While waiting for Derek at Rocka Jacks (a local coffee shop with espressos closest to European I have encountered on the new continent), I am skimming today’s paper and preparing myself for our interview. The truth is I am not a journalist and I didn’t prepare myself ahead of time.
I am excited to talk to Derek. His photography impressed me the first time he submitted shots to our site. I am ashamed that I didn’t know anything about this young star in the sport I love so much, but I sure remembered his shots from different bike magazines and catalogues. Until lately I didn’t pay much attention to who took the photos just who the riders were. What a mistake.
Derek is entering the shop, greeting an employee who right away compliments Derek’s recent shots published in a magazine. After we settled who is buying coffee we picked a quiet spot in the cafe and readied ourselves for the interview. (The espresso wasn’t as good as usual but the company was excellent so I couldn’t complain.)
Zlatan: When did you first get the camera in your hands?
Derek: Not until grade 12, so…… 6 years ago. I was biking a long time before photography. I had an old Nishiki Navaho over 10 years ago. We took our bikes and went to Sand Hills near Regina, and took some photos. The first thing I got published made the cover of BIKE for the photo annual in ’98, from 10 minutes outside of Regina. BIKE was the first place I submitted my photos. Nobody told me I couldn’t shoot mountain bikers for a living, so I did it. Now I have people ask me do you make living doing that? And I say yep! If people did this when I started I probably wouldn’t have pursued it. I know a lot of photographers who try to work their way up from little publications and make a name for themselves. I just had enough stuff that I thought was OK so I sent it in and they used three shots in the photo annual.
<a onclick=”MM_openBrWindow(‘/images/people/frankowski/bikemag.jpg’,”,’width=840,height=640′)” href=”[removed];”> I was born and raised in Regina. Being from Regina worked to my advantage because I would go with guys to the gravel pits or Wascana Trails and I had to make it better than what it was. I had to compete with guys from all over the world, shooting in exotic locales, so I had to put more effort into it. Now when I go to locations that are wicked I’m just like, “this is easy”. Being flatlander I get funny reactions every single time when people ask me where I am from.
Zlatan: So what was your next step after you got your first shot published? Derek: I didn’t know if I wanted to go to school for photography or not. You don’t need a piece of paper to sell photos; they just want to se what you can do. But I ended up going to Calgary and went to SAIT for two years, taking Journalism Arts with specialization in Photojournalism. That was pretty cool. I learned a lot about computers.
Zlatan: Did it help you in your profession?
Derek: It didn’t help my shooting style so much as it help knowing computers and marketing. When I was going to school I worked for Mark Gallup, who is a big-time snowboard photographer. I got to see how his operation works a little, before he fired my ass when I got cover of BIKE cause he didn’t want to train competition. His exact words were:” I know you’re gonna make it – I just don’t want to help you get there.”
Zlatan: Didn’t a magazine contact you through ShutUpAndRide?
Derek: Launch Mag? Yes, they did and I send them 60-80 slides. They are pretty nice, small B.C. magazine. That is good too, that I am starting to get known by the riders. Dangerous Dan, before he even knew me, dropped 20 footer for me. He was really scared that I wasn’t going to get the shot. I can understand that. He did it a bunch of times though and I sold that shot everywhere. Cove Production made a calendar, it was in a Race Face catalogue, BIKE, etc… That bumps me up in his books so he will be willing to do something for me next time. Just like riders have to build their name, it’s same with photographers.
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Zlatan: How do you get people to ride for you?
Derek: Just call them, e-mail them. They are pretty good. Wade Simmons, Richie Schley all those big guys are very cool.
Zlatan: Do you pay those guys?
Derek: I am giving certain guys percentages of editorial sales, guys that do that professionally. I think they appreciate it, and it gets both the rider and photographer looking to get the best shot.
Zlatan: Are you sponsored by Ellsworth?
Derek: Nope, but I’ve shot for them and I have a good little side deal, in regards to editorial photos.
Zlatan: How did you get that?
Derek: We did a trip two-and-a-half years ago after we contacted about 50 different companies and got five aboard to give us products in return for exposure in magazines. We got free equipment and they got free advertising. Advertising is super expensive, and we couldn’t afford all the gear we needed. We had Bell, Spy, Camelback, Roach, and Ellsworth. It lead to some long-term clients.
Zlatan: You got some photos in the 2003 Giro catalogue?
Derek: Oh yeah, that photo with Richie Schley in Kamloops and Dan on the Shore. The Richie shot was a photo that Fox hired me to shoot and when they were done with them I got them back to re-sell.
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Zlatan: Do you ride with guys when you work or how do you follow them?
Derek: Depends of the location. If I am on the North Shore I will probably just hike, ’cause it is such a bitch to bike around. If I am in Kamloops, I bike. It is good not to have a bike if you don’t need it, so you don’t have to worry about it moving it out of the picture and such. The photo shoots are probably lackluster compared to what people think. It is a lot of work. You put a lot of sweat into it and sometimes you don’t get anything. But sometimes you get good light, good riders, and locations. It just comes together, and that’s when I get really stoked.
Zlatan: How much time you spend shooting?
Derek: This year I spent maybe four months actually shooting. You spent more time trying to promote yourself, and ironically shooting becomes a smaller part of it.
Zlatan: How do you promote yourself?
Derek: I try to use magazines to promote my name little bit, to get my name out there. Ultimately I want to sell to companies because they have bigger budgets. Magazines are cool and it’s rewarding to see your shot in print, but you’ve got to pay the bills. I was in Canmore shooting the 24 Hours of Adrenaline and John Gibson told me “You are not gonna get rich off the magazines,” and it is so true.
Zlatan: What is your favorite place to shoot?
Derek: Kamloops… Oh yeah, that place is so nice. You go to shoot in Kamploops and you get a shitload of good stuff. Somewhere else, even Moab, you can get some good stuff but not like Kamloops. You get nice singletrack laced in sage bush, Cali freeriding, it’s wicked. Have you been in Kamloops?
Zlatan: No (embarrassed).
Derek: You gotta go. It is so much fun, the trails just flow. When you go to Vancouver, you get beat up on every ride, and sometimes you get tired of it. So it is nice to be able to let it go and have some speed.
Zlatan: How do you like shooting in the Vancouver area?
Derek: It’s tough to shoot there. It is always raining and dark. And there’s a lot of politics involved with shooting certain stunts.
Zlatan: Then how do you shoot there?
Derek: If I shoot black&white I will shoot 3200 or 6200 speed and still get 1/250 to 1/8. It’s really grainy, but grain gives it a nice feel. There are some places where you get good light but not much. Guys build a stunt specifically for a shot so they get good light.
Zlatan: Who do you like to work with?
Derek: They’re all good guys. I would say Tippie is pretty energetic. That’s an understatement. He is a lot of fun to work with. He is super keen to get a good shot, too. He’s a crazy party animal; he shows you a good time for sure. He lives in Kamloops so it works out well for shooting. I shot some of the Specialized catalogue with Tippie this summer. Another person is Dan (Cowan). I have done quite bit of stuff with him. He’s got the Shore dialed, plus he builds a lot of the trails you’ve seen in movies.
Zlatan: What is the coolest thing you photographed?
Derek: The coolest thing I shot this summer was a new thing that Dangerous Dan built. It’s a 200-foot ladder bridge that is 6 inches wide and it goes 18 feet in the air with a teeter-totter in the middle and you have to huck off at the end [The Ridiculator]. I shot Super T [Tyler Klassen] and Dan; they were shooting with Bjorn [Enga] for Kranked 5. I was shooting with this really grainy black and white, so I was like, oh am I ever going to get wicked shots. When I got the film back the #@%!ing guy totally screwed them up. He mixed them up in the processing. I was pretty choked about it. He even blamed it on me… but whatcha’ ya gonna do?
Zlatan: What is the funnest shooting trip you had?
Derek: For fun factor I would say it was when I hit the road for two months with three guys in the van. We left from Calgary, and went all the way to the Coast, from the Coast to Vegas for Interbike, and after Interbike we hit Utah and Colorado. Two months no worries, we spent very little cash, I even made some money as I sold photos and the story to Mountain Biking UK magazine.
Zlatan: Where do you see mountain biking photography going?
Derek: It went through its growth spurt before I got there. But now it is getting more mainstream. You see it more in stuff like the Red Bull Rampage. Also you’re starting to see it in commercials and they’re even working on a North Shore video game. New bikes are a cross between everything: DH, urban, dirtjumping, BMX all wrapped into one bike.
Zlatan: What would you say to someone who is trying to make it in to bike photography?
Derek: I knew that question was coming. I was trying to think what I would say. Don’t listen to people who are saying, “It isn’t real job.” If you really like it you’ll be good at it, because you will be putting a lot of time into it. If you are just doing it ’cause you think it’s cool, or for the glory of having something published then you probably won’t last long. There’s a lot of work that you do and don’t get paid for, so you’d better like it.
Zlatan: What are your plans for the future?
Derek: I am trying to do more ski stuff this year. Also, I want to be a one-stop-shop. Beside photos I know how to do digital manipulations, design, and layout. I could do an entire catalogue, come up with ideas, shoot it, and design it, so it would be my baby right from the start. That way I could do bigger projects, but less of them.
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Zlatan: What’s new at Derek Frankowski Photography?
Derek: Now, I am working on my Web site frankowski.ca. I am putting nice big photos because I hate when some photographers put little pictures you can’t see. I guess they are concerned about getting them stolen, but I would rather have people get a nice look at my photos than worry about a few people stealing them. The site will be good for me because it will make me more accessible to potential clients.
For my Web site I got a web space package with 1GB per month bandwidth limitation. A day after the site was online a phone call woke me up. It was my web provider saying I had 3GB upload first day. He suggested I should get a package with more bandwidth.
Zlatan: What equipment do you use?
Derek: If you want to get your stuff published they don’t want digital. I shoot all film, no digital. Almost every company and magazine wants original slides, but I think eventually digital will replace it. I have a Nikon 16mm fisheye, 24mm, 50mm, and 80-200mm, F5 body, F3 body, and a few other trinkets.
Starting off I wouldn’t buy a very expensive camera. You are better off to spend money on a good quality lens rather than an exspensive body. First thing I got published on the cover on BIKE was just outside Regina, with an old manual Nikon and 24 mm lens. I love it, Prairie boy nails the cover of photo annual.
Zlatan: What would you do if you weren’t doing photography?
Derek: If I wasn’t doing photography I would do design work or sell vacuums. I just love a good vacuum.
Zlatan: Sex, drugs and rock & roll?
Derek: No drugs, unless you count coffee, just sex and rock and roll. It is good time; you get to hang out with good guys take some photos. I am thankful for what I got. I don’t have to go to a 9-5 job. I wouldn’t trade it. It is a dream job for me. If you can make it happen it’s a good lifestyle, I am not going to lie to you.
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For more of Derek’s work go to Frankowski.ca
www.shutupandride.ca – Editor