You may think becoming a professional snowboarder is the only way to get paid to ride the backcountry, but Abby Stanford is living the dream with her camera in tow. As the photographer for snowcat operation Great Northern Powder Guides in Whitefish, Montana, Abby makes her living riding some of the most beautiful backcountry in North America while capturing the joy of others.
Abby fell in love with a photography at a very young age. “My parents thought I ate film the way I used it up,” said Abby. “There was something magical about capturing a moment in time. As I grew older and with practice I learned how to, not only capture a moment, but to capture the emotion that went with it.”
Abby’s early fascination with photography led to her being designated the family photographer and later winning awards for her photography in high school. She eventually landed in a college photography degree program spending four years filled, as Abby describes it, “with film, lenses, software, studio lights, creativity over load, creativity crash and burn, and many valuable learning experiences.”
With fifteen years experience as a snowboarder, snow photography was a natural progression. Abby’s favorite thing to shoot is “anything in the backcountry.” She clarifies, “not only do I get a few powder turns in, but the atmosphere is beautiful and the people are happy. Happy people make great photos!”
Of course shooting in the backcountry has it’s own challenges. “Tree runs can be a photographer’s nightmare; trying to find all the guests is like “Where’s Waldo?” explains Abby. “I may only see 4 out of 14 riders in a heavily treed area.”
A typical day for Abby starts at 6:30 am as she gets up to walk her dog, prep her cameras and drive to work. She then spends her time at base camp welcoming the guests and loading the cat. From 9am to 4pm, time most of us spend behind a desk, Abby is “riding epic powder and taking powder shots.” They return to base camp at 4:30pm where Abby gets her photos ready for display and makes some sales. She spends her evenings uploading her photos to her online store, eating dinner, and drying out snowboard gear for the next day.
Equipment is an important consideration for Abby. Her photo pack includes a Cannon Mark IV camera, Canon Mark II camera, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, extra memory cards and batteries, UV filters and some gadgets to help with weather conditions. For her snowboards, Abby is a fan of Arbor, Nitro and Stepchild. Since staying dry is key, Abby is a self-described Gore-Tex snob.
When she’s not in the backcountry, Abby’s favorite resorts are Sunshine Village, Grand Targhee, Castle Mountain and Big Mountain. She describes her perfect day on the snow as having “mild temps, freshies and good company.”
As a woman in a male dominated industry Abby says she does face challenges: “I’ve always been one of those girls that hangs out with the boys and can hold her own, but some guys are just not okay with that. This industry has made me toughen up and be confident in my abilities and myself. If they still want to question me, then I just tell them ‘lets race.’”
In the offseason, Abby’s photography expands into other sports, weddings, and family photos. If you want to learn more about Abby Stanford’s photography visit her blog at http://abbydell.blogspot.com or her website http://abbydellphotography.com.
Check out some of Abby’s Favorite shots in the gallery below (click to enlarge).