May 14, 2018 6 min read
Carpenter, skier, paraglider, mountaineer—Diego Schläppi is a man of many talents. And given the depth of his skills, it’s easy to forget that he’s just seventeen years old. With the mountains as his canvas, he’s making his mark throughout the Alps—and beyond. After diving into photography a few years ago, he has worked relentlessly to hone his craft. Blending the beauty of the Alps with compelling action and bold compositions, his photos turn heads and command attention. It’s no wonder he’s amassed thousands of followers on Instagram and—when not tending to his carpentry apprenticeship—keeps busy traveling throughout Switzerland to shoot athletes and events, as well as his own adventures.
Shred is honored to welcome Diego to our team as an ambassador. He embodies the passion, fun, and thirst for progression that guide and define us. We recently caught up with Diego to learn more about life in the Alps, his photography, and love for the mountains.
How would you describe yourself?
I'm a young, motivated guy with many interests. Currently, I’m doing an apprenticeship as a carpenter. I started a year and a half ago and it will take two-and-a-half more years to complete. But being a carpenter wasn’t the only job that interested me. I nearly did an apprenticeship as a funicular mechanic at my home ski area and have also been interested in graphic arts and mediamatics (a position that essentially blends graphic design and computer science to create media and experiences). In my free time, I’m especially interested in sports and photography. I love to go skiing, paragliding, mountaineering, or biking. I always take my camera with me on these activities and try every time to get the perfect shot, which combines nature and the sport in one unified picture.
What’s it like growing up in the Alps?
Growing up in the Alps was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned so much about life in my hometown, Guttannen, which is a little mountain village with about 300 inhabitants. There’s a great sense of community and cohesion because everyone knows everyone. I spent much of my childhood on the playground in my village. In winter, my friends and I often went to our little ski lift, which is about five minutes from my home. It’s where I learned my first 360s and tried my first front flips. Every day was a good day—we often shaped kickers, hit them for hours, and then skied home to enjoy some hot chocolate. I’m now seventeen years old and still live at home with my parents. The world gets bigger with every new adventure I have, every person I meet, and each new thing that I try.
How did you get into photography?
Whenever I was outside with my family I took our compact camera with me. I was always interested in playing with the focus and trying to find the perfect angle. About three years ago, my sister bought a DSLR. Whenever I could, I borrowed her camera and got outside. I started to shoot landscapes. At first, I took those in full-automatic mode and didn’t worry about the focus. Unfortunately, a half year later, my sister visited South Africa for three months and took the camera with her.
Without giving it much thought, I wrote an ad in a photographers Facebook group in search of a camera. After a few hours, a man commented on my ad: "I still have my old cam with some lenses at home. When you want them you can come and take them with you." Some days later I visited Thomas, the man who wrote the comment—he gave me his camera for free! It was a Nikon D200 with a 17-55mm f2.8 & 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens. It was the perfect setup for getting into photography. Thomas also explained how to shoot manually with the camera and I realized how versatile photography can be. So for the past two years, I’ve shot with my own cameras. At first, I only did landscapes, but then I soon got into sports photography.
How would you describe your style?
I take landscapes and sport photographs. I like to stand on top of a mountain at sunrise or sunset and get some pictures showing this awesome mood. When I take photographs in the mountains, I often try to capture human beings immersed in nature’s enormous scale. When I do sport photographs, especially while paragliding, I always try my best to show the close connection between humans and nature. Mostly, I try to shoot an athlete in front of an amazing background. Perhaps a half year ago, I also started to shoot structures and mountain landscapes in black and white.
Who are some of your favorite photographers and what have you learned from them?
Some of my favorite artists are French adventure and sports photographer Jeremy Bernard, Oskar Enander, who is Swedish but now based in Switzerland, and David Birri, a photographer from my region. I learned a lot from David. He always gave me gear to borrow when I needed something. And he showed me a lot about camera settings, techniques, and editing processes. With nearly every picture, David shows our region from angles I've never seen before. He totally inspires me. I also really love the pictures from Jeremy and Oskar because they show, in the finest way, exactly why I love skiing. They always capture adventures with the best angles and often in perfect light. I really like the epic contrast and awesome colors that stem from their editing style. Their black and white photographs are also incredible. I really love the sharpness and the mix of action and silence in those pictures.
How have the Alps shaped your work as a photographer?
The Alps have intensely shaped my photography style. When I started with photography, I often visited other places outside of my region. I would travel ten hours in a day, only to visit a destination on the other side of Switzerland. After about a year, I realized that the landscapes I was searching for were right outside my front door. I live in a beautiful region with many different landscapes. Every valley is totally differently than the next one, so I really have a lot of options for photography. I can do a cozy shoot at the lake or a high alpine climbing shoot in our mountains. I love to be up in the mountains and shoot those special moods.
What can you tell us about your camera setups? What do you shoot with and why?
I shoot with a Nikon D500. Currently, it’s the best camera from Nikon with a DX Sensor. It’s really fast and reliable—those are the two big reasons I love it so much. I have a normal wide angle lens, a bright standard zoom lens, and a bright tele zoom lens. It’s a heavy setup for ski and climbing tours. For high-resolution pictures, I have a Sony a7rII. It’s really small and light, so it’s the perfect camera for long tours.
What are your goals for the future?
That’s a difficult question. If I’m able to earn everything I need to live with photography, then I’ll definitely pursue it. But photography is a hard business. With the rise of digital photography, there are many assignments—but there are also many photographers in Switzerland to perform them. Maybe I’m going to work as a carpenter for my whole life, maybe I’ll do a second apprenticeship as a graphic designer and work in this industry, or maybe I’ll do a mountain guide apprenticeship and guide heli-skiing somewhere in winter and guide at home in the summer. Whatever happens, I want to travel the world as soon I finish my apprenticeship as a carpenter. There are so many things that I would love to see out there.
Lastly, what inspires you?
I really admire people who give everything to reach their goals—be it in sports, photography, or something else. It inspires me when I see the way they approach things—how they start with nothing but a little idea and eventually find success living their dream.
Be sure to follow Diego on Instagram to get a healthy dose of his latest work.