“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Admit it, you like to look good. Who doesn’t? Taking pride in one’s appearance should not be disparaged. However, there has never been a vainer creature to walk the earth than perhaps a paintball player.
And why not? We play a high adrenaline sport where we shoot at each other, donning our “helmets”, our “uniforms”, “warring” with each other in “combat”, out thinking, out maneuvering, and out gunning our opponents like we are John Wick performing the Mozambique technique (at least that’s how we see ourselves yes?) Which brings us to the ones who captured it… the forgotten ones……the people who make us look good. The people who tell the story for those who were and weren’t there. Those who capture our most personal moments on the field and in some instances, off.
In triumph and defeat, I am, of course, speaking about paintball photographers.
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have had the privilege to meet and make friends with several photographers over my years in the sport, all with unique personalities. Each with a talent that is often misunderstood in a profession that is often misunderstood as well.
I thought, after all the times that they have helped us tell our story, we should hear theirs. I reached out to some who have not only made me look good but many of you as well. I have known some for years and others I have recently become acquainted with through teams I coach or other friends. All of them have something in common beside their paintball photography and that is that I find their work awesome.
When I first thought about doing this blog, I really didn’t know where or how I was going to write it. I thought, keep it simple. So I just shot off a couple of questions to see what I would get. What I got was some further insight into what I already knew were some pretty cool human beings. I am honored to know them so, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls (there are only two genders…) I give you my friends the paintball photographers!
You can’t have a blog or whatever about paintball photographers without mentioning the guy who pretty much paved the way. Those cool action photos of the NXL professional division? Those cool NXL Europe photos you see of their pro division? Yeah, you can’t say paintball photos without mentioning Paintballphotography.com, run by none other than the man, the myth, the legend…Gary Baum.
How many of you know he is a orthodontist with a post doctoral degree, teaches at Universities, does leading research and writes journals for jaw surgery as well as a legal consultant and commercial drone pilot? Or that he wrote the NXL waivers? Did you know that 9 weekends out of the year he’ll walk 10 miles carrying around 50 lbs. of equipment?
Gary and I go back to 2011 (I was certainly familiar with his work prior – who wasn’t?). He came up to me after our finals match at World Cup and said, “Hey, that was a good match.” (It wasn’t…but thank you Gary). From then on, he and I would always stop and chat when we could. I spent about an hour and half on the phone with him recently and I have to tell you, I could probably write the entire blog on Gary alone. But he wouldn’t want that.
“Here’s my personal philosophy – I want to be that wedding photographer – he walks around, no one notices him, he does his job and goes home. Some people think I am anti social. I’m not. I’m there to work , I’m there to do a job. I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t need a persona. In my opinion, media should be invisible. I’m judged by my content not what I look or act like.”
“I started taking pics at NPPL at the first Huntington beach. Camille let me on the field. (That’s a funny story too – Zen). Afterwards, I got a call from Jungle magazine – they asked for me to give them 5 pictures – When they got them, I got hired on spot. Then things just took off.”
How many of you know that Jungle Magazine owns Facefull?
“I hated watching the paintball magazines all fold.”
Did you know he has written the media regulations for all the leagues? NPPL/PSP/NXL – He’s known Tom Cole forever – And works for GI and Valken.
“I don’t make good pictures I take good pictures. I’m a witness…like a press photographer.”
So how does he get the shots?
“Pros are easy… they move easily. They are predictable. I’ve been shooting some of these guys for a long time so I have learned their nuances. I know what looks good. It’s the brute force approach. I take a lot of photos so I’m going to get some that look good. Spray and pray really. I’ve probably watched more paintball matches than anyone alive. I’m ambidextrous in my eyes and hands and I have great peripheral eyesight.”
“Speedball is repetitive. Scenario is more challenging. I want eyes as it gives a level of intensity. Now, you get shot to shit but I don’t notice it anymore.”
Like I said, we could probably write an entire disertation on Gary… but I like how he closed out our converation.
“So many great photographers coming up. I don’t have competitors. I have colleagues and I want to see them all do well.”
Word. Thank you for your amazing contributions to our sport sir.
This next photographer started taking photographs of paintball because he wanted to show his friends what they looked like when they played. It morphed from there.
“My friend got me into it back in 2006. I did take regular photos, but really enjoyed paintball photos. Video was just a natural progression, cameras nowadays have both abilities. We’d go to my house after practice and we’d make little edits just to share between us. ”
I remember Hunter Laughlin of Tufshot Media handing out his Tufshot stickers at an event (CFOA maybe?) back around 2010? I also remember every member of my team grabbing some and putting them on our hoppers. Mine stayed on my hopper for almost 3 years! What I like about Hunter is how passionate he is about … well… everything.
“Paintball is the most epic thing to shoot in my opinion because it’s so exciting. To me, nothing compares to seeing someone shoot someone else. Race cars, real guns…. nothing compares to seeing someone get someone else.”
He’s quick to tell you about the investment. And understandably so. I, personally, could not do it.
“One thing I wish people understood is how much money we spend on equipment, and how much our equipment takes. I’ve taken 100K+ setups on field before.”
Do you think paintball photographers and refs get the respect they deserve?
“Refs have it pretty bad but they have zero responsibility when they leave that field. Videographers and photographers have to worry about putting thousands of dollars of their own equipment in front of 300 mph objects… Once the event is over…. then the real work begins…. editing. For the next three weeks you edit and edit and edit. No one goes through what we go through…I filmed 40 teams last event. We don’t get to see games, just record parts, and rarely know who wins. So when people say they do it for the sport and say “grow paintball,” I snicker …. because none of them do what we do for our sport.”
Thank you Hunter! Please keep up the great work! And thank you for that video edit too!
STRETCHING IT TO THE LIMIT
I know one photographer who towers above the others… literally. And his Cooper has logged more miles in one season than most people put on their vehicle in a lifetime. Not to mention looks better than most paintball players. I also believe he was the first photographer that Prime hired when we finally felt like we were worth documenting. And yes, he did an excellent job.
“I got into photography shooting photos of my car. I was still playing paintball at the time. Once I figured out you could make money instead of spending it, I sold my guns and started taking photos. I haven’t shot a paintball gun in probably 6 years.”
Nice. Dude’s totally pragmatic. And I certainly appreciate that. So why does Phillip “Stretch” Baker of 1904Photography take photos of paintball players?
“I like shooting paintball because it has a lot going for it in terms of photos… the action and emotion of the sport, plus cool stuff like snagging a photo that is clearly a fraction of a second, the splat.”
I asked Stretch to pick one specific thing that he wished people knew about him. He wasn’t having it. Instead, he gave me another sensible answer which I appreciated because of his candor.
“I’m terrible with questions requiring me to pick one thing… ha-ha, it always varies depending how I feel that day. Today’s answer is…. I’m not as much of an asshole as people think… I’m just quiet.”
Awesome. I think that’s what I love about Stretch… a man of few words but all are thought out. Thank you Mr. Baker sir for your continued work!
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MOHR!
This next photographer works with Gary and Hunter at NXL events. He also thinks I’m an angry guy… I’m not. But that is a story over beer… and with both of us at the table to defend our view points. (I’m kidding… He doens’t think I am an angry guy… much)
Michael Mohr of MMPhotography played his first paintball event at a 3 man tournament at Pevs Cousins Indoor on Long Island.
“We went 1-7 the whole day. We were excited though because the only team we beat was the first place team of the tournament. Long story short, I had a good time with my friends and got an opportunity to meet Billy Wing and shoot his dm6. A photographer was there and got a picture of me shooting Billy’s new gun. I was beyond excited to get that one awesome clear picture. So even though we were terrible I got a memory of a good time I had with my friends on my first tournament.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I was taking photos for other stuff at the time but I wanted to be that photographer that got photos of the “new guys” of our sport. So, even though you could have gone 5-3,4-4 and just didn’t quite make it on to finals. You had a photo to look back on when you were playing with your bros. Next thing you know, I’m traveling around the states shooting multiple events meeting great people new friends and capturing great memories for people.”
Prime was lucky enough to be one of those teams a few times… But his story started like a lot of other photogrpahers that end up in Paintball.
“I was a normal photographer doing couples’ shoots and basic non action stuff. I was introduced into paintball at an early stage of my photography career as well though. As the years go by you learn and grow and find what’s your style for the sport.”
I like that line. Style for the sport. And it make sense to me. So what is it about Paintball he loves to shoot and why?
“No sport will compare to the speed of paintball. To be able to freeze a paintball in midair or a splat off someone’s mask. Any player in any position can make a great play and you have to be ready at all times or you’ll miss the shot. I almost get an adrenaline rush taking photos sometimes because the action gets so intense. I love having the ability to capture those action shots.
But again I love the friendships this sport creates. Memories between father and son, brothers, friends both good and bad. These moments in paintball are worth everything too.”
Outstanding view point my friend! Thank you again for all your amazing work sir! And remember, it’s not anger if it motivates them… lol
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
What I find fascinating about Nichola Hayden in particular is that she hasn’t had any formal training or spent a single day in any photography classes. Everything to do with photography and editing she learned from trial and error. In other words, she practiced every chance she got.
“I first got into paintball photography as a hobby. I’d snap a few pics here and there at the field I worked at. This ended with me shooting some at a tournament that happened and well, it took off from there. No photography experience and I just learned as I went along. It took me just 1 year to get my name and work out there.”
She worked at Westworld Paintball for 6 years. This was after she played paintball and got hooked so she decided to apply for a part-time cashier job there. But, Nichola being Nichola, she worked her way to Field Manager within a few months. After a couple of years doing that, she worked her way into the Marketing Management position, (again no experience in Marketing).
“Give me a few and I will learn my way around the job.”
Shortly after, Tim Montressor asked her while at a local event to cover some Luxe Pro teams.
“Tim Montressor noticed my work and we got to talking at the local events that he teched at and he offered me the opportunity to cover the Pro teams and I of course accepted. I had already built up a good following and in my first year I used to fill all my spots and then some. I got a chance to go to my first World Cup that year thanks to QT aka Aardvark who worked with the Planet Eclipse tech team. He Introduced me to cup teams as I was only covering the local West Coast teams for WCPPL and UPL. He also helped me out to Fulda Gap to cover the official Planet Eclipse team Capital Offense. ”
But why? Why paintball?
“I enjoy shooting it (paintball) because I enjoyed playing it. Unfortunately, I had to step away from playing as it wasn’t financially viable to do as a single parent on a single parent income. So I still got to be in the fray and environment of paintball and able to make extra money doing so. ”
Make no mistake, Nichola is a strong, independent, hard-working woman and is not afraid to speak her mind. Something that I appreciate… and some don’t.
“A lot of people would nay-say and “hate” that I only got the work due to wearing booty shorts and having an overtly sexual presence online. But when NXL banned my short shorts and Fuzzy ears I was still continuously booked. A lot of people who booked me were the parents for their kids. I started taking more time out last year to focus on my personal life and being home more often. But the NXL World Cup 2017 I ended up with 27 total teams booked in. As you can imagine that was hard work and I recruited Jeff Zapfe to assist me. So I believe 100% it was my hard work and having the ability to network and be able to Market myself to anyone that got me so booked.”
Rock on with your bad self girl. May you continue to find great success in 2019 and beyond!
This last photographer is one I just met this past World Cup. We actually run in similar circles but it was the event that led to the meeting. Fun, jovial, opinionated, and driven, this guy is what we call in the south, “a hoot”. He is also quite modest. You can ask him, “Hey, if there was some advice you would give to teams looking to book a photographer, what would you tell them?” and he would say…
“Honestly not really sure here. If you do not know a photographer personally and you are needing pictures at an event ask around other teams and see who they suggest.”
Sean Snell of PFunky Snail photography is a genuine dude. Easy to talk to.
“I began playing the sport in 2004 and took a break in 2008 till 2015 where I came back into the sport playing D3. I fell back in love with the sport immediately and found friends that I had honestly forgotten about. The amount of money and time that it took to play competitively throughout the 2015 and 2016 seasons was starting to show and I just could not sustain it any longer. I had always been decent with a camera so I decided to give it a try. The knowledge that I have of the sport mixed with the passion I have for it and photography made a perfect match! I have been able to spend those event weekends with people who I consider family while still being on the field with them, just without a marker.”
So why was it a natural progression to trade the marker for a camera?
“I started doing photography back in 2012 when I was working with a production company shooting for beauty pageants. While with this company I was able to learn the basics of a camera and also learn basics with video as well.”
Beauty pageant photos to paintball photos? I get it…
“My love for the sport and the friends that I have made along the way is 100% why I love photographing this sport. One aspect in photography that I have always hated is posing people. With paintball you take the pictures that are presented to you. Watching down the lens zoomed in as you witness and capture someone just getting destroyed is quite exhilarating!”
“I do this for the love of the sport. As cliché’ as that sounds it is true. The sport has brought me many friends some of which I consider family and it is all attributed directly to paintball.”
Cheers to that sentiment Sean! Thank you for taking the time to respond to me for this blog. I look forward to getting to know you more and wish you and yours the very best!
I would like to thank all the photographers that took the time for this. There are a million more I wanted to talk to because I think they all have a fascinating story to tell and I truly enjoy hearing them. To those of you who I reached out to but were unable to get back to me in time, no worries! I understand and I am sure we will have another opportunity to tell your stories. In the meantime, if you are interested in the photographers who were in this blog, here are links to their work! And of course, you can find them all on Facebook, as well.
With that, MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone! I would like to leave you with this quote and prayer…
“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys” – Charles Dickens
The light of the Christmas star to you,
The warmth of home and hearth to you,
The cheer and good will of friends to you,
The hope of a childlike heart to you,
The joy of a thousand angels to you
The love of the Son,
And God’s peace to you.
Be water my friends!