“Working with passionate people is very rewarding”: an interview with Helena Kristiansson

We interviewed Helena Kristiansson back when she first joined the ESL team. Now, many months, events and photos down the line, Helena has celebrated her official ESL anniversary and her passion for photography is still going strong. In order to celebrate a fantastic first year, we sat down with Helena again to discuss how she’s found the past 12 months, what it’s like traveling all over the world for work and what it takes to get a perfect photo.

ESL: Hi again, Helena! For those who didn’t check out your previous interview with us, can you tell us a little about yourself, what you do and how you ended up working for ESL?
Helena: I’m 28. I have a fluffy dog, a degree in marketing, an apartment in rustic Scandinavian style and I shoot esports for a living. In mid June 2014 I packed my bags and left my life in Sweden for one in Cologne, Germany. Now I travel the world with my camera to show and grow esports together with ESL. I love it.

I shoot almost all ESL events, from the likes of giant productions like Intel Extreme Masters Katowice and ESL One Cologne to smaller studio shows here in Cologne. I also handle most questions and issues regarding photos and help other departments with reporting and image selection.

I ended up at ESL last year after having freelanced at a few ESL events. I slowly realized maybe I could do this full time. I presented my case and moved to Cologne a few weeks later.

ESL: Now that you’ve been here a year, what’s it like living in Cologne?
Helena: Cologne is a very relaxed city with nice restaurants, bars, parks and of course the Rhine. Living in the same city as my colleagues is a real treat – they are the ones I go to bars, clubs and movies with. Having friends close to you who work in the same industry with its crazy hours definitely helps.

ESL: How do you deal with/stay occupied during all the traveling?
Helena: Living my life, you spend a lot of time in airports and hotels. Even though I always bring an iPad filled with ebooks and a 3DS filled with games, I usually just end up hanging out with the people I travel with. We’re all a big family and traveling together is always fun.

ESL: As you take so many photos of them, you must get to know all the various esports players and personalities pretty well. What’s the best thing about getting to work with them all?
Helena: This goes for the players, but also the rest of the people in the industry: working with passionate people is very rewarding. This industry is filled with people who get to do what they love for a living resulting in a happy environment filled with crazy jokes, even during stressful times. It’s a little bit like a traveling circus. We go to various places around the world and put on our show, gathering more or less the same crew and players no matter where we are. The people I meet at work is a big part of why I fell in love with this job.

ESL: If you had to choose, what was your favorite event from the past year and why?
Helena: Every event can be split in several different parts for me. Photo/stage/lighting-wise, the WGL Grand Finals in Warsaw was hands down the best event. With everything surrounding the event, the small amount of free time we got for some sightseeing in Taipei was absolutely amazing. Last but definitely not least, crowd and fan-wise – nothing beats Katowice.

ESL: What are a few of your favorite photos from this year?
Helena:

The ESL ESEA CS:GO Pro League Dubai Invitational

ESL One Cologne 2015

ESL One Cologne 2015

ESL One Frankfurt 2015

Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2015

The WGL Grand Finals 2015

Intel Extreme Masters Toronto 2014

ESL One Cologne 2014

ESL One Cologne 2014

ESL One Frankfurt 2014

ESL: Has your role given you any funny stories you can share?
Helena: None that should ever be posted online, haha!

ESL: In your opinion, what are the essential components of an amazing esports photo?
Helena: I believe a photo needs at least one of three things: emotion, pretty lights/colors or atmosphere. If you can make someone relive a moment or introduce a person to an experience and make them feel it by showing them your photos, you have succeeded.

ESL: Are there any particular difficulties associated with esports photography specifically? How do you overcome these?
Helena: The environment I work in never caters for photography – it’s made to look good on video/broadcast and to be comfortable for the players. As an esports photographer you have to learn how to work around this, to make sure you don’t show up in the broadcast feed, don’t step on any cables, don’t bother the players and to push your camera to its very limits finding light when there is none. The strategies of each game is less important than knowing the flow of the game. Knowing the casters and their way of talking as well as the players on a team. Knowing who will react and when. Knowing the pattern of shots from the producer and knowing the movement of the onstage camera guys. All to make sure that you’re in the right place at the right time capturing the raw emotion in your photo.

ESL: What advice would you give to somebody wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Helena: Don’t sit at home – go to events! Try getting a press pass to shoot for one of the smaller organizations or just bring your camera as a visitor. Take lots of photos on different settings, find out which ones work. Shoot in RAW to get the most out of them, learn to edit and find your style. Always be respectful of broadcasting cameras and stage managers, wear dark clothing to not draw attention to yourself and try and blend in as much as possible. Look at other photographers’ work to get ideas for angles and colors and try to find a balance between what is expected of the industry and your style.

If you’re looking for advice on settings, camera models and lenses, have a look at the ESL Flickr – clicking each image and scrolling down you will let you find the settings for that particular photo.

ESL: Thanks for your time, Helena, and good luck in Prague!

You can follow Helena on Twitter and Facebook, and keep an eye on the ESL Flickr and her shiny new website for more of her awesome work!

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