RIO DE JANEIRO — Gilbert native Larry Slater didn’t always have a passion for sports photography. It wasn’t until he took a trip to the NCAA wrestling championship in Las Vegas in 2005 that his interest in photography was sparked.
At that event, Slater was seated far from the competition floor and noticed a group of photographers right in the middle of the action. He immediately inquired about how he could get credentialed to be in that same position.
“I started taking pictures and I found that the pictures that they would use for the USA team at that time were very poor quality,” Slater said. “I thought maybe there was an opportunity that if I could present good pictures to them, then they could use them for their service.”
Slater soon got in touch with USA Wrestling communications director Gary Abbott and asked to be credentialed to take photos at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
From there, Slater’s sports photography career took shape. He began with simple point-and-shoot cameras, and then moved to more advanced cameras as he got more into the art.
“I shoot everything in manual mode,” Slater said. “The camera doesn’t do any processing. I do all of that on the computer.”
Slater has taken classes in lighting, drawing, painting and two-dimensional design to help develop his skill and make his photos unique.
“Most people are standing right next to you, shooting the same things,” Slater said. “When you take your pictures, you look at the athlete, look at the background and you have certain setting combinations that you look for."
At the Olympics, Slater shot several different sports. In Rio, he took photos at golf, badminton, gymnastics, fencing, beach volleyball and wrestling competitions.
Slater’s ability to get great action shots as well as portraits is Abbott’s favorite part of his photography.
“He catches the emotion of athletes that makes the photograph better because it’s not about the technical stuff,” Abbott said in a phone interview. “[He’s getting] all of the different emotions that come with competing in sports.”
Slater’s full-time job is not as a photographer, however. He works from home as a lawyer.
“When I leave for a place like (Rio) for 17 days, I don’t fall deeply into debt, and so I can get away,” Slater said. “My method is I have a day job that pays the bills, and I get away for photography.”
Abbott admires Slater for his commitment to the photography and traveling that he does for the photography without any money in return.
“Larry basically invented the volunteer photographer for wrestling,” Abbott said. “He comes to these events, and he shoots the events on his own time and on his own dime. He is a trailblazer there.”
Slater got a credential through USA Wrestling for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, London in 2012 and this year in Rio.
Wrestling was the sport that got him into photography, but Slater said he enjoys shooting several other sports too, especially gymnastics.
“I think sportswise, and it is really a popular thing, is the women’s gymnastics,” Slater said. “They flip and they turn and you try to get them upside down. Although I get good looks of beach volleyball … and fencing is pretty good.”
Slater’s passion for photography is evident to all who view his work, Abbott said.
“It’s people like him who make sports special,” Abbott said. “He does this because he enjoys it, not because he’s getting rich at it.”
Larry Slater took the photo of Olympian Aly Raisman that Jewish News published on the front page of the Aug. 19, 2016, issue.