Friday, October 26, 2012

Ryan Heckert Interview

Anytime you are an NAAFS event, you will also see Ryan Heckert from HexLinc Photos taking pictures throughout each and every fight. Ryan has gone from at first just helping out, to be part of the event all the way to becoming the photographer for the promotion, to his newly expanded role as Director of Media Relations. The amount of people who use his pictures as their Facebook profile pictures and things of that sort, speak volumes as to the quality of his work. While everyone who is an NAAFS regular knows Ryan and sees him, I wanted to give people an opportunity to know more about him and what he does.

Q: Can you talk about how you got interested in photography?
A: My interest in photography was started from MMA. I didn't have an interest growing up, I became interested in cage fighting and MMA and then NAAFS. Through a couple opportunities I got interested in photography to provide that service for the NAAFS. Not really, classically or technically trained, just something kind of self taught and learned from other people. A lot of Youtube videos and stuff. Not something that was a long interest of mine, something that came from NAAFS and cage fighting.

Q: How did you get involved with the NAAFS?
A: I had always been interested in MMA. I remember back in high school renting the early UFC's with my buddies. I always had an interest in the sport. I think it was about 2005 when I started attending local events, I saw a couple shows at the Canton Civic Center and then became interested in the NAAFS, they were putting on shows pretty consistently and were close to home. I started going to those and what ended up happening is it became quite an expense in my budget so I got connected with Jake Digman, he was looking for volunteers to work events. One thing lead to another and for the first few shows I just sold tickets, set up chairs, anything I could to help them out and in exchange got to go to all the shows and got a free t-shirt. That kind of evolved into other opportunities. I noticed that didn't have a consistent person doing photography and I got involved in that. I got better and nicer equipment and got better. After that I took on a different role than where I started and even with just the photography. I was just wanting to see the events more and be close to the action.

Q: When you started doing the photography, was that something you were hoping would become long term or was it just more filling in where you could fill in?
A: It was nothing I walked into thinking it was my goal. It just happened that I said "Hey Greg (Kalikas), you got no one taking pictures, can I do that?" You get closer to the action and the fighters and the staff. I just stumbled onto it. I started to experience it and learn more about the camera and the operational side of what happens.

Q: There is a lot more to what you do than just taking pictures, can you give an idea of the process for you?
A: I get to the show usually around four o'clock. I have taking on a role coordinating medial relations. A lot of my time is spent making sure everyone is situated, people in the right seats, telling media where to go. Once the event starts, it is just making sure I capture enough about each fight to tell the story of each fight. Although I am constantly firing the camera and getting shots, what usually makes it through production is just a few. After a two to three hour show, there is quite a bit of editing and re-creating a story. Somebody said one time that for every hour of shooting you do, you do three hours of editing and I have found that to be true. You shoot the event, put them in the server, getting the ones I need, editing them, putting a watermark on them and taking those and putting them on the website. We try and do it within forty-eight hours. Between shows there is constant requests for photos, we are doing posters, articles, other media outlets want pictures, it doesn't stop between shows. I have been doing it so long and have every single fight archived, so if someone needs something from a fight in 2008 I can get it.

Q: Sometimes people are doing the same thing and it is almost competition, more people are taking pictures at NAAFS events, but you all get along and support each other, is that important to you?
A: Very much so. I walked into this and every show never thinking it is my territory or my thing. I was given a unique opportunity to do this. I have been kind of coached by people along the way and for me not to return that ten-fold would just be plain wrong. It is a great opportunity and I want to do everything I can to maximize their chance to do that. It is not a competition. There is too many great people and enough opportunities for everyone. I try and build a relationship with people. I think about Keith Mills, who is Sherdog's go to photographer and I reached out to him a couple years ago, he wasn't a snob or rude, he helped me out. Some other guys like Mike Wrobel who has done a lot for shows for us has been a huge help for me. Without those people I wouldn't be where I am at.

Q: What about NAAFS makes it a company you like working with?
A: We have been putting on shows since I think 2005. That is a long run for a promotion that is regionally based. Especially in Ohio, I think I read Ohio is the second state in the country in volume of shows. It is exciting to be part of the behind the scenes, you know we are appreciated. What goes on behind the scenes with matchmaking, securing venues, making sure fighters have medicals, one thing changes and everything changes. The people have been a lot of fun to work with. It is fun to travel and see places, we have been all around Ohio and West Virginia. For me personally, it gives me a break from the every day grind that I have to do to support my family.

Q: When you look back at your time doing this, are there any fights that stick out in your mind?
A: I would have to say there are a lot of favorites. A lot of people would say Jason Dent vs Chris Lozano at Fight Night in the Flats. It was an incredible fight. For more reasons than just what went on in the cage. They had their differences before, two of the main gyms in Ohio putting their main guys out there in the Main Event, the hype, things leading up to it, helped make that fight. On top of that, what happened in the cage was even better. There have been so many. I have done over a hundred shows and at fifteen fights a show, it adds up. I have enjoyed watching Nick Duell, Joe Heiland, and I have favorite amateur fighters. So many great fights but the favorite has to be Dent vs Lozano, and with what happened before and during the fight, to see them at the end put the disagreement behind them.

Q: Sometimes I am writing my play by play and there is a great fight and I have to remind myself to keep writing, do you ever find that happening and have to remind yourself to keep shooting?
A: Haha, it is funny you say that. In the early days I would get three or four good shots and stop or back off and watch the fight. Now, I am really robotic about it. I go and put my head on the camera and it doesn't come up until it is over, and even when it is over it doesn't stop because that is where some of the best emotion is, when the fight is over. I have to remind myself to stay in my seat and get the shot because a particular guy may win and you wanna jump and scream because it is impossible not to like these guys and remain objective. You miss a lot behind the camera.

Q: You mention being objective when you do this long enough, you form friendships, is it hard when you see two friends fighting and see one beat up on the other?
A: It is hard but what is hard for me is not necessarily what goes on during the fight, I am used to that. What upsets me and makes me emotional is what happens after the fight. You know one guys is gonna lose, when it is over, reality sets in for the person that wins, at the same time, the guys still on the ground or his head is hanging low, that is what gets me. You know them and get to know who they are.

Q: When you for example go on Facebook and see a fighter using your work as their profile picture, do you get any joy from that?
A: I do. My joy comes giving them that memory. They like it and want to show everyone else, it isn't about me, it is about them showing that moment they had in a picture.

Q: Anything I missed that you want to talk about?
A: Just that it continues to be exciting with the NAAFS. It is fun to be a part of it. There is always something new in the works, a new venue, new market, new fighters coming up. I really enjoy that. like I said before, I really enjoy the relationships I have gotten to build from it all. I look forward to Night of Champions, it will be incredible. They keep topping themselves. You see a fight card and think it can't get better and then another one comes out. A lot of props to Greg and Nichole (Long) for their keen eye and the fighters they bring in. I appreciate guys like you who put so much into the sport and get very little in return, outside of the rewards we get emotionally. Guys who make the sport keep growing. The unselfishness really shows.

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