If you know Brandin Cooks by name, then you already know that he’s a superstar football player. He’s one of the fiercest NFL wide receivers on the planet - setting records for his heroic receptions, scoring touchdowns that’ll make you scream at your TV in excitement, and helping his teams make it to multiple Superbowls. You don’t have to look far to get a glimpse into his life as a wildly successful elite athlete. And one who is living his best life.
If you don’t know Brandin Cooks by name, then I’m am thrilled to introduce you to him. He’s so much more than just a baller on the field. But, this conversation is not about football. Not at all.
Which might seem unusual. If you went to his Instagram profile and checked him out, it is easy to get fixated on the football stuff and not look any deeper. The stunning pictures of Brandin on the field, training his body to stay in top shape, or traveling between games is captivating. I feel athletes like Brandin are in many ways our real-life superheros. They inspire us to be better while at the same time entertaining us - all for the thrill of the game. It’s gripping to watch them perform in competition, but nowadays we also can get a deeper glimpse into their lives on social media.
It is this deeper glimpse that I tend to be more interested in, and is certainly the case with this man. Because as amazing as Brandin Cooks is as a football player, he amazes me much more as a human being.
When you look more closely, you see more. Under his name, it states: “Holy Spirit in Me”. This tells us where his heart is.
Next we see where he is from, and where he has gone. He’s a man that doesn’t forget his past and how he got to the present.
Next, is his team and his position, a meaningful bible verse, a loyal brand.
Then, we see “Archer12Eyes Photography”, “Leica Guy”, and a bunch of IG Stories from places like Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong and more. This is what I was interested in exploring with him. Photography. Travel. Art.
I first met Brandin in 2017 at the Four Seasons Resort in Maui. He became a collector of my artwork and over time, we continued an exchange that grew into a friendship. Over this period, I have watched him grow from a non-photographer to a photographer, and from never having traveled out of the country to quickly becoming a seasoned world-traveler. He recently went on an epic trip to numerous countries in Asia, and I wanted to hear about some of his adventures and to share them with you.
There is no one I’d rather have as my first guest with these Conversations. Many thanks and gratitude to Brandin!
Without further ado, here is my conversation with Brandin Cooks.
PHOTOGRAPHY, TRAVEL, & ART
SCOTT REITHER: As you know, I have a big love for all things photography, travel, and art. I’ve been feeling very compelled to have conversations on these topics with like-minded people, and to share them. So, first of all, thank you so much Brandin for joining me and my audience and sharing some of your experiences.
BRANDIN COOKS: No problem at all. I'm glad I can be a part of it. I’m honored.
SR: Before we get to talking about photography, I want to ask you about this epic trip you just went on recently.
BC: Yeah, it was special. It was life changing, that's for sure. I guess I'm still trying to figure out what my favorite part was. There were just so many different dynamics - in the cities and the cultures. I thought I loved traveling before, but I'm addicted now.
SR: Where all did you go on this trip?
BC: We hit Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand.
SR: And just a few days in each spot and moving on?
BC: It was basically on average two to three days in each spot. I think the people I travel with and our attention spans - our max in one place would be three days. But, we did so many different cities within the country. It wasn't like one city and then move to another country. Like in Vietnam, we were in Hanoi, Saigon and Danang. In Thailand, we went to Chiang Rai, Bangkok, and Phuket. Japan, we just did Tokyo. That was more of a quicker stop. Then there was Singapore, Hong Kong, and in Indonesia - we visited Jakarta and Ubud.
SR: I haven’t been to Indo…
BC: I think I know you well enough to say - Jakarta would be pointless for you. Four Seasons does have a spot there, but it’s more of a busy city. But, Ubud was so beautiful. You have the ocean, but you're also tucked into a rain forest. Most of the resorts are there. So you can go out and see different waterfalls. I think you’d loved those! I sent you a few different links to different waterfalls, but there's a million more.
SR: Did you get to those spots to photograph?
BC: We went to a few and then we also found one not on the list that our guide thought we would love. It was the one I posted on Instagram. It was hidden and takes a 45 minute hike just to get to it. Not huge, but it's just very peaceful.
SR: I've done a lot of trips like that where you're moving every few days and it’s great for seeing varied places and getting a lot into a relatively short time. But it does tend to create this whirlwind effect and it can all blur together. Of all these different locations you visited, which one is standing out from the blur?
BC: I’d have to say the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang-Rai. There was so much going on. One of the things that stood out is simply getting there after you land at the airport. You would typically take a car or bus to the hotel. Well, for this spot, when we landed we got in a little speed boat that sat only three people and we go there by river. At one point we were in three different countries - in Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. And they still had to take our passports, although we were just skipping over each place on the river. It was cool. Once you get back into Thailand, you start seeing the water buffalo in the river and then you start to approach this amazing resort. But it's not like any other resort - you would think it's like a resort but it's more just a bunch of tents. They only have 15 tents. But the way they greet you… I think it was just so peaceful and you see the elephants walking around. I think that's the part that stood out from everything else. From all the chaos.
SR: I was going to ask you about that place because I saw that you made two new friends - elephants named Linda and Puma. Are those two elephants just cruising around the property for meeting guests?
BC: They bring different elephants down every morning for breakfast. It happened to be Linda and Puma that day we were there, but they have roughly 20 plus elephants on the property. They come down for breakfast and then when you go to hang out with them, you typically see about five to seven of them together. We rode them, and we felt so guilty about it, but you know, they're rescue elephants and they treat them really well. They don't have the big baskets or anything like that on their head, or the stakes that they hit them with, which made us feel better about it. We went through a little hike with them throughout the camp and then we get back to this river and we go in the river with the elephants. The guards are speaking Thai so we don’t understand, but come to find out they’re telling the elephants to dip us in the water. So the elephants sit down in this brown murky river and they’re spraying us with the water. I had fun. My boy Rob had fun. But, the girls, as you know, they weren’t too happy about getting in water like that. [laughing]
SR: I had an experience like that 20 years ago when my photography first sparked on this big six-month long trip to Southeast Asia - to some of the same places you went in Cambodia and Thailand. I was in Nepal, at Chitwan National Park way out by the border of India. We rode the elephants during the day to look for wild rhinos, and then after the rides the masters would take the elephants down to the river to bathe them and let them cool off in the water. We would pay the master some rupees and then essentially get in the water and play with the elephants for an hour. They were spraying us and lifting us up with their trunks onto their back. I was kind of tripping cause you're seeing all this poop and dirty water going down the river, so you're hoping not to catch some crazy disease!
BC: And I think that was their biggest worry, but I just was like, man, whatever happens, happens at this point. You only get this opportunity once in a lifetime. It's not like you do that and then be like, oh, I'm coming back and doing this again.
SR: Exactly! That’s what I thought too and took the risk figuring this may be the only time in life I have to play with elephants. And I didn’t get sick. And it has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I’ve never done that again.
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC SPARK
BC: No doubt. What was your favorite part of your Southeast Asia trip?
SR: Trekking around the Himalayas of Nepal will always be a super stand out for me. I spent nearly two months on different treks up in the most gorgeous mountains, with no electricity, and just a total simplicity to life. With my own two feet as my only means of transportation.
BC: Did you go into that trip knowing you wanted to photograph and do this?
SR: No, I was a total non-photographer. I don't even think I had a camera with me when I first landed in Bangkok. That was the first place we went. It was my first time out of the country. I felt like I was seeing the world through fresh eyes for the first time. Everything was so exciting to me. And by day two or three I just knew that I had to get a camera and start photographing. Everything seemed so awesome and I was so excited by it all. I figured most of my family and friends would not be traveling to places like that. So, I just wanted to bottle that up and bring it home and share it with them, you know? And that's what compelled me to start working with the camera.
BC: I would love to see those pictures if you got them. It was obviously your beginner stages, but it will be awesome to see where you started. Obviously, what you're doing now is beyond special. So it'd just be cool to see for encouragement because boy, oh boy, do I need it? [laughs!]
SR: I’ve got plenty of encouragement for you brother!
For me, I was in Nepal, and two months into this epic journey when I began to have experiences that left me feeling like - I want to commit my life to photography! The first spark was - I was in this old temple in Kathmandu and had my eye on this beautiful monk. Bald head, long robes, 500 year old monastery. You can imagine it. I had my eye on him and I knew I wanted to capture this with the camera. I'm looking at him and, and at some point I just raise up to shoot and right when I pushed the shutter, he just stares right at me, through the lens, and into my soul. At that instant, I pushed the shutter. Then I quickly lower the camera and sheepishly give him a gesture, almost to say - was that okay? He gave me this look as if to say, it’s okay. But, it was a real emotional connection there for just an instant. And I had a strong sense that I had captured something special and that it was going to be this great photo. I mean, I was shooting film, so I'm sending it all home and not getting to see any of it for months and months. But, I felt like that was going to be a great photo.
That same week, there was a European business owner that was running an activity business there in Kathmandu. They’d take people white water rafting and bungee jumping and the like. To get people into the business at night he would do these slideshows of his photographs, and he was a really good photographer. So he was showing these slideshows with beautiful landscapes and portraits of the Himalayas every night at seven o’clock. It was all very well presented, with music from U2 and others. By the end of his 20 minute side show, I had goosebumps and was tearing up. It really connected with me on this deeper emotional level.
So, in the same week I had this feeling/emotional-based connection to shooting and capturing a subject. Now, just a couple of days later, I was having this feeling/emotional-based connection to viewing the presented work. That was really when I was feeling like - this is heavy, deep stuff. The feeling that - I want to do this with my life, was alive. My photographic path had sparked.
What sparked your photographic path?
Genesis 9: 13-16
”I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
BC: Just being very honest. I have to say when I was visiting Hawaii with my buddies and my wife. I remember just walking down into the lobby and seeing your work. As you know, how excited I was about it! I went upstairs but then had to come back down. I was like, okay, I don’t want to wait four weeks for you to ship them to me - can I just take these home with me now! [laughs!]
I think it spoke to me and how I live my life, and what I value in life. The type of work that you do - that peace and stillness, it just really resonated with me. I remember vividly the rainbow shot. That one hit me hard because it was for me a reminder of God's promise to his people. And you know, you think about when he flooded the earth and how he taught, he says he made that promise that he'll never do it again. And so I remember that black and white shot, that I purchased from you - it just spoke to me really deeply.
And then another thing I think is that if I'm going to be traveling the world, like the way that I desire, I want to be able to capture it because I feel like when you look through the camera, you capture things from a different perspective.
And for me as a kid, not having any photos of me growing up or anything like that, I always just envisioned it. I have the dream to make sure I can capture moments with my family. So I think those three things really sparked my interest in, and weighed heavy on me.
SR: For the third that I’m responsible for - I tell you, that's the greatest compliment! I appreciate that so much. It's so cool to have my work resonate with people enough that they choose to bring it into their collection and hang it on their walls and connect with it on that deeper level. But to actually have someone choose to take up photography because of my work - that’s just so flattering. Thank you!
BC: For sure. No problem.
MUSEUMS AND ART
SR: Switching topics. I remember seeing something on your Instagram about you and a big old snake! What was up with that?
BC: I didn't know what I was getting myself into. We were in Singapore and they have a night safari zoo and thought we’d check it out. We were in the crowd and they were presenting different animals. But this time they asked for a couple of guests from the crowd, so I raise my hand without really knowing. I was selected and we ran into the back. As we were running, I see this huge snake and I'm like, Heck no, I'm not doing it. But they’re saying it’s too late, you’re back here already, you can't go without picking it up and helping us bringing it to the stage. So I’m just like Awww man! And so I saw this woman and she had the courage to do it, so I guess I can’t rat out now. I said, As long as I'm not the one holding the head, I'll do it. So, we picked it up and presented it to the crowd. At first I thought it was fake because of the feeling of it.
SR: Is that the first time handling a big snake like that?
BC: Yup, first and last!
[we both laugh]
SR: Did you go to some sort of light exhibit at a museum?
BC: We went to the National Singapore Museum, and went to the Modern exhibits because for me, it attracts me more than anything. And so they had different little shows going on within the museum. One room, you would think of as a light show. But really what it was, it was a room that if you just look at from afar, it just looked like a bunch of blue led lights. But really what it was, it was just numbers one through 10 scattered all throughout the wall. As you get closer into the room, you see how the numbers are changing. And I think one of their explanations was just the art of infinity, because all the room is just a bunch of numbers throughout the wall that makes a light. It was pretty cool.
SR: Does it almost become abstract where you don't see the numbers, or do you always recognize that they are numbers?
BC: You always recognize that they are numbers within 5-10 feet, but anything beyond 10 feet and it's more abstract where it becomes more like a blur.
SR: When you're traveling, are you looking for museums to visit? Do you like that?
BC: I think it just happened to be that we had some extra time on our hands and our guy was like, hey, you should check out this museum. And so we were like, why not. And I actually liked it a lot. So now when we go on trips, if we have time, I feel like we will do it.
SR: Did you purchase any art on this trip?
BC: In Singapore, we bought a bunch of elephant sculptures from an elephant sanctuary where all the proceeds go to rescuing the elephants - for family and people staying at our house, but other than that, we didn’t pick up a piece.
But, one of my highlights in Singapore was going to the Garden by the Bay and seeing…I mean, I can't explain it. It's something words can't explain. The way that they've come up with different types of rain forests and put them in one area - and able to control the climate as if it's in its natural state - it’s amazing. And then the light shows that they had with the trees - it was pretty epic. It's a must see.
CULTURE, FOOD, AND LANGUAGE
SR: Let’s talk about the cultures and the food. They were very different in each of the places you went. What stands out to you about the cultures and the people you met?
BC: The biggest thing was how nice the people are, how they take such pride in serving you, and how they make you feel so great and at home. It was interesting that they don’t accept tips because they take such pride in their jobs, that it’s almost disrespectful to try and tip them because it’s what they do in life and what they believe they are meant to be doing. That was one of the biggest things that stood out to me. And then the food, the food was just unbelievable. The street food… There was a couple of crazy things on that trip that I would never eat again…
SR: I was going to ask you if you ate anything super cray cray like jellyfish or eyeballs..
BC: [laughing!] Eyeballs! People keep asking me if I ate eyeballs and I refuse to eat that! I just could not do it. But, we did eat a bunch of different crazy types of fish. For the first time ever, I ate sushi. It was really good. But, I think the craziest thing I ate was these different kinds of sea urchins.
SR: I still have never tried sea urchin. I don’t think I ever will.
BC: Yeah, it’s weird. My palette didn’t love it. It’s slimy with rough bits.
SR: 20 years later, I still think about the food in Thailand. The green papaya salads and Pad Thai on the street - I love it! Did you love the Thai food as much as I did?
BC: Yes, the Pad Thai was a highlight. The street food markets was good for trying different things like mango sticky rice. One thing they tried to get me to eat but I couldn’t get past the smell was the fruit durian. It smells really bad. You could smell it from a mile away.
SR: They won’t let you on planes with that, it smells so bad.
BC: No public transport. Trains, buses, nothing.
SR: You gotta go off in the jungle by yourself and eat that!
What about spicy food? I know Thai food is spicy, are you a fan of spicy?
BC: One time for breakfast I had a some type of spicy noodles and I felt like the rest of the day I was sweating nonstop just because how spicy it was. But I love it, because I love spicy food.
SR: I remember in Thailand with the Green Papaya Salad, locals would add seven or eight of those little thai chili peppers. For tourists, they might add one and that would still be considered spicy for most westerners. I spent three months there eating the food every day, so I gradually increased my spice tolerance. I started out with one pepper, then after awhile I'd ask for two, then three. Ultimately, I got to four of those, which is ridiculously spicy in the west. You would never find something that hot in a restaurant in the U.S. And it was probably still half of what they added to theirs!
So, what was your favorite dish? What food will you be thinking about in 20 years?
BC: Pho, from Vietnam and Cambodia. I think more so because it seemed like we had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but also because of the different and unique ways that you can create a fun meal.
Also, the Dim Sum in Hong Kong. It was so good.
SR: Admittedly, when I travel, I am pretty lazy about making efforts to learn much of the local language. I can do a lot better about this. On your IG Stories, I heard you speaking - or, attempting to speak - the local languages. Is that fair to say?
SR: Were you learning words and phrases and then confidant enough to use them throughout your days?
BC: I do. I was trying to learn the basics. Hi. Hello. Goodbye. Thank you. Every once in a while, I’d throw in a challenge for myself. I’d use my phone to record someone saying something, then throughout my walk I'll repeat it to myself over and over to memorize it, and then to sound like the locals as much as possible. It was funny because once I got good at it and consistent in each place with these few words and sounds, the locals would ask me - Oh, do you know how to speak Cambodian? And I’m like - No, I just know these few of words.
SR: I remember one IG video where Bri is saying Konnichi Wa as you are walking around Hong Kong. Was she joking?
BC: [laughing] Obviously she didn't know what she was saying. I was like - No, Bri, that’s not how you say hello. But she was just so excited because Hong Kong was the first part and start of her trip. She met me. When she got off that plane, it was the first time for her out of the country and she was like a kid in a candy store and just saying whatever because she was just so happy. [laughing]
SR: Hong Kong is so cool, right? Did you love it?
BC: It's crazy because, before ever being there, you think of Hong Kong as just a big city. But it’s so much more with all the little islands, and the mountains and many different types of hikes. It is awesome.
SR: I agree. I love it. For me, what separates really cool cities from other cities is how easy it is to get out of the city and into nature. And with Hong Kong, you can go up to the top of that tram, over the backside of the mountain and there you are in nature. That easy, 20 minutes, boom.
BC: They also had little beach areas. But yeah, you're right. It's crazy how you could just be among these giants in the city and all of a sudden you’re in nature. That was one of the highlights. I could live there. If you asked my where I could live from anywhere on this trip, I feel I could live in Hong Kong.
SR: I agree. I could live in Hong Kong. For a couple of years anyways.
You mentioned the Four Seasons at the Golden Triangle earlier. I know you frequent different Four Seasons Resorts when you travel. Do you always try and stay there when it's an option?
BC: For the most part. If there's one where we are staying, I'll typically stay there just because I feel like they do such a great job of molding into the culture. It's not like the hotel is the same in every city or every country. They do such a great job of making it fit in with the surrounding area. So we really try to stay at a Four Seasons if it's there.
SR: And their service is always consistent and reliable..
BC: You can always rely on that. And then if you ever just get tired of eating the international foods, you also know you can always go back to the American menu if you need to.
SR: How many Four seasons Resorts do you suspect you have stayed at over the years?
BC: Boy, you got Four Seasons Maui, Lanai, Chiang-Mai, Sydney, Bora Bora, two in Indonesia, Vancouver…and more. I would say I’ve stayed at 12 or more locations.
THE ART OF THE CAPTURE
SR: You mention Vancouver, it makes me think of when you went there last year and you met some high school kids that ended up taking you around to go photograph. Did you have any experiences like that on this trip where you met up with some locals to get some local insights to where to photograph?
BC: Yeah, in Vietnam. One of the locals took me to photograph their “secret bridge”. You have to know the timing of the trains - they are only going to sit there for 5 to 10 minutes and then you have a chance to get off the train, walk out on the bridge and get some shots. That was really fun, a cool experience. Wish I had more time to actually sit there and spend time at that location. But it was still cool to be able to see how the locals come to these bridge and hang out and take photos. That was awesome.
SR: How did you meet that guy?
BC: We met him through a company called Black Tomatoes. If you want to meet with the locals, these tour guides can help you. They helped me find this guy. He basically spent the whole time with us while we were in Vietnam, as a guide. It was awesome.
SR: What’s an image you approached that stands out from this trip?
BC: When we were in Singapore, one of the monumental buildings is the Marina Bay Sands. I remember learning from you that sometimes to be able to get the best shots, you got to go out your comfort zone. So, I saw this perspective from the middle of the bridge. Cars are driving by and there's no way to get to it besides walking on the road and just positioning for the photograph from the middle of the street. It wasn't a sidewalk in the middle, it was more like a little raised patch, uneven from the road. I figured if we walked on that we would be fine. There was no signs that said - no walking, no people. So, here we are walking in the middle of this bridge to be able to get this shot. Cars are flying by going 50, 60 miles per hour. We’re definitely taking a chance at this point. And I can't lie to you, I'm getting nervous. I'm like - Bri, we're good. We can stop right here. And it was at the beginning of the walk. And she was saying - No, we gotta keep going. You wanna to get that shot, you got to get the whole thing. I was like - I'm good, I'm good. [laughs] And she convinced me. So, now we are in the middle of this bridge and the only way to be able to get off of it is if we were to run back down and get to the sidewalk. We couldn’t just run across the street. We're probably spent an hour at that spot. By time we leave, it’s about midnight.
The next morning, we tell our tour guide what we did and she looks at us and she goes, are you crazy? If you would have got caught, you probably would have gone to jail. Of course, we didn't know that at all. In America, usually there are signs, but there was nothing like that. She said they don’t do that here and it’s lucky we didn't get caught because she would have been having to come get us out of jail. That was the most unusual moment.
SR: Is Bri pretty adventurous?
BC: I think that night she was just like - if we’re gonna do it, let’s just do it the right way and not chicken out and stay at the beginning of the bridge. It was cool. But, the whole time, cars are flying by - not 5 feet away as they’re flying by. It was crazy.
SR: Photography wasn't necessarily the primary purpose of this trip, but overall, were you able to get out and shoot and are you pleased with some of the shots you got?
BC: The first couple of weeks of the trip it was just me and my guy Dr. George. He knows why I love to travel and he's very patient. So yeah, I was able to get some good shooting time and some good shots. Even after Bri and I met up. I think I got a couple of shots that I’m pleased with. I still haven’t been able to work on them because I’ve got a lot going on, so I’ll have to wait until I can slow down a little bit and then catch up to really work on those images.
The ones that I really think about are the waterfall in Bali, that shot I was describing in Singapore of the Marina Bay Sands, the city perspective in Hong Kong at the top of the Peak, and a shot in Bangkok with the Sky Tower. It's the tallest building in Thailand and it overlooks the city. I feel like I got a great night shot from there.
SR: As a Leica guy, what are you carrying around day-to-day as you’re traveling?
BC: When I’m cruising around the street, I’m just using the new Leica CL. When I’m spending a lot of time at a spot, I’ll use a tripod and the Leica SL. For quick shots, we also have the Leica Q with us, but it’s a fixed lens, so it’s a little more difficult. But, those are the three cameras I’m using. For day to day walking around, the CL has been great because I’ll decide which lens I’ll have - and it’s very easy and small and compact.
SR: With the SL, I’m guessing you are primarily using the 24-90mm. But, what about the new 16-35mm. Do you have that yet? What do you think of it?
BC: Yes sir! [smiling] I would like to say I loved it, but it was a little challenging. It seemed like when I was taking pictures with that lens then the buildings would be leaning. So, I had to try and figure that out the best that I can. Correct me if I’m wrong, but shooting with a wide angle lens versus the 24-90mm - the perspective comes out very different, right?
SR: Absolutely, it’s very different. With the wide angle, you’ve got much more field of view. More to work with and to compose. When you tilt up or down on buildings, they start to fall over backwards or leaning forward. That’s what you are noticing and this is more pronounced with a wide angle lens. Some of this can be dealt with in the digital darkroom, but a wide-angle lens takes some getting used to.
BC: Right, right. Yeah, I do love it though - the 16-35mm. Often when I’m shooting with the 24-90mm I feel like I wish I could get more in the composition, but I’m having to sacrifice and take away something that I want to have in the frame. Whereas with the 16-35mm, it really gives me the chance to capture the whole thing. Even if it’s just a shot I wouldn’t share, but more for me to capture and remember a place in a certain way. When I was on the Sky Tower in Bangkok, there’s a 360 view. When you’re looking off in one direction, its a beautiful skyline and with the ultra-wide, I felt I was able to capture what my eye was seeing.
SR: You met up with Trey Ratcliffe in Tokyo and did some shooting with him. Tell us about that experience.
BC: That was interesting, because the way he does things are a little different. It was cool just to be able to see how he worked and to get a feel for what he would look for. Tokyo was a good spot to visit with him because he goes there a lot and he knew everywhere, like the back of his hand. He didn't have to have a map or anything. He took me to some of the local spots and some his favorite spots to shoot. And Tokyo was great for this. It was cool to be able to get that perspective on how he shoots things. He loves shooting people, traffic, things like that. One cool spot that I loved shooting with him was Shibuya Crossing, a crosswalk that is famous for all the chaos that’s going on - the people, the cars, it’s crazy. I had to come up with unique ways to be able to capture that. I think that was the highlight.
SR: As you go down this photographic path - and you’ve shot with me, and now with Trey, and in the future there will be other photographers that you’ll shoot with - you’ll pick up little nuggets from each of them along the way and gradually put together you’re own toolkit and style and ultimately your own personal vision. It will be uniquely your own.
With that said, can you look at this experience now and see what you may have picked up from this experience working with Trey in Tokyo, that you’ll carry with you?
BC: I think the little nugget was the software app that he created, Aurora HD. That was very interesting for me. It was easy to operate, and to upload my pictures, and mess with a couple of things without having to go too deep into it. He showed me how he typically would go in and work on some things and how he uses it. It's not a one stop shop. It’s more his beginning stage and I think that that has been very helpful for me to see and I think I will continue to use that and get a feel for it as I get more knowledge and understanding of the digital darkroom as a whole. I can see sticking with that for the basics until I can reeducate and my self on the things that you and I went over.
You know, it’s a lot easier when you’re there with me Scott [laugh!], but when I’m away from it for a whole football season, then I feel I have to relearn it all.
SR: I get it! You know I’m all about keeping it simple, so do what works.
There’s always an image that got away and that you did not get. Every photographer is a little bit haunted by these. What was the one image that you didn’t get that you wish you would have?
BC: [without hesitation] Halong Bay. We were on a boat, and the boat was rocking, and in order to get the picture that I wanted with the still waters and with the islands popping up out of the water - you needed to be on land. When we stopped for a picnic, I was in the middle of the water on houseboats. I thought I’d be able to get a long exposure, because at least standing on it, you felt like you were still and motionless. Every single time I shot one and previewed it, it was blurred as all get out. And then I realized what was keeping us up was just wooden planks on water and that we were actually moving quite a bit. Although it felt very still to me, the cameras sensed every little small movement and I was not able to get that shot. Yeah, that one is going to haunt me forever. Just because, to capture a place like that would be very special. It's almost like going to New Zealand and not being able to capture the Milford Sound. It's the same thing, but I just couldn't find a way to be able to get the shot that I wanted.
REFLECTING ON THE PATH
SR: What has been the most challenging aspect of the photographic path thus far?
BC: I think it develops your ability to be more patient. Especially for me. I don’t think I'm the most patient person. But now picking up that camera - if you don't have patience, then you might as well not even try to get into photography, because most of the time to get that one shot may literally take hours spending time at a particular spot. You just gotta be a patient person to be able to do that. Hardly ever are you going to get that perfect shot right at the beginning.
It’s helped me and my wife also, to be patient for one another. I think she appreciates the photography, but she more so wants to be on the go and and see everything. Whereas when I visit that waterfall and we were there for 45 minutes to an hour - it’s frustrating for her because she wants to keep going and hiking, but I spend the hour at that one spot. So little things like that can be frustrating and difficult for photography if you don't have patience.
SR: Every photographer knows that feeling! We all have spouses, friends or family that we are traveling with who are not photographers and we all have to contend with that and figure out the dance. It can be a challenge to figure out the balance when you're traveling. I think you did it right having a couple of weeks on your own beforehand, and then a couple of weeks with your wife and friends. I think that's a great way to do it.
For a couple of consecutive years now you've gone on some amazing trips and you've gone with the photographer’s eye activated. How do you think looking at the world with this photographer's eye has made your outlook or perspective of the world different?
BC: I think the biggest thing you is you pay attention more. You're able to see the little details of the world more clearly. And seeing it with that type of eye - especially through the lens - it makes you not rush and actually soak in the world and appreciate every little thing about it, the positives and the negatives. That’s the biggest thing - it just helps you focus and see the world and the little details a lot better.
SR: For many years, it has been - “Brandin Cooks - football player”. How does it feel to now hear - “Brandin Cooks - Photographer - World Traveler”?
BC: Although I wouldn't say before this I should be labeled only as an athlete. But now, this just adds a different and added perspective of who I am and adds to that dynamic towards what I want to do in life. I think it makes me feel like I’m bigger than just an athlete. There's other things that I aspire to be, and to be great at, and can no longer just be labeled as one particular thing.
If you’d like to follow Brandin’s journey, check him out on Instagram by clicking his pic. Be sure to tell him you enjoyed this conversation.
Brandin is doing a lot to give back and help those in need, and is currently working with Hear the Cry to build homes in Uganda. Please take a look and see how you can get involved or make a donation.
Thank you so much to Brandin for taking the time to share some stories from your adventures abroad. You are a positive force in this world and leaving a wake of good vibes everywhere you go. Thank you brother!