The best photos often come when the photographer can blend a personal passion with his professional work. That’s certainly the case with Zach Ancell, an athlete-turned-photographer who specializes in commercial sports photography. Zach identifies more as an athlete than an artist, but there’s no doubt that his “sportraits” of amateurs and professionals are more than just marketing materials. He applies the same intense work ethic and attention to detail that is key to success in sports to his photography, and it pays off with absolutely stunning images.
Zach wears the CAMPS BAY BACKPACK.
ONA: How did you get into photography?
ZA: It’s kind of weird because growing up I was never the artistic type at all. Halfway though college I was going through some personal issues and just needed something to get my mind off of everything. Photography started out as a way to get out of the house, so I would go on little day trips and take landscape photos. After a couple of months my teammates started to bug me to take portraits of them and that was when I started taking my first “sportraits.” Not long after that I had people from all different teams at the university wanting me to take photos of them. That was initially how I built up my portfolio and the start of my path to becoming a professional photographer.
ONA: What camera do you shoot with? What is your “go to” lens of choice?
ZA: Within the last month I made the switch to Nikon so I’m currently in the process of getting everything switched over. My main camera is a D800 and a D600 for backup (or projects where I don’t really need or want to utilize the 36mp sensor). I’ve always been in love with my 24-70mm zooms. Even when I was shooting on a cropped sensor I pretty much always shot with a 17-55mm. I mostly shoot at f/8.0, so I don’t really take advantage of any fast primes. Plus, the zoom gives me some flexibility with the action portraits. In all honesty, I could probably weld the 24-70mm onto my D800 and never be disappointed about it.
ONA: What sort of project drives your creativity? Follow Up: What is your dream project?
ZA: I love the collaborative process and working with other people on images. There’s only so much that I can bring to the table and it’s always great to get the input of other people on what they think would make the image even better. A lot of the work that I do with the University of Oregon is like that. I’ll trade emails with the creative services director sometimes until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning going back and forth with ideas. It’s that process that helps make the images so much better.
As for a dream project, I’d love to work on something for the Olympics in 2016. I’m not sure to what extent, but creating photos of the world’s greatest athletes from all around the world sounds like a lot of fun!
ONA: What is the hardest thing about being a photographer?
ZA: Not always being able to create exactly what I see in my mind. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist and so it drives me crazy when I can’t get an image to look the way I want it to look. There are very few images in my portfolio that I can look at without seeing a few things that I wish I could change. But, I think that’s all a part of the creative process and helps you create even better images in the future.
ONA: Describe your style of shooting.
ZA: Methodical. With a lot of the composite work I feel like you have to have a game plan going into the shoot. You need to know roughly what the background is going to be and how you are going to place your subject (especially if there is more than one person). It becomes even more important to plan ahead when you are doing a full body composite because you really need the pieces to fit together. I’m not going to shoot the portrait portion at 85mm and then the background at 24mm. I want to keep as many things as I possibly can consistent so the final image looks more realistic.
Right now, I’m working on building up a new portfolio that’s a little more off the cuff and that involves a lot less planning. Of course I still need to plan out location, lighting and all that good stuff but there’s a lot more freedom in just going out and not having an exact idea of what the final image is going to look like. When you shoot a portrait or background for a composite you’re somewhat locked into making that element work for the final product.
ONA: In one sentence, what advice would you give to a photographer just starting out?
ZA: Constantly experiment.
ONA: How did you hear about us?
ZA: I’m a big fan of Dean Bradshaw’s work and I think the first time I saw one of your bags was when he did his video review. It took me a while to pull the trigger and get one for myself but I’m so glad I did!
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