Six pre-selected photographers representing South Africa, and the Philippines, accepted the challenge of shooting diverse disciplines from culture to BMX, FMX, and breakdancing, in new, creative ways at the Red Bull Photography Academy in Cape Town, South Africa.
With the great support, and experience of some of Red Bull's top-level photographers; Naim Chidiac, Craig Kolesky, and Denis Klero, we were guided through a total set of three modules consisting of technical training, business tips, and conceptual photography. With a special focus on pre-production, and conceptual vision, we expanded our knowledge on the importance of proper production planning.
Most of the sports photography tasks have been firsts for many participants (half of us shoot festivals, and music-related things), especially when it came to shooting action sports with a mirrorless camera (that’d be a first for me, specifically).
One of the most well-perceived sessions was the Advanced Lighting Class hosted by long-term Red Bull photographer, Naim Chidiac. His charisma, and broad experience, pushed us to think out of the box, and upgrade our lighting game (thanks to Profoto, and Elinchrom). Naim really helped me feel more comfortable using studio lighting, and how to exploit the setup more efficiently.
I’m no stranger to shooting in Red Bull Studios. In any given week; you’ll find me haunting one of the vocal booths with local artists. The brief was simple: performance shots, lifestyle shots, and portraits of the band members in Kujenga. It’s what I love; shooting bands is where I started with photography so I was comfortable but that’s not to say I didn’t learn a whole lot! Everyone shot unbelievable portraits of the bands, and I was blown away to see such a familiar space used in so many different ways.
Niam Chidiac began shooting for Red Bull Photography in 2010, and has covered all kinds of events across Europe, and the Middle East (there is a story for every single one of his shoots as well as 800 pages of portfolio work). He’s a specialist when it come to extreme sports, and portraiture. When he’s not shooting you’ll find him in the sea – wakeboarding or kite surfing (or a very serious mission to find a McFlurry).
Shooting FMX is not something I am familiar with, and that’s no secret. The brief was straightforward: lifestyle, performance, external flash, portrait, and a conceptual shot. Easy right? Yeah, no sweat. Plenty of dirt though. PLENTY! I love working with Red Bull because these are the kind of situations we often end up shooting in: you need to learn to shoot FMX… quickly. It’s not hard actually. To be honest; if you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with shooting something it’s as easy researching the night before, and most importantly: communicating with your subject. They’ll be able to tell what looks good for the discipline, and what looks good to them (that’s more important). Kerim is a supremely agile athlete, and a really nice guy, so simply communicating what we had in mind gave him an idea of our expectations for the shoot, and he could give us feedback too. Having Naim with us was probably the most energising aspect of the day!
Ultra-running is not something I was familiar with. Further than having covered the launch of Ryan Sandes’ book; it’s safe to say that I am not regularly on the trails. Craig took us into the hills of Meerendal Wine Estate to shoot trail running with Ryan Sandes, and MTB with Hayden Brown. While I’m not a fan of snakes; knowing that you’re probably knee-deep in Cape cobras doesn’t help you feel at ease but it’s the kind of thing that you need to be aware of when you’re shooting (remember: loud noises). It’s that kind of environmental challenge that you have to cope with though. Snakes? Fire? What’s the difference in dealing with that around an athlete. I did learn that if you’re scrubbing the MTB berm you can pile a little dust there to make it look lank fluffy. Also: ask people if they allergic to whatever the hell you plan to spray on them!
Craig Kolesky first picked up a camera and started taking pictures when he was 14 years old. His trademark style with its powerful angles, and striking lighting, now graces the covers, and pages of magazines all over the world. Craig puts his success down to: “working pretty damn hard,” (he does work damn hard) and his fondness for exotic locations (and moonbags). He’s been shooting with Red Bull for longer than I can remember! Honestly, he’s one of the very best shooters (just check out his Instagram) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (and working with).
Shooting sports might not be my forte but when it comes to BMX, and breakdancing, I have at least been familiar with both on occasion. Murray is really cool, and he’s always pedalling so keeping your eyes open is about as important as keeping your finger on the trigger. I feel like my strongest conceptual shot came out of this day, and I’m really stoked to have had the opportunity to work with Murray. Man Like B, and Meaty are both Red Bull BC One winners so they make breakdancing look almost effortless but they’re both at the pinnacle of their discipline. It’s always an honour, and a pleasure, to have them on the other side of my lens!
Denis Klero found a talent for photography relatively late in life, while working as a web designer. He began to shoot images for his designs when he couldn’t find what he wanted in stock libraries, and quickly realised that creating photographs is where his passion lies. Nowadays, with his web-design behind him, he enjoys his career as an extreme-sports photographer, and he’s been shooting for Red Bull since 2007. He has travelled all around the world for his work, and considers his most memorable location to be Mount Everest, where he covered an extreme base-jumping project.
I’m not sure than I can properly express my gratitude but I know that it’s familiar to experience that feeling of inspiration after being in such an intensive academy. It’s the kind of experience that forces you to reassess your strategy, and habits, in relation to your output, and efficiency.
The McFlurry missions were a nice extra! Thank you to the team: Isabella, Marc, Jorge, and Chris.