By Feifei Sun I Photo by Christopher Starbody
Like many lensmen before him, Brett Beyer didn’t set out to become a photographer. The Brooklyn-based artist studied sculpture and installation at Bard College, where he worked mostly with metal as a welder. Without easy access to such supplies after graduation, Beyer shifted his focus to other fine art disciplines that would allow him to manipulate form and motion. First dabbling with light paintings, he eventually moved to music photography. For the past two years, he has worked as an urban sports photographer, capturing New York’s Parkour community for websites such as National Geographic Adventure. Here, Beyer shares his tips on shooting athletes, and expanding your brand.
Think Outside the Tripod.
When Beyer was assigned to shoot a group of longboard skaters for Concrete Wave magazine, he had to get creative to capture the athletes as they sped across the Williamsburg Bridge. Hooking his Canon EOS 5D Mark II onto his bike with a Magic Arm, Beyer turned the camera backward and pedaled in front of the skaters to get the shots he needed.
Get in the Inner Circle.
Approaching athletes at a park or on the street is initially hard, but you only get better with practice. “Take a day to go to the park and force yourself to talk to ten people,” Beyer advises. “As a photographer, you need to have that skill. The camera can be intimidating for people, especially in the sport culture. It’s about being comfortable around them and not being all up in their face. Access is pretty key when you’re photographing athletes. Getting to know them [with your camera in tow] helps them be comfortable around you and makes for better photos.”
Remember There is No “Perfect” Shot.
“There are millions of photos of action sports where the jump is perfect or the surfer is in the perfect wave. Look for new ways and vantage points to tell the story of what’s happening.” Beyer is influenced by rock photography and studies the work of artists like Jim Marshall and Elliott Landy. “I love their photos of musicians backstage. Athletes have a lot in common with performers, and showing their unguarded moments can really make for good portraiture.”
Master the SLR Camera.
“They have a setting called ‘burst’ mode where the camera can take multiple photos in succession so you can capture someone midair or running through the frame,” Beyer explains. “You will then have five to ten photos of the motion to pick from when you’re done.”
Get the Shutter Speed Right, Too.
“A longer shutter speed introduces blur, which can suggest motion,” Beyer says. “Low angles are good to play with because they make jumps or distances look bigger. Thinking about unique or interesting ways to take a photo of action is key.”
Photography is Fine Art Mixed with… Gadgets.
“Using a flash that you can trigger remotely from your camera allows you to freeze action or do lots of interesting things with a scene or event,” Beyer says. “PocketWizards are the best things to trigger lights remotely. You can get a Nikon SB-28 Flash on eBay for around $150. You put a PocketWizard on your camera and another one on the flash, and you have off-camera lighting. Put an umbrella bracket adaptor on the flash and then attach it to a super clamp, magic arm or a light stand. With these things you can put the flash almost anywhere.” Beyer also recommends the blog “Strobist” for other lighting tips.
Beyer and a few of his friends from the industry recently launched Mercury Syndicate, a production team that can produce music videos, photo essays, voiceovers, and other platforms for the new media age. “The iPad is really changing the way we present work, and we’re aligning ourselves so that we can offer a magazine or ad agency a one-stop shop.”
GET THE FULL SUMMER 2010 ISSUE HERE.