Garth Milan, From Rider to Shooter
Now based in Orange County, California, Garth Milan has moved around the United States since childhood, living everywhere from upstate New York to Puerto Rico to Florida to Washington State. After attending high school in California, he went to Cal State Long Beach to study Photojournalism.
At the age of 19, Milan was a motocross rider and nearly achieved professional rider status. A string of broken bones and other injuries made him reevaluate the odds of earning a living in the sport. Well-into photography by that point, he easily slid into a transition from participant to photographer. “It wasn’t just motocross, either,” he says. “It was other sports like wakeboarding, which was another one I was really into.”
As a heavy participant in the Southern California sports scene, his friendships with many top athletes helped facilitate his access to shooting various sports. “I could tag along as a friend with a camera. From there I got more serious about photography and started to enjoy it more and more,” Milan explains.
While attending college in the nineties, the school was still teaching film and darkroom printing. He shot for a daily paper called The Forty-Niners run out of the Journalism Department. He also freelanced for motocross and wakeboarding magazines.
After leaving school, Milan had to reeducate himself by learning digital photography workflow. He built his digital chops while shooting sports wherever he could. With a friend, he started and ran a magazine called Transworld Motocross until 2008. That’s when he, the Managing Editor, and the Art Director left to form Medium Creative Group. Milan has been working there ever since. Servicing sports and lifestyle clients, the agency provides boutique design and photography.
Working with clients the young agency is attracting, Milan has not only been shooting sporting events such as everything from volleyball to car racing, but the products those clients, such as Red Bull, are known for. Red Bull also sponsors less-conventional sports, such as air races and water skiers jumping outrageous ramps at night, which Milan covers.
Originally known for motocross work, Milan finds himself enjoying product photography more and more. “I feel I like shooting new things because it’s always a new challenge,” he says. “When I shot products in school and in the early days of the magazine, it was always film and medium format and Polaroids. Now it’s really fun because we can experiment so quickly. You can be more creative in a quick and timely manner, which is cool. You don’t have to wait for Polaroids or run out of film. You can just shoot away and move the lights a lot more. There’s a lot more for me to experiment with.”
Strictly a Canon shooter, Milan’s main body is a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. He owns a wide variety of Canon lenses which get him through most assignments.
For lighting, Milan uses an Elinchrom Quadro Pack and a Ranger Pack. He also owns and uses a Profoto Acute2 2400 generator. A Canon Speedlite 580EX II is employed for highlights sometimes. “I keep it pretty simple,” he says.
PocketWizard triggers are used for his off-camera lighting. Milan uses MultiMAX units and Plus II units. “I love them. I never had any issues at all,” he explains. “I consider them essential to what I do, for sure. There’s no way I could get all the stuff I get without PocketWizards. They’re an essential part of my equipment, there’s no doubt about it.”
Along with his gear, Milan claims his experience as an athlete gives him the edge he needs when covering certain sports. “It has to do with your knowledge of the sport,” he says. “The freestyle motocross guys have to do tricks and everything. They’re only in that peak action for a millisecond because it happens so fast. The guys are going at least 35, 40 miles per hour when they hit the jumps and they go up and down within a second and a half or something. You have to be really knowledgeable of what to anticipate they’re going to do, especially when you’re working with the gear I often work with: just one big powerful flash. You have to really nail that one second.”
Working out the minutia of certain shots in motocross is essential. Milan frequently has to be familiar with the rider’s style, and what both the athlete and the photographer want out of the shoot. Planning the proper angles and positioning himself accordingly is critical, along with making sure his gear is in perfect order. “From there, trying to stop that one millisecond of the time when he’s most extended is what it’s all about,” Milan says.
It appears Milan will never stop expanding, both in terms of the range of sports he’s covering and the types of clients he will cater to. His latest project is documenting a bicycle team on a cross-country tour. With the Medium Creative Group in its fourth year, they continue to grow and seek bigger assignments. No matter what sport or product, it seems Garth Milan will continue to adapt and freeze the moment at its apex.