Brad’s Eye View
We speak to photographer Brad Walls about his new book, Pools From Above, and his amazing skill to develop beautiful, symmetrical drone photography with female athletes taking centre stage
Photography by Brad Walls
Sydney-based photographer Brad Walls has taken his work to new heights, having developed a niche style that removes itself from traditional aerial photography and instead focuses on experimentation with negative space, symmetry and leading lines. Taking a keen interest in top-down portraits, Brad has captured the elegance of synchronised swimming, gymnastics and ballet, using the human body to portray a whole new world with shapes from above. Glorious speaks to Brad about his passion for the ‘aerial sweet spot’ he can reach with his drone, the artistic capabilities of looking at women’s team sports through a new perspective, and his new book Pools From Above.
Glorious: When did you discover that you wanted a career in photography, and how did it start?
Brad Walls: The turning point for me was when my series “Pools from Above” attracted global attention during the height of the pandemic. At that point, I realised that there was something there to pursue.
Glorious: How did you discover the gymnastics / synchronised swimming teams and why did you want to photograph them?
Brad Walls: Artistic sports were the most obvious choice due to being more visually pleasing. I’ve often targeted femininity in my work, as the female body worked best with my aesthetic due to its delicate, softer shapes and cleaner lines. As opposed to the male body which more often than not is boxier and squarer. Nothing wrong with that, it just doesn’t fit my aesthetic. I hoped to showcase a new perspective of these sports to both the sportswomen and sportsmen as well as their audiences – and to new audiences who hadn’t even seen the sport.
Glorious: What intrigues you about shooting from above?
Brad Walls: There is this aerial sweet spot which is too high for a handheld camera and too low for a helicopter. It’s somewhere in the 10m range , which is where I focus my efforts. This height still can evoke emotion whilst also creating these shapes that I desire. It’s intriguing because the modality and format is still so new. The limiting factor of handheld cameras has been unlocked, exposing all these complex angles and heights.
Glorious: Do you use a drone or do you use other methods to capture these aerial images?
Brad Walls: Yes, I use a prosumer drone. It’s small and compact and perfect for my needs.
Glorious: Can you talk us through your process when using a drone to take your photographs? Are you able to see the compositions as you take them, or is it more of a guessing game?
Brad Walls: My compositions are very well planned. Before each shoot, I draw up the compositions that I wish to capture. However, with regards to the synchro shoot, I worked quite closely with the coach of the synchro team to strategise how we were going to execute the shoot, i.e what positions were required by the swimmers to create the shapes I required.
Having said that, I do leave some room for free association when on shoot;, there are these moments of serendipity which could never have been planned. For example the image Circle of Synchro was shot whilst the swimmers were in transition to another pose, but it created this beautiful whirlpool effect.
Glorious: What is it about these teams of female athletes that led you to experiment with aerial photography?
Brad Walls: I’m always looking for subject matter that has previously been photographed that may be intriguing from a new perspective. Once I saw that the shapes that synchro swimmers created were best seen from directly above, the decision was easy to start on that project.
Glorious: What do you think the future of aerial photography looks like? Would you say it’s becoming more experimental?
Brad Walls: To date, it’s mostly been landscape-based work, which is still brilliant, but it never excited me as much as a more artistic use of aerial photography. I hope it moves that way, there is a lot of opportunity to unlock the more creative side. It’s just willing to be patient, to fail over and over, until you realise that there is something there to tap into.
Glorious: Do you work on your own, or do you work with a team?
Brad Walls: I’ve started to create a team around me to execute photoshoots. I am still the shooter and producer of the images, however bringing on a stylist and makeup artist has helped with the workload. I need to be focused solely on getting the shot, and not so much the other elements. Ultimately I think I am a hybrid photographer/creative director, as many of the shoots I lead creatively. However I would like to work with a creative director to collaborate with as well.
Glorious: What is your most Glorious shot (A photo that elevates women’s sport through the lens of art and culture?)
Brad Walls: Circle of Synchro. It’s a whirlwind of emotions and messages in one take. The togetherness of the swimmers and the whirlpool effect is associated with the notion of women moving together. And those gorgeous smiles, enjoying the moment!
Glorious: Besides your photography, are you involved in any sports yourself? If so, would you say that that influences your approach to your photography?
Brad Walls: I used to play tennis very competitively, up until I had to focus on my studies. However, I wasn’t particularly interested in design at that stage in my life. It was more my interest in new technologies that pushed me to purchase a drone whilst I was pursuing a career in product design. Sports was the subject matter that I believed was under-expressed within the art community.
Glorious: Your book, Pools From Above, has just been published. Tell us about this project.
Brad Walls: Over a span of three years in four countries, Pools From Above is the culmination of my long journey to discover the beauty in commonplace landscapes seen from unexpected vantages. The book was initially inspired by my travels throughout Southeast Asia and Australia, when I began capturing bodies of water to document holiday memories. It wasn’t until picking up Splash: The Art of the Swimming Pool by Annie Kelly that I invested time into curating my own series. As I turned each page of Kelly’s book, a wave of nostalgia washed over me, taking me back to summer days swimming in my childhood pool.
Paying homage to Kelly, I chose to explicitly experiment with negative space, compositional balance, leading lines and symmetry. As such, the series emphasises the pools’ less appreciated elements that I fell in love with – their curves, sharp edges, diverse blue hues and the way elongated shadows play against their surfaces. This is all lost without an alternate viewpoint.
Glorious: Can you tell Glorious what you’re working on next and what we can expect from your future projects?
Brad Walls: This year I have been focused on finishing a Ballerina series in the hope of another book! I’ve photographed the New York City Ballet in NYC and the Salt Lakes in Utah, as well as the English National Ballet in London. The idea for the book came about in 2020 after shooting an Australian Ballet dancer Montana Rubin. Once the photoshoot was complete, Montana was swamped with girls and their mothers wanting photos. Watching this, something clicked to pursue this project to try to create a unique voice in the crowded world of ballet photography.
Glorious: Are there any female athletes/ sports teams that you’d love to shoot?
Brad Walls: I would like to work with a European indoor volleyball team at some point, as I believe I could use a similar concept to the new squash series I am working on with a Soviet theme.
Glorious: Where can we find more from you?
Brad Walls: You can find more about me from my instagram @bradscanvas and website https://bradscanvas.com
To see more of Brad’s work, or to purchase Pools From Above, click here
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