This spring, FTR is taking a look behind the lens of the industry’s best photographers. From saltwater to fresh, corporate hustlers to freelance, we’re bringing you the stories of the shots that mean the most to them. We begin this week with Angler’s Channel President and former Strike King Lure Co. Marketing Director Chris Brown.
The gear: Canon EOS Rebel (first edition model); 70-22 F5.6 kit lens.
The year: 2008
The spot: Kentucky Lake
I’ve always been a fan of the sport. Denny Brauer, Kevin VanDam, Larry Nixon and others, I always followed and looked up to these guys. When I got the opportunity to work for Strike King Lure Company [in 2002], it was dream job come true. The learning curve was steep and fast. Working with the pros, writers, buyers, etc., was a ton of work and a ton of fun.
I picked up photography out of necessity. I worked with a gentleman by the name of Mark Maness. Mark was the TV Producer for Strike King and we became good friends quickly. Mark had bought a new still camera that he would let me tinker with and play with and I began to shoot … a lot. To be honest, I stunk. Better yet, I just plain sucked, but it intrigued me.
When Kevin VanDam won the 2005 BassMasters Classic in Pittsburgh, I requested a media badge from B.A.S.S. and got it. I was scared to death to be on the floor with the Seigo Saitos and James Overstreets of the world. I don’t think I have a single image from that Classic that was even sharp or worth a flip. I learned a lot from that event and told myself I wanted to get better at shooting in that environment.
“I don’t think I have a single image from that Classic that was even sharp or worth a flip.”
Fast forward to 2008. The camera I had been “borrowing” from Maness, I eventually traded some mechanic work for and it became mine.
Mark’s truck broke down and he was going to sell that camera equipment for $800 to pay for the repairs. I was once a mechanic in a shop there in Memphis and traded him that work for the camera bag and all of its contents—basically a weekend worth of work repairing a bad head gasket, and I was off and running.
I began to experiment with settings and began shooting more and more.
During the summer of 2008, The Elite series visited Lake Wheeler out of Decatur, Alabama. I was able to make the final day weigh-in and watched my now, good friend Kevin VanDam lose by ounces to Jeremy Starks. When he walked off stage I saw the look in his eyes, and I really felt bad for the him as they headed to Kentucky Lake the following week for the next event.
My good friend Mark Menendez invited me to come stay with him and his family for the event [Menendez lives near Kentucky Lake] and I made sure to get my spot each day at the weigh-ins to try and get some decent pictures.
Besides the Classic, Strike King never required me to be at events and certainly not with a camera. I was there on my own to watch Kevin lead that event wire-to-wire. On the final day, I took my place early, in-between several of the other professional photographers that were there for their job. I kept a low profile and tried to stay out of the way.
“With my finger on the button, I waited and waited and the split second they announced Kevin as the winner I hit the button and held it down.”
When KVD came up on the stage, I remember making sure I had my settings right, my focus right and I waited until the fish hit the scales. With my finger on the button, I waited and waited, and the split second they announced Kevin as the winner I hit the button and held it down. I remember looking at the screen on the back of that little Rebel camera and grinning. I took off for the truck, I don’t think I even congratulated KVD on the win: I was too excited about the image. I drove the three-and-a-half hours straight back to my office that Sunday night and went to work.
The 2009 Strike King Catalog was due the next day — Monday — to the printer. We had mocked up one cover and those of us in the marketing department really wanted something different. I remember mocking up the would-be cover and sending it to the bosses. The first email I received was from my boss at the time, Doug Minor. He asked, “To who and how much money do we owe for using that image?” That was validation enough for me. We agreed to make that shot the cover, change the colors of the logo for the company and kick off a new look heading into the 2008 ICAST Show.
That catalog hangs, framed in my office, autographed by KVD, and is still a reminder of how much I love photography and the stories each and every shot tells. This shot is pure emotion and excitement for me. I’ve shot thousands and thousands of pictures since that one, but it kicked things off for me in a big, big way.
-as told to Joe Sills by Chris Brown.
Chris Brown is the current President of Angler's Channel. You can browse his personal photo website on SmugMug or check out his travels on Instagram @Rogue_Outdoor_Media and @CABROWNSKL.