When I started this series last year, I was quietly surprised at the disc golf media community and how willing they were to do an interview with me. I had hoped to meet many of them at GBO, but Murphy had other plans for me. I can’t say enough how nice everybody has been in participating.
As you see from the title, this one is with Juan Luis Garcia, better known as Overstable Studios in the disc golf world. From his photography work to the graphics packages for Jomez and CCDG to the jaw-dropping Paul McBeth ITB video, Juan has made a significant impact in disc golf media. I hope you read every word of this interview, it’s worth the time.
First, I want to say thank you for being willing to do the interview.
When did you first take an interest in photography? What was the first camera that you purchased specifically for getting better pictures?
When I was studying graphic design in college I wanted to work with my own pictures so I used some student loan money to buy a Canon Digital Rebel from Costco for about a thousand dollars. From that day forward I decided I was going to refer to myself as a photographer. Some people laughed at my career choice but that was the only option in my mind. I didn’t want to do anything but make pictures and design graphics.
I would spend a lot of time at libraries and bookstores and one day I bought a photography book titled “Hip Hop Immortals.” They had an index with all the photographers that were featured and I emailed every single one of them asking for any advice on becoming a professional. I didn’t hear back from most of them but the few that did reply were kind and told me to stick with it and shoot as much as possible. One of the photographers was very generous though. He really gave me a sense that I had some talent and after a few email exchanges and a phone call he offered me an internship. I was thrilled but I lived in Los Angeles, CA and he was actually in Toronto!
I never considered moving to Toronto but through a fortunate set of circumstances I was able to visit and work with him for a week. He shared and taught me so much in those seven days that it really gave me the confidence I needed to really pursue my dream. I will forever be grateful to him.
Coincidentally we just worked together on a movie poster. He shot the images and I designed the poster. It was totally random and neither of us had any idea we would be working together until we set the phone call to discuss the shoot! We hadn’t spoken in over 10 years so it was quite an honor to work with him like that.
Did you go to school for photography or graphic design? If not, were there any resources that you utilized to learn more about editing and content creation?
I actually dropped out of college because it was ridiculously expensive (for-profit colleges suck!) and I had already started working as a graphic designer and photographer. However, I made a lot of friends in school and some of those friends have become colleagues and others have become more like family. But for what I was doing I really didn’t need a degree. My portfolio and enthusiasm spoke for itself and not once was I ever asked what school I went to when interviewing for a job.
Tell us about your first major photo shoot, or project that you were the lead on. How long did it take to get to that point in your career?
As soon as I bought the camera I began telling everybody that I was a photographer. I was into music and concerts back then so I would either sneak backstage or just shoot from wherever I was during a concert and started posting my photos on websites, forums, etc. Pretty quickly I started receiving assignments from musicians, promoters, magazines, websites etc I never ever declined a project. I just said yes to everything and I was actually shooting artists and bands like Incubus, Rage Against The Machine, Snoop Dogg, Common, etc non-stop by the time I was 19.
But, my first “major” shoot was for the cover of a music magazine. I rented lights and hired assistants. The funny thing was that I had no idea how to use photography lighting but luckily I had a cousin with some experience so the night before the shoot (after I realized I didn’t know what I was doing at all) I randomly called him and he came over and showed me the basics. It was enough for me to fake it the next day and shoot a successful set of images. I’m a sucker for challenges like that so it was thrilling although a bit reckless. I came through in the end and the magazine loved the shots.
Following your Instagram accounts, I’ve seen the photos of you with Paul McBeth and Nate Sexton. There was also the photo shoot you did with Gina Rodriguez, some shots of Gabriel Iglesias and Alfred Robles. I know McBeth and Sexton are quite as famous as Fluffy and company, but when you’re around anybody that’s a high profile personality in their world, do you still get some butterflies?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with many famous people over the years and if there is one thing I am good at is treating them like regular people. I don’t think I’ve ever had nerves that actually prevented me from doing my best but I have certainly had increased heart rates when my client is standing behind me during an expensive photoshoot. I think the butterflies come more from the pressure of wanting to do the best job I can rather than who is actually in front of the camera.
A good example of this is a recent shoot with Kevin Hart for the History Channel. Because of the production schedule, I was literally given 3 minutes with Kevin to shoot the photos for the campaign. I didn’t have time to be nervous. I had a mental list of what we needed to capture and by the time I took a breath it was all over.
I see a lot of Youtubers that use photography cameras like the Canon 80D, Sony A6500, and so on to record video. Is that something you do as well, or are you focused mainly on photography as a craft?
I have and do occasionally shoot video and actually worked at a small cable tv network but I am the total opposite of a gear nerd. I do my research about a certain camera if it’s time for an upgrade and that’s it. I don’t know about camera models or megapixels. All the number and letter combinations confuse me. Which is probably why the Prodigy Disc naming system goes right over my head, lol.
You’ve blasted your way into disc golf media, from my point of view anyways, in the last year or two with amazing photography and graphic design work. How did that happen? Did you see a need that wasn’t being fulfilled in disc golf and decided to offer your talents?
Thank you! I discovered the sport about 2 years ago and became obsessed thanks to all the DG media companies! I was searching for more intimate photography and came across the work of Martin Frederiksen (Frisbee.net) and Stuart Mullenberg (theflightrecord.com). I loved what they were doing and wanted to contribute so I decided to start photographing tournaments. My very first tournament was the 2016 Wintertime Open at Oak Grove DGC. From there I figured I could also contribute on the graphic design side so I started Overstable Studios to offer my services to anyone in the disc golf community.
When you’re out on the course at a disc golf event, like the recent Master’s Cup, how many pictures do you normally end up with once the tournament is over? What makes one image more likely to get shared over another?
Thousands! I just bought a new camera which is a little quieter and shoots a lot more FPS so I’m ending up with way more to edit but it gives me a better chance of getting the shot.
As for editing, it depends on the player, the moment, the background, focus, etc.
What catches your eye on the course the most as something that you just have to make sure you get a snapshot of? Which part of the game do you think garners the best pictures? Drives, upshots, putting?
I like elevation displacement. If I can be higher or lower than the player it can make for more interesting photos. It’s a tough situation though because you certainly don’t want to interfere with the players. But if you don’t take some risk you’ll end up with the same shot over and over. I try to be like a ninja out there but sometimes I know it will be a good shot and I just have to get it!
Moving past the time you spend on the course, your collaborative efforts with Jomez Productions have produced some of the best looking videos to date in the disc golf world. What elements beyond the actual footage did you want to make improvements to?
Thank you, Jonathan and the Jomez Pro crew are really a dream client. They understand that you have to take risks and do things that aren’t being done. Knowing I have their full support really lets me explore and present them with ideas. The ultimate goal is to make disc golf as fun to watch as it is to play and that is an extremely challenging task.
When you revamped the graphics for Jomez videos, what was that process like? Did it go through any revisions before the final product was released?
Most definitely, tons of revisions. Not everything works and that’s okay. We cleaned up their insert system quite a bit but some things like the ticker worked really well right out of the gate. The process is organic and there is no set formula. The more fun we have the better the results, kind of like playing DG.
How long did you spend creating the new graphics for Jomez or anybody else you’ve done that for? What disc golf related project has taken the longest to complete so far?
I spend a lot of time on every single one of my clients’ projects. I do my best every time. It’s how I’ve made my career. But that comes at a price and unfortunately puts me out of budget a lot of times. For example, I get asked for logos all the time and I’m sure people think I’m insane with the prices I quote them but I really do days/weeks worth of research before I even start sketching. There are plenty of options for quick, cheap design out there so I happily refer them to those options if I am not the right fit for someone.
The biggest undertaking has probably been the 2016 Paul McBeth In The Bag. We all spent a lot of time developing that video. Jomez 2016 Worlds coverage is certainly something I’ll never forget.
I also spent quite a bit of time on the cover for The Disc Golf Revolution. I built the scene using over a hundred layers. I have a layer build video on the overstable Instagram but that really only shows the tip of the iceberg.
The graphics package I designed for CCDG coverage of the DGWT/La Mirada Open was also big. A lot of time went into designing that system with the green screen of the players on the scorecards and the disc selection. I was honored to work with Ian and CCDG crew on that. I can’t say enough good things about the DG media community. It’s a special thing to be a part of!
One last question. Give us your top 3-5 courses and/or events that you have enjoyed the most taking pictures at. What about the place/event left an imprint on you?
Well, I’ve only photographed a handful of tournaments but I’ve been lucky enough to go to Emporia twice already for 2016 Worlds and 2017 GBO. The disc golf community vibes are excellent out there. 2016 Masters Cup was incredible though! Ricky with that putt on 18 was one of the most exciting professional sports moments I’ve personally experienced. It wasn’t just the putt but all the events leading up to that moment. Also watching Paul McBeth ace at GCC in Vegas this year was special. I get goosebumps just thinking about that. After he hit the chains and the crowd exploded he started running down the fairway and I was lucky enough to be his first high five. My hand was throbbing for a few minutes from the impact. Such a ridiculous shot with his Thunderbird. I can’t forget about CCDG’s Champs vs Chumps though. Hands down winner if you want to have a great time!