Questions with a Pro: Seattle/NW member Ryan Turner

Ryan Turner is a Big Sky, Montana-based art and editorial photographer who captures landscape, lifestyle and adventure images. Ryan’s clients include some of the biggest names in the outdoor industry and he sells prints through his gallery in Big Sky’s Meadow Village. 

We asked: What have been some of the bigger changes you’ve seen in the highly specialized field of adventure sports and lifestyle photography?

Ryan: Social Media is the biggest change for me. In my early years as a pro photographer it was common to keep the locations of your images more secret or sacred so when you sell them to your clients, they had more value.  Now days it seems like if you want to be an adventure sports photographer now you need to play the Instagram game.  You need to try and gain followers and create an image.  Advertisers are piggy backing with photographers for more advertising recognition.  I can’t argue with how great it is to connect with people is in social media, but it seems like it is a competition to create the over the top life or an unrealistic vision of reality on a super large scale.  At the same time, I love and enjoy life’s greatest moments and heightened experiences. When seeing them, it can inspire one to try and find that in their own life.

We asked: Your business model includes commercial, editorial and fine art. How do you balance being an assignment photographer with running a gallery? Is one area more profitable than the other?

Ryan: My career has evolved through the years.  I would say I became well-known mainly through editorial content. I have continued to stay involved in projects and with clients that I have worked with through the years so the general public still sees my work and can stay somewhat connected.  It does not pay as well, but I pick and choose who I work with or let people come to me.  On the commercial side of things, I don’t try to produce shoots all of the time.  I know what I am good at and my clients who hire me will pay a higher price for services so that I can rely on a few larger scale shoots. This allows me to work on my fine art more which has been about equally as profitable as my other work. I believe with dedication and development that my future is in fine art.  The gallery work has continued to stay steady and the more I refine and develop it the better it gets for me.  I am lucky enough to have a great wife and business partner who helps me keep the gallery functioning and keeps me on track.  We have been working on large scale installations for a conference center, a hospital, a large hotel, and many other office spaces in addition to custom designing large scale pieces for high-end homes.  Even though I have been in business for twenty years I feel like I am always growing and figuring things out to continue to live this lifestyle, pay the bills and grow as an artist.  I must be doing something right as I own a home and am raising two kids in Big Sky, Montana.

We asked: Your website is focused on the landscape and wildlife photography you sell through your gallery. How do you stay in touch with clients for the adventure sports work?

Ryan: Speaking of the website, it has worked for me, but we are in a rebuild at this moment to change that.  We are creating a Shopify site to sell the gallery work and rebuilding the other site to showcase what I do.  Early in my career I beat the streets and met people in the industry by going to events and promoting myself.  I would call and email editors and just make contact with them and find ways to get my work in front of them.  Now I have enough work coming in all the time that I have not done a ton of promotion but when we grow as a business I hope to continue to find more clients and get involved in more projects to keep my creative mind happy and pay the bills for my family.

We asked: What’s the biggest challenge of being a photographer in the adventure sports world?

Ryan: Finding clients to pay for my work.   If you have that then it is an easy cycle of work. Through the years I have worked with many clients doing contract work.  Also, I have a large stock collection that has worked well for me when my clients are looking for some creative images to go with an ad, website or brochure.

Another challenge is maintaining focus and ability.  I have always held being a photographer first.  At one time in my life I thought I was going to be a commercial studio photographer and live in a city.  Then I decided I wanted to live life, move out West and continue to adventure and shred every winter.  Then I discovered how to do both. I had a passion for photography and skiing/snowboarding and that combination allowed me to start my sports action photography career.  Now as I am getting older, I still love chasing the athletes around but carrying the heavy packs and gear to get the shots gets more difficult every year.  I continue to try and stay in shape and enjoy the amazing young athletes.

We asked: Have you had any surprises along the way?

Ryan: There are a lot of highs and lows as this career and life is always a roller coaster.  I have been surprised by who I have gotten to photograph through the years, and I am surprised that my dreams of being a photographer have come true.  I guess hard work, determination and some luck have gotten me to where I am today.

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