Last weekend, someone asked me about the best and worst shoots I've ever done. It's a question that I get pretty frequently, and one that I've never really been able to answer.
Picking a favorite shoot is sort of like picking your favorite person. Good shoots, like good people, are complex and challenging and layered in too many ways to warrant comparison, let alone a ranking. I've done plenty of shoots that I've loved, that were all unique and inspiring in their own way. There have also been plenty of crappy shoots where things aren't working and I'm uninspired and I just want it to end. Those are harder to recall, because I probably subconsciously erase them from my memory.
To further confuse the issue, sometimes the best shoots are also the worst. Good shoots are often really hard, and take a lot of time and thought and perseverance. Peaks and valleys.
I can however, recall the most important shoot I ever did -- the shoot that produced the first picture I sold.
My friend Mike and I were living in Ketchum, Idaho. We were just out of college, skiing during the day, waiting tables and tending bar at night. It was an easy time full of possibility, and with very little responsibility. Somehow (probably over several Schooners at Grumpy's) we came up with an idea for a photo of a guy that had skied off a cliff and landed on the road.
The next day, we drove north to Galena Summit and found our location. I made ski tracks going over the edge of a cliff, and Mike laid down on the road, face down with his skis on. I shot a few frames from above with my Nikon N2000 (Velvia, slides) and then we went skiing for the rest of the day.
I processed the film, sent it to Powder Magazine, and they bought the image for "Light & Dry" which was the funny section at the end of the mag. It was 1996, and I received a check for $50.
I then realized that it was possible for me to make money making pictures. The day I held that issue of Powder in my hands and saw my photo credit was the day I knew that I wanted be a photographer. Since then, the shoots and the budgets and the challenges have grown. And while I still can't pick a favorite, I can say with certainty that no shoot will ever compare to the first.