Still Photography & the WWE, with Brad Smith & Rich Freeda

03/28/2024Link0

Cozy up to a ringside seat for a behind-the-scenes tour of the wildest shows in sports entertainment during our insightful chat about the still photos produced for World Wrestling Entertainment, otherwise known as WWE.

In 2023 alone, the WWE photo team traveled the globe, covering close to 170 live events, and producing 2.6 million stills to serve the organization’s various platforms.

You might—incorrectly—assume that WWE’s still images are generated from video screengrabs. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In this week’s podcast, we get the full scoop about stills from WWE’s Vice President of photography, Brad Smith, and Senior Director of photography, Rich Freeda.

Among the many details we unpack: The learning curve required for shooting a WWE event, the importance of showing all aspects of the spectacle in pictures, and the delicate dance between still photographers and TV camerapeople, who are tethered together and both wearing headphones while capturing a show.

In addition to live event coverage, the photo team creates high-level studio portraits of WWE Superstars, which necessitates complex studio set ups at each venue. Given the relentless schedule of three live shows weekly, two of which are traveling, studio gear is circling the country all year long. As Rich Freeda puts it, “We could be a Consumer Reports testing lab.”

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, 12/26/22
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, 12/26/22
LA Knight, Crown Jewel, Mohammed Abdu Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 11/4/23
LA Knight, Crown Jewel, Mohammed Abdu Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 11/4/23
Roman Reigns, Wrestlemania 34, Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, LA, 4/8/18
Roman Reigns, Wrestlemania 34, Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, LA, 4/8/18
John Cena, Wrestlemania 34, Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, LA, 4/8/18.
John Cena, Wrestlemania 34, Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, LA, 4/8/18.
Seth Rollins, Wrestlemania 38, AT&T Stadium, Dallas Texas, 4/2/22
Seth Rollins, Wrestlemania 38, AT&T Stadium, Dallas Texas, 4/2/22
Kevin Owens, Payback, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA, 9/2/23.
Kevin Owens, Payback, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA, 9/2/23.
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda’s WWE Diary, CM Punk, Wrestlemania 24
Rich Freeda at a WWE Live Event. Photo Credit: Craig Melvin/WWE
Rich Freeda at a WWE Live Event. Photo Credit: Craig Melvin/WWE
Rich Freeda at a WWE Live Event. Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Rich Freeda at a WWE Live Event. Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Rich Freeda

And when it comes to the type of photographers best suited to covering WWE shows, Brad Smith sums things up nicely. “[At first,] I instinctively thought, if we’re going to hire new people, they have to be sports photographers. And now I don’t think that at all. I’ll tell you who I’d rather have. I’d rather have a photographer who’s a tour photographer for Bon Jovi than somebody who’s the Yankee’s photographer, because they understand that the event is the important thing.”

Overall Photo, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood CA, 4/2/23, Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Overall Photo, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood CA, 4/2/23, Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Undertaker, Wrestlemania 25, Reliant Stadium, Houston TX, 4/5/09, Photo Credit: David Gunn/WWE
Undertaker, Wrestlemania 25, Reliant Stadium, Houston TX, 4/5/09, Photo Credit: David Gunn/WWE
Charlotte, Friday Night Smackdown, Enterprise Center, St Louis, MO, 10/6/23, Photo Credit: Bradlee Rutledge/WWE
Charlotte, Friday Night Smackdown, Enterprise Center, St Louis, MO, 10/6/23, Photo Credit: Bradlee Rutledge/WWE
Charlotte, SummerSlam, Ford Field, Detroit, MI, 8/5/23, Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Charlotte, SummerSlam, Ford Field, Detroit, MI, 8/5/23, Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Jey Uso, Monday Night Raw, American Airlines Center, Dallas TX, 10/23/23, Photo Credit: Heather McLaughlin/WWE
Jey Uso, Monday Night Raw, American Airlines Center, Dallas TX, 10/23/23, Photo Credit: Heather McLaughlin/WWE
Asuka, Monday Night Raw, Amway Center, Orlando FL, 2/6/23, Photo Credit: Bradlee Rutledge/WWE
Asuka, Monday Night Raw, Amway Center, Orlando FL, 2/6/23, Photo Credit: Bradlee Rutledge/WWE
Rey Mysterio – Wrestlemania 35, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford NJ, 4/7/19, Photo Credit: Eric Johnson/WWE
Rey Mysterio – Wrestlemania 35, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford NJ, 4/7/19, Photo Credit: Eric Johnson/WWE
Cody Rhodes, Wrestlemania 39, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood CA, 4/2/23, Photo Credit: Craig Melvin/WWE
Cody Rhodes, Wrestlemania 39, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood CA, 4/2/23, Photo Credit: Craig Melvin/WWE
Rhea Ripley, Crown Jewel, Mohammed Abdu Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 11/4/23, Photo Credit: Andrew Timms/WWE
Rhea Ripley, Crown Jewel, Mohammed Abdu Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 11/4/23, Photo Credit: Andrew Timms/WWE
John Cena, Payback, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA, 9/2/23, Photo Credit: Georgiana Dallas/WWE
John Cena, Payback, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh PA, 9/2/23, Photo Credit: Georgiana Dallas/WWE
Roman Reigns, Friday Night Smackdown, O2 Arena, London, England, 6/30/23, Photo Credit: Georgiana Dallas/WWE
Roman Reigns, Friday Night Smackdown, O2 Arena, London, England, 6/30/23, Photo Credit: Georgiana Dallas/WWE
Bianca Belair, Royal Rumble, Alamodome, San Antonio, TX, 1/28/23, Photo Credit: Cooper Neil/WWE
Bianca Belair, Royal Rumble, Alamodome, San Antonio, TX, 1/28/23, Photo Credit: Cooper Neil/WWE
Seth Rollins, SummerSlam, Ford Field, Detroit, MI, 8/5/23, Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Seth Rollins, SummerSlam, Ford Field, Detroit, MI, 8/5/23, Photo Credit: Craig Ambrosio/WWE
Finn Balor, Wrestlemania 39, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood CA, 4/2/23, Photo Credit: Craig Melvin/WWE
Finn Balor, Wrestlemania 39, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood CA, 4/2/23, Photo Credit: Craig Melvin/WWE
The Street Profits, Monday Night Raw, Heritage Bank Area, Cincinnati OH, 1/16/23, Photo Credit: Andrea Kellaway/WWE
The Street Profits, Monday Night Raw, Heritage Bank Area, Cincinnati OH, 1/16/23, Photo Credit: Andrea Kellaway/WWE
Brad Smith at a WWE Live Event, Photo Credit: Johany Jutras
Brad Smith at a WWE Live Event, Photo Credit: Johany Jutras

Psych yourself up for WrestleMania 40 with our WWE episode from the B&H Photography Podcast!

Guests: Brad Smith and Rich Freeda

Above photograph © Rich Freeda/WWE

Episode Timeline:

  • 2:08: Brad Smith’s past career as a sports photo editor and DP, and adapting to work for WWE, differences between shooting stills for WWE and other professional sports, plus showing the spectacle of WWE and conveying all aspects of the event.
  • 6:39: The ratio between photographers and remote cameras capturing stills at a WWE event, plus integrations between WWE photography coverage and the TV production team.
  • 8:49: The learning curve for those new to shooting a WWE event, the unique skill set of working ringside tethered to a TV camera as part of a show, plus the significant dance between still photographers and TV camerapeople.
  • 13:12: Ringside restrictions for news organizations and non-WWE staff, rules for audience pictures of WWE or other sporting events, plus timeline and positioning for Smith, Freeda, and onsite editors during the show.
  • 20:51: What’s heard through the headphones during WWE events, the imaging workflow between still photographers and on-site photo editors during events, the degree of multitasking required of the WWE photo team, plus the ideal WWE still photographer: a concert photographer for a rock band who understands live event production.
  • 30:16: Episode Break
  • 31:04: WWE still photo gear preferences: Sony mirrorless cameras, ProGrade cards and readers, Profoto studio lighting.
  • 36:33: The workflow between WWE show and studio setups in event locations, the overall scope of work at WWE, distinctions between WWE’s still photography and social media teams, plus the volume of WWE’s traveling live shows happening all year long.
  • 43:20: The online photo diaries for WWE Superstars on Rich Freeda’s website, teamwork when interacting with WWE Superstars, plus working with female WWE Superstars.
  • 51:07: The minimal retouching and post-production work to WWE images, the portrayal of Superstars in heroic fashion, and the question of AI image making with WWE photography.
  • 54:39: Future trends in WWE still photography, collaborative relationships with tech and gear companies, the wide ranging use of stills within WWE, plus more on advantages to the Sony A9 III’s global shutter in photographing lasers, pyrotechnics, and other lighting effects.

Guest Bios:

Brad Smith is an award-winning photo editor and DP with more than 35 years of experience in visual storytelling. From sports industry roles as DP of sports publications at Time Inc. and senior sports photo editor at The New York Times, he’s managed live edits for some of the most visually stimulating sports events in the world. Smith is now vice president for photography at the WWE, overseeing the global photography division.

As a consultant, Smith has worked with a wide variety of clients, and he actively supports the photo community on the creative board at NYC Salt, and the advisory board at the Kenya-based nonprofit Photo Start.

He serves as a faculty member for the Palm Beach Photographic Centre’s FOTOfusion event, for the Summit Workshops, and for the annual Southeastern Photojournalism Conference in Nashville, TN. Smith is also a past board member for the National Press Photographers Association, and The Eddie Adams Workshop.

As senior director of photography at WWE, Rich Freeda oversees all WWE photographers, both freelance and staff. During his 30 years of work with the WWE, he has delivered more than just an upbeat enthusiasm in his personality-driven images. Equal parts portrait and documentary photographer, Freeda’s tireless work to refine production, ensure a successful shoot, and provide unrivaled customer service are the reasons why his freelance clients include Dunkin' Brands, Food Network, GE, NBC Universal, SKYY Vodka, Xerox, Gatorade, RBS, and BusinessWeek. An avid skier, hiker and triathlete, Freeda is a devoted father of twin girls. He and his wife live in Stamford, Connecticut.

Stay Connected:

WWE Still Photography Page: https://www.wwe.com/photos
Brad Smith Website: https://www.bradsmithcreative.com/
Brad Smith on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bradpix/
Brad Smith on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/people/Brad-Smith-Creative/
Brad Smith on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nybradsmith

Rich Freeda Website: https://www.richardfreeda.com/collections
Rich Freeda on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/richfreedaphoto/
Rich Freeda on Twitter: https://twitter.com/richfreedaphoto
Rich Freeda WWE Profile: https://www.wwe.com/videos/the-photography-of-wrestlemania-with-rich-freeda-making-wwe


Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: Jill Waterman
Senior Producer: Mike Weinstein
Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner

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