7 Sports Photographers Answer 1 Question:
How Did You Get Started?
Not everyone who works in sports photography imagined that they would end up there. Sure, some started as a photographer after they learned it in school, but many have taken very different – sometimes unusual and always interesting – career paths to end up in our profession.
Recently, we had a discussion about those winding career paths and agreed that it is often not possible to apply for the coolest jobs, but people just end up doing what they do by coincidence. So we asked some of the most successful sports photographers working in Formula 1, Red Bull Content Pool, surfing and skiing to tell us their secrets and stories of their (professional) lives. We want to share some of our favorite stories here. Keep reading to learn how a surfer, cyclist or ski instructor became a professional sports photographer…
Mirja Geh, Austria
Red Bull Photographer
Since I was about 18 years old, photography was my hobby. At 20 years old I got a job where I was able to combine two of my favorite things: skiing and taking photos. I worked as photographer for a skiing school in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria which I really enjoyed at that point of my life. As this kind of work was pretty simple I wanted to get to know more about photography and went to a photo school in Linz, Austria. After my graduation I started out as a self-employed freelance photographer. I had clients in the tourism sector, people and events.
One day I went skiing with a friend of mine and we took some action shots which his sponsor really liked and actually this is how my focus got into action sports photography which is now my main focus together with people, ad- & event photography.
But enough talked… you better have a look at www.mirjageh.com 😉
Darren Heath, UK
Multi award winning F1 photographer
As a child I loved Formula 1 so at about the age of 12-13, when my parents gave me a Kodak Instamatic 25 126 cartridge film camera, and I discovered a similar attraction to photography, that was it, I was hooked!
At that age when one is, or certainly should be, thinking of one’s life career, I reasoned that there was really only one livelihood providing occupation I desired. So at 14 years old I made what was for me the only choice: To focus all my attention, drive and ambition towards becoming a successful photographer of Formula 1.
From that moment onwards just about all my spare teenage time – and most of my teenage money! – was spent on camera equipment and getting to race tracks so as to improve my technique. My parents’ wonderful support and encouragement was invaluable, my father regularly taking me to racing circuits so I could indulge my passion. When I couldn’t be trackside my abilities were improved by practicing different photographic styles by shooting road cars on the streets near my parents house, and particularly trains as they sped past various vantage points.
The required exam grades were secured enabling me to attend a two year photographic course at an East London college. In the summer of 1987, portfolio in hand, I took myself off to North London and cold-called top F1 snapper John Townsend. John was fantastically generous with his time, giving me the names and numbers of all his F1 photographer colleagues.
After completing my college photography course I started as a junior black and white printer at the premier Formula 1 photo agency of the time; Zooom Photographic. It was then a case of proving to the bosses that I was worthy of shooting at race events for the company’s clients. In an effort to do just that I shot over 35 race weekends in my first year (1988). Formula First, Formula Ford, FF2000, Opel Lotus Euro Series, F3, BTCC, F3000 and F1 were all covered in that first season.
My goal of shooting a foreign F1 race was achieved at the 1989 German Grand Prix.
After that I shot about 10-12 grands prix a year for a few years, while also covering every round of the F3000 International Championship. At the beginning of 1994 I left Zooom to pursue a freelance career and have shot at every F1 race to the end of the 2019 season since. The final event of last year’s campaign in Abu Dhabi being my 500th Grand Prix as a working professional.
Of course one can be taught anything to a certain level but photography is an intuitive ability. My core principals of believing that if one has an ability to see and shoot pictures well then elements of the discipline such as The Rule of Thirds, composition, framing, and more technical aspects like focus and exposure will all come naturally have undoubtedly helped me, combined with a belief that one’s successful business life hinges upon discovering what one is good at and then making the most of those skills.
I was fortunate to find mine and then have the desire, the drive, determination and support to make it in a ridiculously competitive and cut throat environment.
Nika Kramer, Germany
My roots are in the Hip Hop scene, that’s why I specialized in B-Boy/B-Girl photography at the beginning. After organizing numerous events for the scene and working on two books about Hip Hop as editor/writer with New York’s legendary Hip Hop photographer Martha Cooper, I started working as a photographer in 2010.
In 2008, Martha Cooper, famous New York photographer and one of my best friends, had just upgraded from the D70 to the D700 and had given me her D70 with the words, “I think you could be a great photographer—go and do something with it!” So in 2009, I went on a trip for six months following Hip Hop culture in Mexico and Central America, writing a blog for the Red Bull BC One and learning how to shoot by watching a shit-ton of Youtube Tutorials and training with Eva Lepiz of the local photographers association in Oaxaca.
Forever grateful that now I finally knew “what I wanted to be when I grow up,” I started photographing the Red Bull BC One in 2010, for which at that point I had been working as a writer, blogger, web editor and culture and social media manager.
It was at the World Final in Tokyo at 2010, that I handed in my photos for the first time, Red Bull Mediahouse really loved them and from there it started snowballing. When you check out redbullbcone.com, you can find me there as one of very few female photographers being introduced by Red Bull.
I love the adrenaline rush before a competition when you know you need to focus every second so you don’t miss the crucial picture—the one moment that determines the winner. But I also love walking through a new city, finding my location, picking my angles, setting up my portable lights (loooove working with big lights!) and working with athletes and artists in the streets.
To sum it up, shooting movement, freezing the perfect moment in time, that’s what makes me the happiest.
Christoph Oberschneider, Austria
I was just finishing studying medicine at the Medical University in Graz when I got my hands on my first camera.
As an Austrian, I have a strong skiing background and wanted to create a short freeride ski movie with some friends, more or less just for fun, so I was in the need for a proper camera.
Long story short: We completed the video, but I quickly realized that (for me) shooting stills was offering way more creative possibilities, so I started with ski photography.
My vision ever since has been to capture the very soul of the sport, to infect the world around me with my absolute passion for skiing. Be it on the slopes or in the backcountry.
But it’s not just about skiing: Every sport has its special, unique feeling to it, and I love to make this feeling visible with my images – whether it’s mountain biking, surfing, trail running,
climbing or just hiking and enjoying life in the mountains.
Russell Ord, Australia
International awarded surf photographer
I injured my knee surfing (1999), and instead of just sitting on the lounge, I picked up a camera and started taking photos of my mates (surfing). The passion grew from there, surfing had become quite competitive and crowded so being reunited with that feeling of freedom especially when your swimming out alone was more of an incentive than jostling for waves. The learning curve was steep at the start being self-taught and using film, so I gradually progressed my camera skills. I was also lucky enough to have 20 years of ocean experience to call upon which I have always said is the hardest skill to learn regarding surf photography.
James Rushforth, UK
International award winning travel photographer
It all happened very much by accident, I left university not really knowing what I wanted to do and ended up climbing in the Alps. I wrote several articles on my experiences and was contacted by a publisher who was looking to produce a guidebook to the region. Without really knowing what I was getting myself into I began work on my first book – a climbing guide to the Italian Dolomites.
As I began putting it together I wanted to convey how the region had captivated me not only with its exceptional climbing but also the stunning nature of the surrounding scenery. I bought a camera (a little Canon G12 – I recall shuddering at the thought of spending £380, were photographers all mad?) and never looked back. Since then I’ve published books about skiing, mountaineering, climbing, via ferrata and photography. I now divide my time between writing guidebooks and running photography workshops all over the world.
Stefan Voitl, Austria
Red Bull Photographer
From a childhood passion for cycling and climbing adventures in the Austrian mountains, I started racing bikes aged ten – usually with a camera by my side. Photography was a hobby, it was cycling that I was passionate about. Realising that my talents as a cyclist were limited and my career as an electrician wasn’t making me happy, I got off my bike and downed tools to study photography at the Art University in Linz.
I am now specialized in sports and event photography around the world.
Please visit our participant’s website or Instagram account and have a look at their awesome work!
How did you start? Did you have some interesting twists in your career?
Let us know and leave your story in the comments!