The distinguished group you see above features a major portion of the staff of the annual Sports Photography Workshop in Colorado Springs. By the end of this story, distinguished might not be the word you would choose. Yet, my hope is you will still agree with me.
Since 2006, it has been my honor to join the staff Rich Clarkson puts together for his annual Sports Photography Workshop. While there are always changes, the core members Clarkson selected return year-after-year. There is a key reason, the staff gets just as much out of the week as do the students. Along the way, we have so much fun that the teen age daughter of staff member Mark Reis turned to her mother after a comedic banter back-and-forth during his presentation and asked, “What are we? Thirteen?”
Not quite that young, but the week does bring out the youth in all of us. It has to happen or the staff and students would never be able to keep up. Days begin at eight each morning and rarely end before midnight. There are so many opportunities for the students, many now return for additional years to take part in the full range of options.
When I say students, it is important to remember these are not all high school or college-age students. Most are grownups either seeking ways to advance their current photography skills or seeking ways to break into new avenues for their sports photography. They come from all over the world to learn. For all the fun, this is also a very serious week of work.
Imagine going out with John McDonough, one of Sports Illustrated’s most storied photographers, or Mark Terrill, the Associated Press’ top sports photographer, or, yes, me to get very hands-on advice and helpful tips. This is not “stand back and watch the pros work.” I never picked up a camera the entire week. Whether I was at the cycling velodrome, a soccer match or reviewing a portfolio, each student received all the knowledge I could muster just like every instructor. I even awoke well before sunrise to go to the Rocky Mountain State Games triathlon, something I have not done since I stopped competing in those events in the early 90’s, in part due to the insane early starting times. Before long though, my blood was pumping with the same feeling I got while racing. I happily cheered on the young athletes as my large group of photographers made some outstanding images.
Colorado photographer Lucas Gilman took everyone through an adventure-filled show of his amazing adventure photography, including kayakers plummeting from the most stunning waterfalls in the world. Just getting to the sites and setting up his cameras was enough to wear me out. Richard Mackson dazzled everyone with new high-tech ways to control remote camera positions and picture delivery that he used at the Olympics for the USA Today’s photo service. Meanwhile, he works behind the scenes at BCS football games and other championships to make life better for all credentialed photographers.
Long-time Colorado Springs Gazette photographer, Mark Reis, brings an entirely different perspective that includes amazing portraits of high school athletes of the week, all of whom receive the same effort he gives while covering many Olympic games. Bob Smith sets aside his stunning wildlife photography for the week to work with the students on the importance of image storage in today’s digital world.
There were extensive lighting seminars with Joey Terrill and Robert Seale who create very different but very imaginative portraits of sport’s mega-stars. Even in the midst of the daily demands, I try to get to portions of their lighting shows and find myself learning new techniques every year.
Overseeing all this, Rich Clarkson remains a giant in the world of photography, not only for his personal photography, but for his continuing efforts to teach others even into his 80’s. With Brett Wilhelm at his side managing all the vast amounts of minutia that the Workshop demands, the week is quite a success thanks to this amazing duo.
Ron Taniwaki is on hand with cases of Nikon’s very best gear that students can use throughout the week. Indianapolis’ Roberts Camera is the pro’s first choice for equipment. The hilarious Jody Grober brings lighting and accessories for any sports need along with manufacturers’ representatives to guide everyone from arena lighting to remote camera set up that Mark Terrill detailed in one of his presentations.
If all that is not incentive enough, Sports Illustrated awarded the student voted as the winner of the Spirit of the Workshop award with a day assignment for the magazine. It does not get better than that. Brad Smith, a long-time presenter at the event and the photo editor of the magazine, could not have done more to amaze the delighted winner, Keith Allen from Wisconsin.
For newcomers Rhona Wise, Nate Gordon and Marv Watson, the week provided new insights from the varied staff. All seemed too nervous to present their work even though their credentials are impeccable. Wise works so closely with the NBA champion Miami Heat, the pendant she wears around her neck is same as the NBA championship ring Lebron James wears on his finger. Nate Gordon, a deputy picture editor for Sports Illustrated, detailed the immense amount of photography he views each day, helping students understand just how special an image needs to be to make the venerable sports magazine.
Watson detailed his work with the high-rev, amped-up world of Red Bull athletes and events that as the senior picture editor keeps him traveling the world in pursuit of the next amazing image, as long as Red Bull logos are clearly evident. With his British accent, love of cricket and charming personality, Watson was a great fit and quickly became the butt of many a joke over the need for Red Bull branding. That led to a final day highlight that kept the students and staff laughing harder than I can remember in a long, long time.
After morning presentations, the staff critique the student’s previous day’s work. Any criticism comes with tips to improve the photo and a joke or two to keep spirits high. The capper to the last day’s session came from student Michael Pierce. With cans of every Red Bull drink currently available, Pierce approached each staff member asking them to pose for a picture of their choice while making fun of Watson’s prize product.
After a week of intense work, everyone was more than ready to cut loose, and in my case relieve themselves, at Marv’s expense. Love them or hate them, it was a hilarious hit. Do not let any of this insanity keep you from planning to attend next year’s workshop. In fact, I hope it makes you want to join in the fun. You will never regret all that you learn, meeting new friends and the laughter you will share with some of the very best. I am already looking forward to next year and the chance to meet you.