Thomas Stöckli

Date of birth: August 11th, 1978

Place of birth: Muri, Switzerland

Place of residence: Zurich, Switzerland

Years snowboarding: 21 years. I started in 92/93 with a funky purple Crazy Banana board called “Chilli Willy“ and Skiboots on it. But I changed onto softboots very quickly, please believe me!

Years taking pictures: Since 2001

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Tell us a little bit about what life was like growing up for you. Where you come from, what life was like growing up, your family and all that kind of stuff…

I grew up as a single child on a farm on the countryside with a lot of cows and chickens around me. So basically I never got bored until today!

Me and my friends would play a lot in the heybarns or in the woods, that was the best part of it.

Did you take any formal training? University or the like

Nope, I am a selfstudied photographer that just got into the whole thing because of a huge coincidence! We sort of started to film our crew snowboarding and skateboarding and then it was me that felt the least uncomfortable with a camera all day so I became the camera guy. After a few months of shooting photos here and there I was over it by asking my friend’s Dad again and again to rent his camera. So I just went and bought my first real Canon. Dude, what a moment! Too bad that 3 days later I totally smashed my knee while snowboarding, on my birthday! Picture this.

So I was sitting at home, playing around with my new girlfriend (the Canon!) and looking on my knee that looked like a melon! I soon realized I won’t be back onboard the upcoming season so I just took it from there and visited all the major snowboard contest that were held back then, where I could walk to.

That’s where I have met guys like Markus Keller and Stephan Maurer and the rest is history for me.

How do you work? Planned or un-planned shoots?

I have been shooting now for a good 13 years, professionally for 8. While shooting snowboarding I mostly composed images on the mountain and in my sketchbook. I didn’t like coincidences at all.

But nowadays I became more spontaneus… and I like it. But still a lot of the images I take I am composing them first in my head. Or maybe it’s not the image it’s more the idea. Yes, like this. In the earlier days it was a full image that I tried to recreate from my head into reality and nowaydays these are more ideas that leave space for interpretation.

Best work happens when…

I am in a good mood and hungry for “it“! But even more important: When I can look into myself and just let it go, let the feeling out. It always brings me to the best places and generates the best photos.

Proudest accomplishments in photography?

In snowboarding photography:

The first ever published photo at all, the first double page, the first cover, the first ad. I remember all of them. Do not remember the 2nd one, but for sure the first one!

In photography general:

That I can make a living out of the biggest passion there is for me and having the coolest job ever and most fullfilling! Having my name and a project of mine published in the talent issue of FOAM magazine last year gave me a real push!

What’s your take on post photo manipulation? Do you do much of it?

I do whatever it needs, to be “the“ photo to me. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more. But 85% of all cases I know already what the postproduction will be before I actually push the trigger. Which makes for me at least, a real difference. And most of the time I am trying to avoid too much of retouching.. but I guess you can see this in my photography, right?

But to be honest, every photographer that shoots digital and doesn’t want (or doesn’t know!) to do any retouching at all, is cutting his own leg and I feel a little bit sorry about them. Cause if you look up to all the big, legendary photographers, all of them had their specialities, how they worked in the darkroom, which filter did they use and so on. For me it is definitely the same compared with Photoshop these days, in a way. Of course you can make photos that weren’t even possible 30 years ago. That’s not what I am talking about. But in the digital age it became even more important to have his own look. And that hardly ever happens if you don’t do any retouching. Cause a RAW file looks mostly like nothing once you have it on your screen. And if you let the guy at the magazine do it for you, it will look exactly like the rest of all the other photos in the mag.

Right?

Tools. What equipment do you use for shooting?

Basically: Whatever it needs. But most of the time a proper camera and some nice light do a great job together. I prefer daylight tough and nowadays mostly working with my Hasselblad H4D and Profoto or Broncolor lights.

Tips for people starting to shoot snowboarding

Hang out with the up-coming riders a lot. They are hungry for the shots and they will be the future riders. Plus: They will introduce you to the older, wiser and eventually more famous riders as well!

Shooting snowboarding professionally is tough, specially getting into the industry. What do you think separates you from the rest and made you successful?

Phuu… I do not know if my “style“ separates from the others. But what I do realize is, that all the big name photographers out there had a unique, personal way to how they worked. And nowadays with the whole digi-stuff it is even more important to bring “yourself“ into your photos. But don’t ask me how you should do it!

Why aren’t you shooting snowboarding anymore?

I am still so in love with snowboarding. If there is powder in my local resort I’ll be the first guy up there no matter what! But at some point in my “carreer as a snowboard photographer“ I became bored. I thought, I do not wanna be in my 40’s and still travelling with teens and doing handrails and stuff. And I realized that photography really is what I wanna do till the end of my life. And also, that snowboarding photography only is a very small piece of the whole cake. There are so many possibilities in photography. And then I started to totally dive into it. Which meant I started to work as an assistant to several photographers. This changed everything to me.

What’s pretty rad to witness is, that many snowboarding buddies from back in the day also quit right after me and are now heading in a similiar direction. Like one of my best friends, Raphi Rocha. He was one of my most favourite riders to work with and we did a lot of projects together. He pretty much quit at the same time as I did. Nowadays he is a super talented guy that can do everything with wood. And I am sure soon we will work together on some projects again. I am also taking him this season for 2-3 weeks to Japan for a trip of a lifetime. We go only snowboarding together, no cameras, nothing. Just him and me shredding.

Or Gian-Luca Cavigelli. He used to be one of the best rookies coming out of Switzerland a couple years back. He rode for Nitro. Then he hurt first his knee then his back. After that he quit and started to study architecture. Well, he’s not an architect today but he just opened his own little store where he sells bespoken leather shoes that look so good. I just worked for him 2 weeks ago and it was super cool that our paths crossed again!

I mean seriously, how good is that?

What are you shooting now?

I love quiet places, silence in general. I am still into shooting action, a little bit portraits as well. But mostly landscapes, things and objects that I find on my regular trips in my car. I am getting away more and more from the commercial part of photography. I just changed onto medium format and this slows me down, which I like a lot. I do not like the sound of the super fast DSLRs that run like 10 photos per sec.

I am more and more into art, doing exhibitions, a big book is on the works… and so on. 101 ideas in the mix, stay tuned! He he

How do you level the work / life balance with all the traveling?

Well, photography is my life and my life is photography! I know I am working way too much and investing all my money into projects, books etc. but hey, it’s what I love the most and there is no other way than this. I gotta do it, it’s as simple as that.

How do you manage creative blocks?

Lucky me, this happens very seldom. Last time was just about a month ago. I got this invitation to participate in a really cool project, for a  very cool agency here in Switzerland. So of course I said yes, since I could do whatever I wanted to. But then I had no ideas at all. This was kinda new to me. And then under pressure I managed to finally get the image. Now I am happy about the shot. What did I do? Thinking, thinking, thinking… real hard. But usually it comes quite naturally into my mind. Sometimes I even think I will never stop getting new ideas.

I know this doesn’t happen to everybody. But of course I am having ideas that I am super stoked about today and two weeks later I think they totally suck… Ha ha

But this is part of your development as a photographer, it is totally normal and it needs to be like that. In my humble opinion.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Shooting snowboarding has taught me so much, I still can’t believe it. It was one of the best schools for me. I would do it exactly like this again, anytime.

Thank you, snowboarding. You’re the (so far) greatest love of my life!

Where can people follow what you are doing?

I only use Facebook, which is linked to my website. That’s it. Spending already way too much time behind the computer. It works fine for me:

facebook.com/Thomas.Stockli.98