Red Bull Photography recently joined our community with a verified brand profile of their own. This partnership isn’t just about amazing photography — it’s also about amazing stories. Behind every shot on Red Bull Photography is a talented photographer, a wild story, and a few lessons learned. We’ll be telling those stories every week here on 500px ISO and the Red Bull Photography website. Scroll down for some insights from the talented Chris Garrison of Red Bull Photography, whose distinctive visual style and a relentless work ethic have made him a force to be reckoned with in the world of board sports photography.

When Chris Garrison washed out of sport as an athlete, he turned to photography so that he could stay close to the sporting industry. Moving to Breaking Ridge, Colorado in the United States, he started to use the amateur photographic skills he’d taught himself at college to photograph snowboarders. And it didn’t take him long to become one of the best in the business.

“I spent a few years really honing my approach,” Chris says. “I have a landscape-like style. But since Day One, I have always lit everything with flash. It’s where my style has come from, as well as my nickname: Flash Garrison.”

Colorful wake by Red Bull Photography on

Specializing in snow sports lead to an unfortunate problem, however. After a few years in Colorado, a change in circumstances meant that Chris had to move back to his native Florida—not a location known for its snowboarding. “I had to move back to help out my parents, and I found myself having to start all over again in a brand-new industry,” he recalls. “I picked up a wakeboarding magazine and thought that this photography hasn’t changed at all in the four years I’ve been away. So I decided to try to use the strobe-lit approach that had worked so well on the slopes…but on the water.”

High-voltage electricity and salt water have never traditionally been good bedfellows, so how exactly does Chris work in this way? “For years, I’ve been using Elinchrom Ranger portable flash. Lots of us in the snowboarding industry used them, so that’s what I’ve brought to wake-boarding. They are at a good price point, and they are built like a tank. I’ve had them bouncing off boats and even falling in the water. And after some time to dry out, they are fine. I tend to have one light in the boat towing the athlete, and two lights in a boat behind them. I am either in the water or in a third boat with my camera in a housing.”

Andrew Pastura performing in lock of Erie Canal in Lockport, New York, USA. by Red Bull Photography on

But it’s not just the mobilization of flash that has given Chris’s photography its distinctive look. High-speed synchronization of flash with daylight is something he has invested a lot of time in, with both high-tech and low-tech methods. “We all used to hold our cameras upside down and shoot at 1/1000sec with flash. The sky doesn’t need flash exposure, so you’d just live with half the frame being exposed,” he recalls. “I used to send these pictures to the guys at Pocket Wizard to show them what I was doing and they eventually said, ‘Hey, we have this new thing called Hyper Sync that will let you use flash and high shutter speeds together properly, without cheating it.’ I was one of the first photographers to adopt it. I remember sitting there in my office photographing a blank wall and adjusting all of these complicated settings to get it looking just right. I still use those settings today, actually.”

Massimiliano Piffaretti perfoming on lake in Orlando, Florida, USA. by Red Bull Photography on

Despite making his name as an editorial sports photographer, Chris is now also turning to the commercial world where he shoots for brands related to his sport. “I’ve been doing a lot for boat companies, 4×4 makers,” he says. “I tend not to branch out too much into other sports, because you really need to compete against other specialists then and be friends with all of the top athletes in that area. That said, I’ve enjoyed shooting for some baseball companies recently, and covering some BMX riding for Red Bull. I know the magazine industry is in decline, but editorial is still very important to me. In some ways it’s like free advertising: you have your name all over these photos that you have been given the opportunity to be really creative with. So you might be photographing a Nike-sponsored athlete, and eventually those photos will be seen by someone who matters, and you can end up with a nice commercial commission from it.”

And is it true that commercial jobs are always less creative than editorial shoots? “I think they fall into two categories. Sometimes an art director has no idea what they want. I remember a 33-day long shoot for a boat company and when I arrived there was no shot list or sketches. Those can be frustrating. But other times it’s the opposite. When I shot for a 4×4 company recently, everything was sketched out and I was literally just pressing a button, with these two guys moving lights around for me.”

Massimiliano Piffaretti perfoming on lake in Orlando, Florida, USA. by Red Bull Photography on

Chris’ work takes him all around the world, resulting in long periods on the road. “I flew 200,000 miles and spent over 200 days on the road last year—180 nights at Starwood hotels. By the time December came, I really needed a rest. I took off January completely!”

Now he’s back up to full speed though, planning exciting ways to shoot his sport this year in 2016. “I might go to Osaka to shoot some wake-boarding stuff. And it’s nice being involved with generating ideas, with Red Bull for new athletes for instance.

“I’m trying hard to plan something with wakeboarding in Halong Bay in Vietnam, which I think will just look awesome. It’s beautiful—a different world. I’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”