There are jobs and then there are dream jobs. And for a lot of people, being paid to explore the mountains of Whistler every day taking photos, certainly qualifies. But living the dream is not always easy – sometimes you have to wake up really early.
“I have a really hard time with those early morning sunrise shoots,” explains Whistler photographer Justa Jeskova. “ That is one of the things I like best about winter actually, at least the sun comes up later… but you still have to deal with the cold.”
With January first light coming sometime between 7:30 and 8 AM, Justa will occasionally have to rise and shine long before the first chairlifts start turning, but she’s also curated a client list that allows for a bit more rest.
“The photographers who are shooting a lot skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry will be up before dawn all the time,” she says. “I will do that more in the summer when it is not ten below zero but in the winter my average day will start at 8 AM. I’ll wake up, have breakfast, check some emails and chill out while I eat.”
Born in Slovakia, Justa arrived in Whistler in 2001, already hungry to shoot photos and capture the beauty of her surroundings. “It started for me on a trip to Norway in University. It was the most beautiful country I had ever seen but I couldn’t capture it with my point-and-shoot camera. It was driving me nuts and that was the start of it all.”
Like a number of homegrown pros, Justa’s first job in Whistler was with Coast Mountain Photography, those folks in the yellow jackets who will take your picture atop the ski hill or in the bike park. “It was great,” Justa says. “I didn’t want any other job. I wanted to be around photography and I definitely learned a lot— not just shooting different events and locations but also how to work with clients and sell photos. I always knew I wanted my own photography business.”
Now that she does, Justa’s newest client is Tourism Whistler. Working alongside fellow lensmaster Mike Crane, she will be providing many of the images for the Whistler Insider this year. We caught up with her at lunch on a busy double-shoot day to get an idea of what it’s like to live the photographer’s dream.
Whistler Insider: What is happening today? You’re busy?
Justa Jeskova: I was out shooting XC skiing this morning which was fun because I have only done it a few times. You get into situations where you are unfamiliar with the sport and that presents new challenges. Usually I don’t have to be the best at something, so long as I can move around and know what shots I want.
Whistler Insider: How do you know what you want?
Justa: I do research. I will look at photos and videos online to watch the sport and know what action I am looking for and what looks good. I study the form of the athlete and look at ways to put my own creativity on it.
Whistler Insider: Around here the backgrounds must play a big role in how you shoot?
Justa: Yes. For me, scouting is a big part of shooting photos. I like to get out beforehand and see what the sun is doing at certain times of the day. When I scout I will create my shotlist in my head, explore angles and figure out where I want to do the close-ups.
Whistler Insider: And do you have old favourite spots as well?
Justa: For sure, if I don’t have time to scout I know a few places that will work. But I love to get to go to new places. This morning we were XC skiing out near Nicklaus North [Golf Club] and I had never been out there. I don’t golf so this morning I got to see incredible views I would usually never see. Photography gives me a new opportunity to see the beauty in my home.
Whistler Insider: You have another shoot this afternoon?
Justa: Fat biking in the snow. I shoot a lot of mountain biking in the summer so it will be kind of familiar and kind of new for me. That’s perfect.
Whistler Insider: You’re living your dreams but what are the big challenges to being a professional photographer in Whistler? Is the proliferation of digital photography or everyone having a camera-phone making it harder?
Justa: No, if anything it makes you more creative. Sometimes people with no interest in photography will snap an amazing photo but I think that just helps make more people interested in photography. The technology pushes the rest of us to be more creative and take more risks and come up with stuff we have never come up with before. I think the biggest challenge is just putting in the time it takes to get established to a point where people know you can deliver and that the quality is there; building trust between you and the clients. Also the business side, Whistler attracts so many artistic people and there are lots of incredible photographers but they don’t all have a natural business sense. For me, I am still learning that part but I am enjoying it and hungry for more knowledge.
Whistler Insider: You are working outside in a place other people fly to from all over the world for a holiday. Where do you go on holiday?
Justa: There is a lot more for me to see around here but in between the seasons I like to go on a big trip. We went to India last fall.
Whistler Insider: And when you are on holiday, do you take your camera gear?
Justa: Of course, everyone takes pictures when they are on holiday.