You are pretty recognizable in Toronto, as well as within the Raptors organization, but most probably Polish NBA fans, maybe except for the Raptors diehard fans, have never heard of you. Please tell them about yourself – who you are, what you do? Tell them about your work.
I’m a 23 year old photographer and graphic designer based out of Toronto, Canada. Over the years I have worked for companies such as TSN (ESPN Canada), Yahoo Sports Canada, and now the MLB. Along with working for these companies I have freelanced and being hired to work on projects for companies such as Sportsnet, SLAM magazine, Red Bull, and Canon just to name a few.
Who hires you? Is there anyone who evaluates your work? Someone who decides which shots are good and can be published, and which are not good enough.
Currently working for the MLB, and in jobs previous, all of my photo work has been strictly for social media. Usually myself or someone else working on the desk select which photos to post on social while I’m working. My job is to take photos while I’m at the games and make them accessible for the team to post.
Is this your full-time job? Do you make a living off it?
Right now both photography and graphic design is my full time profession. I enjoy the balance of both and make a living off of freelancing and contract work.
Take us through the stages of your career. What was your story, your journey that brought you where you are right now?
I first got my start in photography in 2015 in the music scene as a concert photographer. I grew my portfolio shooting local bands and acts and eventually worked my way up to shooting bigger acts such as Drake, Tyler the Creator, and Alexisonfire in my first year of shooting. I continued to shoot for online music publications in order to build up my portfolio. During the same time I was still in school and had graphic design as a passion and hobby of mine. I continued to make designs and post them to my social media. In the fall of 2016 my work was sene from somebody at TSN social media department. To make a long story short I was able to land an internship as a social media graphic designer and content producer which led to a job with the company. I used to get sent to events to cover for social media, so I used to bring my camera along with me. From there I continued to bring my camera to the events that I got assigned to and it eventually led me to covering the Raptors with a media pass of my own for TSN. Fast forward a couple years later to April of 2019, where I accepted a position at Yahoo Sports Canada as a social content producer. It was pretty much the same role I had at TSN. I am fortunate that the Raptors won the championship and I was able to be there for the journey of them winning the title and documenting pretty much every came through my lens. At the end of 2019 the company made cuts to the staff and I was unfortunately laid off. I quickly made the most of my layoff and landed a position with the MLB and was excited to start my next step in the world of baseball. Currently the season has been put on hold due to Covid-19. I have pivoted my role and am doing work for the MLB’s social design team.
What came first – sports or photography?
Fell in love with sports at the age of nine with the game of hockey because of my cousins. Grew up loving all sports, including hockey, baseball, and basketball. It wasn’t until my later high school days that I fully immersed myself into the Raptors fanbase.
I’m sure working with the NBA players, gives you a lot of satisfaction. What’s thedownside of this job?
It has got to be the access. Where you’ll be able to shoot from, if you’re not working for a major media outlet, how you can get into the games to shoot, etc.
What is the next level for you? Where and what is the ceiling in your business?
Next level has got to be working on a personal level for players. Having players personally reach out to me wanting them to have me shoot their games, events, and just anything behind-the-scenes.
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You took a picture, which will go down in the NBA history. Kawhi’s dunk on Giannis during the last year’s Easter Conference Finals. I have three questions here. Can you somehow prepare for this type of shots, anticipate that something is coming? My guess is that you take lots of pictures and then choose the best one. How does it feel when you see your picture going viral around the world and is writing its own history in the league’s chronicles? But at the same time how does it feel when people then download, share and repost your photos, and you have nothing of it, on most of the occasions you’re name is not even mentioned.
The key is always being prepared, my camera settings stay the same throughout the duration of the game. Further, it is important to always be focused on the action and be ready to take photos at all times. There’s definitely luck and timing behind all the great photos that are taken. In terms of choosing the best ones, sometimes it’s not as obvious, but I always look for photos that showcase emotions and tell a story. With the social media we live in, pictures are often shared without credit and it comes with the territory. As long as people are not profiting off of my work, I am not too pressed about it.
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How many pictures do you take per match on average, how many of them do you actually publish?
Depending on the game 500-800 photos and depending on what photos are taken. Working with the MLB now, the photos are stored and archived in a database. The teams, league, and players can all access the photos. So there isn’t really a set amount of what gets published on a game to game basis.
What are your pre-game routines? I’ve watched your work in Toronto and I know you like to “catch” players during the warm-ups. You’re on the floor waiting for the right shot, right moment. What do you do later during the game, during the halftime, after the game?
Usually arrive to the arena / ballpark 3 hours before the game start. Gather photos of players arriving, warming up, and anything interesting happening before game action. Pre-game is a really good to time to gather content that does well on social media. These photos are quick to share and could go viral. For examples, shoes / outfit a player is wearing, pre-game interactions with fans, etc.
How does it look like from the technical perspective? What do you bring with you to the game? A laptop, which you keep in the media room. What else? Extra batteries, extra lenses? Two cameras?
My typical setup is two cameras, the Canon 1DX11 + Canon 5DMK4 along with a 300mm lens, 70-200mm lens, and a 35mm lens. Along with the gear is my MacBook Pro that I do all my editing on and my iPhone which I use to get photos up in real time. Accessories include spare batteries, memory cards, cables, and lens wipes. I like to keep my gear bag as light as possible and never bring anything that I don’t need.
What’s the most difficult part of taking sports pictures?
Definitely making sure everything is sharp and in focus. There’s a lot of things that go with taking a technically “good” photo. You got to make sure your settings are right before capturing game action. There’s many cases where photos can be out of focus, or not sharp enough, or have a fan/referee get in the way.
On average, how many times per game do you curse because of not being able to capture something you wanted?
Depends on the significance of the game. There’s maybe one or two times I miss something that I should have gotten, but that’s on the rarer side of things.
The list of players you have captured is long and impressive. Is there anyone left in the NBA who you’re still chasing?
The one player that comes to mind is Damian Lillard, in my short time shooting the NBA, I still have yet to shoot Dame and the Portland Trailblazers.
What is your philosophy in sports photography? What are you trying to catch, what do you want to show, express, emphasize?
I always tell people “storytelling” is my biggest focus. I always have the storylines in mind before arriving to the arena. Storytelling showcases everything from action, emotion, and overall sums up what has transpired in the game. So beyond the flashy plays.
A recipe for a quality picture – good camera, good angle, good timing, luckiness, photographer’s talent? A combination of everything?
I would say a good combination of everything. The technology in camera’s these days help get the pictures that we see today. The tools help good photographers be even better. I always tell people my camera definitely helps get the results that I strive for.
Your top 5 NBA related pictures you’ve taken so far?
Top 5 are: Kawhi Game 7 buzzer beater, Fred VanVleet scream in Game 6 of the finals, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan embracing for the first time after DeMar was traded, RJ Barret’s first NBA game in Toronto with “Toronto” framed in the picture, and Kawhi shot over Embiid in Game 4.
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Do you have any guru photographer you look up to?
Growing up I didn’t have any idols or photographers that I look up to. To this day I can’t really say I have any still, but I always admire and appreciate the content being produced from around the sporting world.
I said at the beginning that both your name and your work are being known in the business. Now it’s the time to show off a little bit who’s following you on social media platforms? I know that not only the NBA players recognize you, celebrities as well. Drake is following you on Instagram, right? Who else?
Along with Drake, a few Raptors follow me on Instagram including Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher. Aside from that I can’t really tell you that there are any other celebrities that follow me.
Do you have a gallery where people can physically see your pictures? Are you planning on organising any exhibition of your works?
No physical galleries in place right now, but during last summer myself along with photographer Charlie Lindsay held a panel discussion about what it was like photographing the NBA Finals and had our work featured on the walls of the space we had the event in.
Are the sports pictures the only genre you work with?
For me it’s music that is my other passion and I still actively photograph concerts and work with local artists and help with their branding. If I wasn’t working in sports, I would pursue to be a touring photographer with an artist / band.
Is it even possible to take a great sports picture with a smartphone?
The smartphone will definitely limit your capabilities in terms of the technology that’s built into it, but you can still get pretty good results. With a lower shutter speed you may not get the tack sharp results a DSLR will give you, but will for sure be usable and can do well on social media.
How is the city of Toronto doing during these days?
The city of Toronto and the rest of Canada is on lockdown for the past 2 months. Business are slowly starting to open up but the curve has yet to be flattened. With the weather starting to get nicer, people are still out and about not practicing social distancing. As it stands now, I can’t for see a sporting event in Toronto for a really long time. It’s hard to picture what Scotiabank Arena or what Rogers Centre will look like when it goes back to “normal”.
What did the Raptors title mean to you?
Having being born in 1996, I haven’t been able to witness a Toronto sports team win a championship, so it was really special to be to apart of history. Knowing that people will remember the Raptors championship run and title through my photos bring joy to me and will definitely live in my portfolio for years to come. It also showed me that I can perform at a high level and turn over some amazing images.
What advice would you give to people who are starting their adventure with photography?
Two pieces of advice, keep shooting and posting your work and networking. Both of those things have gotten me to where I am today. You never know who will come across your work. With social media being the centrepiece of how media and the sports world operates today, it would be silly not to utilize it. It allows you to post your work while also allowing you to network with people and create connections that could lead to potential opportunities.
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