Meet one of the Toronto Raptor's Photographers Nelson Campana
How did you start photography?
I'm the youngest of 3 boys and my two older brothers always inspired me with their creativity. My second oldest brother has always been making videos since a kid and it turned him into an award winning video editor. My oldest brother is a magician / mentalist / hypnotist and even had his own TV specials in the Philippines all produced by my other brother! So Being around them all the time, seeing them creating through video and magic, naturally inspired me to try to create things of my own and that was through photography. It was always just a 'for fun' thing for me until way later in life.
Who are some of your biggest influencers while starting?
Clearly my brothers lol. But as for other photographers back then, Gary Fong was a big one but mainly from the business side of things. When I started thinking of trying to make money in any way doing photography, weddings was one of the first things I looked at. I bought into one of Gary's old DVD learning courses and was so impressed with it all. I did a lot of weddings over a long time but it was never a full time business like I thought it might be for me. Other big influences were from a wide spectrum of photographers, from sports to street, to fashion. Photographers like Matt Barnes, David LaChappelle, or photographers like Trashhand who made it big on IG. A big sports photography influence is the legendary Nat Butler who's been shooting for the NBA during some of the most incredible generations and still is to this day.
Who are some of your biggest influencers now?
Some big influences to me currently, are photographers like Mark Blinch, who shoots a wide range of sports, is the team photographer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and frequently shoots or the NBA as well. He's just incredible behind the camera and away from it. He's my favorite sports photographer hands down. On IG his name is @MBlinch , look him up! Another big influence is Charlie Lindsay. Another person who is just an amazing photographer in general and equally amazing person to be around. He goes by @DonCharleone on IG. Also big shout out to Ron Turenne who has been the Raptors team photographer since day one! These are just a few examples of big inspirations to me. There are a bunch I can name but those guys easily stick out. In sports photography I've met a lot of grumpy, photographers who just couldn't be bothered by anyone. So when you find guys like these I just mentioned, you always want to be around them. It helps a lot.
What do you do when a camera is not in your hand?
Hang out with my family. but even then, there's usually a camera in my hand. I'm shooting for other people 90% of the time. And I find that I dont do enough creating for myself because of lack of time. So it just makes sense that when I'm with my family, I'm creating stuff with them. I get to spend time with them and I get to create for myself. 2 birds 1 stone! It helps that my kids love shooting stuff with me .
What is your go to camera + lens combo?
For sports its my Sony A9 with 70-200 GM. That is my longest lens but plan on investing in something longer soon, especially for football. It's great that Sony just announced their latest zoom lenses. I'm excited to try them out!
How did you start shooting for the NBA?
I get this question a lot and its a bit of a long story but I'll try to make this short. It's also the most unconventional way anyone could ever start shooting professional sports. I've always been into photography, and videography growing up. But I never treated it as something I could make as my full time income machine. I've always been into sales and have jumped from one sales job to the next. My last full time job was as a retail sales trainer for Microsoft products. Then around 2013 an app called Vine came out. I'll fast forward through this part a bit but it's important to mention. On this app, I unexpectedly grew a huge following from doing simple old camera trick videos (Vine magic they dubbed it) and with that, I had a lot of brands and agencies reaching out to give me work doing social media content for them. One brand was TSN(The Sports Network) and a producer by the name of David Krikst, who is a great friend of mine now, reached out to me at that time and brought me in to do some social media stuff for their network. Fast forward a bit more and he calls me to produce some content for a CFL event. At that event I met another videographer by the name of Mark Vallena and we hit it off as buddies right away. A few weeks after that event, I actually ended up quitting my full time to be completely free-lance. It was a huge leap for me as anyone whos had to quit a full time job for the same reason, would know. Even though I was making more doing free-lance work, than I was at my full time job, I was still very nervous about keeping it all up. Then a couple of months after taking the plunge, Mark hit me up and told me he got a full time contract with the Toronto Raptors, and that he knew of another social media position that he thought I'd be a good fit for. I end up taking the position as a "Game Day Social Media Content Producer" and basically did Snapchat, Vine, and IG posts for the Raptors and the Maple Leafs during home games. The photographer in me really wanted to take a stab at shooting in game photos. So after a couple of seasons I decided to bring my camera gear and just start shooting. I would provide the photos to the guys I worked with and eventually they told me to just keep shooting in game photos. Obviously there's more I could go in to with that story but as you can see, even with trying to keep it short, it was still long!
What was it look shooting the NBA finals?
Shooting the NBA Finals was an incredible experience for so many reasons. It was exciting knowing that this was history in the making. Raptors first ever finals which turned into their first ever championship! The atmosphere was like no other playoff game or series I've ever been a part of. I've never been so anxious during a series either.
Tell me about the image with Kawhi and champagne being poured on him.
For the longest time, aside from always wanting to witness a Raptors championship(naturally), I always dreamed of capturing the locker room champagne celebration. When TFC won the MLS cup back in 2017, I got that chance to shoot their champagne celebration and it was amazing. But since then I knew the ultimate experience for me would be to capture the same for the Raptors. So when the Raptors finally won game 6, and they eventually ended up in the locker room for the champagne celebration, I was ready for it. Kind of ready, I had camera rain cover but it was in the media room and I didn't have time to grab it, but I was ready to face it all,, covered or not! As far as the Kawhi shot goes, I was walking around trying to get into a more clear area as it was very crowded. When I suddenly noticed Kawhi standing there grabbing both trophy's for a photo op. There were only a few photographers at that spot for that moment and I was lucky to be one of them. He posed normally with his trophy's in both hands and then suddenly Phil Handy, one of the Raptors assistant coaches, came out of nowhere and started emptying a bottle on Kawhi! I was so pumped at how the moment escalated, I ended up running back to the media room right after to pull the shot to be posted on all of the Raptors social channels. That was that!
What is the best advice for new and upcoming sports photographers?
Keep shooting. Always try to meet and talk to the ones in the positions you want to be in, and with anyone within the industry you want to shoot in. You just never know when one of those people will come back to you. Networking has been the biggest key my whole life. 90% of all my jobs have been through someone I met in the past, or an old co-worker. You wont always make great connections that will turn into new jobs and new positions, but you can almost always still learn something from other peoples experiences. So it never hurts to network!
What is your dream project?
I actually don't know. Especially since a big one for me was to shoot the Raptors in the NBA finals. I feel like I could think of something eventually but I'm still high on the amazing moment that just happened last week.
What's next for you in photography?
In the NBA off season, I start to shoot for the Toronto Argo's our CFL football team. It's great because it leads right back to the start of the NBA season in the fall.