Scott Markewitz, From Extreme Moves to the Other Side of the Camera
For almost thirty years, Scott Markewitz has been living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Originally attracted to the area for skating, skiing, and other outdoor activities, he now takes advantage of all the photographic opportunities available year-round. With his involvement in skiing, cycling, running, climbing, and other sports, he knows the best locations for many kinds of photographic setups no matter what season.
Markewitz skied as a hobby, and eventually turned pro after earning a degree in Marketing from the University of Utah. As a professional, he skied for many photographers and even flew down the slopes in a few movies. “I definitely gained a lot of experience working with the photographers at the time, so I guess you can call that my photographic training,” he says. “I went from one side of the camera to the other.”
It’s been twenty-five years since Markewitz made that transition from subject to photographer. During that time he saw the advent of digital photography, but had to wait until the digital revolution was able to provide adequate results at least comparable to film. “As far as doing sports, it was not so much the image quality, which started to get good fairly earlier on, but the features of the camera themselves were sort of limiting as far as shooting sports action,” he recalls. “Once I got in, went in fully, and I don’t shoot film at all anymore.”
Although he’s shooting digitally now, Markewitz still relies on a light meter. “Outdoors, there’s so many other factors that can affect lighting,” he says. “If I’m really setting up a shot, I’ll go for my light meter and measure the ambient light just to really nail it. It’s still really important, even with digital, to nail your exposures. It just gives you a little bit better image rather than being a little bit off and then bringing it back in post. Depending on what end of the exposure you’re off, you can lose some. You start to lose highlights; and if you’re underexposed, you start to lose shadows, even with digital.”
Although he’s still concerned about correct exposures the way he was when he shot film, Markewitz does, on occasion, intentionally over- or underexpose shots for effect. “Sometimes I shoot into the sun to get the flare and really blow it out,” he says. “It gives it a pretty cool look if you use it right.”
Much of the sports photography Markewitz is known for comes from his love of observing other people having a good time. “Whether they’re athletes jumping off cliffs, getting through powder, riding a bike, or even if the lifestyle is people just enjoying the outdoors, having a good time together, doing whatever they’re doing,” he says. “It’s really about enjoying life, enjoying the outdoors.”
This good-time energy translates in his photos and started simply by him shooting what he loves to do. As a pro skier, he initially primarily shot skiing. His interest in mountain biking and rock climbing later got him shooting those sports, as well. “It evolved from there,” he says. “You just to start to come up with new ideas and new concepts—meet people who do different things. You start to shoot different subjects, but I’ve focused on shooting the outdoors. I do shoot on location with lights occasionally, but I rarely shoot in the studio.”
Markewitz enjoys the subject matter evolution he’s undertaken so far. “I get to meet and work with a really wide variety of people and characters and personalities,” he says. The types of personalities this photographer is drawn to emerge in his shots, which are more often than not, dramatic, vibrant, and dynamic.
Drama is inherent in the action Markewitz captures, whether it’s a skier jettisoning over a perilous amount of air, or a snowmobile and rider exploding through a wall of powder. Moving through many of the images in the Markewitz portfolio, the astute viewer eventually comes to realize much of the subtle genius in these photos is the positioning of the camera and the action coupled with the framing of the shots. All those elements are tied together with the lighting. Again, Markewitz relies on his experience as a pro athlete to pull these elements together, but not without considerable planning.
“Since I was a pro skier, I understand skiing really well, so I just know where to set up,” Markewitz says. “Also, I can ski pretty much anywhere, and get into any position I need to get a shot. It’s just understanding what the skier is going to be doing and where to capture the best moment of what the skier, boarder, biker is doing.” Visualizing the shot before he shoots it is his methodology on location. By knowing where the athletes are going to be and how he’s going to capture them not only ensures good photography, but helps prevent airborne skiers from landing on him.
Planning only goes so far, of course. Markewitz needs to get to a location with a crew of skiers, move around a mountain, and find what they’re looking for. He will then set up for some shots he thinks will work, talk to the skiers to find out what they want to do, and make sure they feel safe about the proposed run. The run takes place, and then he may move or reposition gear before the run is repeated. This sometimes continues all day for the optimal results.
Some of his more staged shots, such as his underwater work, starts with a concept fully visualized, from the type of pool, to the depth, to the lighting gear. His shot of the yoga girl on top of the water was a long time in planning. “I actually had that shot in my mind for several years,” he remembers. “We probably drove almost three hundred miles that day to find perfect, smooth, flat, reflective water to get that shot where I could set it up. It wasn’t too deep. It had the right background, it had all the right elements, so it took a while to find our location, but I had that shot in my mind before we even went out to shoot it.”
Professionally, Markewitz shoots primarily on assignment, but also builds up his stock library for future sales. His wife is from the South of France, and when spending part of the year there, he diversifies his shooting from his usual locations and clients.
Markewitz’s main camera is a Nikon D3x, with a D3 as a backup which is rarely used. He primarily shoots Nikon zooms, including a 12-16mm, 17-35mm, 28-70mm, 70-200mm and a 300mm prime. Primes include a 35mm and a 50mm.
His Broncolor packs fired with PocketWizard radio triggers are how he lights his subjects in snow or in the studio. “I’ve been using PocketWizard for quite a few years now,” he says. “They’ve definitely been the best system I’ve seen out there, and they’re really consistent, with pretty incredible range. I’ve used the FlexTT5 units this summer but I’ve gotten my Broncolor packs to be able to synch consistently with PocketWizard Plus II and even the original Plus units for five or six years. Sometimes I push it to even 1/800th.”
Markewitz cites the range of his PocketWizard triggers on his skiing shoots as being one of the stand-out features. “At the Winter X Games from the high tops of the pipe where the skiers drop down to where they’re going to hit the wall, that’s probably a hundred yards,” he says. “There’s all kinds of other radio frequencies going on, and it still worked well. It’s pretty impressive. And the range on the FlexTT5 seemed really good. I loved the HyperSync feature, too.”
PocketWizard was not Markewitz’s first experience with radio triggers. “I’ve tried some other radio triggers, and definitely, they’re not near the range or the consistency,” he says.
Not only does Markewitz plan on sticking with his current gear, but he doesn’t foresee changing his subject matter any time soon. He shoots a few landscapes now and then when on location, but his true passion is sports photography. What else should we expect from a former athlete? Watch for more extreme shots from someone who used to do the moves himself. His moves behind the camera are as graceful and impressive as ever.