Basketball

Cameron Look is the Photographer Who Found His Own Path

Cameron Look makes cool stuff. Like, really cool stuff. 

You probably know him as @koolmac on IG, the artist, photographer, and content creator with a unique, one-of-a-kind, fresh style that shot the entire Sierra Canyon basketball team last season. Looks, who is from the Bay Area, would travel up all the way there to document Bronny’s freshman year, as well as the rest of the squad. 

He was there in the locker room to capture Amari Bailey and Zaire Wade hitting the woah, then he was there on the court to document Brandon Boston strumming a guitar after hitting a clutch shot. After the games, Look would snap pictures of the players with their families, such as this one of Bronny hugging his sister, Zhuri, and mom, Savannah. 

Look’s portfolio doesn’t stop there, though. He’s shot everyone from Shareef O’Neal to the NBA for the past three years. You’ve probably liked, commented, and shared his work, such as his stop motion videos of LeBron James, Trae Young, and Jayson Tatum. Looks effortlessly captures poetry in motion, and his videos have garnered over 200,000 views. Look himself has 166K followers on IG.

A few days ago, Look shot the Lakers-Clippers season opener and was one of the few photographers allowed inside the Staples Center. While the circumstance was less than ideal, as photographers had to get shots through plexiglass rather than being allowed onto the court, Look as he always does, came away with some fire content.

His photos perfectly capture the special moment, from ‘Bron’s gleeful reaction to getting his championship ring to Montrezl Harrell soaring over Patrick Beverley. He admits that even amongst the high-flying dunks and anticipation of being back on the court, Staples Center just didn’t quite feel the same. 

Yet, few know his story, or how he even picked up a camera in the first place. Like the players he shoots, you only know what you’ve seen on the ‘gram—but he’s gotten this far through hard work, hustle, a sh** ton of talent, and, of course, earning the trust of his subjects.

“LeBron has been a role model to me, ever since I was a little kid,” Look says. “I had his first shoe that every dropped, I have his rookie card set, I’ve always been a fan. It’s amazing that someone like that respects my art, appreciates it, trusts me, and is willing to share it with the world. It’s not just LeBron—it goes for all these athletes that I work with, whether it’s ‘Bron, Bronny, Shareef, Shaq, or even little kids that come up to me at events and just want me to take their picture to say that I took it.”

Game speaks for itself, though. To let Look tell his own story, SLAM chatted with him to learn more about how he got his start, his artistry and attending the Lakers season-opener.

Yo Cam! We saw that you were shooting at the Lakers’ season-opener. Tell us about that experience and, as a photographer, how different it was compared to last season: 

It was really weird, to be completely honest. Last year I had a routine down where I know exactly where I’m going to park,  what door I go in, where I put my bag and all of that is completely different now. They put me in a different parking lot, I’m at the bottom of a structure it’s real barren and empty. As soon as I got my credential, I was expecting to be briefed by PR or have some type of paper handout with directions and things like that, but once I was in the building I was just in. Nobody told me what to do or where to go. 

Sometimes the Lakers have closed practice before shoot-around, so you can’t go shoot the court, but I walked in and asked ushers, ‘Do you know where media is supposed to go? What are the rules? Where am I supposed to shoot from?’ And they were like, ‘We have no idea, we just know you can’t go in right now.

It was spooky, there was not a soul in sight in some parts of the arena. Everything was just off, not the usual vibe or positive, exciting, showtime-type of energy. It was really weird. 

What was going through your head at the moment once the game started, and how you had to navigate those limitations?

The best word I can use to describe it that was honestly going through my mind while watching [the game] or editing [photos] was empty. There was no energy, no fans, it’s not how it should be. Even in certain plays that were spectacular, there was no reaction from anybody. A play where LeBron has a big dunk over Paul George, usually that would have set the building on fire and everyone would have been going crazy, it almost makes you second guess and question, as the viewer, ‘wait was that really amazing or not?’ It’s hard to feel engaged because the only people you hear screaming are the bench, and that was just very faint. It’s not the same. I would describe it as not even like an NBA game, it felt like a closed-door scrimmage. 

Even being in the building and watching it in person, everybody seemed really flat. [The players] still get excited here and there but it’s not the same type of excitement, and to me watching it, it seemed like a scrimmage, like a practice. Not a professional game or anything on that entertainment level. Very empty. 

 Still, you very much-so captured the positive moments from the game—like LeBron James getting his ring. Walk us through your thought process when you were shooting on the court: 

As an artist, in terms of how I’m capturing the game, the motion and the symmetry and body movements that I’m looking for are still the same, but I’d say [I wanted to] evoke the emotion of emptiness and loneliness in that arena. That’s where you’ll see my compositions differ: I tried to get a lot of wides, of LeBron James looking this big and all this black open space and empty seats behind him. 

It’s one thing to look at those images by themselves, isolated as the pictures that I posted, but it would be really powerful to go back and look at my archives from last year and that’s something I had in mind. Trying to get similar compositions from pictures I took during a sold-out Staples Center last year, versus what it’s going to look like now. That’s where you’ll really be able to see them side-by-side and see that [a game now feels] really weird and off. It’s crazy how fast things can change and it’s very apparent in that arena that things are not the same. 

How’d you get your start as a photographer? Not many people know your full story. Spill the tea. 

I definitely have been asked to touch upon it many times, but I’ve been pretty selective about sharing. The funny, ironic part is I actually bought my camera in July of 2017, because I was trying to sell clothes. My clothing brand was called Good Looks, originally that’s what I called my barber business when I used to cut hair, that was my hustle in college. I was cutting dudes on the UC Irvine men’s basketball team, and I’ve always played basketball, it’s a big part of my life. And, I’ve always been tapped into Youtube, watching top prospects, back to when it was only hoop mixtapes and Ball is Life. 

When I first got that camera, I just got tired of paying photographers for content because I knew exactly how I wanted it to look, how I wanted to edit the pictures, so in my mind, the only thing I was missing was understanding how to press the button [on a camera]. I started shooting my clothes, and I was also shooting concerts: I shot everyone from Travis Scott, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar. 

Really?

Yeah, and crazy story: my first time ever shooting a concert, I was on stage with Marshmello. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, I was just there, snapping away. I think that goes to show how crazy and fast the journey has come because some people would work years to get to the point, and my first day with the camera was shooting an event. 

Bol Bol actually used to live around Irvine, and at Day N Night, I saw him in the crowd. He was in the pit, which is usually where you need special access to get into, I took one picture of him in the dark, just a random picture, and I DM’d it to him. Then, he ended up responding and I asked him to shoot. 

So, I pulled up on him in Irvine at his apartment, thinking we’re going to shoot him hooping and doing something, and it wasn’t even that—I didn’t even shoot him playing basketball. He’s all about fashion, so I shot him in his Jordans, Off-White. It was a streetwear shoot. I had him on a stair-case, a big, 7-foot dude sitting on a staircase [and] walking around Orange County. 

You see a 7-foot Bol and me at like 5-foot-6 next to him. It was funny, and after we did that shoot he posted the pictures, and Shareef [O’Neal] liked it and showed love and followed me. 

Is that how you transitioned into sports photography? 

Well, you have to keep in mind that at that point in time, it was all video content for basketball. Cassy Athena, obviously, is in the mix but there wasn’t a huge pool of photographers on the sidelines, like that. 

I remember going back home to my friends at school and telling them, ‘I feel like there’s a niche for creative, sports photography. I don’t see anybody, because at this point I’m taking pictures at concerts, I’m doing street photography with neon lights and playing with reflections, just super creative, saturated, and high contrast, not your traditional Getty photography. Don’t get me wrong, I have the most respect for people that take images like that, it’s not even that I don’t like it, it’s just me personally, I like how more heavily edited images look. 

So, what came next?

Well, I got tapped in with ‘Reef and I went to the first game of his senior year—which was the first game I ever shot. Think about that: that was only a short time ago. 

I still remember that day, and I had no idea what the rules were. I was like, ‘Okay, he texted me where the game was, I don’t know if I’m allowed to bring my camera in or not.’ I had this little dinky, small Sony camera, I didn’t have all my equipment yet, and I had to pay to get in. This is how naive I am: I just walked to the baseline and I stood there, and no-one told me that I wasn’t allowed to be there so I just started taking pictures. 

Looking back at those images now, I was trash. But, literally at that point in time, when I was sending the pictures to kids, they were like, ‘Oh my god, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. These are amazing.’ 

Reef ended up posting the picture, which was a massive win to me. I went to the next game, and he posted again. It kept going and going and, inevitably, you start to build a relationship with the family who is definitely one of the best groups of people that I’ve met. All the way from Shaq and Shaunie, and all the siblings, aunties, and uncles. I’m an only child and from the Bay Area, so I don’t really get to see my family much and they became a home away from home. They’re the closest thing I would have to hanging out with relatives. 

You’ve photographed everyone from LeBron James to his son, Bronny, as well as Shareef O’Neal and others. How did you cultivate those relationships and gain the trust of not only athletes but their families? 

I rocked real close with Shareef, his whole senior year. Every game I could make it to, I was there. If he has a tournament in Arizona, I was driving there on my own, I’m spending my own money, I’m crashing at a friends house and shooting him—not getting paid a dime by nobody, I’m just there because of the relationship, wanting to create, and really believing that there’s this niche that I can carve out and this space.

Eventually, the year goes by, and the big news hits that LeBron is coming to LA, and then inevitably you also get the news that Bronny is going to attend Crossroads—which is where the O’Neals were enrolled at that time. 

One day I was at the O’Neal’s house for a birthday, and Bronny was there. They introduced me to him and told him that I was that takes all the pictures they post. They were like, ‘I’m sure he’ll get you some fire pictures in the future.’ It was all really organic, I couldn’t have forced it to happen, it just fell into my lap and was natural. 

I really do pride myself on the relationship I have with these athletes, I tell people, ‘I don’t want to be your photographer or your camera guy. I just want to be like family. It just happens that I have a camera with me.’ 

That definitely shows through your work and how you’re able to capture those off-the-court moments. As a viewer, it almost feels like we’re there, with the subject in the locker room or the dance circle. 

Yeah, and whenever I’m with the O’Neals or whoever, it’s never them telling me, ‘Cam, go do that. Or, go do this.’ I’m literally just hanging out, at the dinner table eating, too. If I see something I like, then I’ll take my camera out and take a picture.

I slowly, slowly, slowly built that relationship with the James, too. I’d see them here or there. I shot him on the EYBL circuit, in Indiana, and at Peach Jam. I had done a couple of other things on a personal level with them, so that relationship over the past two years has been gradually building. 

How did you get involved with Sierra Canyon?

I had been shooting Sierra Canyon before Bronny was even there, when Cassius, KJ and Scotty were there. I was familiar with the vibe there, the school, and the drive, and I knew I wanted to get tapped in. Once Bronny started high school there, I got in touch with the Athletic Director, he got me in touch with the coach, Dre [Andre Chevalier], and it took a little bit of convincing. 

I told him what I wanted to do, and he had seen some of my work. It just made sense because the trust was there from the James family, I had shot with Amari [Bailey] before, and people were familiar with me already. It wasn’t like I was some random dude that was thirty because Bronny was going to school, it just made sense. 

Yet, you didn’t just capture what was on the court—you showed a different side to the Sierra Canyon team during a crazy time when the world was in awe of them, and Bronny. Talk more about your vision for photographing them last season? 

That just goes back to the core of me just really priding myself on the relationships. To me, it’s just normal. Very, very, very few times have I ever been starstruck or anxious or nervous to meet somebody, but 99% of these dudes are normal a** people. I really want to just humanize these people and it’s a reminder to me that some people do only see these people on the internet or on their TV. They might see them in-person only once. 

It’s really cool to show that, yeah you see them dunking on people and clapping their hands but these are kids that are eating gummy bears and sleeping on each other’s shoulders, doing homework and they love to dance. What’s crazy is that my dance videos of Sierra Canyon probably got more engagement than any of my basketball content. That just goes to show that basketball is just tied into culture, fashion, music, all of that stuff is a melting pot. Even people that don’t necessarily want to watch Bronny play all the time are down to see them dance to some Lil Keed. 

Being able to capture that experience from A to Z, especially with the crazy amount of attention that the team had with BJ Boston, Ziaire Williams, Z-Wade and Bronny was really amazing. I was aware of what it was, that’s why I wanted to do it, but I don’t think we’ll really be able to appreciate that [content] until 10-20 years from now when we look back at those archives. Those guys are rockstars, and I can definitely say I’ve never in my life been around energy like that, at any level of sport. 

Describe your artistic style? Your images have such a unique quality to them. 

The best way I have to explain my style of photography is: you could take a picture of somebody dunking a basketball on someone’s head, but what if I told you that I could go out to the parking lot, take a picture through the doorway of somebody dunking and I could capture that same exact moment? That’s intriguing, that’s different. I’m still telling the same exact story, but now you’re looking at it from a completely different lens. 

I’m just giving people what I think is cool. That’s just me being me, there’s no science behind it.

I might go to a game and the only shot I’m looking for is the dude palming the ball, full-extension so that I could twist it upside down versus Shaq hugging Shareef. I’m always looking for the creative composition and an image that you’ve never seen before or thought was cool. Sometimes you can create something out of nothing. 

You’ve also received some criticism for having them look “overexposed.” What are your thoughts about that?

It’s completely wrong by the textbook. I haven’t taken classes but I just know that they’re blown out, my highlights are too bright, sometimes you can’t even see the dudes feet and he’s got white shoes on. I’m well aware of that, it’s not like I’m here throwing stuff up thinking it’s the greatest stuff in the world. I’m aware of the flaws in some aspects in my work, but if you do something wrong enough and enough people gravitate towards it, all of a sudden it becomes right. 

Tell me about your other projects as well, like the “Jelly” and Good Looks basketballs. 

Ideas just come to my head sometimes. I get a lot of ideas, and some of them hit and I’ll put an idea in my phone while other times it’ll be 2 a.m. and I’ll sit up straight, open up my laptop and try to execute it. It’s crazy because sometimes these ideas take months to come into fruition, or it just evolves over time. What a lot of people don’t realize is that they see me doing the basketball that stays in the middle of the screen, tracking it and all that, and they think maybe I did that last year, but I had tried something similar to that all the way back in 2018 on Luka Doncic but my frame rate wasn’t as fast at the time, but the concept was there. I really just built on it, built on it, and perfected it. 

I don’t try to model myself or copy anyone else, and I see a lot of people try to mimic the thing I do but they’re not finding the answer and doing it exactly as I am because there is no tutorial online. I created my own method of doing it. That’s why you’ll see something that looks similar but it’s just not the same. As an artist, and just me, that’s why I’ve amounted the success I’ve had so far because at the end of the day I’m just being who I am, and you could try to take a shortcut and copy X-Y or Z person, but once I built my following and my platform, it’s just effortless. 

I’ll never claim to be the first person, but I do believe that I have helped popularize and put  a lot of eyes on something that becomes trending. There’s a huge difference. 

What keeps you inspired and motivated? 

I just like telling stories and I just get bored easily. That’s why I’ve tried to go so far outside the box, I’ve taken hundreds, maybe millions of pictures by now and I know that I can take a good picture of somebody running with a basketball, or somebody going up for a dunk and following through for a shot. That’s cool but, it’s not fulfilling enough for me after a while. 

I try not to put myself on a pedestal or get too excited because, and I’m not trying to be cliche, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be. There are so many things that I haven’t accomplished and so many aspects of photography that I haven’t even mastered. I’ve never taken a class on photography, I’m self-taught and I’m very well aware that I’m deficient in studio, understanding lighting and things like that, but everyone can go to these games and take pictures. I want my work on a billboard, I-405 in Los Angeles. I want to be the photographer Nike hires to do their Fall-2022 campaign, that’s what I’m trying to do. Most importantly, I want to take the picture that you see hanging in your hallway, that’s the picture I want.

What’s next for you, as a creative?  

People know me for what I do with basketball, but the things that I’m doing could be applied to football, baseball, soccer, boxing or golf. I don’t want to just shape basketball, I want to shape digital sports photography and that applies to everything. There’s so many things that I haven’t touched on that I have an interest in and I pay attention to. 

Another goal, for those basketballs that I’ve been making, is I have a bunch of samples behind me that maybe I don’t want to show you right now [laughs] but how ironic would it be if in tunnel walk-ins, what’s the one thing that nobody brings to a basketball game? A basketball. 

Literally!

I don’t see anybody walking in with branded basketballs, maybe they’ve done it before but that’s ironic. That’s going to create a little buzz, like, why is he bringing a basketball to a basketball game? So, that would be a big step for my brand, personally. 

But, there’s no end goal for me yet. Maybe I’ll realize what it is one day,  but at this point in time, I’m just trying to keep growing and experiment with my art. I’m blessed enough that these amazing athletes with platforms bigger than myself are willing to share it. That’s the most important and empowering part to me because my art is not traditional. When X-Y-and-Z athlete posts it, all of a sudden, it becomes validated in someone’s eyes. 

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