Local photographer Court Leve loves Basil Hayden’s whiskey, good music — Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead and Jane’s Addiction to name a few — and taking great shots with his Nikon camera. His work takes him to some special places and he’s on the move constantly, whether he’s hanging off the boom of a ship in Norway’s fjords or being dropped by helicopter on the top of an Alaskan peak or somewhere in the middle of the Antarctica.
“I’ve learned how to read people and when’s the right time or wrong time to take a photo.”
He patiently waits to capture his shots, which he takes for Warren Miller Entertainment, Points North Heli-Adventures, Ice Axe Expeditions and numerous regional and national publications. Last year alone, Warren Miller Entertainment shoots took Leve from Montana to New Zealand and back to Olympic Valley.
One thing is sure, Leve has an eye for magical moments. His photographs capture skiers dropping down steep, snow-covered faces that boggle the mind.
“Norway was one of the coolest trips I’ve ever been on. The landscape was amazing. We sailed on a 60-foot, double-reinforced sailboat with only 12 people aboard, cruising the sea with Ice Axe Expeditions. Antarctica was another amazing trip,” says Leve.
When he moved to San Francisco as a young adult, he started coming to Tahoe to ski on weekends.
He began his career as a staff photographer for the Tahoe World newspaper. He learned how to draw people out to take their photographs for stories so that they trusted him.
“Stories that have a photo have a lot more impact,” he says. “I’ve learned how to read people and when’s the right time or wrong time to take a photo. One thing I’ve learned is always ask.”
Leve was on the scene during Hurricane Katrina. It was a stroke of luck being in the right place at the right time that allowed him to meet a man who flew Black Hawk helicopters and wanted him to take photographs.
“I saw fires, people on the ground, people on their roofs and sailboats washed up on the railway tracks,” he says of his trip shooting the disaster.
Leve also worked for the now-defunct Grand Sierra magazine where he was assigned to photograph Burning Man, the Reno Air Races and a variety of musicians performing in the area. He shot photos up close and personal of Tom Petty at one of his concerts and got some remarkable shots of Petty in action. Leve has become a preeminent ski photographer. To find the best angles, he takes chances, but also is aware and thoughtful.
“Sometimes you find the nastiest angle you can or the most adventurous place to be dropped off from the helicopter or maybe find yourself on a cornice or peak you can’t ski down. It’s a weird mix of being scared and excited at the same time — seeing avalanches and knowing one thing’s for sure: that nothing is for sure. You have to trust your gut and intuition. Be like a boxer and be prepared. And ,also, it’s important to know that everyone makes mistakes; don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions. Being around experienced people helps,” says Leve.
When being dropped off in a remote place where being present and aware is imperative, Leve checks with a guide first before moving 20 feet down the side of a mountain to take a shot. It might be a great angle, but it could be a potentially deadly move.
Leve is a multidimensional photographer: extreme sports, outdoors, nature and people are all part of his repertoire. He tries to predict the unseen whether it’s taking a photograph or figuring out the logistics of his travel. Being calm under pressure and his dry sense of humor also help him navigate his professional life.
“In the digital world, you can take a lot of shots. It’s often the first photos I shoot that are the best photos,” says Leve.
He knows as any good photographer does, you’re not going to make every shot, but
he has honed his craft and the shots he takes are beautiful, creative and stunning. For Leve,
the future is bright. He has his sights set on pursuing personal creative photography projects, as well as continuing to do
what he loves. | courtleve.com