Devon Denham is focused. After recently graduating college, the Louisville, Kentucky native made the move out to the booming BMX scene of Long Beach, California, to "chase my dreams of being a BMX photographer" as he put it. Judging from his recent photos (both in this gallery and elsewhere), I think it's safe to say that Devon has the skill and motivation to make it happen. —Jeff Z.
Location: Long Beach, California
Years riding: 13
Years shooting: 5
What's your BMX background? Where you from, how you started riding, etc…
I’m from Louisville, Kentucky. I started riding back in the seventh grade when one of my friends from school brought a Dan's Comp catalog into class. I saw the cover and thought it was cool. Throughout seventh grade year, more kids started riding, so I bought a Specialized 415. I quickly decided I liked riding more than going to baseball practice, so that's when it really hit me that BMX is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn't know how to bunnyhop, so I just rode flatland in front of my house. About six months later I finally learned how to feeble. Lets just say I was hooked on grinds after that.
How did you get your start in photography?
I dabbled with it when I first started riding, because I just wanted something to document my friends and I learning new tricks. However, what pulled me into was reading RideBMX. I loved reading roadtrip articles, and seeing how much fun pros had on trips. That for me is one of the most fun aspects of BMX—traveling with your friends, your bike, and a camera… that's priceless.
When did you make the conscious decision that photography was what you wanted to pursue as a career?
I started taking photography serious when I graduated from high school. I was at a point when I had two paths to go down—one was to work at a factory type of job that I didn’t care about, and the other was to chase my dreams of being a BMX photographer. I chose my dreams, and now I’m here in California. In 2005, I made the choice to move out to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to go to school for photography. I didn’t know anything about cameras. I dived into school and spent the first year learning the basics of cameras. I was too afraid to even submit photos to a magazine at the time. However, I started emailing back and forth with Fat Tony to figure out how to make it in the photo world. One day he sent me the email of all emails. This email explained in depth what I needed to know as an aspiring BMX photographer. I still have the email, and I plan to hold onto it forever. I think after seeing my photos in a magazine for the first time was when I thought I could potentially make it in the BMX world.
Tell us about your schooling background and assisting experience…
I went to school in Pittsburgh from 2006 to 2010 then I transferred back home to the University of Louisville back in 2010. I graduated with a Bachelor degree in Art and decided to move out to Long Beach in January. I had an internship with a studio photographer and assisted him on shoots and weddings for a summer semester.
How much of what you learned from that time has been carried over to shooting BMX?
The internship I did was really an eye-opener for me in the terms of how busy a pro photographer can get. At points we didn't have any shoots booked and I was just told to archive 20 years worth of photos. On the other hand, seeing how another photographer handled their shoots was beneficial. My studio lighting class was probably the most import class I took throughout college. I apply those same lighting techniques to every photo I shoot. Overall, what I learned the most was to be as professional as possible and network everyday.
As far as shooting photos and getting your foot in the door (industry wise), how has the transition from your local Louisville scene to California been?
I feel like I have done a decent job getting my name out there. One of my main goals in college was to have a packed resume by the time I graduated. I shoot regularly with all the main BMX magazines, and I also keep a steady presence online. I kind of feel like that's important because of the digital age we live in. California is treating me well. Every time I meet someone I get their number and try to set up a shoot. I've shot for Demolition, S&M, S-One Helmets, and WeThePeople in the past six months. I'm really excited about my recent shoot with WeThePeople. I got to shoot their catalog and travel around with the team for a week—that's the kind of moments that I live for.
It seems like there are more BMX photographers in the game than ever before, do you ever find it hard to stand out from the pack?
Yeah, it's kinda hard due to the fact everyone is so good at shooting nowadays. I compare it to riding 10 years ago. Back then to be pro, it seemed like all you had to do was grind a huge 20 stair and that was all it took. I think the same went for photos in magazines. The bar for BMX photography wasn't as high as it is today. Back then you could see photos being printed that had motion blur, out of focus riders, and flashes in the background. The tricks have progressed and so have the photos. Aside from that, what I do to stray away from the pack is be persistent. I set a personal goal to keep my name in magazines or online at least once a month. The more my name is out there; the more people will take my photography seriously.
What's in the bag?
Nikon D200 body, Nikon 10.5mm fisheye, Nikon 18-105mm zoom, 2x Quantum Qflash Digital T2 flash heads, 2x Quantum Turbo batteries, 5x Pocket Wizard Transceivers, Sunpak 555 flash, Sunpak 433 flash, sync cords, gels, chargers, 3 light stands, 1 generic cheapo tripod.
What's some gear on your shopping list?
I really would like a new camera body. I have had the same camera body since I started shooting, basically. I bought it third hand for $500 and an iPod back in 2009, so I feel like it's time to upgrade. The camera works great, though, but I want a camera with a full frame sensor. Also, I want some flashes with a faster duration to freeze the action better. I'm getting ready to by the Einstein 640 heads when I get my next paycheck. I will probably pick up another lens in the future, too.
What is one piece of gear you own that you couldn't live without?
Probably my fisheye. That was the first piece of equipment I bought, and it still works great. People freak out when I shoot with my fisheye because I like to get a little closer than most photographers. I feel that you have to be right up on the action to get the full effect of a fisheye. If you're not close, then you should just use a wide angle instead.
How do you split up your time between riding and shooting?
As of lately it's mostly photography and not so much riding. I tore my ACL last summer and that made me think more about which rails I'm going to send myself down. Plus, not having health insurance and being 1,500 miles away from my parents kinda scares me. I'll play it safe and just grind on ledges until my leg is healed all the way. If I roll up to a spot that I've wanted to ride my entire life I'll give it a few runs until I'm content and feel like I actually rode the spot. Riding is fun, but shooting is just as fun.
What inspires you?
Productiveness. I love to set goals and follow through with them. Also, when a person says "All I ever wanted was to get a photo in a magazine." I get psyched on it. I do my best to make peoples dreams come true, and that inspires me to shoot with them. If my photos can bring happiness to people then that's a good enough reason to shoot with them. Also, just seeing people try new ways to shoot photos. Dialed photos are great and all, but new perspectives are better.
What riders do you enjoy shooting with?
My friend Brian Hinkel is the best to shoot with mainly because he's so crazy and has the best style in Louisville. I like shooting with anybody who is comfortable on their bike and with the trick they are trying. It's nerve racking for the photographer if the rider can't tweak the trick to the point of having a good photo.
What form of BMX do you enjoy shooting the most?
I've shot racing, street, park, flatland, vert, and trails. I just started shooting flatland over the past year, and that's a learning experience. Learning the names of some of the tricks, and how to shoot it has been kind of fun. Street is what gets me excited, though. I love finding a crazy setup that makes for a perfect photo.
Which do you find the most challenging, and why?
Racing is pretty hard because I don't find it very interesting to watch. If something isn't appealing in person then shooting a photo of it is going to be that much harder. Street can be challenging due to the uncertainty of the spot. You never know what's going to happen, so you could have to deal with cars, security, pedestrians, weather, time of day, etc.
Do you shoot much outside of BMX?
Not really. I've shot portraits outside of BMX for a few people a handful of times. I probably should shoot more with models and do weddings, but BMX is what I love shooting.
Now that you made the move to California, what's next on the horizon for you? Do you have any goals, plans, projects…
The plan is to keep shooting as much as possible and build my name up. I've reached out to a few companies and I'm setting up a more concrete workflow. My goal is to escape the uncertainty of being a contributing photographer and shoot for a company or magazine as a staff photographer or in-house photographer. However, I know that may take a little time, so I'm just looking to get into the BMX industry.
Do you want to give any shout outs to your homeys and people who have helped you get to where you are today?
Thanks goes out to mom, dad, brother, Derek Fetko, Brian Hinkel, Chester Blacksmith and WeThePeople, Jimmy LeVan, Marcas Grubbs, The Word Crew (thisisword.com), Fat Tony, the entire staff at RideBMX for putting up with all of my annoying emails over the years [laughs], everybody back home in Louisville, and most importantly… Dave Young for giving me the inspiration to try and grind every rail in sight.
And finally, where can we see more of your work?
It's easy, just type in my name…www.devondenham.com.