When one Nelson photographer heads to Whistler this week for the world’s top action sports photography contest — the OLYMPUS Pro Photographer Showdown — he’ll have achieved his “ultimate goal.”
“I know that every action sports photographer wants to be in this thing,” says Bryan Ralph (Ralphie). “It is like the holy grail of action sports photography.”
The sold-out event on Thursday at the annual World Ski and Snowboard Festival, celebrates still images of master action sports and lifestyle photographers.
Jaime Kerrigan, multimedia events producer for the event explains the process.
The call for submissions was sent out worldwide with all interested photographers asked to submit a three-minute slide show. A panel of five industry professionals reviewed all entries and selected the top five.
“The submissions were of a high calibre once again this year and the decisions for the review panel were challenging, but we couldn’t be happier with the five photographers selected,” Kerrigan told the Star.
Ralph has about 150 shots ready to present in Whistler. The shots of biking, skateboarding and skiing — his favourite to shoot — are set to music he’s had in his head for years. The nine-minute show will shine in front of an audience of sports fanatics, industry pros and media.
It’s the big moment he’s been dreaming of since attending the event years ago when he was inspired to achieve top photographer status.
“I went to this thing years and years ago and saw it live and I just couldn’t believe what it was like,” he says. “To walk into this venue with over 2,000 people and laser lights and these photographers who were just these huge amazing names.”
Local talents Dave Heath and Kari Medig are among the illustrious alumni. This year, Ralph will be up against some huge names in the industry: Andy Wright, Chris Burkard, Darcy Bacha and Oskar Enander with the winner taking a $10,000 cash prize. All four runners up get $1,500 as an appearance fee.
But it’s not about the cash, Ralph says.
“That money is really nothing compared to what it means to be in it,” he says. “It’s the recognition to help push forward anything else. It puts you in that upper echelon so that a client sees you as ‘one of those guys.’”
Ralph wasn’t always one of those guys. When he arrived in the Kootenays from Peterborough, Ontario in 1998 to study Ski Operations and Management at Selkirk College, he hadn’t started seeing life through a camera lens — yet.
But the local ski scene impressed Ralph enough for him to want to capture what he saw.
“My mom had this old camera and I asked her to send it out because we had some wicked skiers in our course,” he says. “I started shooting photos and they turned out pretty good. I decided it should be my new hobby and I got super addicted to it.”
In 2006, after spending all his spare time shooting and his spare money on film, he was finally ready to start submitting some photos for publication. It was big step in a competitive business where first impressions are everything, Ralph says.
“It’s extremely competitive. There’s a certain few guys out there that can make a full-time living off it,” he says. “But it’s very few. And then there’s a whole bunch of us who have other jobs to supplement the lifestyle.”
Ralph spent the summers building ski lifts with Doppelmayr Canada so that he could have his winters off to shoot skiing.
“The first couple years were really tough. I was submitting stuff ,but maybe five photos a year got published,” he says.
In 2007, Ralph entered the Red Bull photo challenge that saw four Canadians submit competing portfolios for a chance to work with the energy drink giant.
“I didn’t win, but I still became one of Red Bull’s photographers. That started everything,” says Ralph.
His personality meshed with the crew there and they gave him some training. The photographer was just going digital and starting to see some of his dedication pay off. In early days, he spent a lot of time on the phone tracking down the best pros to shoot.
“A few years into it, I didn’t have to call anymore. They called me,” he says.
Lately Ralph is working full-time for Freeride with photography taking a back seat to editing film for the award winning Nelson production company.
“I miss it tons. This is my first winter without it,” he says. “I’ve been used to shooting every day, just living on the road for the past six or seven years.”
But he’s happy with the gig that keeps him settled in Nelson working with an “awesome group of guys.”
“The work we do is so cool,” Ralph says. “When I moved here this company was new too. To watch where they’ve gone, I feel like I’ve grown at the same time as them — except they grew really giant.”
Just as his career enters a new “pretty cool” phase with Freeride, Ralph reached the time in his life where he said he’d enter the photo showdown — he turned 35.
When his photos start flashing across the big screen, the audience is going to get something a little different from Ralph. Full of personality, the shutterbug can’t help but bring that to his images. His show is full of what one reviewer describes as “sneaky snaps” that show a story beyond the exciting moments of action.
“The thing I’ve always liked a lot about action sports photography isn’t necessarily the action. Capturing real moments in the lifestyle side of it is what has gotten me here,” he says. “That’s always been sort of my thing.”
Kerrigan says this is part of what caught the judges’ eye garnering Ralph a coveted spot in this year’s competition.
“Bryan’s submission had lots of variety, good composition, quality lighting, and great humour,” he says.