Joe Brady, an esports photographer based in Suffolk, has worked in the esports industry for a number of years, capturing some of the greatest events from around the world. We spoke to him about his journey to esports photography, his favourite events, and his tips for getting into the industry.
How did you first venture into photography, in particular esports photography?
My career in photography was honestly mostly an accident. I previously worked in TV for 4 years on shows such as Top Gear, QI and The Apprentice, which was an incredible experience, but it wasn’t making me happy. I was doing a lot of photography in my free time, shooting small local bands and pub gigs which I was enjoying a lot. I eventually got to the point where I was turning down photography work because of my real job, so I decided to take a risk, quit my job and give freelancing a shot! At first I was mostly shooting music and spent a lot of time on tour, but in 2014 the opportunity came along to shoot Gfinity’s G3 event in London for an online publication a friend of mine was writing for, which was my first step into the world of esports! Once Gfinity built their dedicated esports arena in London, they asked me to start covering their events, and that’s how it all started!
How does esports photography differ to other events such as music concerts?
esports and music photography require very different skill sets. With music you have constant photo opportunities during a show, there’s very rarely a break in the action, but with esports you have to be very patient for those killer shots. Sometimes you’ll be waiting an hour before a player jumps up and cheers after winning a game! Also, with music photography you generally shoot the show then edit all the photos once it’s over, but with esports you’re constantly editing between games and important moments, so great time management is essential. The deadlines for social media posts can be very tight, so you have to be able to edit quickly under pressure! esports events also tend to be very physically demanding. You’ll often be working from 8am until 3am for 4-5 days in a row, with no breaks. It’s not for everyone and it’s not always as glamorous as some people might imagine!
What have been your favourite esports events to photograph?
IEM Katowice was special for me personally because it was my first experience of an esports event in a huge arena setting, in addition to it being my first esports event outside of the UK. I’d watched the IEM Katowice events from previous years, so to be there capturing it myself was a huge honour. Hearing thousands of fans shouting and cheering for their favourite teams from the stands gave me a huge buzz while I was shooting! I was also recently lucky enough to shoot the Gears of War Pro Circuit Open in Atlantic City, which was my first esports shoot in the USA. I’ve been wanting to shoot an esports event over there since I started, so I’m glad I got to achieve that goal!
“I’d watched the IEM Katowice events from previous years, so to be there capturing it myself was a huge honour.”
Are there any particular difficulties you face when photographing esports events? What do you have to look out for to get the best shots?
You always have to be conscious of the broadcast cameras. You don’t want to be that guy who walks in front of an important shot live on stream! Lighting can also be an issue at a lot of events, they often tend to be pretty dark meaning you have to push the limits of your camera to get a good image. It helps to know the game you are shooting, so you can prepare and be ready to capture the key moments. The displays of emotion from the players are usually over in a few seconds, so you have to react quickly to get your shot in that short window of opportunity.
What is your favourite esports title to photograph? Are there any teams or players who are especially expressive?
CS:GO is definitely my favourite Esport to both watch and shoot. I think it’s great for spectators and an excellent gateway into esports, even for people who don’t have much knowledge of gaming. It’s easy to grasp the basics, and almost anyone can appreciate the skill and technical ability involved. Two of my favourite teams to photograph are actually from the Call of Duty scene. OpTic Gaming and Faze Clan always provide great photo opportunities and some of my favourite photos are of key moments during events from both these teams.
Esports has grown hugely within the past number of years, have you noticed this change when it comes to your role, and what are your thoughts on this as the growth continues?
Before I started shooting esports events around 3 years ago, I had no idea that making a living from gaming was even a possibility for a photographer, so I have to say that it feels like the industry is growing very quickly. I do hope the growth continues, as I’m an avid gamer myself and to see esports breaking into the mainstream makes me very happy indeed. With the internet and the way people consume content these days, I can only see the growth continuing.
“To see esports breaking into the mainstream makes me very happy indeed”
Your esports photography is clearly full of expression and emotion, are there any photographs you’ve taken that have an interesting story behind them?
One of my favourite photos has to be a shot I got of Formal fist-bumping his teammate with a smile on his face. OpTic Gaming are one of the teams I supported back when I was just a spectator of esports, so being able to capture that image of him was quite special for me. Gfinity have a giant version of this photo printed on the wall in the player lounge at their arena in London, and it makes me proud whenever I see it!
Another of my favourites is a shot I got of Snute, a Starcraft 2 player for Team Liquid, at IEM Katowice. He’d just lost in the final and was sitting in the booth with his head in his hands. It’s not the best photo in the world from a technical perspective, but for me it shows that esports isn’t just all about the glory and the winners. There’s another side to every story which is rarely seen, which is the upset and heartbreak the losers feel after putting so much time and energy into competing at such a high level.
What does your schedule consist of whilst photographing an esports event?
Most events start with a media day, which involves shooting headshots of the players one by one. These photos get used by production on the stream and can pop up anywhere, so it’s important to get them right! Once they are done, the rest of my time will be spent shooting and editing event photos. Deadlines are usually very tight, as the social media team want the photos as quickly as possible to accompany their posts. Time management is key here, since you need to be aware of where and when the big games are happening so you don’t miss any key moments! The climax of most events is obviously the final, followed by the trophy being presented to the winners. This is one of the most important moments to capture, so the pressure is on!
Your style is unique, but have there been any iconic photographers that have influenced you along the way?
Todd Gutierrez was the first esports photographer that I was aware of and started following. His photos are simply stunning and technically incredible. His work sets a real benchmark for esports in my opinion. Helena Kristiansson is also one of the best, her photos and editing style are a real inspiration for me.
For the photography enthusiasts out there, what is your ‘go to’ gear for events?
For most events, I shoot with the following:
Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 50mm 1.4
Canon 70-200 2.8
Canon 16-35mm 2.8
Did you ever study photography? What is your opinion on whether studying photography can lead to a career in photography?
I’ve never studied photography or taken any courses or lessons, everything I know has been self-taught. Personally I think that’s the best way to learn, as it allows you to develop your own style and technique at your own pace. You certainly don’t need a degree or any training to have a successful career in photography, in fact I know a few people who completely lost their motivation for photography after studying it, as you’re forced to shoot what they tell you to, rather than finding your own way! I actually think a business course would be more useful, as taking photos is not the thing you spend most of your time doing if you run your own photography business!
What would you say to budding photographers looking to get into the industry? What is the best place to start out?
Firstly, work hard on knowing your camera inside out until you’re confident you can get a good image in different lighting conditions. Shoot as much as you can, it doesn’t matter what, just keep learning and improving. Try looking for local LAN events and contact them to see if they need a photographer. You might have to accept unpaid work for a while to build your portfolio, but we all have to start somewhere! Networking is hugely important too, I would say that 90% of my work comes from people I know, so being a kind and friendly person goes a long way too. You could be the best photographer in the world, but nobody will want to hire you if you’re a misery to work with!
“Shoot as much as you can, it doesn’t matter what, just keep learning and improving.”
You’ve mentioned that you have always been a passionate gamer, what games are you currently playing?
I’m currently playing a lot of CS:GO, but also working my way through Breath of the Wild which I’m absolutely loving. I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which just keeps getting better and better with each update!
How does it feel to be able to combine your passion of gaming with your professional career?
I honestly feel very fortunate, I never thought I’d be in this position. Teenage me would be freaking out if he knew what I was doing now! Photography has allowed me to see some incredible places and meet so many great people, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Do you have any goals going forward? As you were nominated for an esports Industry Award in 2016, are there any other targets you’d like to achieve whilst working in the esports industry?
It would’ve been great to win that award I was nominated for, but I was up against some tough competition, so I was happy to be shortlisted in the first place. My main goals are just to keep shooting bigger and better esports events around the world. I’m off to Paris this week to shoot a Gears of War Pro Circuit event which should be great fun! I’d love to shoot more of the bigger CS:GO events, and maybe one day The International, which I think is near the top of the list for anyone who works in esports!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d just like to give a shoutout to all the people who make esports such a special industry right now, from the people who work behind the scenes to the fans who watch and attend every event, and all the players who dedicate their lives to being the very best in the world. Keep up the good work!
Find Joe Brady:
Facebook: Joe Brady Photography
Photo Credit: www.joebrady.co.uk