Focus Finder: Swimsuit Model Photographer

Sports Illustrated photographer David Klutho normally shoots some of the nation's premier athletes, but last year he got a prized assignment -- a trip to Maui to shoot the magazine's annual swimsuit edition.

By Adam Piore

Job Title:Sports/Swimsuit Photographer

Companies that hire them: Sports Illustrated is the grand daddy of them all, but a number of magazines now have their own swimsuit editions, among them, Harper's Baazar and Glamour.

Number of jobs in the U.S.: Only about 40 photographers work at a high enough level to vie for the coveted swimsuit assignments. Sports Illustrated sometimes draws from their pool of 15 staff photographers, but not always. They often use freelancers.

How to find out about openings: Though occasionally outlets may post job listings, the best method is to contact the organizations directly and send them samples of your work.

How much can you earn: Usually, anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000 a year, though a select few can make two or three times that amount.

Useful Skills: Hand-eye coordination with good reaction time, and an encyclopedic knowledge of sports to anticipate action. When shooting the swimsuit edition, confidence and an unflappable professionalism help. Supermodels can be intimidating.

Every time David Klutho gets a call for a new assignment, he says it feels like he's won a contest. "The phone rings and it's like 'You won a free trip to a sporting event and your destination is...'" says the Sports Illustrated photographer.

Still, few contest winners are lucky enough to win the prize Klutho's employers hooked him up with last year: an all-expenses-paid trip to Maui to photograph supermodels Veronica Varekova and Yamila Diaz wearing bikinis.

It was Klutho's second time shooting for the annual swimsuit issue (the new one is due out on the stands on Valentine's Day). The first time was in 2000, when he traveled to a resort just north of Acapulco and shot eight different models -- including Heidi Klum and Daniella Sarahyba -- all in 3-D.

"It's a vacation type of assignment," says Klutho, 47, who has been working for the nation's premier sports-photography venue since the late 1980s. "You shoot in the morning and late in the afternoon. You don't feel like you're working. It's one of these things everybody always wants to do."

Klutho says people often ask him what it's like to shoot the most beautiful women in the world. He maintains the best part is simply the chance to do something different.

"It's not like it would be if you pulled a guy out of a bar and said 'You're going to go on this shoot,'" he says. "You get desensitized," Klutho says, from the glamour and glitz of celebrity, even when those celebrities are scantily clad models.

For Klutho, the best part about the swimsuit shoots is that there's more time to set up the shots than there is in professional sports, where the photographer must shoot the action right as it unfolds.

"You've got to think of everything in a spatial relationship; not only are you doing exposure and focus, but [you're] getting people to look good," he says. "It's a different kind of challenge."

Certainly, Klutho has had plenty of opportunity for "different" adventures. He's rented camels and shot the Cameroonian National basketball team in front of the pyramids. He's stood at center ice in the Stanley Cup scrum. He's even photographed basketball player Tony Kucoc heaving a military smoke grenade back into a raucous crowd of spectators during a game in Belgrade.

"I've been to all 50 states at least a couple times and 20 countries for S.I.," he says. "It gives you a broad view of things."

Klutho grew up in St. Louis and received his first camera for Christmas when he was in the eighth grade.

"Before I even started shooting, I told my mom, 'I want to shoot for Sports Illustrated,'" he says.

By high school, Klutho was photographing sports for the yearbook and newspaper. In college, he worked for the University of Missouri Athletic Department. And after school, he landed a job shooting pictures for the local hockey team. At the age of 25, he was in the process of compiling a portfolio to take to Sports Illustrated when a photo editor from the magazine called his employer looking for good pictures of brawls on the ice.

It was the only opportunity Klutho needed. His work blew away S.I.'s editors in New York City and soon he was travelling around the country shooting everything from brawls to baskets.

Klutho says that the quality of today's sports photography is better than ever because of innovations like autofocus, making creativity more important.

"You got to realize that hundreds and hundreds of people now have exactly the same equipment and got the exact same shot," says Klutho. "The hiring people are looking for something a little more subtle."

The competition is even more intense when it comes to shooting swimsuit models. But for Klutho it's just another day on the job.

"It's the same as shooting an athlete for a portrait," he says, "you have to give them a direction, or come up with an idea."

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