Ace photographer Richard Lam talks with Varsity Letters about capturing dramatic images for Head of the Class 2017. (Photo by Bob Frid)
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TSUMURA: Photographer Richard Lam on his eight favourite Head of the Class ’17 photos

At one stage of preparations during the weeks of photo shoots that went into producing the 2017 Head of the Class special section, I thought lead photographer Richard Lam had lost his marbles.

I have long been a fan of his keen eye, and the way his photographs have always seemed to jump off the page.

But with 21 separate assignments, each getting its own location scout, and a few weekends of unpredictable weather, upping the degree of difficulty for the sake of artistry was getting me a little nervous.

That’s how I felt when Lam told me he was in the process of finding a drone with which to mount one of his trusty Nikons.

The idea was shoot down at our group of eight high school student-athlete valedictorians, with the potential of it becoming the centre spread of the section.

Comically, the drone scenario didn’t happen, because Lam found a way to get it done through the use of a huge extension arm, helped aloft and triggered at ground level through an iPad.

The photo was a huge success (as you can see here), even though it didn’t make the print edition.

Our 2017 HOC valedictorians looked skyward for photographer Richard Lam.

It was just another example of the ingenuity, adaptability and creativity employed throughout the gruelling schedule by Lam and a pair of other seasoned photographers — Bob Frid and Jason Payne — all of whom worked together to create a stunning set of images.

On Monday, the busy Lam was already working on another project when I called him up to chat about Head of the Class 2017.

My question to him: What were your eight favourite images from the section, and why?

In no particular order, then, here we go:


Panorama Ridge’s Shanya Dhindsa (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

The soccer star from Surrey’s Panorama Ridge Secondary is off to a collegiate career with Washington State next season.

Yet like so many of her peers within the Vancouver Whitecaps elite girls program, she has ambitions that extend as far as someday playing for her country’s senior national team.

“She wants to play at that next level, and I just thought what better place to do the shoot than the same place that hosted games at the Women’s World Cup,” said Lam of taking the shoot to B.C. Place Stadium.

“For me, it all just fit. Shanya is a strong athlete, and she trusted us to capture that in a very classy way.

“What I like when I look at this picture is just how comfortable she feels in such a big place, a stadium that seats 50,000 people. I like the expression that she has on her face. To me, it exudes confidence.”


Notre Dame’s Steven Moretto. (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

“That’s a great tux he wore,” said Lam of the one worn by the Notre Dame Jugglers quarterback who has chosen to play baseball at the NCAA Div. 1 Sacramento State next season. “And he was very trusting of us that we wouldn’t damage it, because he wore it before his actual grad.”

Like Frid and Payne will tell you, it was one of those nights when the elements just came together to produce a background whose palette of colours lend an oil-on-canvas feel.

Shot at UBC, the crew arrived to a clear blue sky, but as the evening progressed, the backdrop changed for the better.

“We were lucky we got clouds in the background because they captured the sky at sunset,” said Lam. “If the clouds weren’t there, we would not have gotten those colours. There was some luck, and we got a real all-Canadian, timeless look.”


Oak Bay’s Sophie de Goede. (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

“Meeting Sophie was a little surreal,” Lam says of connecting with the Victoria two-sport star (rugby and basketball) at The Parliament Buildings, the most iconic location in B.C.

“We looked across the lawn and we see this entourage of people and then we see someone wearing a beautiful pink gown. It made me think of Kate and William. We said ‘That must be Sophie.’”

The night was chilly, and the crew asked a lot of de Goede, but everything seemed to click when the sun went down, Lam slowed the shutter in front of a lit legislature, and then had the rugby star begin to spin her passes.

“And security never kicked us out,” marvelled Lam.


Vancouver College’s Anastas Eliopoulos. (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

I will come clean here.

When I first saw this shot, I didn’t like it. I never tell a photographer how to shoot, but I do tell them that for Head of the Class we need to see faces, and that includes eyes.

In the end, this photo of the Vancouver College sprint-hurdle ace wasn’t used in print editions.

Yet both Lam and Frid loved it, and yes, I will admit, it grew on me, too.

“It works because it goes with his personality,” said Lam, also a Vancouver College graduate. “Anastas is well-spoken, confident, and he was very accommodating because let’s face it, we were asking him to do some unnatural things, like jump over hurdles in a tuxedo.”

Photography has it rules, but it also has its share of intangibles, and in the case of Eliopoulos, there is something just zany and fun-spirited enough for it all to come together.


Vernon’s Hannah Bennison. (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

This was one of my personal favourites right from the start.

Lam and Frid left Vancouver on a late May morning, and by evening were finishing the third of three Okanagan-based HOC photo sessions.

“We left in the morning and it was cloudy.” said Lam. “There was rain before we hit the mountains. There was snow on the roads. And as we got into Kelowna, a bit of mini wind storm.

The subject, a petite cross-country running superstar from Vernon Secondary, proved to be a very intense study.

“I asked her to relax and Hannah looked at me and said ‘I don’t do relaxed,’” Lam said laughing. “It was an interesting process but I think we captured her (on the pier at Kelowna’s Waterfront Park) and her personality.”

The photo’s limited depth of field brings a relaxing feel, kind of like Bennison is taking a brief respite to celebrate the finish of her high school life but, with running shoes in hand, ready to get back to the passion of her life.

“This was our last shoot of the day,” said Lam. “We left at 8 a.m. and we finished it off with a brilliant sunset.”


Brookswood’s Louise Forsyth. (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

“I thought the lighting made her look so confident and that’s the way she is as a player,” said Lam of the Gonzaga-bound star from Langley’s Brookswood Secondary.

“She wore these beautiful earrings and these great gold shoes,” he continued. “It was a hot day and she was so accommodating to do basketball moves in heels and a long dress. She did whatever we asked and I was so happy with the way the shots turned out.”


Burnaby Central’s Joel Harrison. (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

“Joel was a dream because we started out by telling him exactly what we wanted him to do, and even though it must have felt very unnatural for him, he was such a great athlete that he was able to make the adjustments.”

And, of course, we’re talking about adjustments in mid-air in the late-evening light.

Study the photo and you see the focus the Whitecaps residency star will take with him to the University of Michigan next season.

But you will also see that expression of joy on his face.

“It didn’t take many tries to get this photo,” Lam added. “And that was all due to Joel. Light changes very fast at this time of the day but he worked hard and we got it done.”


Panorama Ridge’s Savannah Dhaliwal. (Rich Lam, PNG photo)

Shooting at midday is not ideal.

The sun can cast some pretty mean shadows.

But Lam and Co. quite brilliantly turned the adversity into advantage by using the shadows to mimic the actual court.

Dhaliwal, the hard-working forward from Surrey’s Panorama Ridge who is headed to Portland State next season, appears to be following through with a baby hook of sorts, only she’s not shooting at an actual hoop.

Instead, Lam had her positioned to one side of the hoop and with Frid hoisting a camera almost 20 feet above, he triggered shutter from ground level.

Dhaliwal has always seen herself as something of an underdog, and here, she is pictured as just that player, shooting from the shadows.

“Savannah couldn’t do a lot of dynamic things because of her dress so you have to think on the fly,” said Lam. “We try to do about four different poses at every shoot. It’s team, with Bob and Jason and Niki (project editor Nikola Bennett) all coming up with ideas. We bounce ideas off each other and no feelings ever get hurt.”

I see each of our honourees for their accomplishments, and I do my best to tell their stories.

It’s no different for the photographers. And when we put our efforts together, the hope is that you get an even clearer idea of just how special B.C.’s student-athletes really are.

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