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Art Through Adventure with Mike Manuel

By Jess Joyner on


mike manuel smilingMike Manuel counting snowfall on the brim of his hat, photo by Scott Rinckenberger

This past Spring TREW Ambassador Mike Manuel went out into the backcountry with award-winning adventure photographer Scott Rinckenberger to explore the old growth forests, the fluted walls of steep snow, and the laser-cut couloirs of Snoqualmie Pass in Washington during the Art Through Adventure photography workshop.

We'll let Mike tell us more about Art Through Adventure.

Hey friends - Mike from the Trew crew here. If you’re reading this, you’re probably looking for hot tips on Canon vs Sony, ISO settings for storm skiing, or do I REALLY need to take out a small mortgage to buy that 400mm f/2.8 lens? Well, before we even get there, I found myself stuck on one question - should I even take a photo or should I just live in the moment? Am I spoiling this beautiful adventure trying to make art?

For years I subscribed to what I called “the 30% rule”- I only allowed myself to take photos 30% of the time. I never wanted to slow anyone down and say “hey can you stop there and let me pull out my camera?” So in honoring the present adventure, the amount of beautiful scenes seared into my brain far outnumbered the photos on my hard drive. Fair enough, right?


snowboarderMax Djenohan flying through the Snoqualmie backcountry, photo by Mike Manuel

Making art in the mountains is a big task and adventure photographers like Jimmy Chin, Truc Allen, and Scott Rinckenberger almost make it look easy. You get up early, walk uphill, and come away with stunning images, viola. But have you ever tried lugging up your safety gear, splitboard gear, adventure essentials, AND THEN add a big camera, extra, lens, batteries, etc, etc? Tall order my friends, one that seemed out of touch for me. 

Queue up the 1st installment of a once-in-a-lifetime workshop from mastermind Scott Rinckenberger - the Art Through Adventure workshop. Take a handful of professional + hobbyist photographers, add 2 stellar guides (one of which is Trew’s own Shane Robinson), follow around 2 amazing athletes - Krystin Norman and Trew friend Max Djenohan - over several days deep in the Snoqualmie WA backcountry under the tutelage of ring leader Scott and you get… magic.

Max and Krystin Norman skinning over a frozen lake, photo by Mike Manuel


Trevor Kostanich enjoying the perks of ski guiding, photo by Mike Manuel

 Krystin Norman painting, photo by Mike Manuel


Being versed in the mountains already, I pride myself in honing the skills to stay safe and get rad - but subscribing to the previously mentioned 30% rule, I was always holding back on the art. I wanted perfection. I wanted perfect light, a well set scene, and a couple practice shots to dial it in. What I found through this workshop was that art doesn’t have to be meticulously created in a studio. It does not have to be predetermined. It can be as fine or as coarse as it lends itself to be. It can be spontaneous and on-the-fly. Art can represent the moment of the adventure, without compromising it. Shooting over Scott’s shoulder, seeing what he’s seeing and absorbing his creative process, was an eye opener. But seeing a legend do it vs accomplishing it yourself is a different story… so many questions.

Krystin Norman with the line of the trip, photo by Mike Manuel

Max Djenohan riding the frozen wave, photo by Mike Manuel


The strategy is this - create art in the moment without compromising the flow of the group. That’s the key to keeping it guilt free. But to keep the group moving fast, you need to move faster as a photographer. You need to be visualizing angles while moving. Anticipating what the skier will be eyeing up. Setting up while others are resting. Swapping lens’ while skiers are ripping skins. Carrying the extra gear on top of your existing safety/adventure gear. And then when you line up the shot, you need to be a technician with light, angles, speed, and composition. Oh by the way, all this while staying safe in the backcountry, paying attention to avalanche conditions. 


So here’s what I figured out:

Canon 5D Mark IV, 70-200mm F2.8 lens 

Yes - I only brought one lens! With a heavier pack and expecting to be moving constantly, I wanted to be fast with the camera pull. For next time I’d include a 16-35mm for camp moments or sub a 35-105mm if I’m not needing extra reach.


Front/chest carry rigged to your pack. Fast enough to pull the camera, secure enough to ski with. F-Stop’s Navin is a great weatherproof option:



Bring your camera!
No, the weather won’t always be perfect and it may/will snow (or rain!). Bring your camera, learn to take photos in bad light and get creative with what you can capture every trip.

Warm batteries, cool glass. Cold temps do a number on battery life, make sure to bring extras and keep them dry/warm in a pocket near your body. For your camera body and lens, quick changes in temps/humidity (aka grabbing your camera from your pack next to your hot sandwich and exposing it to snow filled air) is a recipe for condensation. I like to keep my camera in the front carry pouch and let it stay as close to ambient temperature as possible. Caveat - there’s a bottom limit to temperature here, one I haven’t yet found shooting predominantly in the PNW.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Collaborate with your riders about what they’d like to ski before they walk off, shift plans when they get to the top of the line and they see it’s actually better for something else, and confirm using landmarks that you’re looking at the same things. I once thought I was looking at the same hallway of trees as my photographer. Turns out there are many trees that look alike in the PNW and I enjoyed a nice powder rip… away from my photographer.

Capture full actions, not just moments. Set your skiers/riders up to fully enjoy their line. Have them drop in with extra speed and take several turns - even if you’re eyeing up one specific frame. You’d be surprised - sometimes the setup turn or the exit of the turn 2 pow clouds later are much more interesting than what you originally planned.

Make art while you wait. Yes, you will wait for your friend to hike the line or for clouds to roll away. Take a look at your surroundings and see what’s available. Trees? Shadow? Perfectly round mounds of powder glistening with surface hoar in the sunlight?


3 trees, photo by Mike Manuel


So off we went as a merry group. Creating art through adventure, without compromising either one. Embracing the creative process as both riders and artists. Discussions flowed from backflips vs flat spins to proper set up angles to catch the depth of the mountain range in the background. We moved through considerable avalanche conditions, overnight dumps, a heli-evac, and many joyful yelps soul skiing. I walked away with a sense of accomplishment - not in the 4000 images on my memory card, but in knowing that I can throw that 30% rule out the window. Art THROUGH adventure, now forever linked in my creative process.


Early sun in the Snoqualmie backcountry, photo by Mike Manuel


Moonscape in Snoqualmie, photo by Mike Manuel


Check out more of Scott’s work here, follow him on Instagram, and stay tuned for the next installment of the Art Through Adventure Workshop!

Cheers friends!
Mike Manuel


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