Inside the Mind of an Extreme Sports Photographer


We’re giving you a snapshot into the life of extreme sports photographer Kirill Umrikhin. Sit back and try to relax while we talk adventure.

CREATIV Magazine: Has creativity always been in your blood?

Kirill Umrikhin: “I’ve always loved painting. My mom never stopped me from drawing on the walls at home and outside. She actually encouraged me to develop my creative side when a normal mom [might have] forbid their kid to mess [with] the walls. When I was 11 years old, I started attending art school. At the age of 13, I fell out of [art] school and started doing graffiti with my friends in the hood. At that time, I thought I would become an architect or designer. Then, my dad gave me an old camera to start [practicing] with and I became obsessed with my new hobby.”

What drove you towards extreme sports photography?

As a kid I was skateboarding, snowboarding and loved swimming so, when I got the camera, sports were the first thing I started shooting. After school, I went straight to work at a professional photo lab in Moscow in order to better understand how the scanning and printing process goes. At that time, I wrote to all of the sport magazines in Russia asking for a job as well. My first response from an editor came from ‘Onboard Magazine,’ a Russian version of the famous European magazine. I started working as an Onboard Photographer’s Assistant, doing simple tasks at the beginning. Two years later I began traveling along on snowboard trips with professional riders.

Oh, do tell. How did you land clients like Nissan, Quiksilver, and Red Bull?

Quiksilver has been my main client over the past five years. I started working for the brand as a photojournalist and now manage three teams: DC, Quiksilver and Roxy (in Russia). Nissan also integrates into extreme sports in Russia through support of contests, riders, and other outlets. They usually contact me if they need anything specific. In regards to Red Bull, I know a lot of their athletes personally and worked with some of them before they were even a part of the ‘RB’ team. They are my good friends and it’s very important to have a good rider-photographer relationship. Working for a brand is actually working with people who are involved with the brand. That is the difficult part and the easy part – all at the same time.

Let’s talk process. How do you work in such a fast-paced environment of extreme sports and adventure?

Every job for me is seasonal; I plan to shoot snowboarding in winter and water sports in summer. Often a photographer’s job consists of being a project manager and trip organizer. You need to find ideas, budgets, riders, create a media plan. Before the actual shoot I do a million other things to prepare for it. Brands want you to post photos on social networks so, the speed of work has increased dramatically. The photograph has also changed, not only in terms of quality, but also the process of composing it. Apart from my professional camera, a Nikon D4s, I use a lot of other gadgets to shoot extreme sports such as an iPhone, GoPro, drone and others.

Bragging rights, what do you consider your biggest professional accomplishment so far?

I believe there are three different things that a professional photographer should focus on: winning photo contests, taking part in exhibitions, and having quality publications in the media – cover shots for example. I would love to be in the finals for Red Bull’s ‘Illume’ contest, but for now I’ve reached the quarter-finals. I’ve taken part in about ten photo exhibitions on different subjects, 5 of personal interest. I’ve stopped counting my cover shots however, the experience has been really pleasant indeed.

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[h/t Interview by Emily Rudolph / Copywriting: Britt Feder]