Tue, Jun 17 2008 12:00 am |
Shooting: 5 or so.
Work: Ridebmx.com, Ride magazine, Red Bull, KHE, Props, and other BMX companies, and fattonyenterprise.com
What kind of camera do you have or do you suggest?
Most of my work is done with a Canon 20D. I use my Canon 24-70mm most of the time, with the occasional 15mm thrown in, and every once in a blue moon I’ll pull out the Canon 75-300mm. A few times I’ve used an old Canon EOS1 for sequences or to get a wider angle on the 15mm since it has a smaller crop factor. And when I shoot film, I use my old Canon Rebel-G body and Kodak T-Max 400 film. I currently still have a very basic flash setup: three Vivitar 285s and Pocket Wizards.
I suggest getting a DSLR (I’m 100% new school, and not ashamed.) with fully manual capabilities that has a flash sync of 250th of a second. Even when I was taking black and white classes in college, I used my DSLR to do tests and checks. I definitely learned much quicker because I was able to see, and more importantly, evaluate my results instantly. I would not suggest starting out with something that you plan to upgrade. If you start out with something sub par, you’ll never be able to fully see what you are capable of and you will be limiting yourself. If it takes an extra few months or even a year to save up for something proper, do it. I always suggest Canon brand products because that’s what I know and use—plus I’ve never seen any BMX photographer use anything but Canon. (For digital stuff, in the past several years anyway.) Also, keep in mind that if you buy Canon products now, the lenses, and flashes will be interchangeable on all Canon products. If you start out with a Nikon body and lens because it is cheaper, you’ll end up spending more money down the line when you have to buy a Canon body and realize your Nikon lens doesn’t fit on there.
Long exposure self portrait in a Tokyo, Japan train station while in there covering a contest for work.
How do you get started in photography?
I said I wanted “to be a photographer when I grow up” when I got back from a family vacation to NYC in 5th grade. Then around 10th grade I took my mom’s Canon Rebel-G (same kind I still use today) and started playing with that. Finally, in college I got serious and bought the digital SLR and took a few black and white courses. The courses taught me a lot of the basics. Just like with anything, it always helps to know the basics first, so I fully recommend taking at least an entry-level black and white course. With the digital SLR, I shot as much as I could and constantly looked at magazines to compare my photos. And every time I got the chance, I would ask other people for advice. I traveled a lot, which is key in BMX, and it made talking to people (Walter Pieringer and Jeff Zielinski, to name a few) easier. Then I started to submit photos…
I tried sending things in to Ride for the magazine, but never got anything published. What I did get was to build a relationship with Jeff Z. through emails where he would give me pointers and tell me why my photos weren’t good enough to print. I emailed him, Walter Pieringer, and Keith Mulligan for advice, and they were kind enough to give it to me. When my photos weren’t getting run in the magazine, I took a step back and started giving them to Ride to put on the web site. I contributed to the site regularly without pay for quite a while, but it obviously paid off because eventually I got offered my current job here. Also during that time that I was progressing my photography skills, I sent stuff to other magazines and actually did get some things published in Ride UK, BMX Plus!, Cream, and Offline.
What kind of job can you get being a photographer in BMX?
What a lot of younger riders may not realize is that most BMX photographers do not shoot BMX photos full-time as their main source of income. This “profession” isn’t like the jobs that your schoolteachers tell you about. The life of a BMX photographer rarely ever fits a mold, and each person is very different. Most of the guys making money off of BMX photos are hustlers and really have to work hard to get their work out to different places.
But to answer the question more directly, here are the main ways you can make money off of BMX photos. These things could be pursued heavily and made into a full-time gig, or you could do these on the side while doing whatever else you enjoy doing, or need to do for money.
- You could work on staff or as a contributor for a BMX magazine and/or Web site(s).
- You could sell photos of riders to their sponsors for catalogs, ads, or other marketing avenues.
- You could sell BMX photos to more mainstream or unconventional places like ad/marketing agencies, stock photography companies, or mainstream magazines.
How can someone get into the BMX industry?
The best way I can answer this is to explain how I did it. I’ve told this story hundreds of times, and it always seems to get the point across, so here goes…
In college I helped some friends build a mini ramp in their backyard and put on a backyard jam. That jam grew, and after doing it for five years in a row it was featured in Ride, Props, Standpoint, and Ride UK. During those five years I also built a website for my local BMX community and kept it updated with videos, photos, and new of what was going on in our state. I also helped produce a BMX video for my local scene and sent that out to companies. Also during that time I traveled as much as possible to ride, and in the process got to meet a ton of people around the country. And another thing I did was put together self-promo packets with things I made (magazines, calendars, mini-portfolios, etc.) and sent them out to BMX companies to get my name out there. On one road trip I stopped by the Odyssey and Ride offices to meet their staff and learn more about their business and the BMX industry. And by the end of college, I had a job offer at Ride.
In a nutshell, I basically lived my college years as if I was already in the BMX industry, and by the time I was ready to get a job, everything was already in place for me.
Do you do work outside of BMX?
I actually do graphic design in addition to photography, so I do a little graphic design for outside companies. However, I’ve never done any photo work outside of BMX—yet.
Sitting on the edge in Okinawa, Japan while on vacations and shooting photos because it’s what I love to do.
Advice for beginners?
Whether you want to be a photographer, writer, professional rider, or whatever, it’s more than just that one thing. I really believe you have to be very well rounded and professional. Unless you are exponentially the best BMX photographer out there, you will have a lot of competition. So set yourself apart from the competition by being easy to work with and doing things very professional—bringing more to the table than just your photos. I am also a firm believer in self-promotion and putting yourself out there. If you don’t do it, no one will do it for you. I never had amazing sills on a bike to make me stand out at the riding spot, and I never had award-winning photos every time I submitted things, so I had to find other creative ways to let people know who I was and that I was a talented, hard worker.
This is actually a letter that I wrote to Transworld BMX years ago that ran in the April 1998 issue of the magazine. And look where I’m at now… It pays to seek answers in right places, so thanks for reading!