Atlanta, Georgia-based photographer Brandon Clifton has always been drawn to the storytelling behind the photographs. Usually, this story revolves around the subject, but this time around, it had more to do with the events leading up to and during the shoot itself. When he was contacted by The Red Bulletin, a RedBull-produced sports magazine, to shoot Jolanda Neff for their Switzerland issue, Brandon couldn’t anticipate the events this one-day assignment had in store — partly because he didn’t have time to do so.
Brandon was called the day before the shoot because the original photographer backed out, so he had to consider the feasibility of taking on a project without having time to figure out the logistics. Luckily, the Atlantan could drop everything and be on location the following morning. After a conversation with Rudi Uebelhoer, the magazine’s photo director, he was confident that he could execute the shoot well and exceed the client’s expectations despite the time crunch.
I believe that if I’m readily available, accommodating, and continue to do good work, I’ll move up the ranks a bit. It starts out as being a quality backup choice and takes proving yourself before you start getting jobs as the first choice.
The following morning, Brandon packed his gear and drove three hours to meet Jolanda on the rural roads close to her North Carolina home.
It’s the perfect place for a cyclist. There were dirt roads for miles, long stretches of highways, and even a couple of small mountains.
Most photographers are used to the challenge of extreme climates or difficult terrain, but what started as a beautiful day in the mountains of North Carolina quickly turned into a life-threatening situation when faulty power lines broke and nearly fell on Brandon and Jolanda. The road became a minefield of debris and wires; not long after, an oncoming cyclist crashed into the wreckage before the team could warn him. While the man was a little banged up, he was wholly unconcerned with his own safety and instead overjoyed meeting an internationally recognized fellow cyclist.
We all went over to check on him and I’ll never forget seeing this man so excited to meet Jolanda with blood running down his face.
Unforeseen circumstances always present a challenge when you plan to shoot in one location and are forced to change at the last minute. But for Jolanda, who has trekked through the area extensively, it wasn’t too hard to come up with other sites that were beautiful, dynamic, and safer.
We made the decision to get off that mountain as soon as possible and try different locations because it seemed to have been cursed.
Luckily, the curse didn’t follow the team (which consisted only of Brandon and his assistant) after leaving the original location. The client fully entrusting Brandon to photograph Jolanda without on-site presence made it easier for the skeleton crew to improvise. This setup also allowed the photographer some freedom to approach the assignment in his own way. Brandon had the chance to test out various angles to capture a collection of interesting, natural-looking portraits.
Having such a small crew allowed us to get shots we wouldn’t have normally been able to get with a large set and crew.
Not only did the small team offer Brandon flexibility in location and style, but it also created an environment of comfortability between photographer and subject that is well represented in his photographs.
The more comfortable everyone is around one another, the better the photography is going to be.
In a smiling candid shot of Jolanda, you can sense that she was at ease during her time with Brandon, and this speaks to his philosophy of connecting to the subjects. The imagery produced shows that while avoiding certain death, helping others to safety, and doing what they love, the pair wholly appreciated their sun-soaked day on the trails.
She really was the most down to earth person I’ve met in a long time and so devoted to her craft. She inspired me and has proven that if you work really hard at something, success will inevitably follow.