Fstoppers Talks With One Of The Most Sought After Action Sports Photographers: Garth Milan
If you have ever opened up a motocross magazine or have seen pictures of the best motocross athletes you were probably looking at one of Garth Milans pictures. He has definitely made a name for himself in the action sports world. He also shoots all the red bull events. To say the least he is a photographer that deserves much respect. I was privileged enough to break him away from his busy schedule for a interview.
(FS)First off I just want to say I love your work man, you’re an inspiration to me and so many others.
Thank you so much, it is awesome to hear that people have been inspired by my work, and by what I do with my camera. In the end, I really want to make people “wish they were there” when they see my images. It’s always very flattering when that connection is made and people are moved enough to comment or just give me props on a photo I’ve shot. Nothing is better than having a client or athlete I work with give me positive feedback after a shoot. I literally live for it.
(FS)What gear would we find in your bag for most of your shoots?
Well, I would love to have all prime lenses, but unfortunately the fast-moving, high-paced work I do normally prevents such luxuries. That said, I carry a Canon EOS 1 D-x, a Canon EOS 1 D Mark IV, Canon 15mm f/2.8, 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm/ f2.8, 300mm f/2.8, 50mm f/2.5 Macro, a Canon 580EXII Speedlight, a circular polarizer, lens wipes, memory cards, and several PocketWizard transceivers. I normally am also found with most of my lighting equipment, which is sometimes rented but normally consists of at least one Elinchrom Ranger power pack with two heads, as well as an Elinchrom Quadra pack with both heads. Because of all the sports I shoot, I also bring the large telephoto/sports reflectors for those. I have a Profoto pack as well, but that, along with most of its modifiers, live in my studio in Costa Mesa, CA. Beyond this, I just rent gear when I need it, though I do plan on adding a few more Ranger packs to my arsenal shortly.
(FS)Do you prefer to use strobes or natural light?
That is a tough question: I would say I prefer awesome natural light, with maybe a hint of strobe for perfection! Haha, honestly, I always say that you can’t argue with the light when it is absolutely beautiful out, meaning that I never use strobes just to use strobes. If a lighting situation is not good, I love to be able to use strobes or lighting to “magically” make it better. However the more experience I get with shooting, the more I realize that fake lighting looks… Well, fake. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t always a bad thing, it’s just something I take into consideration when deciding how much artificial lighting I want to use. In a perfect world, and when the subject and time allow, I try to shoot both ways during any particular shoot so that I have two entirely different looks. I normally start with ambient lighting and move on to strobes as the day progresses, depending of course on the situation.
(FS)Where do you find inspiration, inside or outside of the photography world?
I find inspiration from all over the place. As cheesy as it may sound, I am inspired by everything from nature to photography to buildings to advertising, and so on. I really try not to take any photo for granted, and feel that any picture or form of art has a value, especially to the person who created it. I try to soak it all in, and use the good images for my own personal, positive inspiration, and the bad ones to remind me where I DON’T want to be, photographically speaking.
(FS)What sort of preparations do you do before your shoots? Do you like to know the riders or their style before the shoot, scout locations, ect…..?
Although I am somewhat lazy in other facets of my life, this never applies to photography. I prefer to be as prepared as possible before a shoot, and be aware of any and all potential obstacles that could get in my way. I definitely prefer to always scout locations beforehand, and like to line up as many possible “cool” backgrounds as I can before a shoot. I like to know what the weather will be like, what kind of expectations the client has from the shoot, a loose schedule of the day, etc. Don’t get me wrong; by no means am I one of those anal photogs who needs a detailed itinerary of every second of every day, all the way down to my bathroom breaks. I definitely like things to be a little loose on a shoot, I just prefer to have some of the more important details set in place and understand what is expected from me before I have to start making visual or creative decisions on set or while shooting.
(FS)What do you enjoy shooting the most? What aspect of the sport do you appreciate the most and do you try and integrate that into your work?
I love shooting absolutely anything and everything (I’ve even shot a wedding once that I enjoyed!). Haha, but as far as sports are concerned, I just love any sport where you can combine an amazing background and beautiful light with a jaw-dropping trick or athletic accomplishment. I am very inspired by images like those found in the Red Bull Illume contest, where there is a kayaker, for instance, dropping a 300-foot cliff in some gorgeous jungle in Africa or something. In a nutshell, I like to combine or sort of blend landscape photography with action sports photography. But I even like shooting in the studio, because it becomes like solving a puzzle or something. I get joy from it all in one way or another.
(FS)You seem to have helped create a movement in which action sports are shot in a more polished/ commercial manner rather than the photo journalistic method that it used to be. How did this evolve? Do you think technology has helped influence this movement?
I’ve never really thought of it that way, but thanks! That is definitely my intention. As I said, I am influenced by everything from Thrasher Magazine, all the way to high fashion and art, and I try to combine all of the best things from all of those worlds in my work. For instance, I love and appreciate beautiful studio photography, but also think a gritty skate photo from the city is cool. Why not combine the two?! With a background in photojournalism, though, I never like things TOO fake or phony, so again, I tend to combine the realms of setup shots with real happening and moments in life that are candid and that can’t be replicated. To do this, I have to be prepared with my lighting, and be ready to move quickly and set up on-the-fly.
(FS)How did you manage to just shooting for fun into working for some of the best action sports magazines around like Transworld and Dirt Rider?
Well, like anything, it started out as fun and then things turned really serious, really quick. It is true that I got my start by shooting for fun, and shooting my friends doing all of the crazy stuff they did, but that quickly turned into full-time schooling, a college degree, and major dedication on my part. This job has always carried with it insanely long hours and requires a ton of patience. Nearly 20 years into this, and I am still learning things every day. As for how it led to getting the magazine gigs, it was mostly just patience and hard work, and dedication to becoming the best photog I could (or can) be. All these things, and the experience that comes along with them, are what lead you to the good clients in the end.
(FS)Do you find that you have to shoot or do things differently when you’re shooting for a publication rather than yourself?
I do find this happening to me a bit, but more so for paying, commercial clients. Editorial clients seem to be happy with simply letting me do my thing, but when it gets into shooting ads and catalogs, there is usually some sort of influence from the design or creative department. A lot of times, I see this as a good thing, as it becomes a solid collaborative effort with another creative person. However, things can of course go bad, too, and you can wind up butting heads creatively with that person (who is also paying you). That just goes with the territory, and is what it is. It’s my job to make the best of the situation, whether I like it or not!
(FS)Being so involved in the industry, shooting supercross, freestyle, red bull events, you are quite the busy guy. What do you do on your down time?
You are correct; my schedule stays pretty nuts, but I love it! On the small amount of downtime that I do enjoy, I like to hang out at home in Laguna Beach with my wife and four dogs, take Bikram yoga classes, ride skateboards and mountain bikes, and see live music. Those things, photography, and friends and family completely satisfy (and fill) my life.
(FS)What has been the most memorable moment in your career so far?
I’ve had so many crazy experiences and brushes with death thus far that it is tough to pick just one, but without a doubt the most memorable project I have been involved in is Red Bull Stratos. I worked on it for years, documenting things from the very beginning, all the way to the day that Felix jumped from space and fell safely to the earth in Roswell, New Mexico. To be there and see it happen, and be that close to such a phenomenal accomplishment, is something I will never forget.
(FS)You’re part of an advertising studio with two other guys (The Medium Creative), care to talk about that at all?
Yes, our firm is called the Medium Creative Group, and we offer clients a huge variety of creative services such as brand identity and design, advertising, websites, etc. You name it, creatively, and we pretty much do it. My partners and I all worked together previously before forming the Medium, and we each bring a unique piece of the pie, creatively. We love collaborating on things, and oftentimes act as a one-stop shop for companies where we handle everything from scouting and executing a photo shoot, all the way to designing and printing a catalog. Those are our favorite kinds of projects; the ones that we see through from start to finish.
(FS)What advice would you give to aspiring photgraphers?
Keep working hard, and do it for the right reasons. Chase the fulfillment and joy of creativity in photography, not the possible fame or money. In the end, you can make a lot more money doing a lot more things in this life, but the joy that comes from my job as a visual artist is incomparable to anything, in my eyes.
Thanks again for sparing a few minutes to talk to us Garth.
Follow Garth On instagram @garthmilan