Outdoorphoto Blog » Wouda Interviews Red Bull Photographer Jason Halayko

Wouda Interviews Red Bull Photographer Jason Halayko

BEGINNER

If you are a fan of extreme sports and photography then you’ll most probably know that Red Bull dominates the scene. Whether you’re a sponsored athlete or photographer, you’ve pretty much made it if Red Bull looks your way. As an extreme sports fan, I often go through their global team of  leading photographers’ portfolios on the lookout for more jaw-dropping images.

That is exactly how I came across the work of Jason Halayko. In this Q&A, he answers questions like how he became a Red Bull photographer and how you too can amp up your extreme sports photography.

Extreme sports photograph of a BMX athlete

Please tell us a bit more about where you come from and how you got into photography?

I am originally from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, where as a kid, I played around with my dad’s camera. But, my first real introduction to photography was in my first year of high school when my friend thought that taking photography classes would be a easy A and I thought it sounded like fun. This was over 20 years ago, well before the digital revolution, when everything was done with film, and we did all the processing and development ourselves. I remember spending countless hours in the school’s darkroom developing my photos (and my skills). From there, photography became a hobby, but it was only several years later that I started to think of it as a career.

Extreme sports photograph of an FMX athlete in the air doing a stunt

How did you become a Red Bull Photographer?

After living in Japan for a couple of years, I got deep into the local FMX scene, made friends with many of the riders and the various media that covered these events. As my photography gained exposure, it started featuring in popular Japanese magazines. I became friends with one of these magazines’ chief editor and, fast-forward a year or two, my friend contacted me with an exciting opportunity to cover an upcoming Red Bull FMX event in Yokohama.

To this day, I remember how insanely nervous I was – the whole time! At the end of the event I showed my images to Red Bull and they were really impressed – so much so, they had me shooting their next event, and the next, and the next, and so on for the past eight years! That one FMX event in Yokohama literally changed the direction of my life and I will always be grateful to my friend who took a chance and recommended me to Red Bull. Thanks Cazy!

Extreme sports photograph of an athlete on the edge of a building with his bicycle
Extreme sports photograph of a BMX athlete

What are the must-have photographic gear for shooting adventure sports?

It is difficult to answer this question as shooting adventure sports (just like almost any form of photography nowadays) can be done with anything from your cell phone to the most advanced gear out there. But, let me recommend a few items that will help make you job a little easier:

Freezing the action

With extreme sports photography, you need to capture split-second moments, which means that you will need a camera with a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action. You can capture a break-dancer in static freeze position with an iPhone 7 or lower range point-and-shoot camera, but these are no match to DSLRs when the break-dancer starts spinning. At this point, you will need to raise your shutter speed to about 1/800 sec or even 1/1000 sec to really stop the motion and get a crisp image.

Have a wide variety of lenses

As far as lenses go, the more the better! But seriously, with adventure sports you need to adapt to many different locations and scenarios, which warrant having a wide variety of lenses. During almost every Red Bull event I cover, I use everything from my fisheye to my 400mm lens, all depending on the shoot. For example, at the 2016 Red Bull cliff diving event, I used my fisheye lens from below the diving boards one minute, and my 70-200mm lens while clinging to a cliff 50 m away, 10 minutes later.

With which lens do I start?

Not everyone starting out can afford all the lenses out there (it took me several years to buy all mine), so I recommend starting with a wide zoom range lens that enables you to take images at various different focal lengths. Then, once you are ready to try something different, look at getting fisheye/super-wide lenses and primes. My favourite two lenses include 24mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lenses which always amaze me with the quality of image they render in almost any situation.

Bag it

As an extreme sports photographer, you move around a lot, so once you have your camera and lens kits sorted, you are going to need something to put it all in. I have been using F-stop Gear for several years now and recommend them for any level photographer. I don’t say this only because they sponsor me, but because I honestly like their design and durability.

Back in the day, I used to toss my gear into any bag I could find, but not only did my gear get smashed, but it looked unprofessional on the job. So, having the right camera bag for you equipment really does keep it safe and helps you look like you mean business.

Extreme sports photograph of an athlete on a bouldering wall

What’s in your gear bag?

Cameras

Lenses

Flash & Lighting

  • Nikon SB-800
  • Nikon SB-900
  • Elinchrom Quadra
  • Elinchrom Softbox / Umbrella

Accessories

  • Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 (4)
Extreme sports photograph of an athlete jumping out of a chopper

Do you have any cool tips ‘n tricks to share with other extreme sports photographers?

I always tell people that their images will stand out if they tried new things. Do this by trying out a new lens, focal length, aperture, some crazy angle or new technique. For example, after shooting FMX for eight years, I wanted to try something different, so I spent the whole day shooting with my 50mm lens on an aperture of f/1.4. This constricted the types of images I could take, but it also forced me to come up with new ideas, helping me to take images I had never took before. It was great fun. Remember that not everything is always going to work out 100%, but you still learn along the way and you might even capture something that blows your mind!

Extreme sports photograph of a breakdancer

What is your favourite sport to photograph and why?

I shoot many different sports, so this is a tough question to answer, but if I had to choose it would include FMX, BMX and breakdancing. In Japan these are all still considered minor sports, so the people involved have to work super hard to build their careers and create a positive environment for themselves and their fellow athletes to work in. By photographing these sports, I feel that in some small way I am helping Japan showcase these unique sports. I don’t know that I would’ve gotten the same feeling if I had been shooting soccer or baseball, if you know what I mean?

Extreme sports photograph of an FMX athlete

What is the most difficult sport to photograph?

For people just starting out, I must admit that Flatland BMX can be very challenging to shoot. It has a lot of very fast spins and technical tricks, so getting the timing just right can be hard at times, especially if you are using a flash. Flatland riders are super cool people, so don’t hesitate to shoot some if you get the chance!

Extreme sports photograph of an BMX athlete doing tricks

Do you have any hidden talents?

I can spin a zabuton (a flat, square Japanese pillow) on two fingers for a long time; and believe me, it’s harder than it sounds! I was 4th in Canada for archery, twice, and I have an 8th degree black belt in a Japanese martial art called Bujinkan, or Ninjutsu as it is commonly known. (Just don’t ask me to show you any of the martial arts moves as then I’d have to kill you.)

A portrait photograph of an extreme sports athlete

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I want to continue growing as a photographer and artist, and simply enjoy life. If I can do that, I feel everything else will fall into place, as it should.

Find instant inspiration on this talented Red Bull photographer’s Facebook page and website.

A different angle of a BMX athlete
An awesome shot of an FMX athlete getting some serious air
A cool shot of a skateboarder
A cool angle of a cliff diver

About the Author:

Wouda McMicken spends her work days as part of the driven Outdoorphoto team. She enjoys photography, especially experimenting with her treasured Nikon Film camera. The privilege of doing interviews with Professional Photographers all over the world is what makes her get up in the mornings, excited for a new day’s work. She is a self-confessed klutz and can be easily bribed with a stylish pair of jeans or good food. Having the ‘need’ for her nails to be neatly painted at all times, fresh jam doughnuts and salted caramel ice cream is her kryptonite. She dreams of a future filled with sunny skies, palm trees and sandy beaches with her Ukulele and a Piña Colada close by.

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