It’s and honor to be back on Scott’s blog, and if you’re here reading this, I hope you are as big of a fan of Scott as I am. “Thanks” is never enough for someone I have learned so much from.
As we are all hopefully sitting safely and healthy in our homes, it is my hope that we all are taking time to reflect on the people and work that helped us get to where we are today. Scott is certainly on that short list for me. If you take nothing else away from reading this, be kind to people, regardless of who they are.
Here is a throwback to 2009 when I first met Scott and was literally a nobody just trying to take pictures of some sports. The story of how this photo even came to be is great, but that is for some other time.
I have been a sports photographer for almost 15 years (what?!), and I just finished up my first season as a staff photographer for the Tennessee Titans. No job is without its bumps and issues, but this is truly a dream job. I dreamt of working for an NFL franchise since the day I picked up a camera and its crazy to sit here thinking about how wild the journey has been to get here.
This first year took me with our team to the AFC Championship game and was one of the most challenging and most fun seasons I’ve had. And this offseason will certainly go down as one of the most memorable of my life, but that is probably the same for all of us.
I would love to impart some wisdom or share something that will be helpful to everyone who reads this, but my truth is probably not much different from many of you with everything going on in the world right now… I’m afraid of the future, I’m afraid for my job, I have been told to work from home but I’m not sure if I am doing it right, or that I am being as helpful to my coworkers as I would like to be.
I’m a photographer after all, I should be making pictures right? I have made some pictures and have plans for some other things to help, but it’s a strange feeling not being able to leave your house and go create.
The joy I have felt in this strange time is the community of photographers around me. As a whole, sports photographers have a reputation as being a curmudgeon-y group of grumps who are somehow always mad about something.
But the truth I have discovered is that while those people exist, they don’t speak for all of us. There are so many great people who help each other in times of need and want to see each other succeed. No other time have I seen it more than now when most should be grumpier than ever, but they are not. So I salute our industry as a whole, especially in these times of uncertainty.
I don’t have much else to say or add to this week, but if you have some time and have some questions, shoot me a message over on Instagram or email me and I would be happy to catch up with any of you!
I met Lyrah (Kathleen Warner) on twitter. Honestly I forgot when exactly. She thought my videos were cool and I liked her music. She asked if I’d be down to direct a video. I’m not sure if she knew I hadn’t made one before, but I said yes. My skills directing product and brand videos could translate right? Plus I have friends that have made music videos and I occasionally volunteered for WDMV which connected me with plenty of talented directors I could ask for advice. Plus there’s always YouTube right?
We had our first official meeting about this video on November 9th 2019. The single and video dropped last week on March 18th 2020. Hella great response so far. It made it to COLORSXSTUDIOS Song of the Day, was featured in the Nightcap Apple Music playlist and the best part – friends and strangers have told us so many nice things. Also as of writing this, zero dislikes on YouTube. Now that I’ve said it though someone will probably just dislike it out of spite. Oh well.
We started with a meetup in NYC to talk about the project and outlined the details on Dropbox Paper. We started with her overall aesthetic, vibe of the song, and narrative in the lyrics. Over the next couple of weeks we added moodboards, references, and outlined a storyboard based on the lyrics. Also iMessage. Hella ideas and references exchanged back and forth. I was a lil afraid but just went for it and asked lots of questions and showed her things I found interesting. This helped us narrow things down for the video and get on the same page. Even though we never worked with each other before this we understood how to project manage the hell out of this because of our respective professional experience. Then we settled on a date in LA for the shoot and worked backwards from there.
I have to mention a lot of music videos don’t operate on this long of a timeline. I heard if Gucci Mane has a song Wednesday night he wants a video for then the video will be done and out Saturday night. This was a completely indie production between me and the artist Lyrah so we made up our own process and rules. Also we both worked our respective jobs while making this project happen.
In hindsight our storyboard was very ambitious. We had two different worlds, choreography, freestyles, scenes with extras, performance scenes, and several locations we wanted to shoot in. Also styling, props, make-up, art direction for everything. All in one day. I’d like to think I was optimistic and planning well but perhaps there was more naivety and a big ass cup of Dunning-Kruger effect.
Since Lyrah already had the song recorded I found references from movies and other music videos that generally fit the storyboard and put it together. This served as our template for making the video.
My brother’s name is Green – yes we are named after colors. I enlisted his help in making the choreography for after the chorus. He’s hella dope, just check out his Instagram or Tik-Tok. He can move. He filmed himself doing all 3 parts and then cut it together and did hella masking to plan out the blocking. What a pro.
The crew would be myself, my brother and my friend Carl. Green worked with and for a lot of YouTubers in LA so he knew how to operate on set. My friend Carl also came on as DP and gaffer. I met him partying in Hong Kong during study abroad almost 10 years ago. I don’t know why but I remember he had a bowtie and suspenders on. He’s the only one that actually went to film school and that made a huge difference on set. My friend John also showed up to take BTS pics and hang. He’s the one to thank for the beautiful non-iPhone images you get to look at while reading this.
Welcome To The Endless World Of Photo Manipulation
I started my creative journey 20 years ago, when I got my first copy of Photoshop as a birthday gift. It was a time of no YouTube, really slow dial-up internet connection, and not so many places to learn Photoshop from.
So, I needed to learn it on my own.
I practiced a lot, experimenting with the tools and having fun with Photoshop.
The first tools I learned how to use were the Magic Wand Tool and Lasso Tool. With those two tools I was able to select and extract objects from scanned photos. And that was how I made my first photo manipulation. My father standing in the mountain near the camp fire with a rifle in his hand.
That was the time when I opened a door to the world of endless possibilities.
The photo manipulation world is such a great place to be, because you can do whatever you want. The only limitation is your imagination, and the knowledge to use the tools necessary to turn your imagination into reality.
Today I will walk you through the process of making a photo manipulation. I will tell you what is important to know to be able to create a realistic result, and how to make your life easier by following some general rules.
Wow. What a wild time we’re living in. Whether by government or corporate mandate, or simply by your own personal choice, it’s entirely possible that as you read this you’re more or less stuck at home. There’s also a strong possibility that you may continue to be stuck at home for a number of weeks.
Now listen, I’m no expert on health science or politics; I’m a photographer. I’m not here to add to your increasingly anxiety-inducing news feeds, please trust me on that. Instead I’m here to simply offer some uplifting suggestions – from one creative to another.
So what advice could I possibly be here to give you in this strange and trying time? Well, since you’re reading this on one of the world’s most popular photography blog, it’s pretty safe to assume that you’re a photographer, artist, or creative person.
Now this may be a general assumption, but I’ve found the vast majority of artistic-minded people typically have difficulty creating structure in their day-to-day lives, especially when taken away from their daily routine. Routine is extremely important for productivity, and for most people, their routine is often built around a traditional 9-5 job.
I’m lucky enough to have made a living with photography for nearly ten years. During that time I’ve had to create my own day-to-day structure, come up with my own schedule, and be my own boss. It sounds great (and it is), but the reality of it is, if you’re not wired a certain way, you may find yourself sitting around wasting your days, unsure of how to best spend your time.
So now you’re at home, looking for something to do and faced with endless possibilities. So what to do… what do to…
You could certainly binge every episode of The Office again (there are 201 episodes, approximately 140 of them good ones).
You could see how many hours you can sleep in a day, and then try to break that record.
You could finally take the time to read Stephen King’s “The Stand” (or maybe stick to the one about the clown).
Or – now hear me out on this one – you could take the extra time at home to really hunker down and improve your craft as a photographer.
There are a million things you could do to improve your photography, but in the essence of keeping this blog from reaching the length of…again…. Stephen King’s “The Stand,” we’re going to concentrate on just 6 concepts.
So without any further ado, let’s get to it.
Your creativity is a muscle. In order for that muscle to grow, it needs to be exercised frequently. Maybe you had an upcoming photography workshop cancelled or rescheduled, or perhaps you had to postpone working with your typical clients. If this is the case, don’t use it as an excuse to not shoot. In fact, it’s the perfect time to think about what you can shoot in and around your own house.
Arguably known as the oldest team sport in the world dating back to 247BC, the Persian army used polo to train the elite cavalry before conquering through the many kingdoms in the Middle East.
Word of mounted armies quickly spread across the eastern hemisphere, soon adopting this training method as the most noble of pastimes by kings and emperors, thus giving it the nickname “The Sport of Kings.”
Coming from an extreme sports background, I had no idea what I was getting into when I found an opportunity to make pictures of an equine sport that I knew little of, other than the cool silhouette on my cologne bottle.
After years of hanging around a polo club on Sundays, learning the sport, making pictures, failing on pictures, and sharing the best, I am now into my third season as the official club photographer at Sarasota Polo Club located in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
Equestrian sports can be tricky dealing with two completely different species of athletes working together as one unit; but rewarding if you know the basic guidelines on how to make a great horse action picture. These five tips might come off as Polo specific, but many things can be applied to other sports or genres of photography.
Start The Day Following Action Outside Of Your Viewfinder
Get a feel for the pace of the game and you’ll start seeing things happen consistently, which is where you can hone in on making a particular image. The overall atmosphere will dictate how fast the game is played with important details like player proficiency handicap, crowd size, weather, and time of day all to be considered. Understanding these factors will help when planning on your vantage point to make a stellar image.
Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
Horse grooms are usually found on a corner of an end-zone, anticipating mallet changes and ready for athletes to come storming in and switch horses. This can make a unique horse switch image. Know if you are in a prime zone for hit flying balls coming your way.
Wind can play a crucial factor in how far back these world-class athletes will hit the ball, sometimes soaring more than 60 yards before making it through the goal posts. Be cautious of the side boards and the safety zones, which are meant for athletes to slow and turn horses before returning to play.
The end zones make for great images but is the most dangerous place to be as you usually have multiple horses nudging and racing in at speeds of 30mph battling for possession all the way to the goal line.
Tell The Story
Move and make different images. Standing in one place will really get you the same types of action, but moving to a different part of the field can have huge benefits. The regulation polo field is the size of nearly five football fields combined, measuring in as the largest field in organized sport. That’s a lot of space where neck shots, back shots, blocks, chase-downs, and breakaways can occur.
Use the space to tell the story and take advantage of the action when it comes closest to you. Also, be on the lookout for the classic tea party hats, mallets, horse-grooms, bright colors, and champagne to make interesting images of the atmosphere of the day.
Go to USPA and learn about the game. The goal direction for each team switches after each goal is made. This is to give each team equal conditions for fair play in regard to weather and sunlight.
There are six chukkers (similar to periods) in a regulation game. Each chukker is 7 minutes and 30-second-long, with breaks in between each to allow riders to switch horses, mallets, adjust strategy, and grab a drink of water.
There is usually a halftime between the third and fourth chukker where fans walk out on the playing field and help the staff stomp down divots that the horses make when they turn and/or kick up hard. There are lots of opportunity to make different types of images.
I suggest reaching out to the club to see if they have a photographer that would be willing to go over basic club rules. Remember these clubs are all private that hold a public event on a Sunday or Friday, so the club has the final say on what is permitted and where you can photograph from.
Research horse imagery. Look at the leg/hoof placement, facial expressions of both horses and people, tack details, polo mallet, and ball location. Think about slowing the shutter way down and getting a nice motion pan.
Share Your Work
Polo clubs and players especially love to see images of themselves defining gravity and chasing a 3-1/2” diameter ball down a massive field. Don’t be afraid to tag the club or athlete when you make a great image. Who knows, it could lead to the horse owner reaching out and wanting to purchase a specific print for their barn or as an advertisement image to rent/sell polo ponies.
When I’m not shooting polo, I can be found on the sidelines of major sporting events as a Getty Images photographer, or photographing interior and exterior views of beautiful architecture. I also like to keep a flow of portraiture work to continue learning light and experimenting looks with new athletes.
Along with being a freelance photographer, I have been Dave Black’s first assistant and producer for the past six years, Scott Kelby’s photo assistant for over three years, Photoshop World staff and lighting producer for five years, and workshop staff with Summit Workshops since 2016.
Thank you Scott and Brad for the opportunity to voice my opinion on a sport I hold so dear to my heart. The action keeps me sharp and in-tune but the connections with the horses is what continues to bring me back.
The 2020 Sarasota Polo Season runs through April 12, 2020, with public matches held every Sunday and the last Friday of March.
Where You Can Learn With Me
Find me helping Scott at his May Hands-on Flash Workshop in Florida or at one of the upcoming Summit Workshops including Lighting and Sports where we can work on understanding light, photography tips, assistant knowledge, or general career questions. I’m always willing to sit down and help.
You can see more of Julio’s work at JulioAguilar.com, and keep up with him on Instagram and Facebook.
First, thank you to Scott and Brad for this opportunity to share a bit of my journey as a photographer. It’s my honor to be a guest on here!
As a photographer in the NFL, the title of this post is by far the most common question I receive about my job. While it is the most common, it also happens to be the most complex question to try and answer. Unlike other professions, there’s no clear-cut formula to reach any specific level of professional sports.
To be fair, it’s not a “dumb question.” Photography is a strange profession at times, and wondering how someone got where they are is perfectly normal. Often times when I meet a new shooter, I ask how they got their start or what lead them to where they are, because hearing others’ journeys is truly fascinating.
While there are no specific steps to becoming a professional sports photographer, I can offer some stories from my short career that may help when navigating this crazy business as an up and coming photographer hoping to break into the industry.
1. Just Keep Shooting (With Intent)
Original, right? Never heard that one before? I thought not.
This is my number one answer to the question, “How do you become a sports photographer?” Not only is it because that question is way too complex to answer via Instagram DM, but it is also sneakily the most obvious answer.
Repetitions and muscle memory are two small keys to succeeding in sports photography, and they are things that just happen over time. So, if you just keep shooting with intent, you’ll end up just fine. Shooting with intent varies from “just shooting,” because shooting with intent shows that you have a direction you are traveling or something you’re trying to achieve.