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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Robert Beck - Photo Finish

Robert Beck is a Sports Illustrated photographer based in Southern California. On Monday he gets his assignments, and then he and his gear hit the road to bring in the perfect pictures...yet again.

Photo Finish Robert Beck's arsenal of gear is as eclectic as the variety of sports he photographs for Sports Illustrated—he has a full collection of equipment, from Holga cameras to the latest digital SLR systems. SI staff shooters receive their assignments on Monday morning and, frequently, Beck is on the road by that afternoon to cover whatever venue or event the editors in New York deem necessary for the magazine. When you have to be that mobile, having gear that you know will get the shot for you is essential.

“I have just about every photographic tool I would need for any shoot or production—right here, right now,” says Beck.” The photographer thinks of the world as his studio. He's ready at the drop of a hat to load up his camera, a portable lighting outfit and anything else he needs; then, he's on his way to wherever the action is.

Sports Illustrated takes the world's best sports pictures—that's a cornerstone of their mission. Get the shot. Period. The equipment used by their photographers isn't chosen for convenience. It isn't chosen for cost savings. It isn't chosen because it's in vogue and cool at a particular point in time. The equipment the SI photographers use is selected with one consideration: Will it get The Shot?

The photographers for SI are keenly aware of this mission, of course. As one of the best, Beck has helped lead the way from an all-film to all-digital production at the magazine. A couple of years ago, Sports Illustrated began to make a switch. While the magazine's art department had been digital for years (as are all magazine art departments), the photographers were exclusively film-based.

When high-end digital cameras started to emerge with high resolution and shooting speeds that made them viable for sports photography, SI took notice. The thinking was that these cameras could conceivably do a better job than film. A lot of the photography that appears in an issue of Sports Illustrated is made under low-light conditions where film isn't an ideal medium. Digital looked like a promising solution due to its superior low-light performance and broader latitude. The potential for cost savings and greater efficiency was just an added bonus.

Beck's rise to the pinnacle of sports photography followed an unlikely and circuitous route. As a student at the University of California at Irvine, he studied art history and played baseball. By the time he finished school, he had a degree in history and a teaching credential. Teaching was a natural fit for Beck as it gave him time to pursue another passion he had developed in college: surfing.

With his afternoons free, Beck could be found in the water at Southern California surf spots. He took this time to hone his surfing skills, but he also began to develop an interest in the peculiar niche of surf photography.

Says Beck, “I began to dabble in surf photography and spent most of my weekends and vacations shooting surfers and refining my photo skills in the water and on the beach.” While it was definitely early, Beck's photography career was born.


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