Daniel Milchev’s Extreme Sports Shooting
Daniel Milchev flirted with photography as a child in Bulgaria. Now living in Vail, Colorado, Milchev has been a professional photographer for the past four years, focusing primarily on action sports.
Vail, and the Vail-area athletes, remain the big draw for Milchev. “There’s a lot of good skiers and snowboarders and bikers,” he says. Apart from covering the X Games, he feels he rarely needs to leave Colorado due to the abundance of extreme sports practiced throughout the state.
Milchev also is a photo educator, and posts articles and videos to the Action Photo School Web site as often as five times a week. The site is dedicated to teaching action sports photography. Milchev’s love of skateboarding and snowboarding is evident in his posts on there. “Snowboard shooting means I get to go to some really cool places. The scenery is great,” he says. “I love the sport to begin with.”
The scenery in his images are typically gorgeous, and they’re even part of his tutorial videos on Action Photo School. Typically centered on Photoshop work, Milchev coaches shooters on useful tips to improve their sports-related images in clear steps. This past August, he scored the cover of Photoshop User.
When not behind the computer, there are inherent risks with photographing snowboarding. Milchev has had athletes land on him, but aside from bruised legs, the injuries haven’t proven too extensive. His choice of lenses contributes to this hazard. “The fisheye is a pretty dangerous one,” he says, laughing.
Shooting commercial work and lifestyle work proves less dangerous, but Milchev’s subject matter is still closely tied to his love of extreme sports. His commercial work is largely sports portraits of field hockey players and gnarly footballers. His lifestyle work reflects his love of locations, with stunning natural backdrops and determined looks on faces contemplating their next physical challenge.
Milchev shoots everything from a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II for film work to his collection of Canons. The latter include a Canon EOS 1D Mark III and a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. His lenses include a Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye, a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II, a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L, a Canon 85mm f/1.2L II, and a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II. He uses Canon Speedlights and Alienbee studio flashes, Lumiquest flash modifiers and an Orbis ring flash. He triggers his lights with PocketWizard MiniTT1 units and Plus II units. He carries his gear in ClikElite backpacks.
“Ninety-nine percent of my shots are taken with flash,” Milchev says. “I use the MiniTT1’s to get the most flash sync speed out of my camera and flashes. The MiniTT1 really changed the way I think about action shots, and what’s possible. Now that I’m able to achieve higher sync speeds, I can get closer and wider than ever before and still get sharp and crispy photos. Most of the time I get the athlete to stand at the spot where he would be doing the trick, and I take couple test shots to makes sure the lighting it the way I want it. If the trick is really difficult and the athlete can try it only once or twice, I use a Sekonic L-358 to get the lighting right so I can get a perfect shot right away. Sometimes I will position the athlete so the sun is behind him and them use one flash as fill light, that’s a simple enough setup to get me great results.”
Currently, Milchev continues to educate himself about lighting, high end retouching and compositing. “I realize I need to take my work to the next level to get to the biggest clients in the action sports industry,” he says. “I’m always searching for unique angles and out-of-the-box ways to capture images. I am looking into different aspects of photography and applying all kinds of different techniques to action sports photography. At some point I thought I knew a lot. I was fine with the techniques and workflow I had. Then I started digging deeper and deeper into composition, lighting and retouching, and digital compositing. Now I feel like I don’t know anything again—which is great!”
Excited to learn new techniques and bring them to his own photography, Milchev will continue to specialize in sports photography. “I look forward to bringing my work to the next level,” he promises.