The Story Behind the 2016 SLEDHEADS Photo Annual Cover Shot

October 2015 Feature Steven Marlenee Web Exclusive

Editor's note: The 2016 SLEDHEADS Photo Annual print edition rolls off the presses this week. To celebrate, we wanted to share photographer Steven Marlenee's story behind the epic cover shot. When we asked Marlenee to submit photos for this year's photo annual, we were blown away by what showed up in Dropbox. There was rider Shad Simmons wtih his bright orange Arctic Cat completely sideways with the Grand Tetons in perfect composition behind him. Marlenee had captured what he calls his best shot to date, and fellow photographer Todd Williams contributed a great deal of time edititing the final image to what you see on the cover of SLEDHEADS. 

After a few long days of filming with the Thunderstruck crew, a small group of friends decided to stray from the group and cameras to a new location and just have a day of fun just outside of Jackson, Wyoming. Shad Simmons and I, along with a few other riders, decided to venture off and take advantage of some of the late-spring light following a big storm; yet another bit of proof that determination and perseverance prevails. 

We had just left the remainder of the group and had started to game-plan on top of a plateau. We knew the evening light would give us an excellent opportunity for a good shot. I peered out over the horizon, and noticed that the Tetons were in perfect view. I had spent a good amount of time capturing a series of shots where I had the riders turn tight circles, and trying to place the roost behind the Tetons. 

After an hour or so, I was ‘over’ the location and ready to move on. Shad came up to me and said “I think I have a really epic shot”. Wanting to be done with the current locale (one of my favorite mantra’s is to try and change location as much as you can to generate as many unique shots as you can in a day), I was somewhat resistant to the suggestion. Shad asked a second time, and I couldn’t say no. For this shot, Shad actually placed me, something that rarely happens. We got completely setup and went over the plan. I took several dozen test shots, trying to gauge what I thought might happen and set my camera accordingly. The group allowed Shad to make about a half-dozen attempts at his ‘shot’, a formality that seems to have become precedence for when a rider picks out a specific shot with me. 

As soon as Shad nailed this shot, I knew I had gold. Shad rode out of frame and I SCREAMED at everyone to stop. I wanted to capture a few dozen more shots with exactly the same light and adjust camera settings to make sure I had a great background in case I needed to edit anything. Shad hit the jump one more time and actually blew his driven belt. He spent a short amount of time fixing it, and the remainder of the group took turns hitting it. 

Just as we were about to leave, Clay Hockel parked next to me to watch what I was doing. This was all good, except that I was parked in a drift and knew I would be stuck. Clay, with his torquey four-stroke hammered the throttle down, and just as I was changing lenses, filled everything I owned with a metric-ton of snow. Neat. The whole time, I’m yelling at the top of my lungs, “STOP!!” Kim could tell my disappointment from across the ridge. I got cleaned up and wasn’t even that worried about my gear, knowing I had, what might be, the best shot of my life (and I pretty much immediately forgave Clay).

Upon returning home, I spend countless hours editing and then trashing, starting over, and repeating the process. I couldn’t seem to find a way to make this truly pop. I knew how good this shot could be and wanted the best for it, so I thought it best to give up control.

Over the previous year, I had been in contact with Todd Williams several times. Since I’ve started doing photography, I’ve looked up to him as one of the true great’s of the art, regardless of subject. I had hoped, for several seasons, to be able to spend, even an immeasurable amount of time with him to learn. And so, reaching out to him was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do, for fear of rejection. 

Sitting in Gillette, WY, I sent him an email asking him if he’d be willing to collaborate with me. I explained that I don’t charge for any of my pictures, so I didn’t have anything to pay him. Within a few minutes, he responded that he was willing to help, and on-board and what you see here is largely his creation, and my best work.

-Steven Marlenee

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