photography a bit. Digital made me lazy. It’s so easy to never use your light meter, or not worry about composition, because you can view and move right away. With digi, you also have so much more control in post, where you can fix exposure. Film doesn’t lie.

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Film

Then do you think younger kids coming up in the game have it easy?

Yes, and no. The photographers that have been around for a bit, and that started out on film generally have their skills dialed, because the process of learning on film is more precise and involved. It’s the “proper way” to learn, but in hindsight, taking digi into account, there’s no perfect way. Some people benefit from learning visually on the back of a digital body, where others excel from learning how things actually work, then applying them in practice. In the end, though, nothing replaces hard work and diligence.

What’s your view on messing with photos in Photoshop? How much is too much?

Like Spandex, Photoshop is a privilege, not a right. I’m not going to limit this one to just Photoshop, but also mention Lightroom, Capture One, Aperture, and whatever else I may be forgetting. All have so many controls now that you can get really creative with your photos. So creative, in fact that it can be too much. But, keep in mind that I don’t consider my photography “art.” I make photographs of real things, so there has to be a fair amount of credibility in my images. Whether it’s of a binding being splashed with paint, a portrait of a basketball player, or a landscape of the Grand Canyon…it’s all real. However, you can’t just take a file straight from a camera, and use it for much of anything. They all need some serious tweaking to truly represent a scene. So, all files pass through some sort of Photoshop massaging at some point. It’s up to the person holding the mouse what the final outcome is. I don’t shun the use of any program, as I live and die by Photoshop. I just use the overall “reality” in my work.

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony

Natural sunlight or flashes?

Depends. Dawn or dusk: natural. Nothing beats the look of magic hour light. So creamy. I like control, so flash is my first choice. Flash can limit creativity, because a lighting setup has a “sweet spot” where the lighting has been set up for a certain situation. If the subject or the photographer move, it throws everything off. Lighting in the way I enjoy it is incredibly involved, and can complicate more than benefit. It just boils down to personal preference, and the application.

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Who are a few of your favorite photographers?

There are some commercial photographers that I like the flavor of, but whatever about them. Here, in no particular order are the guys I’m fans of, for personal reasons: Jake Stangel, Jay Michelfelder, Danny Zapalac, Creager and Matt Georges. These guys have gobs of talent, and always keep things so fresh, which I think is more important than who their list of clients is.

Amen on that last statement….What do you feel is the most played out/overused thing in photography right now?

I’m going to sound like a dick here, but it’s the people who are into all the gimmicks, and are chasing the hot new post production looks and tricks. Photography is self-expression. There are no rights, and there are no wrongs. Focus on what you want your photography to be, not on mimicking someone else’s. Keep it real.

Photo with the best story behind it:

THE PHOTO STORY

I love this photo of El Capitain in Monument Valley, Utah. My wife and I were driving through two months ago, and the planets were aligned…literally. The cloud layers and formations were exotic and dramatic against El Capitain. Snow had just fallen, and the light was in the perfect spot to really accentuate the mountain. As I said, we were just driving through, and came upon this…nothing was planned. I pulled to the side of the road, out came the 4×5, I composed, filtered, metered and voila! It can happen anywhere, at any time. It’s part of the excitement of being a photographer. Things just present themselves, and you can make what you want of it.

Do you think people either have a good eye or they don’t? Or can someone learn how to be a good photographer?

Tough one right there. I think it’s more about passion than anything. An eye helps, but I know many educated, natural photographers that haven’t done anything with their careers, and guys that have to shoot something a hundred times before they get a usable shot, but then go on and do something with that photo. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for out of photography. To me, it’s being happy and making an exciting living, not squeaking by and taking the easy route. It’s challenging yourself to get shoots that scare the shit out of you because they are so involved, and so much is on the line. It’s harnessing the situation, and making it your own. To me, that’s a good photographer.

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Mark Carter

Now that you aren’t with Snowboard Mag anymore, what’s next?

Well, to continue down the road that is paved by relationships, Jeff Baker and I are working on some bigger projects in the industry, handling catalogue shoots, marketing initiatives, design projects, web development and all things multimedia with our company we’re starting called Axis Media. We got the name from The Axis Powers in World War II. You know…the Japs and the Germans. Jeff is half Japanese, and I’m of German descent. We’re not out to kill anyone, or anything like that, but that’s how we came up with the name. Sounds better than Baker Basher. That sounds like a law firm. We’ll be good until someone starts up The Allies. We all know how that one ends up.

He sent this to me right before I was about to post this interview, had to include it…

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“Hot Tub Time Machine. My four favorite words put together.”-Mike Basher

2 comments
  1. [...] Austin interviewed former Snowboard Magazine editor Mike Basher for her Decent Exposure column on Rad Collector and got the behind the lens look at life, business, and the art of capturing the moment. Basher even [...]

  2. great work with this interview series and this one in particular! props

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