In second grade, Scott Rogers won $500 in a photography contest. With a disposable camera, he captured a friend in midair while jumping on the bed, hair standing straight up, a look of joy on his face. Rogers wouldn't think much more about photography in the coming years, but he did get serious about sports—namely rock climbing and slacklining. Actually, he took up almost any sport that seemed crazy, like highlining and BASE jumping.
Things had come full circle by the time Rogers turned 27. With so much knowledge about extreme sports in his back pocket, he decided it was time to start taking pictures of his friends again. Except this time, instead of jumping on the bed, they’re running off cliffs.
Staring danger in the face—and seeing it on his friends’ faces—gives the Moab-based adventurer unique insight into what motivates us to push boundaries. We asked him how he captures those intense feelings in one shot.
OUTSIDE: You’ve participated in the sports you shoot. Does that give you an advantage as a photographer?
ROGERS: It negates the need to establish trust with these athletes. They are already my friends. There are precise moments in these sports that are about building your understanding of fear—like the first step onto a highline or that first moment you jump off a cliff. I know all of these moments firsthand.
How do you convey what it’s like to be on a highline to someone who has never done it?
My goal is to portray a person’s relationship with fear. You may have never been on a highline, but you’ve applied for a job. You’ve broken up with someone or been broken up with. We all go through things we are uncomfortable with. We all take chances. That’s kind of my goal—to show that this is another way to identify fear in your life and take control. To do that, I focus a lot on feet, because that’s what we use in this sport. Then I look at eyes and facial expressions, whether it’s a deep, intense focus, or a calmness, or any kind of observable fear.
With highlining, falling is really cool to capture, because once you fall, it’s kind of like all the fear goes away. The fear is there in every step you take, because you have to keep working to succeed at walking that line. Every time you fall, you’re giving up a little, and there’s kind of a release. I see a lot of people smiling when they’re falling because they are happy they can take a rest and chill.
How do you decide where to set up your shot?
I understand exactly where the parachute is going to open, or I know where someone is going to be struggling the most on the highline. Sometimes it’s real quick and you just snap off a couple of photos. You can’t anticipate everything. And sometimes those spur-of-the-moment shots are the ones I like the most.
What kind of gear do you use?
It’s nice to have really fast lenses, specifically with BASE jumping, because it happens really quickly, and it takes a long time to reset that shot if you miss it. Not only does your subject have to get back to the site and repack their parachute, but the conditions have to be right. It might be three days before you can shoot from there again.
How do you capture the enormity of these settings?
If you were to just take a landscape photo, there’s no sense of scale, but with a human in the shot, that immediately gives a sense of scale.
Do you ever worry about dropping your gear?
I insure all my gear. I clip gear into a climbing leash. I also have a few bags with interesting openings that allow me to pull stuff out without gear falling out. And you try to hold on for dear life, because that would ruin your day if you lost your gear.
Do you still get to participate in the sports when you’re shooting?
A lot of the time, I’m shooting with my group of friends, so it’s very much a group effort. Particularly with highlining, it takes a lot of work to rig it up, and it takes a lot of gear. It’s very rare that I’m able to show up with just a camera. It’s good, but it’s also distracting and challenging, but I enjoy it because it allows me to do both.