If you are anything like I was growing up as an aspiring photographer, then you might be curious as to how the ads come about in all of the magazines. Sure, it’s obvious that someone shoots a photo and then it shows up in the mags but there is clearly a lot more to it then that. How does the photographer get picked? How much does the photographer get paid? Does the rider get paid? How does a company decide on which team rider gets the ad? Which magazine will it go in? If I remember correctly I got lucky and the first legit ad that I got in a magazine was an old Haro ad of a rider from Ohio by the name of Dustin Bauer. I used to live/ride with him in Upstate New York and he ended up getting on Haro during that time. One thing led to another and the next thing I know I had a two-page spread ad for Haro in Ride and I honestly couldn’t have been more stoked about it. Fast-forward to now and the newest ad that I shot happened to be for Stolen and features the rail wizard Chris Brown. Anyone that knows Chris knows that he has a true do-or-die mentality and will double tire, feeble and manual round rails all day. Read on to find out how the ad came about from start to finish and learn what happens when you push your luck.
I got the text from Chris to let me know that he was going to be riding for Stolen and that they needed him to shoot an ad for an upcoming issue of Ride UK Magazine. I have been shooting with Chris for years now and it’s always a good time to kick it and just catch up and that was the plan. We met up at a warm-up plaza in Los Angeles and cruised around for a bit. Chris actually just chilled and skated around while I rode but that’s just how he does it, fresh out of the gate ready to go. The spot was about a 15-minute drive from where we were so after a bit we headed out to get it done. As I followed them I had the thoughts running through my head about getting kicked out, about not getting to ride the spot from the beginning or just something going wrong. Call me a pessimist but after dealing with any and all situations over the years you gotta’ be ready for whatever.
We showed up to the spot and started to check it out and take in the scene a bit. This is when the rider kind of eyes up the trick and when I start searching out angles, thinking about what lens I want to shoot with, and how I’m going to light it up. This is also the time when riders sticker up their bikes, loosen up and make sure shit is on point before they get down. Although it’s chill to shoot with someone you are familiar with it’s stressful to know that you have to produce a useable ad photo with everything riding on this one trick. Like I said, it was for an upcoming ad but what I didn’t mention yet is that the ad was due within the next few days. That means, the photo had to be shot, edited, sent in, laid out and print-ready as soon as possible. So the pressure was on to make things happen.
Once I was all set up Chris was ready to go after a few looks. When it comes down to it, the rider goes through their own mental process when it comes to shooting photos so I just try to feel them out as much as I can and be as ready as I can at all times. If something isn’t right, I make sure to stop them and fix it first. Some tricks are not necessarily easy to be doing more than once as we found out the hard way during this shoot. Without warming up at the park, and without doing a single double peg or anything Chris fired out the photo you see in the ad first go. It was a “one-and-done” type scenario and that was a wrap. But, when it comes to ad photos I like to really put in the work to make them the best they can be to do the trick justice along with the rider.
Needless to say you can guess what happened next. We looked at the photo, looked over the footage and Chris decided to send it again to see if he can make it look any better. This is something that as a photographer I deal with all of the time. It’s a battle of making a perfect photograph, and pushing the limits simultaneously. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, it didn’t. Chris got worked on the next try and slammed into a van that was parked right in front on the street. The next go he landed it again but it wasn’t as good as the first time. The last and final try right before he went a guy came out of the apartment building behind him after offering him some water and said “good luck.” Now, any rider out there will tell you that if you are ready to send a trick and last minute get distracted it throws your whole mindset off. That’s exactly what happened to Chris and next thing we know he was laying on the ground writhing in pain. He missed his front peg and ended up swan-diving straight to his elbow, wrist, hip…fuck it, he went down with the ship and body slammed the ground.
Chris was in pain, his wrist was jacked up, his elbow was swelling up like crazy and he was done, that was a wrap. The shitty part about all of that was the fact that if we all would have just decided that the first photo was on point and left it at that, none of this would have happened. That is the part about pushing your luck. I know Chris personally, and always try to help him push his limits and get shit perfect but at what cost? This is where it really comes into perspective about being a responsible photographer. I hate seeing someone get worked, and I hate seeing someone get worked on my behalf. Sure, we all decided it would be good if he tried more as a group and sure, he didn’t have to do it again at all if he didn’t want to but that’s what BMX is all about. It’s about living in that moment, and laying it on the line. That is also the exact reason why I do what I do. Documenting that moment in time is the most amazing part of being a photographer.
So, at the end of the shoot, we realized a few things. One, we got the shot we needed for the ad so we were pumped. Two, the photo we used for the ad was the first photo we shot where Chris laid down the hanger with ease. Three, his whole jacked up wrist, swell-bow, hipper, and overall sore body could have been avoided if we didn’t push our luck. The lesson? Want to be a successful photographer? Learn how to properly walk the razor-thin line in between documenting what happens and leaving it at that, and helping the rider be motivated to get the perfect photo. Each one comes with a risk. The first one, you risk not getting the shot just as you imagined it, which can be frustrating as a photographer, and the second one you risk the rider getting worked on your behalf. Either option is stressful but that’s just part of the job.
Some of you are probably still looking for answers to a few of the questions I proposed in the intro so lets see if we can get some of those answered.
1. How does the photographer get selected to shoot the ad?
Well, typically either the rider of the company will pick someone out to get the job done. The rider usually has someone that he likes to shoot with, or wants to work with and hits them up personally. Sometimes though photographers like myself send in photos to companies on the regular and once in a while those specific photos will get used for ads. So, although it wasn’t necessarily set up to be an ad from the beginning it ends up as one so that’s a little different. Still a good feeling to get an ad that way as well.
2. How much does the photographer get paid?
Wouldn’t you love to know? Well, I just actually got an email about this recently and have plans to put together a future column dedicated to “Photographers Etiquette” and this will definitely be covered in there so keep an eye out for that. But, I will tell you that personally I sell each photo on a case-by-case basis. It all depends on the size of the company, what it will be used for, and how much time and effort went into creating the actual image. I try to keep things as honest and as fair as possible, which I think is the best way to build a solid relationship with a client and a great way to get them to come back for more.
3. Does the rider get paid?
This all depends on the company or companies that the rider rides for. For example, if Stolen has a program where the riders get paid every time they have a photo in a magazine, having your own ad show up doesn’t count. But, if another company you ride for pays for photos and their logo is visible, more often than not, the rider will get a check for it. Now, every company is different so keep that in mind but that is why the whole stickering your bike up makes a difference. Sure, it might seem lame to throw on a few stickers before shooting a photo but when it comes out in print, and that same sticker gets you a check for a few hundred bucks it quickly becomes worth it.
4. How does the company decide on which rider gets the ad?
Again, every company is different but typically it depends on which product is being promoted as well as who’s healthy and also who is around during deadlines. Sometimes deadlines sneak up on companies and they need to act fast and other times ad photos are planned out weeks/months in advance. I guess I would just call it a case-by-case basis.
5. Which magazine will the ad go in?
If you are lucky enough to be getting a print ad from a legit company, you can for sure bet that it is going into one of the major BMX magazines. In this case, I knew it was going to be for Ride UK so even before shooting I knew we had to get something solid and print-worthy. It all depends on who the companies advertise with, and which mags they support. Companies can go issue to issue meaning you can just run ads whenever they want. Some companies sign on with 6 months contracts and some even for the entire year, which means they need at least (depending on the frequency of the mag) a new ad every month.
Here is the final edited version of the photo before it got turned into the ad. I was pumped on how it all came out, and happy with the ad for sure and honored to work with the crew over at Stolen. They made the process pretty smooth and painless and everything worked out in the end. I also want to send a big shout-out to Chris for being down to send it and chase the perfect photograph with me.
Camera- Canon 1D Mark II N
Lens- Canon 15mm 2.8 fisheye
Lighting- Two Einstein E640’s with Vagabond Mini battery packs
Three Pocket Wizard Transceivers
Edited in Photoshop on a Macbook Pro
Location- Los Angeles, California
Rider- Chris Brown
That’s all for now, hopefully you learned a thing or two from today’s column. One thing that is for sure is that every time you set out to shoot, expect the unexpected. It’s the only way you will survive as a photographer. On that note, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the forty-eighth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.
Check out past editions of Through The Lens below!