It is 4 a.m. and I have just finished packing my car with camera gear. I’m driving to Readington, NJ, the location of the annual QuickChek Festival of Ballooning. Each year for three days hundreds of hot air balloons soar through the sky while spectators by the tens of thousands watch the amazing display. Although I am driving to the festival, hot air balloons are not my focus, because this year Red Bull is an event sponsor and the Red Bull Air Force Team is going to be putting on their own show.
By 5 a.m. the sun is still not up yet and I am wandering around a large field, coffee in hand, trying to find the Air Force Team for our scheduled pre-jump meeting. I finally meet up with the group, as well as Keith, the Red Bull event coordinator for the New Jersey area. After introductions, we go over the flight schedule and scheduled jump times for the day. I’ve been skydiving before, but this is the first time I will photograph skydiving, BASE-jumping and proxy flying (although I am not permitted to jump). The Air Force Team heads off to grab their parachutes as Keith and I go over the shot list he needs for the day. I’m told I will be joining the team in the plane and I will need to climb out onto the wing to photograph the jumpers as they exit the plane. I look at him with a blank stare and he simply looks at me with half smile and says,“Hey man, you’re shooting for Red Bull now. Don’t worry, those guys know what they are doing—and they have a parachute for you in case you fall off the wing.”
This is the point where I get “Johnny Utah’ed,” starting first with John Devore, head of the team. He asks, “Have you ever skydived before? Have you ever been in a small plane?” I responded yes to both questions and he tosses the parachute to me and I put it on and tighten all the straps. He walks over, checks everything and says, “Perfect. If you fall out just pull this cord,” and points to one located on the left side of my chest. As I nod, another member of the team walks up and tugs and grabs a few of the straps and says the same thing. “Good, just pull this cord if you fall out, got it?” Except, he is pointing to a completely different cord. At that moment, the last team member walks up and laughs and says, “No, no don’t listen to him. Before you pull the cord count to ten, then pull this one” as he points to the very first cord. Everyone is laughing because I am sitting there with the most confused look on my face and realize that they were all just giving me a hard time. Not for one second did I take off that parachute.
At this point the plane is ready. There is only one seat for the pilot, the rest of us sit on the floor of the plane. I am the last to get in and I sit next to the pilot with my back to the cockpit facing the rear of the plane with the exit door inches from me on the left. The pilot hands me a seat belt of sorts and instructs me to wrap it around the harness of the parachute on my thigh to prevent me from falling out of the plane. He then states, “If you do fall out I am cutting the strap and you will have to pull your chute because there is no way you will be crawling back in.” I just nod my head as the door next to me as we make our ascent into the sky.
We are about 4,000 feet up and the pilot looks at John and shouts “Two minutes!” The team double checks their rigging and pull themselves to their knees as they open the door directly to my left. At this moment the door slams up and locks against the wing and a rush of cold air flies into the plane. I look out the door and all I can see is brown and green patches of ground and the landing gear to the plane. John instructs me to put my back against the inside of the door, my left foot on the landing gear while anchoring my right foot on the inside of the door and as I follow his instructions, to my surprise, I find myself in a pretty stable locked-in position safe from falling. I have about a minute before they jump. I just sit there with almost half my body hanging outside a plane, parachute on, looking at the ground nearly 4,000 feet away, with a smile on my face from ear to ear thinking about what Keith said to me before I got in the plane, “You’re shooting for Red Bull now.”
My professional career in action sports photography began mainly because of friendships I had with many professional mountain bikers that I often photographed and rode with. The first advertisement I shot was for Fox Racing, featuring Aaron Chase, a professional Red Bull sponsored mountain bike rider.
Having the opportunity to shoot for such a well- known company in the Industry landed me an ad in some of the biggest mountain bike magazines in the country. That opened the door for more editorial and advertising work.
I was asked to submit my portfolio to a representative at Red Bull New York at the request of Red Bull Photofiles, which is a professional service for the international media provided by Red Bull. After I submitted my portfolio, I received an email that said I was approved by Red Bull Photofiles and was also asked if I would be interested in shooting for Red Bull on a freelance basis as a Photofiles approved photographer. Ever since I have been shooting for Red Bull on a monthly basis—it’s opened so many doors for me and has allowed me to photograph the best action sports athletes in the world.