Craig Kolesky’s name is synonymous with South African extreme sports and photography, deservingly so. He started playing around with a camera at the age of 14, photographing his friends surfing and skating and worked damned hard to earn the title of Red Bull photographer.

Profile photo of Craig Kolesky in Peru
A photograph of Craig Kolesky working - taking photos of motocross rider in the sand dunes

Anything ‘street’ will do

For him it was a perfectly natural progression of shooting things he enjoyed doing himself. He grew up in Cape Town and worked in the surfing/retail industry for about 10 years, practising his photography over the weekends and during public holidays. “I would have never thought I would be able to make a career out of photography.” He’s always dreamed of becoming a surf photographer but because of the small industry he decided to photograph other sports too; anything street orientated.

A photograph of a Red Bull Motorcross athlete taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of a Motorcross athlete on a huge white dune taken by Craig Kolesky

Every little bit of experience helps

Any experience is good. His history in fashion helped him with the portrait side of his job and his experience in production helps him manage clients, tight schedules and deadlines. “Being prepared and ready is vital.” He goes on to say that all of the lessons he’s picked up throughout his career have helped him become a better photographer.

A photograph of a runner going through water taken by Craig Kolesky

Red Bull Representative

With the Red Bull gig, he admits it had a lot to do with luck. Being in the right place at the right time. “Red Bull was just starting up in SA and I had connected well with the crew and all the hard work and hours paid off.”

A photograph of Richard Murray putting on his swimming cap

Craig is setting the record straight

Some people might be under the impression that Craig just flies off to some beautiful destination, presses a button and voila, holiday! He very humbly sets the records straight. “I feel privileged to have the job I do and the opportunity to travel, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it certainly not as glamorous as it may seem.” He goes on to say that although he gets to travel to picturesque destinations, it’s not for sight seeing, it’s work. Usually, it means getting up before dawn and coming back to edit till the wee hours of the morning. There are deadlines to be met and there’s no margin for error. He needs to get the perfect shot.

A photograph of a trail runner

Craig’s list

He shares with us a list of the gear he would normally travel with to a Red Bull athlete shoot or project:

  • Fstop Ajna pack
  • Nikon D4s
  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon D750
  • Nikon 70-200mm
  • Nikon 24-70mm
  • Nikon 14-24mm
  • Nikon 16mm
  • Nikon 50mm
  • 3 x Speedlights
  • Pocket Wizards
  • Peak Design strap
  • Lexar Memory Cards
  • Lexar Card Reader
  • Fenix Headlamp
  • Spare batteries
  • SeatoSummit DryBags
  • Salomon Windshell
  • Cadence Gels
  • Llama Bar snacks
  • Salomon Hydration Bottles
  • Solar Panel and Power Bank
  • Red bull

…the list goes on…

A photograph of Craig Kolesky

Tips for faster editing

In various articles, Craig mentions that he truly hates post-production. So I asked him to share a few tips for making the process quicker and easier: Start by tagging images on the camera while shooting. This makes the selection process much quicker when the files are loaded. Having faster memory cards and readers are a big help. To make his Lexar cards run even faster, he’ll use the Image Rescue Software to format the cards 100%.

A photograph campers in Peru
A photograph taken inside a tent in Peru

The scariest thing

Being an extreme sports photographer, Craig has seen his fair share of broken bones and says he thinks Freestyle Motorcross looks like the scariest for sure! “Usually when something crazy goes down we put the cameras and equipment down and go help as most of the guys we shoot are friends.” When he thinks back on his many adventurous experiences, one scary moment comes to mind. He was shooting Motocross with friend Anthony Raynard. Right when he hit the jump, for an inexplicable reason, a bulldozer came onto the track and into his landing area. “It ended badly but it could have been so much worse if Ant didn’t have quick reflexes.”

A photograph of an X-Fighter rider doing a trick at the Union Buildings in South Africa

Shoot and stay focused

For all of the budding young photographers out there looking to make a name for yourselves, Craig encourages you to shoot as much as possible and to stay focused on what you want to shoot. He’s been following a few guys over the past year and rates it’s amazing to see how their work progresses month to month. So, his advice is to go out, shoot what you love and promote yourself. Who knows, you might just be one of the guys he follows one day?!

A photograph of Jordy Smith Paragliding

Some time out for Craig

In his downtime, he likes listening to Jeremy Loops (who doesn’t?), Taxi Violence and some good old Arno Carstens. He also likes spending time with his son, Koby, “I can’t get enough of him”, surfing and cycling as it gives him time to recharge while keeping him fit.

A celebrated photographer who still gets stoked seeing one of his images in print. Craig Kolesky is an extremely humble and likeable guy whose photographs are a manifestation of the pure pleasure he gets from doing what he does.

A photograph of a cyclist going at high speeds taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of Matt Trautman on his bike
A photograph of a trail runner
A photograph of a trail runner taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of two Red Bull Motorcross athletes riding in large dunes taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of 2 motorcross bikes on a huge sand dune
A photograph of a mountain biker taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of a mountain biker taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of how Craig photographs the mountain biker Bianca Haw
A photograph of a mountain biker taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of a Motorcross race taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of a Motorcross racer making a jump taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of a trail runner on a misty mountain taken by Craig Kolesky
A photograph of a trail runner in Peru
A photograph of a trail runner in Peru
A photograph of a KTM rider making some serious dust
A photograph of a KTM rider getting ready to ride
A photograph of a KTM rider
A photograph Craig Kolesky in Peru