Fitness and Adventure Photographer Rob Hammer Finds Success Through Personal Work

Fitness and Adventure Photographer Rob Hammer Finds Success Through Personal Work

Rob Hammer knows all about stories, adventure, and experience. He is a San Diego-based commercial shooter. He has worked for many clients such as Nike, Adidas, Foot Locker, and Under Armour. If you have a chance to follow his Instagram feed, you'll probably find images of him backpacking in a foreign country, photographing old barbershops in the Midwest, or hiking up a mountain with his friends enjoying a cold beer. He lives the life that he photographs. I believe that shooting what you love will ensure you to always have a steady stream of good clients. But when you are photographing your own lifestyle, the possibilities are endless.

© Rob Hammer

I first heard about Hammer through a friend. I saw a post on Facebook one day that had a link to his website. I checked it out, and I was immediately hooked. I have been following him ever since. I would be hard-pressed to differentiate between his commissioned work and the fun stuff. His CrossFit images stopped me in my tracks.

When I caught up with Hammer, I asked him about how he shot these photographs. According to Hammer, he uses a typical lighting setup: two bare Elinchrom strobes outside the window pointing in to the same area. Inside at the far corner is a Profoto in a 5 foot Rotalux Octabox. The two bare strobes outside are doing most of the work. He wanted them to imitate harsh, direct late-day sun. Then the Profoto/Octa is there for a very faint, almost unnoticeable fill.

As for the thought process, Hammer wanted them almost to be the opposite of his commercial athlete images. Those have a very set up and polished look. For the CrossFit images, he wanted them to be very raw. Hammer goes on to say that, “There are only so many exercises you can shoot at CF, so I was always looking for new ways to do it. New angles, that nobody else was trying. One day we rigged up a remote camera into the ceiling to shoot a bunch of guys doing muscle-ups. The details are always cool to me as well. Torn up hands, stacks of weights, and the textures in the equipment.”

© Rob Hammer

Although Hammer has found success, he didn't always have his own style. He started out just like any other photographer, shooting what he thought the creative directors wanted to see and trying to shape his images like other photographers. The images would come out rather boring and generic. It was only when stopped caring what people thought that the images got better and clients started calling back. Hammer gives some advice to new photographers just starting out: “Shooting the way that feels natural to you is the only way to go. Don’t shoot like the photographers you look up to. Learn from them, then take that knowledge and mold it into your own thing.”

© Rob Hammer

Hammer got his start working for magazines shooting editorials. His first art director admittedly hired him because he was persistent and quite annoying. Eventually he became a regular contributor to the publication and his career snowballed after that. Hammer loves living in San Diego and coming home is always a good feeling. Although commercial photography is not like L.A. or New York, so most of his clients are in other locations. But he loves to travel so it's not a problem.

Hammer's mother is from Boston and raised him on the Celtics. The first book he ever read was "Drive" by Larry Bird. The cover of the book had an image of Bird's childhood basketball hoop which was just a metal rim attached to a backboard. The image stuck with him. A few years ago he started photographing basketball hoops all across America. You can see the ongoing project here. Another one of Hammer's photographic series where he photographs barbershops also evolved into a book. Shooting personal work has kept him busy in-between commissioned assignments.

His inspiration comes from many places and really enjoys the Americana look from great photographers such as Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Most recently, Hammer has been looking for new avenues to shoot the athletic subject through underwater imagery. As far as commercial shoots, he aims to connect with bigger and bigger clients all the time, and he hopes to delve into outdoor/adventure assignments more often.

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"He started out just like any other photographer, shooting what he thought the creative directors wanted to see and trying to shape his images like other photographers."

Interesting. I never did this, is this something everyone does? I just did stuff the way I liked it, and was under the impression that's generally what other people did too.

I think a lot of people do it at some point. Emulation is one of those things that is common in beginner's circles when people lack confidence in their own eye/abilities or want their abilities to be re-affirmed. "Professional photos of x type look like this, therefore my photos must look like this" without really understanding why.

It's not a totally new concept. At a time, it wasn't uncommon for apprentices of art to have to recreate a masterpiece of whomever they were studying under before "graduating."