The Pro In­ter­view

Getty sports pro shooter Adam Pretty looks back on 20 years in the in­dus­try

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Adam Pretty shoots hun­dreds of sport­ing events around the world ev­ery year, and the only way to fit an in­ter­view for Pho­to­plus in his busy sum­mer sched­ule was to do it while he was at an event. So I spoke to him by phone while he sat pool­side in a quiet pe­riod at the 2017 World Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships in Bu­dapest.

The 40-year old Aus­tralian pro pho­tog­ra­pher has spe­cialised in sport for two decades and broad­ened his work to in­clude sports ad­ver­tis­ing ten years ago. Here he talks about how he got into sports pho­tog­ra­phy, the changes he’s seen in the pro­fes­sion over the years, his favourite Canon kit and what ad­vice he would give as­pir­ing sports pho­tog­ra­phers.

What were your ear­li­est ex­pe­ri­ences of pho­tog­ra­phy?

When I was in pri­mary school in Sydney in Australia, around eight or nine years old, I made a pin­hole cam­era with my dad, us­ing an empty Milo [choco­late drink pow­der] tin. I de­vel­oped the pic­tures in the school dark­room. As I got older, I was more in­ter­ested in draw­ing, il­lus­tra­tion and paint­ing. I also loved do­ing all kinds of sport, es­pe­cially swim­ming and surf­ing. My school had a good rugby team, and I started tak­ing pic­tures of them with an

old Olym­pus I bought for $10. I man­aged to start sell­ing some of those pic­tures, so it be­came a bit of an in­come earner.

When did you de­cide you wanted to be a pro sports pho­tog­ra­pher?

Around the age of 15, I went to an ex­hi­bi­tion of sports pho­tog­ra­phy at the Sydney Opera House. The pic­tures were by Tim Clay­ton and Craig Gold­ing, who were both work­ing for the Sydney Morn­ing Herald at that point. They were at the ex­hi­bi­tion and I man­aged to meet both of them and have a chat. I took some prints to show them and they gave me some ad­vice. From then on I re­ally went after sports pho­tog­ra­phy.

Did you study it at col­lege?

No, I fin­ished high school and wanted to take a year off, but I couldn’t get a job any­where. So I started univer­sity in 1995 and about two months into it I was of­fered a job at the Sydney Morn­ing Herald, so I dropped out of univer­sity. I worked in the Mac room, scan­ning ana­logue film and op­ti­miz­ing pic­tures for print. There was no open­ing in the sports pho­tog­ra­phy world at that time and the ed­i­tor didn’t like me, so in­stead I took a job shoot­ing news while tak­ing pic­tures of sport in my free time.

What was that like?

There were a cou­ple of bad news jobs I had to do, which were a bit trau­matic. In one of them, two school­girls had been mur­dered and we had to do an in­ter­view with the par­ents. The news or­ga­ni­za­tion which in­ter­viewed them be­fore us had ac­tu­ally stolen pic­tures from their house. This wasn’t the dream job I wanted to do. In sport, the ath­letes are per­form­ing and want to be pho­tographed, so you can just go and watch, have a good time and be cre­ative. It was maybe a bit of a cop-out, but I didn’t want to get too emo­tion­ally in­volved. I met other guys who had shot wars for a news­pa­per and I thought, that’s not re­ally my thing. So for me, sport was a good way to go.

How did you be­come a sports pho­tog­ra­pher for Getty?

I be­came a pho­tog­ra­pher on the pa­per in 1997 and then I took a job at the All­sport agency in 1998. Getty Im­ages bought All­sport soon after that. I cov­ered the Sum­mer Olympics in Sydney in 2000, which was prob­a­bly one of the best I’ve done and the ex­pe­ri­ence was amaz­ing. Since then I’ve cov­ered seven more Olympic Games – ev­ery sum­mer games since Sydney and three win­ter Olympics – and many more ma­jor sport­ing events. I’ve lived around the world but have been in Mu­nich, Ger­many for about four years.

When did you start in­cor­po­rat­ing ad­ver­tis­ing into your work?

I did my first job for Nike while I was still liv­ing in Sydney around 2001.

I was of­fered it be­cause I could shoot un­der­wa­ter. But I didn’t re­ally go after ad­ver­tis­ing work un­til I moved to Bei­jing in 2007. That’s when I started be­ing more fo­cused on it and do­ing a 50-50 split be­tween sport ac­tion and ad­ver­tis­ing.

Is your ad­ver­tis­ing work mostly done in the stu­dio?

It is a lot more stu­dio work, just be­cause you of­ten need to have full con­trol over every­thing. It would make sense if I was do­ing more ac­tion stuff as that’s my back­ground, but I think that’s just the na­ture of com­mer­cial work. You’ve got a celebrity for one day, so you’ve got to get it done on that day, and the stu­dio gives you more con­trol.

Do you like the com­bi­na­tion of sports ac­tion and ad­ver­tis­ing?

Yeah, def­i­nitely. I think I was get­ting a lit­tle bit jaded shoot­ing only sports ac­tion. You just get too com­fort­able and that’s dan­ger­ous be­cause you re­lax and you lose a bit of edge. You’re not think­ing, not us­ing your brain so much. I’m re­ally grate­ful I’m in pho­tog­ra­phy be­cause it has so many to­tally dif­fer­ent ar­eas. It just keeps you fresh, you learn all the time.

What was your first SLR cam­era?

The first one I bought was a Canon EOS 630, with the money I got from do­ing rugby pic­tures at school. When I joined the Sydney Morn­ing Herald, the Canon EOS 1N had re­cently come out and it was a game changer, so I bought one of those and used the pool kit for lenses I didn’t have. All the sports guys at the pa­per were shoot­ing Canon. When I went to Getty and could buy my own gear, I moved to a full Canon kit.

Which bod­ies do you use now?

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is my main cam­era body and I use the EOS 5DS R for some sports ac­tion and a lot of my com­mer­cial stuff. I like the 5DS R be­cause it’s quicker than medium for­mat (5fps) and it has the 50-megapixel sen­sor. It pro­duces great qual­ity files.

What are your main Canon lenses and do you use zooms or primes?

For sport, I al­ways have a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 lens. I had a 200mm f/1.8 for a long time but the lens mo­tor broke and Canon stopped mak­ing them, so I couldn’t get it re­paired. So now I use the 200mm f/2, which came out a cou­ple of years ago and is one of my favourites. I also have 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm zooms. I pre­fer the primes but

if I’m do­ing sport and trav­el­ling and can’t take much gear I’ll take the zooms to keep it lighter.

Why do you pre­fer the primes over zoom lenses for sports?

With ex­pe­ri­ence you know (or hope you know!) where cer­tain things are go­ing to hap­pen, so you can frame it up and go for one shot, rather than try­ing to get every­thing. The zoom gives you the op­por­tu­nity to get every­thing, but then you prob­a­bly get noth­ing great. I tried us­ing the 200-400mm f/4 for a while, but I didn’t like it. I was al­ways zoom­ing when I should have just been fram­ing. I think it’s bet­ter to pick and frame a shot and then know which lens to be on.

If I can, I’ll shoot with a prime any­time.

So you vi­su­al­ize the fi­nal im­age?

Yeah, I try to, but it doesn’t al­ways hap­pen. I try to find the back­ground first, be­fore I do any­thing, then I wait for the sub­ject to come into the back­ground. That’s why I like us­ing the primes, be­cause I know ex­actly what I’m try­ing to do, and I can set my­self up that way.

getty’s got a strong set of ed­i­to­rial in­tegrity guide­lines, so we only use ba­sic dark­room tech­niques

What gad­gets do you use?

I’ll use Pock­etwiz­ard wire­less trig­gers for re­mote shots and I’ve had an un­der­wa­ter ro­botic cam­era for over a year, bought for me by Getty Im­ages, which is a gamechanger. It’s linked to a com­puter so I can sit by the side of the pool with the lap­top and con­trol it un­der­wa­ter. I can zoom or move it around; it’s re­ally pre­cise and I can change the cam­era an­gle by half a de­gree if I want. I can also al­ter the ex­po­sure, which is use­ful be­cause the light can change on cloudy days. With sport, you need to have a good han­dle on re­motes be­cause they give you a lot of pic­tures you wouldn’t get or­di­nar­ily.

How has dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy af­fected the way you shoot?

With film you had 36 ex­po­sures on a roll, so you had to be re­ally pre­cise. Now you can shoot a lot more and that’s pushed pho­tog­ra­phy for­ward. I think it’s also made a lot of guys more lazy too, my­self in­cluded. Now you can see when you’ve got some­thing in the bag, so you take your foot off the gas a bit, whereas with film I liked the fact that you were on edge the whole time. That was one of the things I loved, be­cause it kept the adren­a­line up, even if you be­came a bit of a ner­vous wreck.

Do you do much post-pro­cess­ing?

I use Pho­to­shop but we’re pretty re­stricted in what we can do. Getty’s got a strong set of ed­i­to­rial in­tegrity guide­lines, so we only use ba­sic dark­room tech­niques – con­trast, dodg­ing and burn­ing and so on. We can’t use cloning or any­thing like that. Stick­ing to that ap­proach has prob­a­bly got me quite a lot of work, just be­cause peo­ple know it’s real. It’s good that things have come back around.

What’s your favourite sport to pho­to­graph?

That’s a tough ques­tion, but wa­ter sports have al­ways been my favourites. I like them be­cause they’re so un­pre­dictable. There are still pic­tures I haven’t been able to get after 20 years in the busi­ness. The wa­ter, and the light mixed with wa­ter, is just amaz­ing – you get some­thing dif­fer­ent ev­ery time.

What would you say is the most chal­leng­ing sport to shoot?

I think foot­ball’s pretty hard. It’s not so hard to shoot rea­son­ably well, but to get good stuff is a bit of a night­mare. I think there’s more frus­tra­tion than dif­fi­culty about it. You re­ally need to be in the right

wa­ter sports have al­ways been my favourites to shoot – the light mixed with wa­ter is just amaz­ing

place at the right time. If you’re in the wrong place you can get noth­ing, no mat­ter how ex­pe­ri­enced you are. I find that a bit frus­trat­ing be­cause you have zero con­trol.

How do you keep your pho­tog­ra­phy fresh?

It helps to do a bit of com­mer­cial work for a while then come back to sport, be­cause it’s a com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try and you have to keep chang­ing or you’ll get left be­hind. Sports pho­tog­ra­phy is my job, but I still have a pas­sion for it. That gives me mo­ti­va­tion to try to keep com­ing up with fresh ideas.

Do you feel com­pet­i­tive with other sports pho­tog­ra­phers?

If I see some­one get a great pic­ture, it makes me in­spired, gets me fired up. I won’t try to do that same pic­ture, I’ll want to do some­thing else and beat them some other way. The prob­lem with the dig­i­tal world to­day is that ev­ery­one can see every­thing in­stantly. If I shoot some­thing from a unique an­gle, it can be copied al­most straight away. I know im­i­ta­tion is the sin­cer­est form of flat­tery, but I some­times wish oth­ers would have a bit more self-con­fi­dence and find some­thing dif­fer­ent.

What would you say makes a great sports pho­to­graph, in your opin­ion?

It’s a com­bi­na­tion of things. It doesn’t need to be taken at an Olympics, but that in­creases the news value of a pic­ture. It def­i­nitely helps if you’ve got amaz­ing light, great graph­ics, shapes, and the ac­tion’s good. You need to have a num­ber of dif­fer­ent el­e­ments. A great sports pic­ture is not a one-di­men­sional shot you can di­gest in one se­cond; it’s deeper, with much more go­ing on.

It’s tempt­ing to think that luck plays a big part – do you agree?

Things hap­pen and you can put it down to luck, but it’s of­ten the same guys who are lucky a lot. So it comes down to pre­par­ing and pre­dict­ing and think­ing where that pic­ture is go­ing to hap­pen. When you’ve put your­self in a par­tic­u­lar spot and you get a great pic­ture, whether it’s through ex­pe­ri­ence or what­ever, that’s not luck. As the say­ing goes, luck is where prepa­ra­tion meets op­por­tu­nity.

What’s the best ad­vice you could of­fer some­one who wants to be a sports pho­tog­ra­pher?

I’d say it’s a great ca­reer, and I’d highly rec­om­mend be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher. It’s com­pet­i­tive – you’ve got to work at it and it can be tough – but the re­wards are pretty amaz­ing. So if some­one wants to shoot sport, I’d say they need to look at as many pic­tures as they can, and not just sports pic­tures. That’s one dan­ger: if you look at sports pic­tures, you end up mak­ing car­bon copies of those pic­tures. It would def­i­nitely help a lot more if they looked at paint­ings, dif­fer­ent art­works, news pho­tog­ra­phy, doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy and so on. It also stops that temp­ta­tion of just re­pro­duc­ing good work you’ve seen. Cre­at­ing fresh work is go­ing to be tougher be­cause you’re not stand­ing on ev­ery­one else’s shoul­ders and do­ing things that you al­ready know will work when shoot­ing cer­tain sports. But at the end of the day, if you’ve got your own style and vi­sion you’ll get rec­og­nized. It’s harder, but it pays off.

01 michael phelps Amer­i­can Michael Phelps leads South Africa’s Chad le Clos in the Men’s 200m But­ter­fly Fi­nal, Rio 2016. Lens Canon EF 200-400mm f/4l IS USM ex­po­sure 1/2000 sec, f/4, ISO3200

02 but­ter­fly ef­fect Pol­ish swim­mer Jan Switkowski com­pet­ing in the Men’s 200m But­ter­fly Semi-fi­nals at the FINA World Cham­pi­onships in Kazan, Rus­sia, 2015. Lens 50mm f/1.4 ex­po­sure 1/1600 sec, f/4.5, ISO3200 03 syn­chro­nized swim­ming The French syn­chro­nized swim­ming team in front of Va­j­dahun­yad Cas­tle in Bu­dapest. Lens Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8l III USM ex­po­sure 1/500 sec, f/11, ISO400 04 off the blocks Swim­mers dive into the pool at the start of the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle re­lay dur­ing the 2013 FINA World Cham­pi­onships. Lens Canon EF 400mm f/2.8l IS II USM ex­po­sure 1/2000 sec, f/3.2, ISO2500 02

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05 ski spec­tac­u­lar Ja­panese ski jumper Ry­oyu Kobayashi com­pet­ing in the Four Hills Tour­na­ment in Oberts­dorf, Ger­many, 2016. Lens Canon EF 400mm f/2.8l IS II USM ex­po­sure 1/2000 sec, f/3.2, ISO2500 06 Janda’s Jump Jakub Janda dur­ing his qual­i­fy­ing jump in the 2016 Four Hills Tour­na­ment in Aus­tria. Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8l IS II USM ex­po­sure 1/20 sec, f/8, ISO1250 07 car­ry­ing the torch 16-year-old Dar­ren Choy car­ries the Youth Olympic torch at the Open­ing Cer­e­mony of the 2010 Youth Olympics in Sin­ga­pore. Lens Canon EF 400mm f/2.8l IS II USM ex­po­sure 1/1000 sec, f/2.8, ISO800 05

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08 yamilé al­dama The Team GB ath­lete after her last jump in the Women’s Triple Jump fi­nal at the Lon­don 2012 Olympics. Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8l IS II USM ex­po­sure 1/1300 sec, f/3.5, ISO3200 09 100m fi­nal 2012 Men’s 100m Fi­nal at the Lon­don 2012 Olympics as Usain Bolt, se­cond from right, heads for the gold medal. Lens Canon EF 400mm f/2.8l IS II USM ex­po­sure 1/1300 sec, f/4, ISO3200 10 pool plunge A diver plung­ing into the pool dur­ing warm-ups for the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, 2010. Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8l IS II USM ex­po­sure 1/1300 sec, f/3.5, ISO3200

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