Odds are, if you live in Bellingham and love the outdoors (especially the mountains), you've seen a fair share of Jason Hummel photographs. And for good reason. In advance of this Friday's Bellingham Mountain Rescue fundraiser, "An Evening with Adventure Photographer Jason Hummel," Stones Throw was able to send a few questions Jason's way and hear his insight.
Thanks for your time, Jason, and we plan on seeing you all this Friday night, October 7th, at Backcountry Essentials to help raise money for Bellingham Mountain Rescue! Tickets are $10 at the door, and Jason begins his slideshow of beautiful photography at 7:30pm.
First off, how important is Bellingham Mountain Rescue to the community?
Mountains are dangerous. Not just anyone can go into them. A rescuer has to be familiar with the complexities of terrain, weather and activities people undertake in those mountainous environments. To be competent at that, there must be specific training. Those that serve usually are very competent climbers, skiers, etc., themselves, so they have an understanding of of the activities enthusiasts pursue, skills other community civil servants and volunteers don't necessarily have.
But, while climbing and skiing accidents are often high profile, most rescues are of fisherman, lost mushroom pickers, the elderly, and hikers. Most people fall into one of these groups at one time or another. Bellingham Mountain Rescue serves them all.
What is it about the North Cascades that captivates you the most?
My past is intertwined with Washington. Like a lover, I'm familiar with her every curve and even as she has aged in my mind, becoming more familiar, I discover new ways of looking and seeing more interesting facets. New stories. Hidden valleys. Changing snowpack. There's no end. So, in a fashion, it's my familiarity that I love most about the Cascades. We're that old couple still in love after decades of marriage.
What is your favorite zone in the Cascades to shoot?
It changes and evolves, but I'm at home on Mount Baker or in the Picket Range. Both are special places for me. One easy to venture into, and the other much more difficult. I joke that it takes at least 2 or 3 years for me to summon up the willpower to go into the Picket Range again. In 5 trips, she has never turned me away. Mount Baker, on the other hand, is a beautiful volcano. Very few places have the twist of slope and prodigious amounts of snowfall that Baker has. I'm not talking the ski area, but the mountain. She's a diamond and twelve months of the year, skis carve into her faces and any marks are polished away by sun, snow, wind or rain in moments or a day at most. That, to me, is a beauty I can't ignore for long. I find myself among her glaciers many times a year to satisfy those base urges my ski-fangled mind craves.
How did you first get into outdoor and action photography?
As a kid, family time was spent climbing, biking, hiking and skiing. As an adult that changed. Time outside was relegated to weekends and vacation. I craved more than that. At first, taking up a camera began as a way to tell stories and pictures, but it became a way to sustain me once I was back behind the desk. Eventually, even this wasn't enough. I blame it on my view from my office window, the view of the north side of Mount Rainier. She was a bad influence. In 2009 I quit my job, sold my first images and began setting out to make my passion a career.
How do you balance skiing/mountaineering for fun, versus for work?
I'm terrible at balancing photography. It's something I need to work on. Being a photographer is seven days a week, twelve hours a day. There's no rest. Some manage to find balance, but so far my attempts have been clumsy. I take my camera everywhere with me and whenever I'm missing great photos I feel guilty. My camera is right there in my pack, but I resist. I would like to be able to disconnect from that desire, but it is a part of who I am as well. When I do take a break is during the summer when I mountain bike and backpack. To me it is so much easier than ski mountaineering that photography doesn't feel so much as work, but fun. I'm still taking photos, but I don't mind. In ski mountaineering, the weight is difficult to manage. My skis and camera gear alone weigh 40 pounds. Add in climbing, overnight gear and food and it is much more. Top that with concerns of weather, snowpack stability, etc., and the stress is tenfold. Nevertheless, I find my balance most when I'm in my RV, an audiobook is playing and I'm fully disconnected from the internet. My sole connection is the road. It's a way of life I'd like to be more a part of, but taking your life and putting it in a vehicle isn't as easy as I expected. When I do manage, I hope to extend that balance I find while on the road into months rather than days.
I know this is just opening Pandora's Box, but what is your approach to capturing the best ski shot?
A big part of it is getting outside with awesome people to amazing places. You don't necessarily need great skiers, just great people. If I'm in an amazing place, then all the better. A great image, the kind I get a few times a year, comes down to at least three components. This could be a skier in powder, a mountain backdrop and a rainbow. It's always the third component that is difficult. A skier, a massive cliff and a waterfall. Great shots can be simple, too. As you said, it's Pandora's Box. Hours can be used to discuss the nuances. To me it comes down to story. Much of my imagery isn't the shocking sunset, aurora, meadow type imagery that drinks Facebook likes like coffee and spits out awesome, rad, so beautiful, etc., but rather images that have a story behind them. People ask where the image was taken, how did I get there and they read the stories behind the adventure I was on, thus enriching their experience.
Any advice to aspiring photographers?
I was told by a photographer when I began photography that it would take a decade to get established and to learn the business. I didn't believe it at the time. Now I do.
The best advice I can give is to copy photographers you love until you master technique. Take passion and follow it like a bloodhound. On that path you will discover your niche. Once that is established, don't stop expanding and learning. Getting comfortable in this day and age is a quick way to be left behind. Celebrate mistakes and don't be afraid to ask other photographers for help. Most will give you more than you ask for, but don't be afraid to take risks if you don't know. Risks are what can often push you to the next level. They open doors. They provide opportunity. There are millions of photographers, many better than me or you, the aspiring photographer. The best you can do is work hard, find those moments that mean something to you. Build your following by showing off what you love.
The Bellingham community really embodies outdoor culture - what is it that you love the most about the outdoor culture here?
When I graduated college, I stayed for almost a year afterward seeking employment. I didn't succeed. The desire to return has never faded. Who doesn't like mountains at your doorstep, trails accessed from your house, an ocean just blocks away and like-minded outdoor enthusiasts to mingle with and call friends. There are fantastic breweries, great music, local festivals, and more. It's a growing city that still celebrates its small town roots.