In order to get the beautiful imagery that is seen in Whitewater Kayaking, there is a lot of behind the scenes work, countless environmental factors, and challenges with accessibility. The folks working to show the world what goes on in our community deserve a big shoutout, because without their dedication and talent it would be impossible to describe the places we get to see and marvel at as paddlers.
Boise-based photographer John Webster has slowly but surely become a fixture in the whitewater world, with photoshoots for nearly all the big names in the biz, from publications to brands, to people and events like the NFC. A paddler himself, Webster’s unique mix of humility, perspective, and motivation brings the emotions and stories of descents, events, and people to life. Shots of Aniol cobra flipping? Webster. Photos of that one waterfall in the gorge? Webster. Descents of Idaho classics like the South Fork Clearwater? Webster. It’s no wonder— and about time— that Webster earned his first (of many we are sure) Photographer of the Year.
Whitewater Awards: Where are you from? Where do you live now?
John Webster: Born and raised in Boise, Idaho… continuing to live here, this place is a train wreck, tell your friends.
WA: When did you start shooting? How’d you get into it?
JW: I picked up a camera when I was in high school, but I got into shooting whitewater when I first started working at Cascade Raft in 2010 in Banks, ID. I was continually pushed by friends like Tren Long to shoot better. I’ve been given a whole lot of constructive criticism from kayakers, which was and IS helpful.
WA: Do you have siblings? Do they take photos?
JW: I have an older sister that took a BW film class in high school that definitely had me curious.
WA: You also kayak, correct?! What came first, you shooting kayaking or kayaking and then starting to photograph it?
JW: I kayaked a lot more about 3-4 years ago, but yeah, I fell in love with it after hating it at first. I had the typical swim experience, where I thought I was dying but wasn’t, early on. I definitely shot kayaking before I got into the sport itself; I was encouraged by a lot of friends to try kayaking a second time, and now here we are…
WA: How did you get into kayaking?
JW: Started in the ol’ ducky, moved onto a hard shell on the Mighty Main Payette. Literally, the first time I kayaked in a hardshell was on the Main; I was two beers deep into confidence, never swam, was stoked. From there progressed to the SF Payette and eventually the “Warm Up” and Lower 5 of the NF Payette. Toured Chile, paddled the greats of Idaho, it’s been fun, as kayaking should be.
WA: What is your favorite sport that you like to shred? What is your favorite sport to shoot photos of?
JW: I highly enjoy a powder day on a snowboard. That’s bliss 101. Favorite sport to shoot? All of the ones that are fast, fun, and usually gravity-fed.
WA: You work professionally as a photographer. Are you freelance, or do you work for someone?
JW: Both, actually! I have my own personal clients and am on contract with Drake Cooper (agency) in Boise. I love the crew there!
WA: You were a finalist for the Photo of the Year and said that you like to capture reactions of people… is there one that sticks out?
JW: Trying to get photos of Alec (Voorhees) smiling, not on cue, is always a goal. But in all seriousness, there’s a couple: Todd Wells yelling after he missed a gate in one of the NFC races, my friend Kat Cannell crying after completing a rigorous horse ride from Astoria, OR to Stanley, ID in the name of wild salmon, high tension moments in the protests this summer in Boise. There’s a list for sure.
WA: What’s your favorite camera you’ve ever owned. What do you currently use? Lens? Mostly fixed lenses or telephoto?
JW: You cannot go wrong with the Canon 5d Miii. That was a breadwinner for years. I still have mine, which I bought off of Skip Armstrong many moons ago. I currently use a Canon EOS R, usually with a 24-105 mm or, my favorite, a 70-200 mm.
WA: Do you always use the same camera or different ones for different situations?
JW: The same one for everything, modern camera bodies have proven utilitarian for any type of shooting.
WA: How do you make sure you have battery power? Do you ever use solar chargers, or do you just bring extra batteries?
JW: Having plenty of batteries is key. I don’t have a solar setup, but I wish I did some days, mostly for road trips when I am not near power. Also, pro-tip, looking less at the playback screen and reviewing photos makes those puppies last longer.
WA: When is a time when you had a mishap that made you miss a shot??
JW: HAHAHA, there have been so many times I have missed a shot (and somehow I am still getting paid). An ongoing joke is when I missed Leif Anderson going off Devil’s Washbowl (50-footer in Idaho). There wasn’t good communication, and we were wildly spaced apart, so visually you couldn’t do anything about giving the go-ahead. I was setting up my tripod and heard his boat hit the pool below. Instantly I freaked out for a good five minutes, yelling into the windy air. It still haunts me to this day, having driven four hours to get one photo and failed. But Leif and I are on good terms. He still shouts, “GET THE SHOT?!” when he drives by me when I’m around White Salmon, WA.
WA: Number one place you’ve always dreamed of taking photos?
JW: A few places kayaking related: I really want to shoot the Rio Santo Domingo, as well as the Rio Agua Azul. It would also be rad to go to the Dolomites and grab some mountain bike shots.
WA: A place you want to have your photos showcased that you haven’t yet?
JW: There are some major publications that I would love to get in. Maybe a billboard on Elon’s next rocket, who knows. Sky’s the limit :).
WA: What is your dream profession?
JW: Probably a fighter pilot, or on the other end of the spectrum, a pressure washer… that’s incredibly satisfying to watch.
WA: Never have I ever… 😉
JW: Watched the Notebook… nor used Shrig as an expression or hand sign.