Rob Hartwell is a Whistler resident, who has been capturing the sights of the Sea To Sky for the past few years. For our community topsheet project, we reached out to Rob to design a topsheet that embodied the town of Whistler. Checkout his story and photography that manifested this design.
Tell us the backstory of you, Photography? Whistler? Skiing?
I’m originally from the UK and came to Canada for a ski season after graduating University of Nottingham. I’d always enjoyed taking photos on my phone, and so for my final year project I decided to explore the accessibility of photography, which led to designing a tripod attachment for wheelchair users.
During my research, I found an old guy on facebook from a blog post on the disabled photographers society called Mark Story. Mark was a double amputee after an accident that had also left him with 3rd degree burns.
He really got on board with my project; we went ‘shooting’ birds (as he would say), experimented with fixtures on his wheelchair in his back garden and I got my first taste of lightroom. The man oozed passion and I think it rubbed off on me.
I got my first camera the following summer before arriving in Whistler in November 2017. Since then, I rarely go anywhere without its company.
Before I arrived I was pretty naive to both photography and skiing. Whistler was the perfect place to explore the two, it turns out they complement one another quite well. As I got better at skiing and more comfortable with the mountains I started bringing my camera along, investing in new lenses and venturing further afield.
Over the last 6 years, the shutter and ski bugs took a hold and at the same time I became more attune to the area; what to look for, where and when the sun would rise and set, and what the forecast and temperatures meant.
I’ve learnt that taking photos is a lot of trial and error, and being willing to take a punt on getting after it. Sometimes it lines up, sometimes it doesn’t. But you won’t know until you go; which to some degree is much like skiing and getting up early to join the liftline after a night of heavy snowfall, especially in Whistler. Those early wake ups to get stuck in mashed potato, or break through a melt freeze crust are well worth it for the days you couldn’t have planned any better. The mystery and anticipation are half the fun.
What do you like shooting the most? Why? Do you have a style?
When I take photos, I’m drawn to landscapes and capturing nature at its finest. I love to zoom in, always on the lookout for textures, and how the changing light with the conditions can turn the mundane to a marvel. A good example of this is the sunsetting after a stormy day, where the clouds are beginning to retreat allowing just enough light through to illuminate parts of the newly decorated treeline.
I like to shoot panoramic shots because I find sometimes you can’t get the whole beauty of a landscape in one frame. I have been known to take 50+ photos for a single pano. I’m also partial to the occasional timelapse!
Anyone who has skied or been on a hike with me, knows this all too well and will of had to put up with me going on about the light that day or realise I’m no longer involved in a conversation as they look on to see me scrambling for my camera to capture something that caught my eye.
My tele lens always makes it into my pack; much to the bemusement of my touring partners. I’d get fomo without it - I just can’t forgo the zoom and risk missing out on close ups of shapes from the mountain contours, lingering clouds and subsequent shadows. When I'm zoomed in I shoot at a high shutter speed and try to frame the shot that I think is the most aesthetically pleasing.
As a child I loved to draw and paint, but I used to get way too engrossed and try to perfect the composition which led to endless rubbing out and painting over work I wasn’t happy with. What I have come to realise about why I love being behind the lens is that mother nature has already set the stage and decided on the scene, kindly gradually altering it for you, by manipulating conditions depending on the season and time of day. It’s nice to have those decisions made, and the deadline of ‘good light’ helps to keep me focused.
What was your thinking/ process behind the topsheet?
When the conditions are popping and I enter into the ‘zone’, spamming the shutter button I must admit … “this would look great on a top sheet” pops into my head almost every time, which I suppose subconsciously influences the style of my work. You could say that when I got the last minute call up by RMU for this: I was prepared…
The top sheet is an amalgamation of photos that I’ve taken during my tenancy in the sea 2 sky, and dictated by whatever really fit. I had a play around and sorted through my photos, thinking a little about how the images could tie into one another. It just escalated until it arrived at what is.
I’m ever so grateful for the opportunity to show off my work on such a canvas as the Apostle 106, and become a part of the mountain culture that the folks at RMU are creating in Whistler.
This was one of the first times I took my camera skiing. I remember it was an early morning pow day during the Christmas holidays. I told my friends I'd catch them up, I couldn't resist the protruding peaks from the sea of clouds getting caught by the rays of the morning sun that had found their way through.
Jan 2023 - Blackcomb Peak CAKED.
Took a solo ski day on an ice cold day a couple of days post Snow. The infamous DOA to the right shoulder.
March 2022 - Harmony bowl
Top down view of the rollers, catching shadows with the crests highlighted by the morning sun. A little bit of a wind causing a stir of some fresh.
Squamish - Candy Floss cloud consumed Atwell Peak
I only just found this out recently and like I’m sure others did I just called it Diamond Head.
One of those early winter sunsets where the sky does funny things.
Tantalus Lookout for all those weekend commuters they know this sight too well.
You can walk the line of stopping and witnessing the beauty of this sunrise at the lookout and carrying on your journey to the promised land and snap a parking spot in the upper lots.
Strawberry Moon rise - 2020
A group of us went to witness the moonrise. We stood around for at least an hour so after googles moonrise time, finally we saw a glow illuminating the ridgeline.
I decided to set off a little timelapse looking at whistler peak. I got lucky to see the moon follow along the outline of whistler, eventually exposing the silhouette of peak chair.
Symphony Chair Sunset December 2019
Probably the best looking chairlift in the world, 100% worth touring back to the resort after the lifts have shut during those early winter sunsets.