I’ve been really lucky this week, and have managed to bag an interview with Jordan Weeks, an incredibly talented sports photographer from the UK.
Jordan has been commissioned for photography gigs all across Europe, and he caught my eye last week when I stumbled upon some of his brilliant surf photography – some examples of which are further in this post.
Anyway, enough of my rambling; on to the interview (after one of Jordan’s great action portraits)!
Hi Jordan, and thanks a lot for taking the time to do an interview for us. I love your photography, so it’s really exciting to be able to talk to you and share your work with the readers of Learning The Light. Anyways, I suppose I should get to my first question! And that questions is this: What drew you to action/sports photography?
I first got into action sports photography when I was at college studying photography. I was also a keen surfer at the time. One day, the surf was set to be huge, the weather conditions were perfect, and I decided to head down to my local beach for a surf. However, I had forgotten my surfboard, and only had my camera with me. So I started to shoot some pictures from the cliffs as these massive waves smashed onto the shore. Within a few weeks, these images were published in a local surf magazine, and I haven’t stopped shooting since.
One of my favourite shots of yours is the one of a female running through a field (above). I love the low angle and inherent drama. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you got the shot?
Yeah, this was one of those photo shoots which worked out really well. I was out with my girlfriend, and had planned to take some ‘self assignment’ portfolio photos of her running. The plan was to get a series of action and scenic photos, using as little camera kit as possible (I usually end up taking too much kit with me on photo shoots). They were all shot using the available natural light, no reflectors or flash units. I felt that this technique would help to give a sense of natural freedom to the sport of running – and I think it worked out well. But I still continue to carry too much camera kit around!
You have some fantastic cycling photography on your website. For anyone trying to capture what must be such a difficult subject – a fast moving cyclist – can you give them any tips?
Yeah sure… it can be tough tracking cycling with your camera, especially road cyclists as they can be traveling at speeds in excess of 40mph on the flat. I think one of the best tips which I can give, is that if you plan to photograph the subject from the side, from a static position, as the subject moves past, make sure you pan with the subject as you take the shot. Learning how to pan your camera correctly can be tough, but once you get the hang of it, and successfully move the camera in time with subject, the results can be fantastic. If however, you are shooting a cyclist from an angle or head on as they come toward you, i’d recommend opening the aperture right up to f2.8 if possible, in order to blur out the background, which in turn will bring the viewers eye to the main subject.
Let’s cut to some gear talk. What’s your favourite lens for sports photography, and why?
Funnily enough I get asked this question quite often, and the answer is not what most would expect. I typically use my 300mm f2.8 lens for surfing shots, but my favourite lens of all is my Canon 17-40mm lens. Yes, I know it’s a wide angle lens, but when I shoot sports, I like to get up close and personal where possible. Sometimes this has brought me close to danger, and I’ve nearly lost my camera as a result, so I wouldn’t recommend getting close with anything too fast or dangerous. But for set-up running and cycling shots, when you can speak with your subject and tell them what you plan to do, the resulting images from getting a wide angle perspective can be awesome.
I love your surfing photography; you have so many stunning shots on your online portfolio. Are you a bit of a surfer yourself? How do you manage to get such close-up action shots without risking drowning your equipment?
Some of my surf shots were captured from the water using a custom built water housing which was made for my camera. You have to get seriously close with this set up as it uses a 15mm fisheye lens. So working with surfers who you know are good at their sport is an important factor. When shooting from the beach or shore, I use a Canon 300mm f2.8 lens with a 2x convertor (if required). This telephoto lens setup brings me right in on the action, and is super fast at auto focusing fast moving subjects too, which is a must for any good sports photo.
What’s been your most challenging photography assignment?
I remember photographing at the IronMan triathlon event in nice, france, back in 2005. It was during a heat wave, and I had been commissioned to photograph all day. There was no shade on the Promenade Des Anglaise, which is where I had to shoot from. I stood there all day, heavily loaded with all of my camera kit, in the scorching sun. I was sun burnt, dehydrated and tired. But I still got the shots which I needed, and the end client was still pleased with the results.
What tips would you give to someone who would like to break in to the professional photography world?
I think any type of photography requires you to have an interest in what you are shooting. I photograph what I love. If i’m not photographing the sports which I work with, it’s usually because i’m taking part in them myself. I love my subject matter, and I honestly believe that it is this passion and understanding of my subject, that enables me to produce a better quality of work.
Do you have a favourite type of sports photography that you really love to shoot?
Anything that makes me feel alive really. I try to capture the adrenalin and excitement in every sports photograph which I take. If I don’t feel excited about the subject, I probably wouldn’t shoot it. I have worked with runners, cyclists, surfers, triathletes, swimmers and much more. My subjects are usually all involved in outdoor sports, and their sports typically have an element of adventure. This is why I use the tagline ‘ADVENTURE. Captured and Delivered’ for my photography business.
I love your off-camera flash work. What equipment do you use?
I actually use standard flash units for these images. I don’t have any fancy strobes and generators. I use just one Canon Speedlite. It’s a technique which I use very little, but when I do, I have always been happy with the results, as have my clients. I tend to use the flash unit bare (no soft boxes of umbrellas) and point it directly at my subject, I then under expose the background of the photo by maybe 2-3 stops, and expose the subject (which is flash illuminated) at the correct exposure. This makes the background seem dark a dramatic and leaves the foreground or subject exposed as normal. The technique involves a little trial and error, but once you get the hang of it, the photographs produced can look great!
If you could work alongside any photographer in the world – past or present – who would it be and why?
I would have to choose Chase Jarvis. Chase is a commercial photographer from Seattle. I think his work is fantastic and I often find myself turning his way for inspiration.
Thanks again to Jordan for doing this interview for us! You can check out more of Jordan’s work at www.jordanweeks.com, and you can also keep up to date with him via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Google+. He also has a great newsletter, where he shares lots of photography tips; I thoroughly recommend subscribing to it.