Dividing his time between Florida and Colorado, Chris Garrison is all about photographing extreme sports in astounding natural locations. Summers, you can find this Naples, Florida-native in his home state, shooting wakeboarders and skimboarders. In winters, he’s in Colorado, freezing the action of snowboarders, extreme skiers, and freestyle skiers. In between, he somehow finds time to shoot skateboarders.
A sports enthusiast himself, Garrison was a hockey player. When repeated knee injuries derailed his NHL dreams, he picked up a camera and began photographing his friends wakeboarding. “I went from being an athlete to taking pictures of everyone now,” he says, laughing.
We first learned about Garrison when we saw the photo above, which was chosen as the PDN Photo of the Day. The shot has gotten him a lot of attention. “That was one of those right angles, right spot,” he explains. “The guy holding the flash in the water—that guy happened to be at the right spot, holding it at the right angle.”
Garrison prefers shooting snowboarders more than anything else. While living in Orlando, he one day made the decision to move to Colorado, and did so within a week. A year and a half later, he was shooting professionally full-time. “Everyone asks me how I got there real fast,” he says. “It was mainly finding the riders and the big things, the social networking things. Like everything else, it’s being in the right place at the right time, and who you know.” He goes on to explain once you have a relationship with a rider who “makes it,” they then make it onto a team. At that point, you begin photographing the whole team.
The selling of his images of teams involves a series of steps. First, his main rider will submit Garrison’s photos to the team manger. If the manager wants to use them, he’ll buy the photos, such as for an advertisement or a magazine. For snowboarding, each magazine has its own submission process. Typically, he’ll shoot all winter season. At the end of the season, there’s a submission period. During this time, he’ll meet with senior editors as they go through photos and select what they want, including giving notes about possible color correction modifications they might suggest. Overseas magazines are examined and negotiated via FTP and email. Garrison always sends RAW files to prove the integrity of the images to editors. In this way, they can see a sequence hasn’t been altered in Photoshop. He removes dust in Lightroom, but that’s the extent of his retouching.
Sports photography is in Garrison’s blood. When asked to do weddings, or photograph engagement sessions on a beach, he always turns the jobs down. “I’ll do it for my close, close friends, but it’s nothing that really interests me for some reason,” he says. “I feel like anyone else right next to me on the beach can get the same picture if they had the same equipment. With snowboarding, wakeboarding, skimboarding, and surfing, the timing has to be right.”
Garrison’s years as an athlete himself have given him an edge in what to watch for when timing his shots. “You have the rider,” he says. “If he’s going off and backsliding, you have to know exactly when he’s going to look good in the picture—not like he’s going to die. You have to actually shoot about a half-second to a quarter-second before it, too, because the next time you see him and everything goes through his body to react and you hit the camera cell, it’s a quarter second, at least. The picture won’t get printed if the rider’s not grabbing how he’s supposed to be, or if you shot a quarter-second late, get a shot of his back and not the front. Or if your going for a sponsor picture trying to get the sponsor shots on the board and stuff.”
Currently shooting a Nikon D3 and a D2X as backup, his lenses are a 14mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and the 10.5mm fish eye. To fire his lights, he uses PocketWizard MultiMax units, exclusively, most often shooting at 1/300th, 1/400th, and 1/500th of a second. He shoots without a tripod, even when using big glass.
When shooting winter sports, to dial in his exposures, Garrison takes test shots before the riders leave for their targets. “You can make it if you’re lighting the jump up, too, and not just the rider. You can tell how the snow’s going to look by how the rider’s going to look as well. The snow is super reflective, and most of the rider’s jackets and pants are going to be bright colors that are super reflective, too. If the snow’s completely blown out, the rider’s going to be completely blown out,” he explains.
Claiming skateboarders are easier to photograph due to locations and lack of snow, he also reports hassles with authorities often present a different kind of difficulty. Skateboarders are willing to repeat jumps and moves more often than skiers are, affording Garrison multiple chances to get things right. He stresses being respectful when dealing with police as key to avoiding serious confrontations. He also swaps out memory cards in order to help preserve images in case someone demands he delete photos, or confiscates a card.
Shooting in water presents challenges unlike the snows of Colorado. When shooting the above photo, he lost a Nikon D2 when the wave crashed over his head. With water and snow sports magazines getting thinner and thinner during the recession, Garrison finds himself stretching out and photographing muscle cars in Florida. Whatever he trains his lenses on, we’re sure he’ll continue to deliver the drama he’s become known for.
Chris Garrison Photography
Chris Garrison blog
Written by Ron Egatz