This week we’re happy to introduce you to yet another upcoming Swiss photo-savant: the one and only Scott Cheap. While Scott’s already built up quite an impressive footprint on social media, he’s still quite new to the game and evolving at an impressive rate. We were lucky to pin him down between his travels to get to know him better…
Hey Scott, we’re pretty stoked on the shots you’ve been leaking on Instagram. How long have you been shooting for?
When I was a kid, my father had this big Nikon DSLR that I would use secretly to immortalize the Swiss landscapes in my backyard. One day, I had to make an art project for school. I made a series of photographs from the bottom of the Jura. The series earned me a full score for the art project so I thought this might be a thing for me.
Years later, I started a bicycle web store while studying at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Back then, the only photographer I knew of was my childhood friend, Rafael Keramidas. We had him fly over to take photos of our products. As a startup, this was a huge expense, so I bought a camera and started to make the pictures of the products for the web store myself. A friend of mine organized a dance event and invited me as a photographer, since I had a camera. I did it with no intentions whatsoever. People liked the photo report I made of the event quite a bit and I started to get hired all over the place quite quickly. This was in 2013…. so about four years ago now.
Not so long, considering the portfolio you’ve racked up. Are there any specific stories that you’d like to share from the shots that we’re showcasing?
Sure. Let’s start with this one…
I wanted to develop a ski portfolio so I posted on the Skipass.com forum a request for skiers to come shoot with me. Antonin Maudry reacted and we spent the day shooting together. This shot has become my signature move ever since. I take one shot like this one, once a year for a lucky person. It needs to remain original. Funny thing about this shot is, that Antonin, has now started photography too, he has bought my Canon 6D and is making very fast progress in the field.
This shot of Axel Jenny was taken on the 3rd of January last winter. It was the first powder day of the season. We were so stoked to finally have powder to ski that I hadn’t taken any other photos that day but this one. It was such a good ski day, the stoke was sky high.
This shot was taken at the bottom of the first run of my life down the Aiguille du Midi. I had met a bunch of Swedes in the ski lift a few days before. They invited me to crash at their house for a whole week. These guys were the best. They took me down the Glacier Rond that day. It was my first time up the Aiguille du Midi. It was intense beyond words I can describe. After my second run down the Aiguille du Midi that day, at the bottom of the Mer de Glace, I had a quick chat with a guy that worked at the Requin Refuge. I told him it was my first time down there that day and he looked at me straight in the eyes and said: “Congratulations, you lost your virginity for the second time in your life.” That was a pretty accurate description of how I felt that day… haha.
So after the run down the Glacier Rond, we had hip deep powder all the way down to Chamonix. I had to take a shot of Frederik Lindberg who was so kind to guide me down this run. Ski days don’t get any better than this.
I went to Revy alone to ski of course. In Canada they use Tinder to meet ski buddies too. So I downloaded Tinder, and got a match with Jess Oundjian. Apparently we had a mutual friend from Switzerland since she had spent a couple of years in Verbier. We met the day after the match, went for a little hike to the sub peak (a view point). We looked at Mt Mckenzie, the summit. We spotted this obvious big couloir named Brown Shorts and she asked if I was keen. Brown Shorts is the name of the couloir by the way because people sh*t in their paints when standing on top of it. Took us a while to get in the couloir, but once there, it was sweet. First run I did with Jess and it was in this kind of terrain. Good thing we skied only one day together. Don’t know how I would have survived a full week following her.
I have never been a person of the sea but always of the mountains. I used the drone to find things since everything was so flat that I did not know what to shoot, really. The bird’s view gave me all the visual candy I needed to shoot something. Those contrasts on the Plage de Moliets in France were amazing.
My buddy Jonathan Frossard has some weird hobbies. One of them consists of doing individual sports with a second person. It is highly likely that you have seen his video at the snowpark of the Glacier 3000 in which he jumps with someone on his back that looks like superman in the air. The video hit over a million views in total. Well, we did the same thing wakeboarding. It was quite challenging but got me a new profile picture.
My head is always busy with a ton of things. The two only moments I can reach a state of inner rest is when I ski and when I am with my head under the water. It is the most relaxing thing for me. This photograph illustrates rest for me.
Wow, that’s quite an interesting mix of imagery… Before we get too deep on photography, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I was born in 1992 in Amstelveen next to Amsterdam. At the age of two, the family moved to Switzerland close to Nyon where I grew up. School never really held my interest, I was always drawing stuff, busy with something math related or doing sports. When I started puberty, I got fed up with sports (triathlon and skiing). I had 6 days per week of training, or comps, and one rest day a week. I was always behind on homework. School was a synonym to war. I got expelled out of pretty much every school by the age of 16, so I had to move to my uncle’s place in the Netherlands to find a school that would accept me. I finished my International Baccalaureate there and went straight to University in Groningen in the north of the Netherlands.
At Uni, studying had none of my interest. Academically speaking, I failed miserably during two years. Two years which were spent partying, starting my own bicycle web store, organizing events and doing a lot of photography. I started to wonder what I was doing at Uni, so I decided to get a little more serious. In my third year there I switched degrees. Started with a major in Artificial Intelligence. Grades were high, I even became a teacher for two courses of the program, but half way there, my free character surpassed my motivation to study and to think inside the box. I was spending countless days at the library looking outside the window, knowing I had the potential to excel in something else than academics. I felt like a wild cat kept in a cage. February last year I decided to break free and I bailed. I moved back to Switzerland to be closer to the mountains, where my heart is. It was the best decision I have ever taken so far. I felt energized, motivation was sky high and I felt like I could finally do something with the potential I believe I have. Since then, many opportunities have presented themselves — more than a degree in Artificial Intelligence would have brought me.
One year later, now I spend pretty much every day skiing or doing something else that I love to do, with a camera in my bag ready to shoot stuff and I am starting to make a living out of it. January this year, I decided to move to Chamonix where I live now.
Pretty sweet spot if you love to ski… How long have you been skiing now?
Since I was 2.
Ah nice. It’s always best when skiing comes first… What sort of gear do shoot with?
I used to shoot with Canon. First a 60D then a 6D once I earned some money with it.
Now, since a month, I shoot with a Sony A7Rii. The mirrorless revolution got me. I love to follow new innovations in the industry. Mirrorless is definitively the most exiting innovation in the photography industry in maybe 20 years.
Canon and Nikon are years behind Sony who caught up incredibly fast. Video is increasingly important for me now. Canon and Nikon are nowhere close to Sony in that regard. The new Sony A7 system basically allows me to do everything from photo to video with one tool.
I love disposable cameras too. I spent two weeks in Japan this season. During the first week I shot a lot with the disposable. Pretty sure some of my best photos were taken with it. Funny eh, that a 20 chf disposable can get you better shots than a 5k high tech setup.
At the end of the day, the camera is just a tool and it is the photographer that makes the difference. Shoot with whatever you feel confident with, it is just like a pair of skis!
Solid advice…. Seems like you’ve worked a bit with drones too, right? How’s that?
Ahah yeah I might look cool at times on Instagram and whatnot, but deep down I am a huge geek that adores Artificial Intelligence, chess, mathematics, autonomous systems and drones. I have always been fascinated by flying and cameras. This is pretty much the sweet spot for me. I got my first bird in July. Forced myself to fly it every day for one hour to get good at it.
It is a game changer. I can get to places that can be very challenging to access by foot. Make shots from perspectives that are otherwise unreachable. It can get stressful at times as they are fragile and you are flying a 2k camera, so a crash hurts the wallet. They are since a month now getting really good cameras on them too. The Phantom 4 Pro is absolutely capable of taking good stills. Previous drones were very limited. It will be interesting to follow the further development of drones. I predict they will become more and more autonomous with auto follow capabilities and obstacle avoidance. That is some heavy and very challenging Artificial Intelligence, so it will take 2-3 years I think before we are there. The computational power is not there yet, not at an affordable price at least.
In the above photo, the ski patrol of the Glacier 3000 was doing its crevasse rescue trainings. I thought it might look cool from above. Interesting perspective. Crevasses are my biggest fear, so I am happy to have a drone to capture it.
How important do you feel it is to have “the right” gear?
Good question. I do not think there is any wrong gear. There simply is the gear that works for you and can satisfy your needs. I have seen countless photographers with the best cameras from Canon being blown away by 17 year old kids on a 500 chf Canon camera which they bought second hand.
I think the hardest part as a photographer is to be honest with yourself and ask yourself constantly where will my pictures appear? Do I need that many pixels if 90% of my work ends up on Instagram and Facebook? Or will it go on billboard? Can I finance camera x? Do my clients demand it? Will I be comfortable with it? With all these YouTube reviews and what not, it is fairly easy to think you need the latest gear and the best of the best, yet the photographers I admire most shoot with 30 year old 100 chf analog cameras. Never judge a book by its cover.
Haha… is that also true for magazines?
Kidding aside, for you, what’s the most important element to making a strong photo?
My criteria for each photo has three components:
(1) Emotion: does the photo trigger a strong or specific emotion from your viewer? If by looking at my photograph, you do not feel anything, it is quite worthless I would say.
(2) Authenticity: how unique is the picture? It is so easy to take a picture of a bridge from an angle other people have already done, and even do it better because you might have better light that day. Making something out of pure creativity and imagination, that is genius, if you can do it well. I aim to be as unique as possible, sometimes I fail miserably, but it is a goal that I will always keep pursuing.
(3) Technicality: I want all my photos to look real. I want things to be as natural as they can be. That might be why I haven’t gotten into fashion stuff yet. Everything must be so picture perfect. I believe if you have a scar on your skin, it should be on there, it is a part of you and will make the still only more unique.
Looks like you’ve been shooting a lot around Glacier 3000. What do you like about that region?
That is very hard to describe for me. I just get this warm feeling in my back when I get up there, exit the top lift, take in a breath of cold air. It is a place from which I get much, much inspiration. When I have a really bad day and go up there, everything is forgotten. It is my place of escape, really. From a photographer’s perspective I think what makes it so interesting is the fact that the glacier is quite flat without any high mountains around it, so you can see many 4000m peaks in the background from France and Switzerland. I like minimalistic photos. It looks so empty up there. So you can get clean, minimalistic photographs fairly easily. Besides the composition, the sunrise and sundowns are beyond insane there. Since it is so flat, you get a wide variety of tints in the sky and over the mountains in the background.
Seems like you’re pretty well traveled. What’s your all-time favorite ski trip?
I enjoy all of them in different ways. Argentina, for the adventure and discovering the south American culture. Canada, because I discovered what a true ski bum life is there. Japan, because of the ridiculous amounts of snow and the amazing respect people have for each other.
For each trip I have three goals. Ski, meet inspiring people and produce some of my best shots to date. In that respect, all my trips have been successful so far. But probably what I loved the most was just meeting the people. Take Argentina for instance, I went there, did not speak a word of Spanish, met some riders day one there, ended up living at their place for 10 days and still meet some of them in Chamonix when they are in Europe. When you have the same passion as people have in other continents, it is so easy to share good moments together.
But the, the more I travel, the more I come to realize that we live in the best place in the world for skiing. Of course, we do not have endless pillows and champagne powder in December like they have in BC, we do not have a 3m base at the parking like they do in Japan, nor do we have runs with astonishing views on lakes like they have in Patagonia. But we do have consistent winters and many great resorts within a couple of hours of each other. Plus, all the access is super easy and you can ski all year round if you will work for it. People complain a lot, especially this winter, but believe me, there is no place like home.
What’s still on your bucket list?
I want to spend more time in Switzerland and Chamonix. I feel like I need to do more at home instead of using skiing as an excuse to travel all the time, although it is a lot of fun. But probably, I’ll make an escape to Norway or Argentina soon.
I look very much forward to shoot with Jesper Petersson, Laurent de Martin, Nick Groeper and Yann Rausis. All have a unique genre and are beautiful to watch skiing.
Jesper skis things most wouldn’t even dare to stand on. He is the Master of steep skiing in my eyes. He is the only guy I know that can ski insanely steep couloirs in one go with high confidence and making it look easy. It looks easy, until you are about to make your first turn.
Laurent needs no introduction. He has such a unique and strong style. Every shot I have taken of him so far turned out to be really good.
Nick is very strong and fluid in his jumps. He is very easy to shoot with since he delivers on each run. Apparently, to the surprise of many, he is a really good pipe skier too. I have never taken a shot in the pipe yet, so I look forward to an opportunity to shoot him in the pipe.
It seems like you’re pretty into Instagram. What do you like about that platform?
It is such an accessible and easy way to reach a relatively large audience. I never knew where to show my work. Since I have started using Instagram, my photography has evolved tremendously, thanks to the feedback of many. It helped me realize what people like and do not like. Often, I would make photographs which I was quite satisfied with to find out I was the only one to like them. The inverse was also true. On multiple occasions, I posted a photograph I found mediocre, only to find out it was to the taste of many.
If you were following Scott on insta, you’d have seen this not so “mediocre” image of the volcano in Niseko, from his recent trip to Japan. “A rare thing to see it as it is whiteout there 90% of the time.”
You’ve also mentioned that you consider social media a “necessary evil”. Care to elaborate?
On one side I really hate it because I do not think my work is best displayed on a small square. There is so much detail in some of my photos that you cannot see on the small format. If only I could show you some of those works printed, you would perceive the image quite differently, probably much more in the emotional direction I intended to show it.
On the other side, I am very thankful that IG is so popular, because it helped me grow and evolve quite rapidly as a photographer, hence a necessary evil.
Your range of photography seems to stretch well beyond skiing. What else are you into?
Ouch, I do not try to limit myself to fields, I just see where the wind blows me. “Normal people” are trained since a young age to behave and control their impulses. I do the exact opposite. When I have an impulse I try to understand it and I often get inspired by it to immortalize something. So I have a camera with me most of the time. When I get a nice visual feeling of something, I take my camera out and there we go.
At the moment it is quite oriented towards sports, but that could all change within a day.
Sometime, somewhere, when the wind connected Scott with this speedy little machine.
Do you have other photographers that you look up to?
Yes and no. I judge a photograph, and once I have an opinion I have a look at who the photographer is. I wouldn’t admire a work because it is taken by a specific person. However, I am very fond of the following photographers that give me inspiration:
Santi Gringo: he is a pure artist. He mainly shoots in analog and each of his photographs is unique in a way that I wouldn’t even know how to get a result close to what he gets. Each of his shots are very well thought through.
Pieter Bas Bouwman: he too is very artistic. He shoots also mainly in analog and in B&W. His photographs are pieces of work I have to look at for a couple of minutes before grasping the meaning of the still. It goes quite in the opposite direction of what you see on a daily basis online as people want to see a lot in a short period of time. Only few have the patience to study a work.
Nicole Hunziker: picture perfect Switzerland in one photographer. She always nails the shot of those beautiful Swiss landscapes. Sure a million people make shots of the Matterhorn, but no one quite like her. Maybe not the best idea to bring het to the Glacier 3000 as I might have a lot of trouble to keep up with her shots.
Antonin Maudry: the young gun who learns really fast. This guy has so much energy and is so curious to do everything with his camera, the possibilities are endless. I find it interesting to follow his evolution as I see a similar path and energy as mine.
François Marclay: fly fishing and snowboarding in one account. I love to watch both. His photographs are always very natural and pure. Two things I love to see and see less and less in other photographers.
The master, and the one who got me inspired to start doing this seriously is Rafael Keramidas, really. He has taught me a lot and is always there to help me out for professional advice, good advice. It is a shame that he does not shoot much anymore. He still has all the gear, but he is too busy geeking and programming at the Rockstar HQ for the creation of the next GTA games. Priorities suck sometimes but focus is always key to success, and successful he is.
Mountains and lenses, two of many roads to happiness.
Thanks for your time Scott! Let’s wrap this up… Anything else you’d like to add?
To live a happy life, you need something that motivates you from deep inside. Photography is one of the elements with skiing that gives me that pure motivation. It allows me to wake up after 4 hours of sleep and feel reborn, ready to conquer the world. After a long day of shooting, when it went well, I almost can’t go to bed because I want to review everything over and over again and edit the photographs. Countless hours have been spent with my camera, even more behind the computer to share them with you. I am very happy my work does not go unnoticed and I want to thank you for the interview.
It’s been a pleasure! Thanks for sharing so many great photos and insights. We’re looking forward to seeing more shots from your adventures this season…