Hailing from Gloucester, Massachusetts, Kealan Shilling was introduced to snowboarding at very young age. While growing up shredding, he picked a camera up along the way and never turned back. As his passion for photography grew he ended up showing his portfolio to Kevin Zacher, and went on to assist him during a summer in LA. What he learned through Zacher propelled him to push his photography even further, and it really shows in his work, how passionate he is year after year. What I enjoy about Kealan’s photography is that he tends to shoot a lot of really cool behind-the-scenes lifestyles and portraits to compliment the hammer action that is going down. – Mike Yoshida
Name: Kealan Shilling
Home Mountain: Waterville Valley, New Hampshire
Hometown: Marblehead, Massachusetts
Gear: Man, really too much to mention. I love the Contax stuff, I have a G2 and a T2 I shoot all the time. My go-to workhorse is a Canon Élan II NE 35mm. Other than that, I shoot Canon lenses and bodies, a bunch of Polaroids, a Hasselblad, a Nikonos V for underwater, Profoto and Sunpack for lights. Other then that, some miscleaneous old film crap that I find interesting.
What was your introduction to snowboarding and where did you grow up riding?
I grew up near a Golf course in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When I was little, my parents bought me a Black Snow Mogul Monster for Christmas, so I started making courses down the hills and jumps off the rocks and stuff. It wasn’t until I was thirteen that some friends and I went to Bradford Mountain and rented boards on a Friday night. We all wore three pairs of our dads’ pants and work flannels and learned to ride with edges. Typical stuff for that era.
How did you get into photography?
My parents were both good hobby photographers. I used to look at their photo albums a lot as a kid. They had cameras around, I picked one up and took a photography class in high school. I started trying to make images. It gave me an outlet.
I heard that you assisted Kevin Zacher when you were first starting out. How did he influence the way you shoot today and what was it liked being mentored under one of snowboarding’s most infamous shooters?
Oh man!! You got the scoop! Haha. Yeah, that’s true. Kevin was a huge influence early on because in my eyes he brought the culture alive. I really loved what he did with the early Holden ads when they came out. It was such a different approach to advertising in snowboarding. It made me interested in the lives of snowboarders beyond the riding. One day I showed up at his studio in Venice and showed him my book. He gave it a look, smiled, and said it reminded him of his first portfolio. At the time that was a huge compliment. I started assisting for him in LA that summer. He made me feel like you could have a good time, even on a serious shoot. Love that guy; love his work.
Aside from snowboarding, what type of photography interests you?
Mostly documentary stuff, street photography, classically shot fashion stuff and progressive film work. Really it’s anyone with an edge or passion in what they do. I think that’s what I’m attracted to, when you can see someone’s vision in their work.
You seem to shoot a good amount of film vs. digi. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both?
For me it’s just a work flow thing. Film keeps me centered, focused, makes me actually think about what I’m doing. I get lazy sometimes when I’m shooting digital. It’s too easy to snap a thousand pictures, and I hate sitting in front of a computer all day weeding through photos. The only disadvantage is sometimes it stacks up and you don’t get to it for a while. Processing and scanning takes time; you can’t just open a file and tune it up.
Kodak or Fuji?
Kodak, hands down. Unfortunately they keep killing off different types of film each year. It’s frustrating to lose the consistency or look of something you like to shoot.
What was the first camera that you started using on a regular basis?
You know, I think it was a Minolta 35mm originally that I borrowed from a girlfriend in college, then I got this Canon Elan 7 35mm that you could use all the Canon L-Series lenses on. I used that for years. When I was interning at Transworld, everyone use to poke fun at me telling me that film was dead and that I should go back to school and learn digital. I eventually did, but I still prefer film.
What camera is your staple? And what is your favorite new piece of equipment to use?
Really depends on what I’m shooting. I still shoot a lot of snowboarding with the Elan II NE. Take portraits with a Hasselblad or Polaroid Land 450 mostly. Latest fav is the Nikonos V underwater 35mm, been playing with that and love it. It’s super sharp and compact for an underwater rig.
Where are you based out of at the moment, and how does that influence what and where you shoot?
Currently I’m based out of Boston, which is kinda funny with the whole snowboarding thing, but it works because although I shoot less on the daily grind, when I do go out to shoot, I’m pretty focused on making a story happen. It’s also nice to come home to a place to unwind and edit away from the madness. Plus I like city life, going to shows, shooting bands and fashion stuff when I get the chance. It’s also cool when homies come east to shoot and hang.
What is the most influential trick, image, or session you recall shooting?
I’d most likely have to go back to the Team Thunder days in SLC. There was this one session I went to shoot Will Tuddenham hitting this close-out in Big Cottonwood Canyon. It was insane for its time. It was also his somewhat rookie year. I tucked down under this building hoping he wouldn’t die with three shots left on my roll of film. He stuck it second try, and I had my first photo run in the photo annual in Snowboard Mag. I think it was also the first photo Will had run in a major title, which helped launch his career. It’s days like those that stick out in my mind.
You’ve shot with the best of the best. That being said, who are some of the new talent that you are stoked on snapping photos of these days?
I like shooting the kids that are still a bit loose. There’s the not so new, but maybe to some, like Brendan Gerard and Alex Stathis. Zander Blackmon and Ben Bilodeau are great kids coming up. I dig what the Yawgoon, RI kids are doing. I’ve always been into shooting the lesser-knowns, so it’s a pleasure to meet these kids on trips.
If you had never picked up a camera, what would you see yourself doing?
I would probably own a coffee shop or record shop or something. I always liked the idea of working with plants. Who knows, I’d probably be in another country by this point.
What would be some good advice to any of the younger up and coming photogs out there reading this?
Find the younger kids you think make magic. Shoot them all the time and tell their story.
List five things you always bring with you to shoot handrails.
Flashes, fisheye, coffee, warm, dry boots, and cigs. Damn, was hoping they’d all be F’s after the first two.
List five things you always bring with you to shoot in the backcountry?
Sunglasses, sunscreen, sandwiches, snowshoes, smokes. Did it!
What would be your dream crew to work with?
Well, in a way I think I’ve already shot ‘em. The Spring Break Snowboards guys are my dudes, that project is our baby. Those guys or let me follow Keegan or Gigi around for a year.
At what point did you decide that photography was going to be your full time gig?
The first time I sold a photo and got a check in the mail for $650. Thanks for the advice, Rusty White! Miss you bud! RIP.
Do you have any plans after snowboarding, or do you envision yourself always staying in snow?
I have some other thoughts, things I’m into, but I’ll always make time to shoot snow kids and snow trips. Snowboarding is what gave me something to go after. So, I owe it everything.
See more of Kealan’s photography:
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