If you have been checking out our Contact Wear collection you might have noticed the awesome images of our STEAKS® products in action. In case you have been wondering who took those pictures: get ready, because we have a treat for you!
Welcome to the first (and hopefully not last) sports photographer interview in our new series:
Our first interviewee is Marko Niemelä a photographer from Porvoo, Finland. All action shots of our contact wear products are from Marko, a photographer we have been working with since STEAKS® was founded in 2014.
We recently sat down with Marko to talk about all things sports photography. He is a photographer who is not a stranger to people involved in roller derby. You might have noticed his pictures from the last World Cup, where he was the tournament’s Head Photographer, or know of him from pictures from VRDL, who’s team photographer he is. Most likely you are currently admiring his shots from the A Coruña playoffs. It is hard to miss his work because he is involved in many international roller derby tournaments, which keeps him very busy. But other than being a super busy and successful sports photographer he is also a book, history and space enthusiast and a super chill and lovely, creative individual, who even has a few useful tips for photographers, who are just getting started. We hope you enjoy the interview!
How long have you been a photographer, what were your first subjects and why did you choose these subjects?
I’ve been a photographer for about 10 years now. I tried to find the right way to express myself artistically and it took a lot of hits and misses before I finally got my hands on a camera. As I live in a place that is surrounded by beautiful Finnish nature, it was quite natural to have that as a starting point. So for the first few years – I basically took photos of flowers and landscapes.
How did you get involved with roller derby photography?
About 9 years ago a friend of mine started to talk about this roller derby thing that had just landed in Finland. She was very enthusiastic about it, and when I heard that the newly formed Helsinki Roller Derby needed a new photographer (as their first one was going to be a referee for them), I needed very little persuasion to check out one of their training sessions and snap a few photos. Yeah – I was the “friend with a camera” at first.
Some years have passed since then. How did you get to the point where you are now?
It’s really hard for me to think about that one specific reason why I am where I am now. I think it’s a combination of multiple things: hard work, commitment, being social, getting some good shots here and there and yes – luck. I’ve been insanely lucky to have a very competitive home team (Helsinki) who have allowed me in their training, games, locker rooms and basically in their everyday life, which has given me chances to learn more and more.
It was easier for me to build on that solid foundation and it has most certainly made it easier to do the things I do now. Lately, hanging with Victorian RD and seeing their team spirit and dynamics has given me a fresh perspective on everything and it has been SO MUCH FUN.
As a sports photographer, you take thousands and thousands of pictures. How do you select your perfect shot? What do you consider a perfect shot?
As I am a completely self-taught photographer, the deeper knowledge of the technicalities of a photograph is somewhat limited. Therefore I mostly trust my gut feeling on a shot I get – it has to have that certain feeling to it, that passion of a moment, the intensity that makes it pop out from the mass. It could be details from a player’s face when they are focusing on the next jam, or it could be the intensity of a jammer pushing a wall or the blocker trying to maintain the defensive formation. When I get the tactical aspect of roller derby combined with the athleticism and emotions, that – to me – usually makes a perfect shot. One of my best shots ever came from the last Roller Derby World Cup, when I managed to catch Team Australia’s Sarah Chambers pushing the formidable Team USA wall in the final game. I think that shot captured all aspects I try to get in a roller derby photo pretty well.
Roller Derby photographers often visit many tournaments a year. Depending on the number of teams attending they will have barely finished their post-tournament edit before already having to pack their bags for the next event.
Creating constant output can be very tiring. All creatives need to recharge their batteries: Where do you pull inspiration from & how do you recharge?
Tournaments and travelling are very tiring indeed. I have found that the best way to relax is trying to limit social media usage, spending time with my friends and family, enjoying nature and reading books. Very basic but effective things – usually in few weeks I can feel the withdrawal symptoms and I’m already looking for a next game or tournament to shoot.
After 10 years as a photographer – are you still learning new skills?
Not as often as I used to, but I guess that’s just natural. Earlier this year I felt like I had levelled on a creative plateau and there were no new tricks for me to learn, but luckily Big O with VRDL changed all that. I guess I just needed something new, a new perspective and it all felt really exciting. I even managed to try some technical things that I had not dared to do earlier, and they turned out well. That was a good reminder to keep an open mind and be brave to try new things out.
Do you have tips for other photographers wanting to get into sports photography?
At first, try to learn to read the gameplay – where do interesting things happen on and off the track. Shoot a lot, and don’t hesitate to cut the bad, repetitive or “empty” photos away. Try to tell a story! And then slowly try to work towards your own, unique style.
There are about a billion other things to focus on from being social to the finesse of post-production, but I think those are good main points to focus on when you start.
What was the best advice you have ever gotten in terms of sports photography?
“Don’t be afraid to cut off unnecessary photos”. These days people like to see the story quickly, so I have tried to cut down my album sizes and publish photos as soon as possible. I think it has worked – keeping the ones with the best technical quality, best action and emotions - has certainly made the albums more interesting.
What do you want the roller derby world to understand about roller derby photographers?
You might see us sitting next to the track, seemingly effortlessly snapping those pics away in our own little boxes. But there’s so much else than pressing that button to get those photos out – the actual work starts when we leave the trackside and start uploading the files to our computers. There’s the selection, the post-production (majority of my time goes to this – taking the actual photos is like 10% of it all), the social part like sharing the photos, taking care of the equipment, buying new equipment when the old breaks down or gets behind our skills, travelling, trying to even get one or two of those photos sold. That all is well hidden, but it happens every single time when you get to see a good roller derby photo on your phone or computer. And like every other volunteer in derby, we do it for free and for the love of the sports, simple as that.
We appreciate all the feedback – the likes, comments, and shares – even more than you can guess. It feels so good to see your photos being actually used for good PR and to show to the world how great roller derby can really be. So next time, when you see a good photo – were you a fan, a proud parent or partner or especially a company looking for a great shot of your products – consider buying a photo or two. Save those memories and moments or get some great publicity for your equipment! That is a great way to show support to your photographer and it pays back for all the hours spent to get those photos published.