If you can’t learn, you can’t thrive. The nucleus of greatness is learning. Many other things are important to pursuing maximum potential—time, commitment, industriousness, and passion to name a few—but in order to be truly great, we will experience failure and if we don’t learn from our failures, then progress is nearly impossible. I’ve become passionate about learning over the years and one way I learn is through getting out of my comfort zone.
So when Red Bull extended one of six invites to their first Red Bull Academy in the US to me, I was excited at the opportunity. While basketball will always be my first love, I like to look beyond its bounds for inspiration that I can bring back and apply to the game. So I joined a select group of talented photographers from across the country (Nicole, Long, Dennis, Ryan, and Colin) to learn about adventure sports photography from three master photographers (and all around great people) within the genre—Robert Snow, Lucas Gilman, and Michael Clark.
Elinchrom and Fujifilm provided top of the line equipment that I could test out and use for the shoots and I was happy to give their tools a try. In fact I really enjoyed using the ELB1200s and various modifiers. And I absolutely loved the Fujifilm GFX100. There are plenty of reviews for this gear online so I won’t oversaturate things. Suffice to say that I really enjoyed using these tools and would definitely use them on future projects. I especially enjoyed the ease of use and the relative lightweight to go on hikes and other on-location work. The lights were strong enough to overpower the sun, which allowed me to be more creative outdoors no matter the lighting conditions and it allowed me to be sure I was freezing the action.
For the first time in a long time, I was willingly in a vulnerable situation. My willingness came from dropping my fear of failure and focusing intently on learning something new. These feelings do not come up naturally when I’m in my comfort zone. So as challenging as it was, it was a great opportunity and I have emerged with lots of value to add to all of my work moving forward. From simple things like sharing and receiving feedback on my work in a class/conference room setting to thinking more critically on my approach to future projects.
My favorite part was connecting with my subjects. Being part of a group, I was allotted a set block of time with each athlete so, as is often the case in my work in the real world, there was not a ton of time to spend with my subjects. I felt like opening myself up and releasing the pressure of any imposter syndrome allowed me to connect with each athlete in a sincere and meaningful way, even in a short time. More importantly, that connection manifested in my images. With my basketball work I am accustomed to making these types of connections, but in that setting basketball is a clear mutual passion.
Red Bull athlete Rafa Ortiz takes a jump in his kayak. Each of these frames is from the same image file. Matt from Fujifilm was on hand providing insights, gear, and technical support. This was made with the Fujifilm GFX100, which Matt practically had to pry out of my hands at the end of the trip because I am so enamored with it. I was blown away by the image quality as I cropped in tighter and tighter. I try my best to avoid gear lust and GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), but I’m a big fan of this camera. With a single frame, I was able to come up with a few different outputs. This is especially helpful in adventure sports where the athletes are taking a significant toll on their bodies to achieve the shot. Rafa was incredible to work with and was down to take a few jumps, but each one had some inherent risks—primarily breaking his back if he didn’t hit the water just right. I get nervous at the thought that a player may sprain her or his ankle by crashing into me on a baseline. I couldn’t imagine the potential devastation that could (and I’m sure has) happen for a photo like this one.
I’m happy to share some of my images from Austin and my experience with the Red Bull Academy here. I look forward to emerging from the covid-19 pandemic and back on the sidelines, behind my lens creating. I feel like I was able to add to my creative toolkit having jumped head-first into some adventure sports photography. Thanks for reading this far, be well!