Sam Robles is a Photographer and Director working worldwide with the top athletes and models around the globe. We caught up with Sam to gain an insight into his world of photography, Journey of how he got to where he is and the way in which he has been impacted by constantly working in and around elite level superstars amongst a whole lot more.
LS: What was your earliest introduction into photography and how did you first get started?
SR: My first introduction to photography was when I was 18 years years old, I went to a friend's house and he actually had a digital camera it was one of the first ones that came out and to my knowledge it was called a 'Sony Mavica' and when I saw the camera I was just fascinated. At the time I was working in a car wash and I remember after leaving my friend's house I said to myself "I'm going to buy one of those", it was something like $500-$600 and I didn’t make that much money at all so I saved and saved until about 6 months later I went and bought that camera, It was a slightly different version but still the ‘Sony Mavica’ and that’s how I started taking pictures. For me it was just for fun, I had no intention of becoming a photographer and at the same time I was very naive about photography as a whole a, obviously I saw pictures in magazines and billboards but I never thought about it through an industry mindset to where there's people taking photos and there's a crew behind, the planning and execution, I had no idea.
"I've played football my whole life so it kind of marrying both my two passions and after that I thought ok maybe there's something here and that's where i started looking into who were photographers, how do I find other photographers, how does this work"
So I started taking pictures for myself I began showing them to my friends and everyone kept asking me the same question "who took those pictures?" and I didn’t understand the question at first, I told them I took them and from there people began to compliment me and for me I didn’t really care too much because I was doing it for myself but then people started to hire me for business or parties and I remember I really didn’t want do it because for me it's just for fun, it was like playing football I would just go and play with my camera. People insisted and I ended up starting to some jobs here and there and then getting different gear, I bought a DSLR but still all I wanted to do was shoot for myself. One day I put together a sports photoshoot and I saw photography in a different light because I enjoyed it even more than just taking photos on my own. The images came out much better than what I was doing previously, I think because sports for me is big as I've played football my whole life so it was almost like marrying two of my passions and after that I thought to myself that there's something here and that's where I started looking into photography more. I think YouTube, the internet and behind the scenes videos were just starting so it took me a while to figure things out until I met some other photographers and that's basically that’s how I got started.
LS: In terms of your creativity, have you always been creative or was it something that developed as time passed?
SR: In terms of creativity I never really thought about it, I didn't think I was a creative person/artist or anything like that but I guess I did always really think of things in an unorthodox way so maybe there was a hint there. When I started photography it was just all about fun, the thought never really passed through my mind it was more about enjoyment and doing what I wanted to do.
"I had the opportunity to shoot the football legend Eric Cantona and I was really excited but I knew the conditions were going to be difficult I didn’t have a lot of time... I shot him in the hotel where he was staying and there was really no place else to shoot it so I shot it right there in the lobby, I used a window light and the shoot lasted for about 2 minutes"
LS: What does your creative process look like on a general shoot day and does it differ from shoot to shoot?
SR: Well, my creative process is always different shoot to shoot it depends on who it's for and who I'm shooting but the process starts much before the day of the shoot. I try to look at the subject and if it’s a person I try to see what's been done so I don’t do anything that’s been done before, I also try to figure out what we’re trying to accomplish within the shoot.
I can give you an example so I think it was in 2018 I had the opportunity to shoot the football legend Eric Cantona and I was really excited but I knew the conditions were going to be difficult because I didn’t have a lot of time. I couldn’t pick the place so the odds were not in my favour. I figured that we needed a nice portrait of him and anything else would be a bonus so I tried to look into photos of him (game pictures) and I was like OK I'm going to get this one shot. So, there’s this really iconic photo of him looking to the side and you see his back and the number 7 as well as his name and he’s got this really cool look but that was a game photo so I thought about it, he looked really different at that time so I'm going to try create something similar to show the current version of Cantona in an iconic way and that’s what I tried to do.
I shot him in the hotel where he was staying and there was really no place else to shoot it so I shot it right there in the lobby I used a window light and the shoot lasted for about 2 minutes, I introduced myself we spoke for a few seconds and I positioned him a little but you know he’s a pro and he’s got so much charisma so the camera loves him. I was able to get way more than just that photo but that photo for me is one of my favourites.
LS: Your photography has taken you around the world, do you have a favourite city/country that you’ve created content in and what were you working on whilst out there?
SR: I love traveling and I have favourite cities an countries for different reasons you know, I think every place is unique and they bring a different emotion and experience so I don’t know if I have a favourite place but I can tell you about a favourite experience I had in Lisbon, Portugal..
I was doing a project with The Players Tribune and Adidas and I went to Lisbon to shoot as well as interview Joao Felix. At the time he was playing at Benfica and I had an amazing time and the photos came out really nice.
We were at Estadio da Luz I was on the field with him we played a bit of football and kicked the ball a bit and got some amazing photography.
Then after the shoot I did the interview with him he was very open he loved it, his parents were there and they loved the experience too I even took some photos for them also which they appreciated.
Everything just felt really special just being there in the stadium and kicking the ball around the with Joao Felix it’s a good memory I have.
LS: You mentioned on your Instagram that one of your first shoots for The Players Tribune was with Football Legend Francesco Totti back in 2016, Could you talk to us a little bit about what that experience was like?
SR: Yes so I was very fortunate to have Totti the legend as one of my first assignments on The Players Tribune, so Roma were doing their preseason in the US in Boston and they were training at the Harvard campus so my assignment was to go there and do portraits of Totti. After training between practice and lunch I setup my equipment brought a nice background and obviously did research before to see some iconic images of him because I wanted to get something powerful and iconic in my own style.
But also, since I was going to get their early and I thought about photographing him whilst at practice so I asked the organiser at Roma and he said ‘maybe’. I went there with a maybe but I brought all the equipment for the practice and when I got there the person was super nice very welcoming and they allowed me to shoot practice. I obviously wasn’t directly in there with the players but I was where the media was so I was close enough and I really used that time to focus on Totti and got some really interesting photos of him that ended up being used.
I shot him in the morning at practice, it was a practice game actually so he was on the bench which allowed me to get closer to him and got some really cool shots there. When the match was over I ran to the hotel, it was maybe like a 5 minute walk but I ran to make sure everything was ready, he came in I did the portraits I wanted, we joked a bit here and there, we did the interview, shot a few more photos and we were done. The person from Roma actually said there's going to be another match after lunch in the afternoon and if I wanted to I could photograph that as well.
"That’s also the time where I got the photo of him putting the captains arm band on and that’s the photo the players tribune ended up using the most even though I shot all those portraits it's that photo that worked the best"
This was in Boston and on that same day I remember I actually had a flight to Nepal leaving from New York so I was pressed for time but there's enough for me to shoot at least the first 15 minutes, get some good shots and drive all the way back to NY to get changed and get my luggage and go to the airport and that’s exactly what I did. In that period is also the time where I got the photo of him putting the captains arm band on and that’s the photo the players tribune ended up using the most even though I shot all those portraits it's that photo that worked the best with the piece so you never know what's going to work and that why I insisted on staying even though it could compromise my flight. Not long after that day he retired so I didn’t want to miss a chance of getting images of totti while he was active and playing so I couldn't be happier about that day.
"he’s considered the king of football and for me to be able to shoot him to be at the level of doing something with him, the way he received me and enjoyed the process as well as the way in which the photos came out, I mean the whole experience for me was like I was living in a dream he told me so many stories, he asked me to sit down and have coffee with him and he’s such a humble person"
LS: Your portfolio is incredible and you’ve worked with many of the top athletes in the world, which Project or Shoot stands out to you the most and why?
Well thanks for saying that about my portfolio, when It comes to portfolio it's always a struggle to update and I feel like I do a horrible job on Instagram as well but one of my goals this year is to update my site and get more work out there. Having said that it’s really hard to pick one project or shoot that’s stands out because for me they all stand out for different reasons. I can give you a few examples, one of the most important for me was shooting Pele because he was the athlete of the century, he’s considered the king of football and he has been photographed so many times and for me to be able to shoot him to be at the level of doing something with him and the way he received me and enjoyed the process as well as the way in which the photos came out, I mean the whole experience for me was like I was living a dream, he told me so many stories and asked me to sit down and have coffee with him he’s such a humble person. It was amazing to see a person who accomplished so much but he was still just human being and a really incredible person.
Another one that was really important for me was Dani Alves I mean I’ve done so many different things with him it's hard to point to one but we did a really special project it was a documentary with The Players Tribune and Ulisses Neto who's one of my great friends and partner in crime, he’s a director so together we did a documentary called my dream which is Dani coming back to brazil and playing for Sao Paulo and this project was special because we spent a ton of time with Dani and I knew him for 4 years prior but that was one that got us a lot closer. The documentary came out nice I was able to do the interview throughout the filming and I helped with the photography side of film. We won a webby award and that made it even more special. But I've shot many of the top players in the world it's not just about that to be honest sometimes I have more fun just photographing regular kids playing football around the world. I went to a communities in Brazil and the whole experience the way the kids react to when you show them the photos their excitement and just seeing them play, there’s no agenda they just want to have fun and it reminds me of playing on the streets as a kid because those were the best days of my life so whenever I have the chance I like to take shots on the streets, nowadays it's rare to see kids playing outside but there are still places where you can find that, I did it in brazil and Nepal and there's so many stories that come from that.
And last is a fashion shoot I did in Nepal, fashion is something I love shooting as well. I think in fashion you have a lot more control over the final image as you can choose who the subject is you can choose the location, the outfit you can basically build an image from scratch and this shoot in Nepal is basically that. It was one of the first times where I could make every single decision, I knew what I wanted, the themes and concepts, I had the perfect model the perfect stylist and hair and makeup as well as location. We went there and spent 2 days having fun shooting and the images came out even better than I thought.
LS: What advice would you give to young creatives or more specifically photographers trying to carve a career out of their passion for taking photos?
It's so hard to give advice to young creatives because everyone has a different background and stories and conditions so it's hard to generalise but having said that I think one of the most important things is for them to understand that it's one thing for you to take photos for fun and it's another when it’s a job. The day to day of photography isn't all about the fun it's important to know that and be prepared. It’s also important to point out that it's hard, it's so very hard because there's so many different things to be aware of and opportunities don't just come to you. Haha sorry to only point out the difficult parts you know. Also when starting be really resilient and shoot what you love, have fun with your photos, if you're not having fun it's hard to be resilient.
You really need to train your eye and be aware of what's. It's important to understand lighting when I say this I'm not saying you need to learn strobes but just watch lighting and see how it hits a person or a mountain or a landscape and just really understand the light so when you have a project you can translate it into your photos. It’s a never-ending process and you're always learning from it so to me that makes it so fun.
LS: Your shooting style is really unique, is there anyone or anything that inspired your style?
SR: Well first thanks for saying that I really appreciate it, it takes a lot for a style to be recognised and I think I'm still working on it but as far as people and things that inspire my style I’ve been reflecting a lot on that this 2020 year in the pandemic and its funny that when I look at my photography I can see things from my childhood, I can see things from when I was playing football and even watching football I can see things from my neighbourhood, the decisions you make are the decisions based upon the experiences of your life you know.
Theres way too many that have inspired me the most is probably Richard Avedon for so many reasons and even the documentary of his that I watched many times, its just fascinating to see his thought process, his decision making and everything that he’s done in his career.
It’s hard to choose names but it’s a combination of experiences through life. When I was a kid I grew up and my mum used to have these magazine subscriptions so I used to see the decoration magazine or a fashion magazine and
I'd see the portraits it would always inspire me and it all comes into my photography at some point.
LS: Constantly being around world class athletes has any one athlete ever had an impact on your mindset and your way of thinking in life or photography?
Absolutely, I would say most athletes have impacted my mindset and photography in one way or the other, because just learning about their life or talking to them and just seeing a bit of their world it opens up different horizons but there's a specific one who I learned from the most and that's Dani Alves as that the one I spent the most amount of time with.
He’s special because he’s really intelligent and really well-spoken, he cares for the people around him and there's so many things he says that changes your perspective and sometimes its just putting difficult things in a simple way, one of the things he always says and I think it’s brilliant is that in life you have 2 options you can either come back with the results you wanted or you can come back with excuses and the choice is yours and so a lot times if I'm trying to give an excuse for something or I'm trying to do something in a way that’s not how it should be I remember what he said and I think to myself am I doing something to come back with my goal or am I just coming back with excuses and that’s always in the back of mind, if you wanted to achieve greatness you need to do the work that’s required and kind of
eliminate all the excuses so that’s a good one thanks Dani!
To see more of Sam's work check out the links below:
and check out The Players Tribune :