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Details From The Witness: The Photography Of Hansi Johnson

Words and Photos from Hansi Johnson

Any time spent on the Hyperlite Mountain Gear blog or website will quickly reveal that we have some very talented photographers from all over the globe in our family. There are a million ways to document a place or people and a moment in time, but a great photographer captures it all while telling you a little bit about themselves, too. We're pleased to introduce you to Hansi Johnson. Read on to find out how Hansi approaches his craft and gain a few skill-building tips and nuggets of wisdom in the process.


Name: Hansi Johnson

Residence: Duluth, Minnesota

Years Shooting: Too long

Favorite Location(s) to Shoot: I love to shoot in the Upper Midwest

Camera Setup: I shoot a lot of different types of cameras, but my workhorse is still my Canon 5D MKIII


What got you into photography, and what keeps you at it?

My father got me into photography as he was an enthusiast. We used to develop and roll our own film in his darkroom in our basement. Later in life, while working for the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), I had an advocacy story I needed to tell, and it needed to relate visually to the off road cycling we were doing in the Midwest, so I pulled out the old skills and dusted them off.

Out in the wild, what are the elements in a setting that will stop you in your tracks and make you grab your camera?

I look for interesting landscapes or elements of the landscape, and then I look at how the people I am with are acting within that landscape. When those two things come together, I am grabbing for the camera.

What elements will you wait or hunt for? Where and why?

Being a shooter who is mainly in the Upper Midwest, I am often looking for landscapes or actions that would normally not be associated with the typical midwestern stereotypes. So, anytime there is action or adventure here in a setting that tosses people off balance, that is what I have been waiting for.

If you couldn't use words to describe what kind of photographer you are–you could only share one of your photos–does one come to mind? Why? Where was it taken? Describe the scenario.

This photo was taken in Hakuba, Japan. I love this one because we were backcountry skiing in an insane snowstorm. We started with a crew of 10 and ended up with a crew of three because folks were just over the abuse. Skinning back up for each run, the snow and wind were piling up rapidly, so our crew of three had to break a new trail each time. Some of the climb was protected and peaceful, but right at this corner, we would become exposed to the howling wind, and it was torture from then on to the top. I had seen the corner a few laps before, so I knew it was coming. It was almost impossible to pull my camera out without it becoming powder coated and super wet, but I had the shot in my head, so I was determined and ready to get it. I loved the iconic Japanese trees and the screaming wind and the way my buddy Matt was locked down in his hat and jacket, and I also knew his kick turn would look interesting. Of course, the payout was neck-deep powder on the backside of the mountain where all the snow was being deposited. I feel like anybody who has done a lot o backcountry skiing will see a shot like this and relate to it. It's the pain that's required for the pleasure. I also liked this shot because most photos of skiing powder in Japan are in trees like this, but I wanted an image that showcased these trees but was not just another shot of powder in Japan.

You can pass five short tips on to aspiring shooters. Go.

There are a lot of great hacks for packing gear and going light into the backcountry. However, if you are a photographer, there is generally no getting away from a solid hunk of electronics.

You skimp on every other piece of gear, but if you are a passionate shooter, you just can't seem to skimp on a quality camera. When I am packing for a big trip, I am often amazed at what I throw out for food, what I throw out for clothes, what I throw out for cooking gear, and what I'll justify bringing in camera gear. It makes no sense, except that I am such an image junkie, I will suffer mightily for the ability to be more prepared to shoot. That all said, now that you are carrying that weight, you damn well better knock out some quality images!

  • Pick your camera kit wisely. Technology is rapidly decreasing the size of quality cameras. Mirrorless full-frame cameras are fast becoming the pro shooter's choice of bodies, which, while much smaller, still pack some heft. The Micro Four Thirds movement also offers myriad choices on small, interchangeable lens cameras that pack light but have smaller sensors that take great images and save a lot of weight. For me, image quality is everything, so I tend to rank the importance of my photo mission and haul my electronics accordingly. If it's a quick, easy trip with no real photoshoot needs, I pack a small point and shoot Canon G5X MKII and a Go Pro. If it's a big gig deep in the bush, then the full DSLR with one lens is hefted into the bag. If you are looking to pare down to one single lens to cover shots and save weight, I tend to look for a zoom lens that goes fairly wide yet still gives me some decent reach. My go-to focal length is a fast 24-107mm (full-frame). It gets me wide, gets me some distance, and allows me to shoot in low light. Of course, I am missing the extreme long game, but that's the trade-off. At some point, something has to go.
  • Keep your camera handy. If it's stuck deep in the bag and your loath to pull it out because you're going to have to unpack your gear, then it might as well be at home. Pack your pack with the camera on top at the minimum. Better yet, use the new Hyperlite Camera Pod and hang it on your chest where you can grab it at a moment's notice. Worried about weather? I will also keep a small Hyperlite Dyneema Stuff Sack or Ground Cloth handy to wrap the camera in if I am dealing with a small rain event. While not waterproof, it's highly water-resistant and can keep me in the game until I feel I need to deep-six the whole unit to keep it safe until the weather improves. Sometimes it's not the premeditated shot that wins; it's the shot that you see and can quickly grab the camera for that becomes your fave shot of the trip.
  • Composition is everything. You can fiddle with exposure–and it's important, but in the end, how a shot is composed is its main strength as an image. Some of my favorite shots are horribly exposed due to weather, wind, or rain, but they are composed well, and they reveal an emotion or a feeling that captures that moment regardless of it's a stop too high or a stop too low. Take the time to read up on composition and learn the "rules" before breaking them. If you are an old hat at shooting, take the time to relearn them all. I will often study up on composition before a shoot or a trip. It puts those concepts back in my dome and keeps them there while I am on the trip–fresh, accessible, easily recalled, and utilized.
  • When in doubt, push the damn button. I hear it all the time. Are you a shooter who has trigger discipline, or are you a shutter sprayer that is constantly shooting without thinking premeditatedly about how you're doing it? To me, there is an in-between here. First, yes, you need to be thinking about "making an image." Why are you shooting it? How is it composed? What is the use of this image, what story does it tell in your mind? Yet, once you have done that, I think it is fine to start shooting the hell out of it. Shoot it a bunch of times in a variety of ways, a variety of exposures and compositions. The fun and beauty of digital is the ability to take chances, so do it. Of course, that means you have that much more to go through while editing at home, but I have never been one to be bummed that I have more to look at than less at the end of a trip.

  • Change your perspective. The world is not only seen from your eye level. What can you climb, hang from, cling to, or lean off of to get a better shot? Look around you and make use of what the environment has to offer where you're shooting. Bonus points if the cops become involved.

Where can we see more of your work?

I routinely post on Instagram at @hansski43

However, I am also a fairly regular contributor to XC Skier Mag, The FlyFish Journal, The Drake, and other national mags. I also post occasionally on my blog: www.universalklister.blogspot.com

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