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Feature: Joel Hawksley starts a photography career  
Wednesday, July 6, 2011 | by Eamon Hickey
Fast Start: Photographer Joel Hawksley. Click to enlarge (Photo by Brittany Bott)
Joel Hawksley is off to a fast start. With two quarters to go before he graduates from Ohio University (OU) with a degree in photojournalism, Hawksley has already been working as a staff photographer for two years. And he's compiled an impressive portfolio of photographs in that time.

Hawksley is the OU Athletic Department's staff photographer, where he's called upon to shoot a mix of things. "My job kind of goes in cycles," Hawksley says. "I'll have long swaths of just action, then a week of shooting portraits."

The action photography comprises, of course, games played by OU's various sports teams, and the portraits are mainly of OU athletes and other Athletic Department personnel.

Hawksley also takes freelance assignments whenever they're available, and he's the official photographer for OU's marching band. A year ago, he did an internship at The Grand Rapids (MI) Press, and he's already started his second, at The Seattle Times.

The OU Athletic Department uses his images as editorial handouts for local media, including the school's newspaper, and for marketing. "I never know where my images are going to show up," Hawksley says. "They use them on the Department's web site, on schedule cards, posters, billboards, TV commercials, on-campus advertising."

Sophisticated work

For such a young photographer, Hawksley is doing a lot of advanced photography. He credits it partly to the good fit he's found at the Athletic Department, which allows him the freedom to experiment. "Being a staff photographer has been great," he says. "I really like the flexibility of having a set scope for my work, and then having free reign to do it whatever way I want."

Hawksley shoots about 100 athletic events a year, and making a unique picture at each one of them is a challenge. To meet it, Hawksley employs all the tools and tricks of the modern sports photographer's trade, including multiple remote cameras, short duration studio flash packs, high-speed sync with Speedlights and whatever else he can dream up to improve the content and technical quality of his game coverage.

Hoop: Nikon D700 + AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G at 14mm, ISO 500, 1/250, f/8. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

"Working with more advanced equipment allows me to push the level of my photography," he says. "I've shot swimming at 1/4000th of a second with little strobes. That's something that [photographers] could never have done before."

He's got a lot of great equipment to push by virtue of the fact that Nikon sponsors the OU photojournalism department, and the company has stuffed the school's equipment locker with a large cache of top-end gear.

The treasure chest includes camera bodies such as the D700, D3S, and D3X; lenses from the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G IF-ED to the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II to fisheye and perspective-control optics; a full range of Speedlights, and more.

"I'm kind of spoiled here," Hawksley says. "I can just walk in and grab three D700 or D3X bodies. I really have to take advantage of that. I'm not going to have access to [so much gear] when I get out of school." Hawksley has also recently been doing beta testing for PocketWizard and Dynalite.

His own personal gear is also Nikon and includes the D3 and D700, the AF-S Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED, the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, and the AF-S VR Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED.

He uses PocketWizard MultiMAX and FlexTT5 radio remotes for flash and camera triggering, as well as the PocketWizard PowerMC2 with his Paul C. Buff Einstein 640 monolights. In addition to the Einstein monolights, Hawksley uses Dynalite AP1600 power packs with AH4000 bi-tube short duration flash heads.

Hawksley handles most of his imaging workflow, from import to delivery, with Camera Bits Photo Mechanic 4.6. He uses Adobe Photoshop CS5 occasionally for image adjustments and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 for tethered shooting.

For video and audio work, his main tools are Apple Final Cut Studio and Apple Logic Pro 9, as well as Soundslides for audio slideshows.

The virtues of access

Another factor that helps Hawksley make strong photos is the access and time that his job permits him. The Athletic Department lets him experiment with remote setups and camera positions in OU venues that would be very difficult for an outside editorial photographer to get. Equally important, he gets a higher level of cooperation from his subjects.

"I cannot emphasize enough how important the level of access has been to getting the images I've shot," he says. "The athletes know me and trust me, so they don't mind if I stick a strobe in their face. I enjoy shooting editorial stuff, but ... a lot of times [on editorial assignments] there aren't enough options logistically, or in terms of time and location." His staff job, on the other hand, "gives me the extra access and enough options to make good images."

After school

Twenty-five years ago a photojournalism graduate from a good school would almost automatically head for a newspaper job, but the current media landscape makes things much more uncertain. Hawksley isn't yet sure where he'll go after OU.

"Shooting a lot is helping me find my path," he says. "The more I shoot the more I learn about myself and what I enjoy. This job has shown me that I want to take an editorial approach but not necessarily in an editorial situation. I don't want to be just one of 25 photographers shooting from the outside. At this point I can shoot whatever I want in any style that I want. I'd like to find a place where I can have that same level of creative control."

Although he is not opposed to a newspaper gig, Hawksley feels that shooting for a marketing organization, as he is now, may give him more of what he's looking for, and he says he'll probably start his job search in the collegiate environment.

Still and moving

As the media landscape changes, so too must the technology and forms of visual journalism and communications, a fact that is lost on no one, of course, especially not leading photojournalism programs like OU's.

"Our school has very quickly embraced [video]," Hawksley says. "Every quarter we have core electives in video production and audio production. Working with stills in sequence and video in sequence.

"I have no doubt that ten or fifteen years from now I will have lots of equipment to shoot video, especially editorially. I mean it's just something you're going to have to offer."

Hawksley applies his experimental nature to video and other non-still imagery equally as much as he does to traditional photography. When we interviewed him, he'd just finished an overhead remote time-lapse shoot of a concert in OU's The Convocation Center. He used a GoPro HD Hero, a tiny, "wearable" (or, as in this case, easily clampable), fixed focus camera capable of shooting not only time-lapse sequences but also video footage up to 1080p and 5-megapixel stills.

To get the concert time-lapse, Hawksley mounted the camera overhead, turned it on, and left it. He powered it using the USB outlet on a Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium, which allowed the GoPro to capture ten continuous hours of setup-to-teardown frames.

Time Lapse: GoPro Hero HD set to capture still frames continuously for ten hours (Video courtesy Joel Hawksley)

"It all comes down to practice," he says. "The only way you can learn it is to do it."

Gallery

What follows is a collection of photographs by Joel Hawksley. Click on any one to see a larger version. To see more of Hawksley's work, check out his website and blog, as well as the pages of The Seattle Times.

Fingertips: Nikon D700 + AF-S 400mm f/2.8G, ISO 3200, 1/1000, f/2.8. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Eyes: Nikon D3 + AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G at 175mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/9. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Jubo: Nikon D3 + AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G at 200mm, ISO 400, 1/1600, f/4. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Tan: Nikon D700 + AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8D at 30mm, ISO 1000, 1/250, f/8. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/The Grand Rapids Press)

Pitch: Nikon D3 + AF-S 200-400mm f/4G at 360mm, ISO 320, 1/2500, f/4. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Wee Wrestler: Nikon D700 + AF 50mm f/1.4D, ISO 1600, 1/320, f/1.4. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley)

Marching Band: Nikon D3 + AF-S 24mm f/1.4G, ISO 1250, 1/200, f/1.4. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Father: Nikon D700 + AF 50mm f/1.4D, ISO 1000, 1/800, f/1.4. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley)

Holler: Nikon D700 + AF-S 400mm f/2.8G, ISO 250, 1/500, f/5.6. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Loss: Nikon D3 + AF-S 200-400mm f/4G at 240mm , ISO 1250, 1/1250, f/4. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Catch: Nikon D700 + AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G at 24mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/11. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Upright: Nikon D3 + AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G at 62mm, ISO 320, 1/250, f/13. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Tip Off: Nikon D3 + AF-S 70-200 f/2.8G at 70mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/5.6. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Team: Composite image. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

Bite: Nikon D700 + AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8D at 35mm, ISO 500, 1/320, f/4. Click to enlarge (Photo by Joel Hawksley/Ohio University Athletic Department)

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