Mentioned in this Episode

Alex Mowak  – Instagram
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Alex Nowak

Andy: [00:00:00] Hey, how’s it going? I’m Andy Jones, and this is episode 156 of the Photography Side Hustle podcast. Before I start, if you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, where I have a chat with Dutch dog photographer, Kim Youngen, you’re missing out. She captures in studio portraits of dogs that are incredible.

Andy: She’s a genuine photography rockstar. Even if you don’t want to shoot pet photography, just look at her work and imagine, say, a toddler in the frame instead of a dog, or step back a little bit and a full grown adult. You’ll be amazed at the quality she produces. Anyway, have a listen to it. And check out a website.

Andy: You’re going to be really impressed. Okay. This week I’m chatting with Facebook group member, Alex Nolak. He’s an up and coming sports photographer from Wisconsin. And [00:01:00] the first time that I saw his images of snowmobile racing, I was impressed. He does some very nice images and the way that he pans his images instead of just trying to freeze the action the normal way, it gives a better feeling of speed, everything about it.

Andy: I just loved. So. Let’s have a chat with Alex. All right. Welcome to the podcast, Alex. Good to hear from you.

Andy: Thanks for having me.

Andy: Hey,

Andy: you’re welcome.

Andy: How did you get into photography? How did you start? What made you want to do it?

Andy: So

Andy: I feel like I’ve always been pretty creative growing up. I think part of it has to do with my mom.

Andy: She always had a camera in her hand. It seems like whether she would go to a concert any of my hockey games. I probably got a big creative edge from her. We, I just had the feeling one time of just buying a regular point and shoot camera and just taking pictures [00:02:00] of, we, we do a lot of outdoors stuff in Wisconsin.

Andy: Like we go ice fishing, boating, so I’d always just bring the camera with And it finally got to the point where, you know, the, the regular point and shoot kind of became a little obsolete for me and I just needed something better, so I just dove in. I, I didn’t want to break the bank. So I think I got the just a Nikon.

Andy: D 60 or 60 D I don’t remember if they put it before or after the number. And yeah, I just went to like the local, like short track that we have here in, in Wisconsin and just started taking pictures. I have relatives that race there and I just started posting them. And got the idea to, you know, for a side gig, maybe make a little business on the side of this.

Andy: And I just started my side hustle itself. It enjoy the [00:03:00] game. Photography is what I call it. When, what was the point that you realized you needed some decent glass, a good lens? Yeah, so it’s like, again, with the, the point and shoot camera, it’s, you can only obviously hold that zoom so long until it finally stops at whatever, you know, the max zoom the camera has.

Andy: So with, with going to the newer Nikon, new to me, I should say didn’t also just start and want to break the bank really. So I, I bought. The D 60 came with the, I think it’s the 85 to two, it’s either 85 or 75 to 200 lens. All right. Yeah. And that, that was pretty good. Cause I mean, you can go down in the pits by all the cars and there is some, some chain link fence to shoot through, which obviously there’s a bit of a learning curve there.

Andy: And a 200 is kind of the minimum. Yeah. [00:04:00] To get rid of that, but usually seeing that and what I could do with kind of lower end advanced gear, I would call it, I guess that made me feel also like if I really want to do this and do different events, I’m probably going to have to bite the bullet and just spend.

Andy: A little more money and make it reasonable for what I’m doing.

Andy: Yeah, but your work is, I just love the work that you do, like those snowmobile races, man. Oh, man. I like, honestly, if I turned up, I would just have a flash of speed and I would just be capturing it. But you went with panning and. The feeling of speed in your pitches is just something else.

Andy: I love it.

Alex: Yeah. . Thank you. I did get a lot of really good feedback on the panning shots because I feel like, like having shot like stock cars first [00:05:00] and kind of getting the feel for how to do that definitely helps because there’s a lot of. People that they’ll just turn, you know, the higher speed up and just kind of capture it and make it a clear picture.

Alex: But I know a lot of the guys, like they’ll come from Canada I think that’s the farthest people they come from Canada to race. So they’re driving, you know, 10, 12 hours. So I, I try to take as many pictures that I can of as many different drivers, cause I know. You know, all that stuff means something to them, even, you know, if they don’t win, but, you know, it’s, it’s cool to have stuff that if people want it, you know, they can, they can buy it and hang it on their wall put it on their websites.

Alex: So it’s, yeah, it’s something that. A lot of people, I feel like, can do, but I feel like a lot of people can’t seem to master that either. It just takes practice to get used to it. No, they turn out really [00:06:00] nice. Yeah, there’s a lot, there’s a lot more panning shots that don’t work out than do work out. And when they do, they look great.

Andy: Exactly.

Andy: Well, if you don’t do it, you’ll never get it. So, what would, just for anyone, the people that are listening, You got into the U. S. S. A., the U. S. Snowmobiling Association, is that correct? Yes, yep. And you are, what, what do you do for them?

Andy: So I, technically I guess I’m the official photographer for their events.

Alex: I, Basically got that gig from a friend that knows I do sports photography and the racing photography and they asked if I would be interested this year and I went to the first meeting, introduced myself and it just kind of snowballed from there and they brought me on board and and it kind of unfortunate this year with Our weather out of, out of the events I was supposed to go to, we ended up only having [00:07:00] the one in Wausau where I’m from, but they were supposed to be up in Eagle river where they host the world championships.

Alex: That event got canceled and also the, an event called the Manoa snowdio, almost like a rodeo, but on snow, they, they, they raced on the lake. And so there’s like no dirt or anything under it to build a track. You’re basically building it on the frozen lake and yeah, we, we basically had about Almost a month of where you could get out on the frozen lakes here and it, it just, it was just ungodly warm.

Alex: So it was pretty unfortunate this year, but next year there’s a full slate of events planned. I know that I think there’s nine or 10 different races.

Andy: If global warming keeps going, we might all have to move further north. If you want snow, we got, we got one good snowfall here. I’m in Ontario.

Alex: Yeah, sorry, we, we here [00:08:00] in Wausau, it didn’t get us a really big snow storm until probably late March.

Alex: And we probably got like 10 to 12 inches of snow in one night. And that was the most we got all year.

Andy: Yeah, it’s crazy. And normally you can get a winter where it starts in end of October and doesn’t finish till the end of March and beginning of April.

Alex: Crazy. Yeah. Yeah, over here it says the Robins got to get snowed on three times before it can be sprinkled.

Andy: Oh, right. Yeah. How many times are that, two?

Alex: You know, this year it might be at least four.

Andy: That’s nothing though, is it like you can get sometimes a, you can get four good snowfalls in a week.

Alex: Yeah, I think in Wisconsin, everyone’s used to all four seasons within a day. Sometimes,

Andy: so these like the NASCAR race, are you allowed to get down there close to the track and do pitches or

Alex: so it, it kind of depends.

Alex: I. I [00:09:00] also, I guess you could say this is a good place to start is like through LinkedIn, LinkedIn, I feel like it’s a great tool for meeting different people for a lot of opportunities. I was looking on their different photography options and. I’ve found a guy by the name of Hunter Thomas, he owns the fourth turn.

Alex: com. And I just messaged him out of the blue, kind of asking, you know, can you just tell me a little bit how you got your start in, you know, NASCAR photography and you know, what you do and you know, if you’d ever need any help, I’m in Wisconsin, I don’t know if you have a guy or not. And from there, that conversation turned.

Alex: Into something positive where he, I basically do work for the fourth turn. com on the side. Oh. So he would want me to take pictures and do like race [00:10:00] recaps as well. Basically just capturing the races up here because he lives down in Nashville, I believe. All right. So he handles a lot of the races over there and he has a couple other people that work for him throughout the country.

Alex: So I do get. Credentialed that way through him and yeah, access to the media center, go into the pits wherever, and you kind of learn the, the unwritten rules of what to take pictures of in the pits and what not to Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff that those guys don’t like. And so jazz, yeah, they like, they don’t like when the wheels are off and they got them on the jack stands there.

Alex: They don’t like open wheel. Well, pictures for some reason,

Andy: I think it’s technology.

Alex: I think it’s suspension or how the brakes are set up that. Okay. No one likes to give away the secrets on that stuff. Yeah, the higher they get, the worse the air, I think. Yeah, it’s, yeah, I mean, there’s different, [00:11:00] different stories you hear about different ways of guys trying to cheat NASCAR.

Alex: There’s different books about guys through the past on stuff, different stories they’ve heard of guys just, just thought I’d find an edge and hope, hope the official don’t find it.

Andy: I heard one. The other day I saw it on Twitter and it was a guy that was a chief mechanic for a NASCAR team going back 30 years, 20 years, whatever it was, and he actually had a setup where he had a hydraulic lift on the, the tail fin.

Andy: So it was legal when he set off, but when he got to top speed, he could adjust it and no one knew about it. Yeah, he never got found out.

Alex: There’s like one of my favorite pictures. It’s hilarious. And he wouldn’t know that. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, so it was Dale Earnhardt in the pits, like in the garage, they’re looking at his car, [00:12:00] doing the inspection and he’s standing in the front behind the officials with his foot under the front lip.

Alex: So he’s pushing up on the front of it. So the travel height for the ground would be accurate when they’re measuring it. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite pictures of him just. He’s he was always trying something, but he’s, he’s one of the greats of all time. Yeah.

Andy: That WWE thing. Did you ever look into it?

Alex: Yeah. So I, I did message them and they’re obviously like their busy time is April when they’re, they have their huge event, WrestleMania. That’s basically their super bowl. So yeah, he. The director of media sent my info and my, my website and everything to the vice president of photography there. And it’s kind of a patience game.

Alex: I’m just waiting to hear back really. I don’t really want to beat that. Too pushy with it because I [00:13:00] guess I feel I’m pretty lucky to even get a comment back from from anyone there. Really?

Andy: Yeah, if they’re putting you on a list, they probably got you on a list on, you know, someone backs out. Can’t do it.

Andy: You’re next on the list, right?

Alex: And they’re they’re not going to be back around by me until July. So they they have a couple months. I guess I probably probably about a month out. Maybe I’ll message him and see if there’s an opportunity. Yeah, just remind him. Yeah.

Andy: That’s crazy. If you could get that, that would be really nice.

Andy: Right.

Andy: Yeah. I’ve worked, there’s a school near where I live it’s probably half an hour away and they train photojournalists and you working with that guy from LinkedIn and you’re getting your credentials so you can go, go in the pits and that kind of thing. I spoke with one guy and he got hired and he lives here in the Kingston area.

Andy: And he got hired by a, a magazine it was a hockey magazine [00:14:00] in LA. I think it was somewhere in California. And once he got those credentials, he was going to everything. It would get in the, like, he would just shoot professional hockey games in Ottawa, Toronto, again, everywhere. So you’ve got one foot in the door.

Andy: I really think you could expand on that if you could get magazines are not the same anymore, though, I guess.

Alex: Yeah, it seems, seems like different, everything’s going more digital now. Yeah, yeah, like even growing up as a kid, like getting all, I’m a big wrestling fan, big hockey fan. So like, you know, getting all the different wrestling magazines or, you know, any other hockey magazines there other than I think the hockey news.

Alex: Yeah. I don’t know if there’s really another hockey magazine anymore. Yeah, really? No, you don’t see anything out there anymore, do you? No, even, even like the local paper around here too, they do a lot [00:15:00] online. You don’t really see, I mean, all the gas stations will have newspapers, but it’s a lot more digital now.

Andy: Yeah. Yeah. Local newspapers, like four pages now, I think. Total waste of time. Now, leading on from where you are now, have you considered doing just commercial work? Like for I was thinking like for race teams and their sponsors, have you put yourself out to any of them?

Alex: Not on that front yet. I do probably have some connections where I could reach out to them.

Alex: And see if they have any need for it. There’s a couple of people that I took a online motorsports management course. And, and that basically kind of had us go on the business side of motorsports in general. So the, basically one of the assignments was you had to reach out to someone. [00:16:00] At a racing organization that had a job or has a job that you would want and you only had to do one of them for the entire course.

Alex: And I think I did eight or nine of them and I actually, actually almost every single person I emailed said, yeah, we’ll, we’ll do a short interview with you for sure. So there’s, there’s one lady, she works primarily with sponsors. So she’ll have the different sponsors reach out to the NASCAR teams to get certain sponsors for certain weeks like it won’t be it’s not how it used to be where like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt had the same paint scheme all season like now it’s every week it could be a different scheme.

Alex: Yeah. So, so she works with the teams that way and she has to communicate with them to get all the pictures and everything like that. But I think NASCAR and everything now is. If to an extent, if the team doesn’t hire you [00:17:00] right off the bat, it’s a lot of, Oh, it’s, it’s a lot of basically where it’s almost like commissioned out to, to certain businesses that they, they go and they’ll photograph for four or five different teams and that those are their people.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. So it’s, it’s kind of hard unless. Basically you almost cold call and kind of get your foot in and pretty much work your way in there yourself.

Andy: I imagine it’s pretty lucrative if you could get in there though.

Andy: Where do you see your business in the next year? How do you see it growing?

Alex: It’s like this summer. I do have a lot of baseball options planned. Last year I shot, it started out, it kind of snowballed and it was a good thing. I. Had one lady messaged me about taking pictures of her son [00:18:00] playing on a traveling team and then Her friend wanted pictures of her kid on the same team and then it snowballed into the entire team wanted pictures so I ended up taking pictures of all 12 kids on the team and Those kids are older this year, so they want me to take pictures of their team this summer at some point, and the coach also has two other teams that he said they would be interested as well.

Alex: So we just gotta plan that weekend out when I can get there. And That’ll be probably, that’ll be pretty good for my business. I know that it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s kind of crazy how it all snowballs. And I, around here, we have a bunch of different sports from spring, fall, winter, I mean, our lacrosse team in town is the high school lacrosse [00:19:00] team is actually one of the top.

Alex: Three in the state, I think, and I still want to try to get, yeah, I’ve never shot that yet, but I want to try to get by them and try to just take photos, because I think, you know, obviously if they end up. Going to playoffs and winning a state championship or something, you never know if they want to use some of your stuff or not, how, you know, that could be on a program or something next year, big time head on a website.

Alex: So, yeah, yeah, I think it’s, it’s right place, right time for sure.

Andy: Yeah, something like lacrosse. Most of the photographers are probably going for it. Baseball, hockey, whatever, you know, whatever season is, and it probably gets missed out quite a bit lacrosse.

Alex: So, yeah, I feel like lacrosse has a weird starting time to where it, it almost starts when winter is still going.

Alex: So yeah, a lot of guys are doing hockey, basketball, stuff like that. Yeah.

Andy: The hockey players tend to go for a lacrosse only. Yeah. Yep. Keep that [00:20:00] contact going.

Andy: So I saw you tried some did some hockey.

Alex: Yeah, we have yeah, so we have, we have a, a junior team, a junior level team, so they’re 16 to 20 years old.

Alex: And then we also have two high school teams that play, so there’s definitely no shortage of hockey. Yeah. Yeah.

Andy: Yeah. If I was. Like if I was going to get back out again and start shooting hockey, I would go with the younger kids because once you get like 16 to 20 or whatever that age group was, they’re not that interested in seeing pictures of themselves again, you know, but the little kids and the, well, the parents especially want to see them.

Andy: You record everything you can of there kids, you know?

Alex: So, yeah, I, I, hockey is a, it’s a good one. I get, it’s a bit cold sometimes. Mind you, you’re when you shoot in your snowmobiles. I’m pretty sure that’s very cold. [00:21:00] Yeah, it’s up, I know up in Eagle River a couple years for racing. It’s been in the single digits or below freezing at night.

Alex: They do a big event at night. So obviously you don’t have any sun to warm me up. So it’s basically you’re at the mercy of how many layers you’re wearing and after wind blowing all the snow flying around and you shut her fingers getting colder and colder, right? I actually found really good gloves. The heat company, they’re called I think they’re out of Canada, but they have a us.

Alex: facility in Kansas. Oh. And you can actually, they have different, so many different ones and I even got really lucky there. I messaged them out of the blue saying, Hey, I’m taking snowmobile pictures for USSA. If you want, I’ll do, you know, review for you at each event. Obviously this year that didn’t work so well, [00:22:00] so they only got one for me, but I’m planning next year to do it more just to hold up my end of the bargain.

Alex: They sent me a pair of like their highest end gloves. To try to review and I, I really like

Andy: I tell you one thing you could, you, you leverage in your position there. That’s excellent. Like just the cost of a pair of gloves. Don’t tell the tax man, but it’s tax free. Right?

Alex: Yeah. The, yeah. And these gloves are not cheap.

Alex: I think they’re, I think the highest end gloves they have are 260, 280.

Andy: Really?

Alex: Yeah. They’re there. I mean, you could probably, you know, You know, build a igloo with these in your hand to try to be pretty warm.

Andy: I’ll give it a try. I think.

Alex: Yeah, they got a lot of different options depending on whatever temperature you’re shooting at.

Alex: But I really like them.

Andy: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s called the heat company. Yeah.

Andy: Yep. All right. I’ll look that up. I’ll put a link [00:23:00] in the fact when I find the link. Sure. So you’ve, how, where do you feel that you are in your journey at the moment? You’re like halfway through, like to where you want to be or close to it or not even close.

Alex: Yeah, I, I still feel like I’m pretty new to it. I’ve only, I’ve really only been trying to shoot a hot, like higher with advanced gear for a couple of years now. So this is probably, probably going on year three for me. So I think I have quite a ways to go yet, but I, like I said, I just want to build kind of a bigger portfolio just across the board to try to see what works just to show adaptability and different variation.

Alex: Just like I said, you never, you never know what might stick and if some people like a big variety, they, if they don’t want you to just be focused on, you know, one thing, one sport, whatever It’s just, I [00:24:00] know a lot of people have a niche and like for me, I guess I haven’t really found it yet. If I had to say it’d be, I love doing motor sports the most and probably the high school sports after that.

Andy: Well, you’ll also find that the one that makes you the most money is the most enjoyable at one point, right?

Alex: Yeah, I guess if we’re doing that, it’d be baseball so far. Right.

Andy: Oh yeah. Cause if you get all these teams, you’ve got lined up, Oh, and it’ll lead to more. And you, they’re always playing someone else.

Andy: Remember that you can keep shooting when the other team at bat and, you know,

Alex: Yeah, it’ll, it’ll be interesting. Cause I know coming up probably about a month, I got to do rodeo stuff. So that’ll be a whole nother ball wax.

Andy: Actual, actual rodeo.

Alex: Yeah, I’m shooting like the bull riding and the Bronco riding and all that stuff.

Andy: Oh, wow. That’d be cool.

Alex: Yeah. I don’t. [00:25:00] Yeah. They, I, that was another one out of the blue basically, where I just email, I, so I emailed the actual photographer that they have listed on their site and I tried, I emailed them twice. I never heard back. So I’m like, I’m just going to email the president. And he said, yeah, he’s like, he, he actually called me back and said, yo, we haven’t forgot about, yeah, we’re, we didn’t have time at one meeting to talk about it.

Alex: We got another meeting and we’ll, we’ll discuss it. And he called me back and said, yeah, we’d love to have you and we’ll Get your name on all the right lists and tell you where you can go, where you can’t go, all that kind of stuff. Oh, there you go. Right. Yeah. I don’t, I don’t know if they’re going to, how close they’re going to have me in anything, but they want, it kind of sounds like they want me to get like behind the scenes, like the riders getting ready, getting prepped and like where all the animals are kept.

Alex: And [00:26:00] if I’m in, if I’m in the actual riding ring, I don’t know how close I want to be. Cause I don’t think I can jump any. Six foot fences anymore.

Andy: No, stay, just sit on the fence. That’s as close as you want to get.

Alex: Yeah. Right. You’re just out of reach. Yeah.

Andy: That’s really interesting.

Andy: And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed that chat with Alex.

Andy: He’s an example of someone who sees what he wants and he finds a way to get it. I think he’s going to be very, very successful. Let me know if you know someone that will be interested in being a guest. I’m also interested in getting someone in, in the early stages of their photography business, especially if they need help, it’ll be more of a coaching call.

Andy: I really think that that kind of chat will help other photographers that are dealing with the same problems. If you have a problem, but you don’t want to come on the podcast, You can find me in the Facebook group and I’m more than willing to help you out. [00:27:00] I’ll put links to Alex’s work in the show notes and over at photographysidehustle.

Andy: com forward slash one five six. And while you’re there, you can support the show by buying me a coffee. Right. I’ll be back next week with a lens hood full of waffle. Talk to you soon. Bye.