Will Crooks works with Carolina Athletes for Lululemon’s Ambassador 2020 Program
If you heard that Will Crooks did a shoot with sportswear brand Lululemon and then visited his website, you might be surprised by what you find. There’s not much in the way of action shots (though Will is more than capable at getting those, as we’ll discuss) on the landing page, mostly just oodles of high-quality portraits.
My approach to photographing sports is rooted more in editorial portraiture rather than a photojournalistic approach.
This mindset, in addition to the resultant work, is what drew Will to the well-known athleisure company. Not one to pigeonhole himself, the southern transplant submitted a portfolio that mixed candid shots with “environmental portraits” to Lululemon, whose reps took a shine to Will’s versatility.
I was first recommended for the work via a local ad agency, which got my foot in the door. I was asked to send in my portfolio for review. I included a link to a personal project that later turned into an editorial piece on a boxing gym I photographed over several months in Greenville.
This specific project showed my ability to capture athletes during their daily practice in addition to producing polished environmental portraits of them. I was told by the Lululemon reps that this work was the deciding factor that led their Vancouver-based creative to approve me as the photographer for the Greenville and Asheville markets for the Lululemon Ambassador 2020 Program.
How Will even had the chance to get his work in front of Lululemon is a story in itself, one that speaks to the importance of knowing everyone in your area who’s even somewhat in your line of work. Though he’s never fully collaborated with the intermediary ad agency, Brains on Fire, Will’s made sure to stay in contact with its employees. This intelligent bit of networking serves as a great lesson for young photographers: stay on your peers’ radars and make an effort to pick their brains. You may very well see a tangible return on that investment.
I’ve never actually worked with BoF directly due to the fact that the clients they handle do not need the type of photo work I usually do. But I have maintained a good professional relationship with several of their art directors. We regularly bounce ideas off of each other while working on different creative projects. I think it shows the importance of building a strong community with other creatives in your market.
Since Brains on Fire is deeply familiar with Will’s work, the agency knew that he was perfect for Lululemon’s ask, which was to get a mix of action shots and portraiture. In two cities —Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina — over four days, Will worked with six ambassador athletes, forging a connection with them and then letting them do their thing.
The creative teams I worked with supplied an incredible brand guide for the work that gave me a cohesive creative framework while still being open and flexible to my ideas as the shoots progressed.
The key for me is time with the subjects. With every type of portrait I make, I approach it from an interpersonal connection space first. If I can't connect with my subject and make them comfortable, then the images will always be lacking the connectivity that is essential, even if the image already has incredible lighting and composition.
For photographing athletes, my goal is to get them to be relaxed enough with me in their space that they can go about their practice in a focused state without being distracted by my presence.
While most of Will’s work was done in fitness studios, one of the athletes was a cyclist and that in-motion imagery proved hardest to create. With the help of a jerry-rigged seatbelt, Will put himself in the right position to do his work.
The toughest shots to get were definitely the action shots of the cyclist traveling up curvy, narrow mountain roads.
In order to nail the candid moments, I had to ride in the back of my SUV with the door open and myself strapped in with webbing to get the exact moments I needed.
Though in-studio work is ostensibly easier to shoot, some of it presented a different — but still formidable — obstacle than the outdoor photography. In order to get images that featured the athletes executing intense poses without the usual accompanying strained faces, Will bookmarked enough time to allow his subjects to repeat their movements so he could coach them through Lululemon’s requirements.
The other challenging frames were poses that the athletes could only hold for short intervals. The creative direction was to have the athletes not look overly aggressive in any frames, so capturing these dynamic shots while the subjects had just the right expression was a bit maddening.
When photographing athletes, it’s best to allow their practice to unfold naturally and then return to certain positions, especially if you see a beautiful position but cannot quite capture it in the exact original moment. I also know to set aside more time than necessary for athletics-based shoots, as they require lots of repetition to nail certain dynamic movements.
Many of Will’s photos are the product of detailed planning, but his personal favorites are the shots in between those mapped-out images, which lines up with the freelancer’s photographic ethos.
My favorite shots are the quieter moments as well as the authentic moments of joy the athletes found during their practice. Those moments cannot be planned and always end up carrying a much stronger emotional connection for the viewer.
When making the more candid images, I aim to capture those moments of focus in between the heavy workloads. I am interested in the quiet, introspective moments of determination that happen amidst the practice.
If you’re local to Greenville or Asheville, you can see Will’s work in those markets’ Lululemon locations. Otherwise, you can find it on the company’s website. Will was incredibly complimentary of Lululemon’s assistance throughout the project, which hit that sweet spot of thoughtful planning setting the stage for opportunistic spontaneity that creatives like Will need while on assignment.
These images are being presented in the Greenville and Asheville Lululemon stores to showcase this year's new Lululemon Ambassadors and will be up for all of 2020. The images will also be used to showcase the Lululemon Ambassadors on the Lululemon website.
I appreciate how defined of a vision Lululemon had for the imagery. They provided enough direction to give me a framework without hindering my creative process. The teams in Greenville and Asheville were both incredibly fun to work with and more than happy to lend a hand on each shoot day in any and every way possible. They brought an infectiously positive energy to the four-hour shoots, which helped drive the creative process and kept the athletes energized through the day.
Lululemon Creative Team:
Check out more of Will's work at willcrooksphoto.com.
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