Lucas Gilman is one of the leading adventure photographers and filmmakers in the industry. He currently resides in Pismo Beach, CA. His powerful and incisive images run in top publications & advertisements worldwide. A love of adventure and an addiction to a color creates his distinct style of photography and filmmaking. Lucas documents subjects ranging from expedition kayaking in India and Costa Rica, Surfing in Brazil to backcountry skiing in Wyoming, Alaska and South America. He has covered international events such as the Tour De France, Kentucky Derby, ESPN X-GAMES, IRONMAN® and NFL Playoffs. Lucas regularly works with advertising and editorial clients that span the globe including Land Rover, Nikon, SanDisk®, Red Bull, G-Technology, Garmin™, GORE-TEX®, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, ESPN.com and Outside Magazine.
What was your path to becoming a professional photographer? I was the kid in the family who always wanted to take the family photos on vacation. I went to college at CU-Boulder to be a writer and never knew that photography could be a career until I took an intro to photojournalism class. We had a spot news assignment and I happened upon a really bad car accident one night. It ended up running the Denver Post, which is Colorado’s largest newspaper. From there I began working part time for them through college.
You shoot both commercially and for editorial. How do these types of shoots compare and do you find one more stressful than the other? Both have their share of stress in different ways. The commercial shoots are generally more scripted with the end result planned, storyboarded and tend to have more people involved. The editorial is fun, but you are there to document what happens and don’t have any control of the outcome, which can be stressful. I enjoy both for very different reasons. I have also jumped into video and filmmaking recently which has a whole new set of challenges.
Do you have an agent, or do your own representation and marketing? I’ve never had an agent and have built my business with the idea that personal connections and relationships will win out in the end.
What percentage of your time is spent actually shooting compared to editing, post-production, submissions, billing, marketing, etc? I spend 80-90 percent of my time taking care of the business side of photography and as I’ve become more successful the projects tend to be larger with longer lead times and more pre-production. I still do personal projects throughout the year to try new techniques and get back to the roots of why I got into photography originally: taking pictures.
You have a lot of great images of kayaking. Did your drive to shoot kayaking come from being an avid waterman yourself? I sort of fell into shooting kayaking. I was living in Jackson Hole working on my portfolio, and a buddy was going to Costa Rica on an expedition. He asked if I kayaked and I said no, but I can bushwhack. I was lucky enough that they were some of the best boaters in the world. I got an image published after the Costa Rica trip as an opening spread in ESPN Magazine and from there on out I did a lot of kayak shoots around the world.
Many of these kayaking images are athletes paddling massive waterfalls. How much scouting and planning go into these shots? How critical is timing and finding the perfect water flow levels for these projects? Many of these waterfall projects take years of planning to come to fruition. For instance, our crew went to the same waterfalls every year for five years in a row until the 128-foot-tall Big Banana Falls in Veracruz was run. It takes a lot of patience and dedication to see these things through. They only run the big ones once, so there is not take two or second chance and timing is everything.
How often do you get into situations where you are setting up a shot and the athlete wants to back out because they just aren’t confident in the conditions? It happens all the time. You have to go into it knowing that there is a good chance you’ll walk away with nothing. But, you have to remember that you are a human first and part of a team. I’d never talk an athlete into doing something that was outside of their comfort zone. Athlete’s are the key to making amazing images and they need to trust you; not only to get the shot but also to be there for them if something bad goes down.
You also have many epic shots of skiing. Do you enjoy shooting a variety of sports across multiple seasons to keep things fresh?I started out shooting skiing as it was what I knew from growing up in Colorado. Kayaking was my second season and now I’ve branched out into shooting a lot of surfing. I feel like it helps to shoot different sports to keep a fresh eye.
On your website, there are also some shots of horses. How does an action sports photographer get into shooting equestrian events? I used to do a ton of editorial work for ESPN and shot the Kentucky Derby for many years. It’s a huge event and has a unique set of challenges. To cover it properly you need many remote cameras. I spent five years trying to get approval to put a remote camera above the crowd at the finish line. Finally, I got approval and that year Barbaro won by the most lengths in current history. I was the only one with that shot and the shot summed up the race in once image. It’s pretty cool when something like that works out.
What is the standard kit you take when you are out on an action sports shoot? Nikon D4s, Nikon D810 , AF-S NIKKOR 24 f1.4, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 f2.8 VR, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400 f4.5-5.6, Nikon TC14-E III Teleconverter, (8) Nikon Batteries, (12) SanDisk Extreme Pro CF & SD Cards, F-Stop LOKA UL Backpack with ICU, Gitzo Systematic tripod + Head, 15 Inch MacBook Retina, (2) G-Technology G-DRIVE ATC, (2) Profoto B1 Strobes, Pelican 1510 + TrekPak Inserts
How much weight do you carry when you are out in the field shooting action? As little as possible. It really depends on the day. For a backcountry ski mission, I may carry one D810 body and two lenses in addition to all the safety gear. For a big waterfall drop, I’ll have at least two cameras and preferably three, so I can get horizontal and vertical shots of the drop, which helps in layout and sales as you never have an art director say we loved it, but we wish we had a vertical for the cover. I use strobes often as well, and the Profoto B1’s are great as they are battery powered and have wireless TTL so I can control them from my camera with the transmitter.
You have some great people shots. How do you work with your subject to create great portraits? I love portraits. Much of my work is big landscape with little person, so it’s a joy to get to hang out with people and connect. To make good portraits it’s worthwhile to find something you have in common with your subject. Every little bit helps to build that bond of trust. Face it. Being in front of the camera is a vulnerable place to be and the more the subject trusts you the better the results.
What is the one piece of photo equipment that you can’t live without? Ironically, my iPhone as I do a lot of research: weather, lunar cycle, water levels, surf reports, sun tracking, hyperfocal tables, location scouting, shot lists, etc.
What does the perfect Lucas Gillman day look like? I’m on the road around 200 days a year, so It’s always different, but usually involves an early start with some strong coffee and a weather check.
If you weren’t a professional photographer what would you be doing? I’d be a chef. I almost went to culinary arts school instead of college. I love cooking when at home. It’s my way to relax and catch up with my five-year-old son and wife.
Why did you choose Photo Folio for your website? Photo Folio has the cleanest layouts and really lets the work shine through. The last thing an editor or art director wants when they look at your work is to have a poorly laid out page with Justin Bieber blaring in the background. As in my images, I like to keep it simple and clean, and Photo Folio allows me to do that.