Behind the Lens: NJ Petersen

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NJ kills it at Windells each and every summer, getting stuff handled while still finding time to take some awesome photos, not to mention his help with Rome related activities on and off-hill has been invaluable. He was the obvious choice for this latest Behind the Lens interview.

First off, what’s your name and position up at camp for the summer? What makes you come back each summer?

NJ Petersen,   I wear many hats at Windells including team management, event coordinator, megaphone manager/hypeman, van driver, and photographer.  At camp, there is always a lot to do and I’m usually pretty anxious to fill in where I can.  Every day at camp is different and boredom is never an option.  The list is pretty long, for why I will keep coming back as long as Windells will have me.  It’s because I get to work with my favorite professional snowboarders, my favorite snowboarding brands, I get to heckle kids and snowboard every day.  The whole industry comes through camp at one time or another so you get to meet/work with a lot of amazing people and do and see a lot of amazing things.  I’m not going to lie, working at camp is like sprinting a marathon but as of now I love what I do and can’t wait for next June.

How did you get into photography?

I originally got into photography in high school.  One of my best friends was one of those lucky few who really knew what he wanted to do from Day 1 and it was his intense passion for photo that got me to take my first photo class.  I learned photography right before digital truly took over.  The first few years of taking photos I worked in a dark room, which definitely gives me to this day a better understanding of how my digital equipment works.  My dad bought me my first digital camera and I’ve been shooting with it ever since.

Favorite moment you’ve experienced while shooting a photo?

It’s hard to pick just one, but I would have to say my favorite of photography is when you take a chance and it works out.  A lot of times things happen quickly at camp and you just have to get in there and click.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but it’s pretty easy if you have time to get a composed photo and know what you’re looking for.  It’s those times when you’re just reacting and in the heat of the moment and you get something amazing out of it.

What’s in your kit? Do you have a favorite setup or lens you shoot with?

I shoot with a Canon 40d.  I’ve had it for years and it is just a simple, solid camera that takes crisp and consistent photos.  I have a Sigma 10mm Fisheye, a Canon 10mm-22mm Wide-Angle, a Canon 17mm-85mm, a 2.8 Canon 50mm fixed lens for low-light, and a Canon L 4.0 70mm – 200mm telephoto.  I also have a Canon 580 Speedlite flash. I carry all of it in a Dakine Mission Camera Pack.  Photo equipment is really expensive and I’m always looking to collect more of it.  Realistically there’s a long list of more camera equipment I’d love to have but that is a long, slow investment.  I think right now, my most versatile setup is my 17-85mm lens.  That’s what I would grab if I had no idea what I was going to take photos of and could only pick one lens.

A lot of people might not realize the hard work and effort it takes to get a shot. Was there ever a time where you put in a ton of work to get a certain shot and it turned out awesome?

This summer I was approached by Nick Visconti to shoot a couple photos of him for an ad.  I was really excited about the opportunity but when it comes to taking a photo at Mt. Hood it can be pretty challenging to get a unique image that will stand out.  For this photo we found the side of a ski-aerials jump and built a quick transition to get a hand plant photo.  It was the last day of the session and we were working under a deadline.  We still hadn’t really nailed the image yet and ski patrol come by to tell us the mountain was closed and we had to shut it down.  We talked them into giving us a couple more tries and the image we ended up choosing was the last one of the day.  I just remember when Nick took his last drop I was just thinking, “don’t blow this.”  It was a tough angle to get because I shot it directly underneath him to capture the moment and then had to jump out of the way so I didn’t get run over.  I almost lost a lens that day, but that’s a whole other story…

What do you do during the winter?

The last few years I’ve been living in Truckee, CA and working park staff at Northstar.  It’s been an amazing opportunity that has allowed me to snowboard everyday and build a terrain park I can take pride in.  I’ve also gotten to work with SPT to build features for X Games, Nike Chosen and Shaun White’s personal foam pit.  I’ve been able to work with and meet a lot of influential people in snowboarding.  This winter I’ll be living up in Portland, OR doing some freelance work and hopefully building my resume’ with more photo/design based work.

Tell us about a couple of your favorite shots from this summer.

I always get my favorite shots with my favorite people to work with.  To consistently get good content with someone requires a working relationship where they understand the value of trick selection and have an understanding of what I’m looking for with the photo.  One of my favorite photos from this summer was of Mary Rand.  She’s always very easy to work with and has really good style.  The photo of her nose-pressing through the down-flat-down is one of my favorites of the summer.  She just did such a good press through the kink and is always willing to go back around as many times as it takes to get the shot.

I also got some photos with my friend Grey Thompson this summer.  He was only there for a couple days but it’s pretty fun to shoot with him because he always wants to shoot in different places and on other terrain than I’m used to.  He likes to ride fast and grab his snowboard.  It’s so simple and there’s so much joy in his snowboarding that it’s very easy to work with.

Also, I have to say that Nick Visconti is one my favorite people to shoot with as well.  The handplant photo I got of him is definitely one of my favorites and he is always really productive when he comes to camp.  Nick is one of my best friends and is the reason I have such an awesome opportunity at Windells.  He also takes photos and has been a professional for awhile now so he has a lot of insight into what he wants an image to look like and we can just bounce ideas off of each other into something great comes together.

Did you ever get to shoot with anyone you were a bit starstruck by?

Every week at Windells a new group of snowboarders comes and lives at my house with me.  These guys are my roommates and so I get to know them on a personal level.  That’s not to say that I’ve never been starstruck to meet a snowboarder I’ve looked up to, but I’ve learned that they are all just normal guys and they are all very approachable.  Most of the guys are very humble and have a tendency to feel weird about the added attention.  So to answer your question, yes and no.  I am one of the biggest fans of snowboarding, but part of my job is to make these guys feel calm and relaxed at camp so it’s important to treat them like people and not celebrities.

Top 3 favorite snowboard photographers?

Blotto – He’s one of the most enthusiastic photographers I’ve ever met.  He’s seriously vocal about how excited he is with his images and it’s very inspiring.

Andy Wright – Classic, and so influential.

Erik Hoffman – He’s coming up in the world.

Best memory of camp this past season?

Pipe2Pipe skate contest in the Concrete Jungle at Windells.  It’s such a great party. I think it’s safe to say every snowboarder really wishes they could skate like the Pro Division skaters at Pipe2Pipe.  That whole day was awesome.

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