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Episode 112: Photographer, Filmmaker, and Adventurer Evan Green on Speaking A Visual Language

This week we're joined by documentary-style photographer Evan Green! Evan chats about the special requirements of shooting mountain biking, how he uses color in his photos, his role in impacting the diversity of the outdoor industry, and why being an athlete helps him in his role as an action sports photographer.

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Episode Transcript

Iris: Hello and welcome to another episode of Outside By Design. I'm Iris, one of the hosts on Outside By Design, and I am so excited to introduce our guest today to you. His name is Evan Green, he's a photographer, filmmaker, and adventurer.

Today on the show he talks about his work as a documentary-style photographer, how photography is much like learning to speak a visual language, he talks about shooting mountain biking and the special challenges that mountain bike photographers face. He also talks about the use of color, his impact in diversifying the outdoor industry, and why it's important to be an athlete in the sport that you're trying to shoot.

This is a wonderful episode and to all of you listening on a walk, on a run, on the chair lift, or in your car, I know you're going to love it. So here we go.

Lisa: Evan. Thanks so much for being on our podcast today.

Evan: Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.

Lisa: And the first question that we ask every single person is to describe where you are and what you're looking at.

Evan: That's right. Yep. I'm in my house, in my living room, just kind of sitting in front of my beloved iMac. [laughs] This is where I get a lot of my work done. Just editing.

Lisa: And you're in Albuquerque.

Evan: Yep. Yeah, I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Lisa: Nice. I know that we have spoken a few times, and I know a little bit about your journey to becoming a photographer, but I think I'm going to open this up with what's your story and how did you get into the work you're doing now?

Evan: I got into photography... I guess documenting adventures is really what inspired me most of all. So I love the outdoors. And I would always look at kind of like catalogs, like the Patagonia catalog would come in the mail and I'd see all the cool pictures in there and want to kind of take my own. So I eventually started taking more and more photos and learning more and more about photography to kind of document my trips and people have been interested in following along.

Lisa: And I have to remember this right, I think you told me that you were a geologist before a photographer?

Evan: Yep. Yeah. I worked as a geologist prior to becoming a full-time photographer.

Lisa: That's cool.

Evan: Yeah.

Lisa: That's a big change.

[Evan laughs]

Lisa: What similarities do you see in your approach to geology that sort of overlap with your special approach to photography?

Evan: I would say that they're both kind of similar, honestly. I think there is a lot of creativity in geology and stuff too. ‘Cause you're still putting together these puzzle pieces and looking at little details and things like that to make the bigger picture and there’s sort of process in the work that you do there.

And photography has the same thing. It's still... I think people think in creative things or creative endeavors you are always just coming up with something new the whole time. But there is still like a creative process that you follow through and these tools that you utilize to do your work. So there's more carry over than I think people would expect there.

Lisa: What are some key factors in your creative process?

Evan: That's a good question. I guess, coming from more of a documentary style, you don't have maybe as much control as other photographers because you're just kind of there in the moment, a lot of the times. But still, it's using those creative tools. And I guess what it is to me is you're talking the visual language. And so just kind of looking at a scene and documenting it in different ways that it tells the story visually. So I just kind of like to use different composition tools and techniques that tell the story the right way.

Lisa: And when you say the right way, how... what does that mean for your work?

Evan: Something that you can look at it and easily identify what's happening. And sort of gives some information to the viewer. And I think that's easier said than done when you're taking a photo. So just kind of having the context of the scene and what's happening and the action and the emotion there.

Lisa: Yeah. I think context is so important to photography and, yeah, the photos where you can't really tell what's going on, but you can tell what someone is doing, but not where they are. Like, it just, it kind of eliminates the narrative. So I totally appreciate your call out to context for sure.

Evan: Yeah. I think that's really key.

Lisa: How do you bring that into mountain biking? ‘Cause I love your mountain bike photography.

Evan: With mountain biking I always try to incorporate a little bit of the surroundings and also the rider. So like, you can obviously change the scale and stuff, but I think some of the most powerful shots are kind of... they showcase like the interesting places that mountain bikers get to go and experience, but also kind of highlight the joy 0 the look of joy or kind of the determination, or, you know, concentration on the rider’s face or their body position and things like that. So kind of having that, finding that balance between the environment and the human is what I really try to go for.

Lisa: Mmm. I like that. That's cool. What… where's your favorite place to shoot mountain biking?

Evan: That's a good question. It's always easier if you've been on a trail before and you kind of know your spots and like, “Oh, there's a cool vista coming up and I can get the shot I'm looking for here.”

But also it's... I'm also a rider that just loves to explore more than anything. So really, I kind of love being out there and just kind of taking things in for the first time and viewing new trails. So I don't really have a favorite, I guess my favorite thing is just to explore new trails and get the photos and see what's out there and kind of share it with everyone else that like, “Hey, this trail is awesome. Look at this cool little ridge line section of it” or something.

Lisa: What's your camera set up like when you're shooting mountain biking?

Evan: I've been using the Sony cameras for... pretty much, as soon as I got my first interchangeable lens camera, I started with that Sony a3000, which was like a hundred bucks.

And I now shoot with a Sony a7iii, and I like to use the 24-100mm, just because you get a big range and swapping out lenses and bringing multiple lenses in the mountains or just out riding is not that fun. So having everything from a wide full frame to telephoto in one lens easily does the job for me.

Lisa: That's... yeah, that's a powerful kit, huh? And they're pretty durable.

Evan: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah. I've dropped it several times and it's definitely been rained on and gets pummeled in snowstorms. And it's still going strong. So no complaints there.

Lisa: I am the ultimate queen of losing lens caps and everyone at work yells at me because none of our cameras have lens caps anymore.

Evan: Yep. [laughs] I’m on the same boat. I almost feel bad because I'd probably have littered these lens caps over the mountain West and have, you know, 10 or 15 of them sitting out there, unfortunately. But yeah, I'm always ordering the generic ones on Amazon to try to make up for it. They're always going... people make fun of me.

Lisa: I know. You know how magicians pull quarters out from behind people's ears? I just keep waiting for, like, someone to pull lens caps out and I’ll be like, “there they all are! There are hundreds of them.”

Evan: I know. They must be somewhere, right?

Lisa: Yeah. And I've never been walking around and found a lens cap randomly on a trail, but you know, it's like socks. They all... like, lens caps and one sock are all living somewhere together.

Evan: Exactly. [laughs] We need to find that magical place.

Lisa: Yeah, exactly. Let's talk about the use of color, because I think that's a really special thing about your work is how you use really bright saturated colors. And there's like a liveliness to your imagery. Is that intentional or just kind of like, I don't know. How did you get there with that?

Evan: I definitely do like saturation and like bright colors and things like that. For one, it helps, I think, usually I like to photograph like athletes out doing things in action sports. So they usually have on like a, if there's a bright jacket or something - a shirt - involved, that usually helps them pop out of the environment. Usually you have those earth tones versus, you know, a bright orange hoodie on or something. So that kind of creates some contrast there to help your image pop.

And then, yeah, just the use of more saturated colors. I don't think I go too crazy on the saturation slider, but I definitely... I'm not like a subdued color person. I like those bold, vibrant colors. It just... I guess that's how the world looks to me. And so I want to convey that in my images too.

Lisa: Yeah, you definitely don't oversaturate them, but there's like this... I don't know, almost like energetic quality to your work that I think just makes the riding or the sport look really, really fun.

Evan: Yeah, thanks.

Lisa: What are some of your photo goals for 2021, what's on your, on your plate?

Evan: I’m like really into the whole learning process and kind of pushing creativity. And I always give myself, like, new little challenges. So I would say just to keep, keep on leveling up, I guess, as you guys would say too.

I like to kind of learn new techniques and see how I can apply those. And even if they're not really things that you'd normally see in the outdoor world, it's kind of fun to bring those into that genre. So, I don't know if I have any specific goals other than to kind of keep YouTubeing and learning. [laughs]

Lisa: YouTube has the key to the universe, perhaps. Some, some like, seven-year-old out there has probably made some videos holding the key to the universe.

Evan: Exactly. Yeah. That's, what's really been fun about kind of becoming a photographer in this age is that you don't necessarily need the photo school anymore more. You have all these great teachers that are online and free. And so it's kind of on you. I pretty much put myself through like night school, just watching these, these videos all the time. So that's been my journey.

Lisa: Yeah. I'm trying to learn how to play the ukulele. And I find that the easiest tutorials are taught by like 13-year-old girls in the house, you know, like their family childhood home, like in their bedroom. And then they say things - you know, they're like 13 or 12 or something - then they're like, “yeah, it's not hard. You just do this.” And I’m like, “it’s so hard!” like... anyway, it's like very humbling. But yeah, that's, that's my YouTube night school.

Evan: Nice. Yeah, your ukelele skills will be there in no time.

Lisa: I'll be there in no- I'll be just as good as those kids.

[both laugh]

Evan: Yeah. The kids are rocking it though, on everything. It's really cool to see the younger generation just crushing it and doing everything they're doing.

Lisa: What is your hope for your impact on the outdoor industry as a photographer? Speaking of impacting the younger generation.

Evan: I guess I... I have found recently that I kind of have this opportunity to bring more diversity to the outdoor world. Just through the friends I have and the images I can take, I can just kind of be part of the community naturally. So I know people oftentimes find that there's a lack of representation in the outdoors. So I have felt that kind of my path is to help create some of those images that can change that. So that's something I've been proud of and working on, and I think it's pretty cool.

Lisa: What's an example of like a photo or a photo trip that you're really happy with how it turned out along those lines?

Evan: I guess a few years ago, I messaged Tracy with, he runs like the All Mountain Brothers, Instagram page, and I saw kind of what he was doing with that and just showcasing different riders of color around the US and he was in Texas and I was in Colorado. So we kind of ended up meeting up in New Mexico one summer. ‘Cause even riding in Colorado for years, I think I ran into one other Black mountain biker in like four years of riding the trails, you know, pretty much multiple times a week.

Lisa: Wow.

Evan: So it was still kind of this rare event. And we ended up meeting up in New Mexico and taking some photos and having just a great weekend camping down there. So that kind of changed my whole trajectory after that.

Lisa: Yeah. What... how'd those photos turn out?

Evan: They're pretty good. I was only had one lens at the time, the 50 millimeter, but it's kind of cool working with the primes. And it was these like cool images that, um, just kinda showed Tracy as, like, what he is - like, this skilled rider, like rocking through these chunky trails down there. And we had a blast just riding together and shooting together.

Lisa: Our mutual friend, photographer Eric Arce, he said that you rip on a mountain bike and that you're real fast.

Evan: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah, Eric was on that trip too. So that was a lot of fun, just meeting up with them and having like a different kind of crew to roll with for once. But yeah, I have been writing myself for six or seven years now and kind of grew up riding around in my backyard in Texas. [laughs]

Lisa: Okay. I have a lot of questions on that. First, the surface level question. How's the mountain bike community in Texas? Or, I don't know much about mountain biking in Texas. Tell me about that.

Evan: Um, honestly I'm not super positive on the whole community myself. I was just a middle schooler, pretty much. On my dad's rigid mountain bike from Walmart. [laughs]

Lisa: Nice.

Evan: But, yeah, there was just like a little trails and stuff around and hiking trails that I would just go ride the bike on and I got maybe a little too out of control, going over the bars a few times and learning all the lessons and breaking some chains and walking home and going through that whole process. But yeah, I think Texas has a pretty good mountain bike community that's been growing along with a lot of other places around the country.

Lisa: That's cool. And when you're a kid, just like riding your bike anywhere is so liberating.

Evan: It is. Yeah. I mean, that's really what got me in love with biking is just being able to... you know, you can't really drive and you know, your life is like, you kind of go to school, you go home. But to be able to get on your bike and just roam around and explore the neighborhood. And I'd usually go to the woods that were nearby and just ride around out there and explore and have a good time. Be a kid.

Lisa: Yeah. So how, how did you get into mountain biking? Where were you? Where was the first place you went mountain biking, mountain biking?

Evan: After I graduated college, I kinda started working at an engineering firm. And then like with one of my first few paychecks, I bought an old full suspension mountain bike off Craigslist for a few hundred bucks. And then ended up moving to Colorado like a month or two later. And so that was sort of my first taste of mountain biking. I didn't have a helmet on at the time. I didn't really know the trail etiquette and was just like, gonna go for it. So I started riding more and more and fell in love with it and got really obsessed.

Lisa: Yeah. Once it hits you, it hits you. So, like, as a really skilled mountain biker, how are you able to bring that into your creative work? Like, can you see a trail a certain way because you're an athlete of that sport or, kind of, I dunno, what do you, what do you notice there?

Evan: Yeah, I mean, it definitely helps if not is required. I think to be an athlete in the sport that you're shooting, just ‘cause you kinda know the little nuances of it and you know, you see a berm and someone's like, “Oh, that's just a turn.” But you know, as a rider, you're like, “Oh no, this is the perfect, you know, like berm and turn, the light’ hitting it the right way.” So yeah, that definitely helps.

And also just kind of being able to sprint ahead or catch up to someone or something like that. If you're trying to get the shot that you need, it always helps to be able to kind of move efficiently in the mountains. So.

Lisa: Yeah. And also you have to carry heavy equipment and... You basically have to be - well, you don't have to be - but I think it helps to be as strong as the athletes, but then you're like carrying a lot more. It's just very cumbersome to ride around with a bunch of gear.

Evan: Yeah, exactly. [laughs] You’ve got to haul all that stuff around and stop and kind of get set up and everything like that. So. And a lot of times, you know, people don't want to wait too long, so you gotta be quick and efficient. So yeah, having your own skill set up there really helps with your photography more than I think people realize.

Lisa: What's a technique that you use when you're working with athletes, to get the shot and like communicate with what you need them to do to get the shot?

Evan: Yeah, just that communication alone is really key. I need to bring them out more, but having like, little radios, too, is pretty important. Especially with biking, if they're kind of further away or something like that, you can be like, “okay, I'm ready now.” Or you're kind of yelling or they just kind of go for it. And you're still trying to find the focus or whatever, so you can end up missing shots. So just having that strong communication is really what can help you more than anything and being clear with what you need and how to kind of set everything up will help you get the results.

Lisa: “Did you say no? Or did you say go?”

Evan: [laughs] Exactly! Yeah. And on a windy day, just like yelling back and forth. It's a disaster.

Lisa: Yeah, it is. Yeah. And then also like navigating other people who are using the trails, other trail users. And I think that shooting mountain biking is pretty hard, quite frankly.

Evan: Yeah, it has its challenges for sure.

Lisa: And then trees are like, they throw such... it's like such harsh differences with shadow and light when there's light filtering through the trees. And sometimes it's like the most beautiful thing ever. And sometimes it's like, “Holy cow, this is a test of my skills with exposure.”

Evan: Yeah. Just like the weird light patterns and stuff can just kind of hurt your eye or not really, nothing really pops out. So it just looks a little bit bland or something. You can definitely run into tricky situations like that.

Lisa: Yeah. It can be really hard. But you seem to be just crushing it.

Evan: Yeah. I pretty much started bringing my camera on every ride a few years ago. So I have a lot of shots that don't see the light of day, but then you have your camera with you for those opportune moments. And you can get a lot of practice in, which is really what it’s about.

Just kind of like I was saying before, it's like, almost like you're trying to become fluent in that visual language. So the more you practice and the more you speak it, essentially, the better you become.

Lisa: Mhmm. What is your post-production process like?

Evan: I'm a big Adobe Lightroom user. I haven't really tried too many of the other editing softwares out there. And I don't go into Photoshop too often, unless something's gone terribly wrong or I'm going for like a certain effect or something like that. But yeah, I just pretty much go through Lightroom and edit my raw photos in there.

And I've actually been editing less and less. The more I've learned kind of what everything does in Photoshop and how it works. And I realized that you just need these little tweaks here and there. And so I've actually gotten faster with my editing time.

Lisa: That's awesome. By just doing it in camera in the way you want.

Evan: Yeah, for the most part.

Lisa: Like, when you're editing, how do you... and you have similar photos where you, maybe the rider rides the same feature three or four times. Like what, what do you look for when you make your selection on like, “Oh yeah, that's the one.”

Evan: Sometimes I feel like it does just kind of pop out. You kind of have the right body position or the right light over their shoulder or something kind of just in the right frame. And I honestly don't shoot a whole lot of frames anymore. I was more of a just hold the trigger down for the 10 frames per second and sort it out. And now I've kind of learned to see what I'm looking for a little bit more and only take maybe like three or four shots through a sequence sometimes.

Yeah, I guess it's really looking for what looks natural, kind of, ‘cause you can also catch those weird moments where someone's face is like, you can see the fear in their eye or something or a foot’s a little bit weird. So just like, you know, the right body position and a location in the frame. That's what I'm going for.

Lisa: Uh-huh. I think that, I think you're able to identify those so perfectly because you are an athlete in that sport too, which I think is awesome.

Evan: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So that kind of stuff kind of helps cause you're like, “Oh, there they are. Their elbows are out and they're like, you know, leaned over the bars the right way and their weight’s centered” and like, that's the shot you want, you know. Versus they're kind of like, you can see the one before or whatever they're coming in and picking their line a little more cautious and their bodies more guarded or something. So it doesn't quite look right on camera. Yeah, that really helps.

Lisa: Do you use that same process for like climbing and snowboarding? ‘Cause I know you shoot those sports too.

Evan: Yeah, I do. Skiing is… skiing I think is the most difficult just because the athletes are a little more sporadic and the conditions are even worse out there. Just looking for the right movement from the athletes. It really helps in knowing what to look for again, really key.

Lisa: What about... I don't know. Yeah. What's your approach when you're shooting product, like for Backpacker's Pantry or I know you shot for Patagonia some, so like, what's your approach to building a product photo?

Evan: I mean, every... you kind of have to look at the brand and what their aesthetic is too, and kind of play into that so that it kind of fits with their look. But then, for me, I feel like shooting products has been pretty easy, just because I have been working with brands that I personally love and have like used. And so it's easy to just kind of put their products in the action and just kind of show them in use. It's what I really like to do, just those authentic images of products, kind of out there doing what they do best, you know? ‘Cause when you work with cool brands and their products are cool, it's kind of easy to take cool pictures of them, I’ve found.

Lisa: Mhmm. And like, I don't know, making it seem not cheesy, like not looking into the camera, like holding a product really obviously.

Evan: Yeah. Yeah. That part can be a little bit trickier. Again, kind of like I was talking about with the people and their relationship to landscapes and stuff like that, and also, I guess, you just need to highlight people's relationships to products when you're shooting product stuff. And you're obviously trying to have the focus or maybe like rule of thirds or whatever, the product falls in those lines, but just kind of incorporating how people use these products in the real world.

Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Where can people find you online?

Evan: Yeah, I'm on Instagram at thegreenevan and my website’s and yeah, I'm not on Twitter. I'm not a big Tweeter, unfortunately.

Lisa: No. Cool. Well, Evan, thank you so much for being on our podcast and, yeah. I'm excited to work with you and do some shooting in the future.

Evan: Yeah. Thanks for having me on. It was great to chat with you, Lisa.

Iris: Thank you so much, Evan, for joining us and sitting down to talk with Lisa on Outside By Design. And thank you to every single one of our wonderful listeners, thank you for letting us take some time between your ears today. If you haven't already, please leave a review in your podcast app and make sure you subscribe so you don't miss any of our future episodes.

​With that, we hope you have a wonderful day. Thanks for being here.

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