Interview: Justin Kosman

Are you someone who is constantly taking snapshot no matter what, or do you prefer to think about your shots and spend time setting them up?
Everyone sees funny things on a daily basis, and with a cell phone camera you can record your life in pictures on an hourly basis. The guy who built my website has a site dedicated to daily cell phone pics, he calls it visual communication – no captions. Check it out at There is another photographer named Chase Jarvis who published a book with all iPhone pics called The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You. It’d be nice if every photo was a RAW; I give it 2 years.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but your equipment bag is probably 387209420 million pounds like some other peoples. What does it normally consist of?
For BMX it’s usually 4 camera bodies (Canon1dsmk2, 5dmk2, 1d mk2N, 7d) an Elinchrom Quadra pack, 3 285s, Quantum T2, 7 pocket wizards, 15mm, 45mm TSE, 70-200mm, 50mm, Lensbaby just recently came back into the rotation. 6 16gb Sandisk Extreme Pro CF cards thanks to Sandisk, Lowepro back pack thanks to Lowepro, Think Tank airport extreme bag, Panasonic Hpx 170. I use my Profoto 600r packs for quick location portraits so I can use nice light modifiers and if I am just trying to blast something at high noon, I bring out the original Elinchrom Ranger 1100 watt pack and crank it. I have four main packs and rollers that I use, and I usually pack up two of them for each shoot depending on what I need that day.

Any tips for traveling with a bunch of gear? Do you stress about that?
I’m starting to plan for what is sure to come. When they start weighing carry-ons it will get tricky for everyone. This spring I shipped a couple things overnight to a couple east coast shoots so I didn’t have to deal with TSA and missing bags, broken flashtubes and missing parts. I had an Easy-dolly taken from checked luggage last summer and United basically told me to beat it. Of course I don’t check my cameras, checking lights is almost just as bad but sometimes both choices are bad. When going through TSA lines, I never go to a female agent. She will look at those batteries and yank the bag asap. A guy in his late/early thirties to mid forties won’t give you a second look.

If you were stranded on an island after a Red-Bull fueled madness fest, and could only have one camera and lens combo, which would it be?
If I’m stranded I am going to want a camera that will crack open coconuts. The beefiest camera I’ve ever used is a Nikon FM2 with a motor drive grip. We used to use it as a backboard remote for shooting basketball in Chicago and that sucker was rock solid. Pina coladas all day.

Flash casualties? Who and when?
Most recent was shooting with Dennis McCoy in Kansas about 6 months ago. It was a Quantum T2 so it wasn’t the end of the world – but it was my best one of the three T2’s I had at the time, so it was a sad day for that fallen solider. 12-ft deep bowl swan dive with no possibility of survival. Snapping fisheye lenses are my biggest problem. I’ve snapped 4 of them clean on my 1dsMK2. It doesn’t even phase me anymore and that’s not good, Haha. It does say something about the strength of the Canon 1Ds Mk2 lens mount though.

Story time. As with any professional BMX photographer, I’m sure you have had to shoot in some sketchy or difficult scenarios. Is there one situation or story that comes to mind while out shooting?
Shooting the formula one car in Colombia, one of the producers had a back pack full of cash as was paying off machine-gun-armed guards at one of the locations.

Who are some of your favorite people to shoot with and why?
The whole Vans team is awesome to shoot with. Guettler, Mackay, Ali, Scotty, Chase, Luke, Nasty, Josh, Gary – they’re all business when the camera comes out. In San Diego, Dirt Ron and Albert Mercado are my go-to guys.

How much of your time working revolves around post-production work, and do you find it enjoyable or a necessary evil? One of your recent tweets read “coffee is ready. DNGs here I come for you.”
Anyone who tells you they like sitting in front of the computer for hours on end is either a liar or really boring. It’s part of the job, but when you have a nice shot to work with it’s worthwhile. There is so much information captured in a digital file that if you want to tweak colors, exposure and texture – it’s all at your finger tips. Now-a-days it’s like another setting on the camera; P for Photoshop.

Are there any tricks that you have learned over the years that has simplified your workflow and made things quicker? For example, once I learned about batch processing, it was like a whole new day.
Batch renaming, batch converting Raws to DNGs- batching saves a lot of time. Getting a second monitor and running a mirror profile made a big difference for Final Cut. Anytime you can aggregate photos or video and consolidate into one long session of editing it will save you time over the course of your work week. If deadlines aren’t knocking on your door, save up all your editing and hammer it out in one day. A little here and a little there will eat up your week quicker than Roseanne Barr at a Pizza Hut lunch buffet. Time is the one thing we can’t make more of, but there are ways to collapse time, and that’s the biggest secret to getting things done aside from self-imposed deadlines.

At the very least, it’s probably nice to work in the sunshine. Picking up on little things over the years, I take it that you love where you live. How did you end up where you are originally being from Illinois.
I moved to California for an internship eight years and never left. I travel a lot, and coming home to a place that feels like a vacation home is a dream come true. 99% of my work is shot outdoors so I needed to live in a place that is dry year-round and populated with professional riders and skaters. Cory Nastazio wasn’t coming to Geneseo, Illinois any time soon. My place in Carlsbad was a lucky find, and I owe that tip to Gary Young. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, but I’m certain that I will.

True or False: you enjoy surfing.
True. I’ve got a custom board being shaped right now and I’m really getting anxious to get it in my hands. It’s a great way to scare myself each day.

The scene down by you has a rad mix of eclectic riders. Tell us a little about the SD scene and who some of your favorite characters are.
Hoang Tran, Kyle Hart, Gary Young, Lasahn Kobza, Chad Kerley, Christian Rigal, Dennis Enarson, Cookie Man Billy, Dirt Ron, Tom Perry, Josh Hayes, and Steve Caton. Someone is always riding and someone is always rotting.

If you had to compare SD to a song, who would you pick?
Summer of ’69, Bryan Adams. I really tried to find a different one, but it has to be this one.

Did you ever “Ring and Run” Gary Young’s house?
We were next-door neighbors for a solid year and it was pretty awesome. If we were both home we were riding + shooting + filming+ snorkeling+ surfing. He got another place about 15 miles south and I still haven’t forgiven him.

What’s next for the Kosman?
Would you believe me if I said produce more music videos and start a magazine?

Ramphouse is a thing my friend Ron Miller dreamed up and I’m helping him get it off the ground this year. It’s basically a sustainable living structure made of ramps anchored smack dab in the middle of the country making it an essential road trip pit stop. We worked some grad students to engineer the structure.

Editing through seventy black and white negs for Dean Dickenson’s Pool book.

In the fall I’ll begin filming an interpretive documentary about the Flint Hills and collaborating with a spaghetti western band from Seattle to score the audio for it.

I’m head to Woodward East next month to teach a week of digital media camp and direct a Vans commercial.

I’ll be looking for a digital asset manager to hire on a full-time basis starting in 2011.

December/January I’m headed to Durban to go shark fishing

Thanks for your time. I want to personally thank you for being one of the people who make BMX look good. Anything to add before we wrap this up?
Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.

Last question. What was the last photo you shot?

9 responses to “Interview: Justin Kosman”

  1. dre says:

    haha a delorean

  2. Amazing interview, Kosman is so on top of things.

  3. DavidLang says:

    Kosman for prez. That Colombia story is crazy!

  4. NB says:

    “I never go to a female agent. She will look at those batteries and yank the bag asap. A guy in his late/early thirties to mid forties won’t give you a second look.”


  5. dirtron says:

    good job bud! few people will ever know how it feels to work as hard as this man.

  6. juaquin says:

    props to justin!

  7. Ryan says:

    Really good read. Cheers!!

  8. jeff says:

    wwjkd, Great interview!

  9. Adrian says:

    Schwab Intelligent Portfolios invests in Schwab ETFs.

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