Kickin’ it with Leticia Esparza

Athlete Fitness Portrait Leticia Esparza
Jump Kick Athlete Fitness Portrait Leticia Esparza

I recently got together with sparring taekwondo world champion Leticia Esparza for a monotone-themed shoot at Concrete Studios in downtown Los Angeles. Besides being a badass 4th degree blackbelt, Esparza is a model, actress, stunt double and fitness trainer who has recently relocated from her hometown of Las Vegas to give it a go in Hollywood. As fierce a competitor as she is, I wouldn’t bet against her!

Krista Stryker – 12 Minute Athlete

Female Fitness Athlete Portrait Venice Beach

On weekday mornings when I’m not shooting, I can frequently be found on the Venice Beach boardwalk playing paddle tennis. From there you can see the Venice Beach sand pit, a fitness area situated behind the more famous Muscle Beach weight pen, where regulars and visitors work out on a variety of gymnastics equipment, including parallel bars, rings and rope climbs. I’m used to seeing various feats of strength being performed, but usually don’t give people a second look. A couple weeks ago however I looked over and saw a woman with a shock of pink hair doing a series of very difficult exercises seemingly on endless repeat. Pushups, pull-ups, upside-down shoulder shrugs, one-legged squats and other things I don’t know what to call. I had never seen her before and every time I looked over throughout the course of a couple of tennis sets she was still there working hard and still going strong. I’m always on the lookout for interesting subjects, so after a set concluded I decided to introduce myself and see if she’d be interested in shooting with me sometime. She told me her name was Krista Stryker, a fitness blogger and entrepreneur with an app called 12 Minute Athlete. No shock she was a pro. I followed up later with some samples of my work and she agreed to meet up. I had a great time working with her and shot a variety of portraits as well as images of her doing some difficult exercises. A recent Portland transplant, she told me she was a personal trainer at a few gyms, but has found a lot more satisfaction since starting her own business. I can identify with that. Shooting with her, however, made me realize that although I’m in fairly good shape there’s a lot of room for improvement. I’m starting with getting past 5 pull-ups, an exercise I’ve been neglecting for the past 20 years or so. If you’re interested in upping your fitness game and have 12 minutes to spare check out her website and follow her on instagram at @12minuteathlete. Also check out more images from the shoot below.



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Caught in the crossfire – New work for Georg Fischer

Editorial Corporate Magazine Photography - George Fischer - Paintball

Action - Editorial Corporate Magazine Photography - Paintball

Portrait - Editorial Corporate Magazine Photography - Paintball

I didn’t need a reminder that I made the right choice early on not to pursue a career in combat photography, but after feeling the sting of a paintball against my skin for the third time in only a couple minutes, despite several layers of protective clothing,  I remembered that it was indeed the right call.

Earlier this year I found myself out in the middle of a field seventy miles east of Los Angeles following around paintball enthusiast Justin Sorenson for Georg Fischer’s Globe magazine. Justin is a field service engineer by weekday, avid competitive paintball player by weekend and a really nice guy to work with. They were featuring him as part of a regular series they publish highlighting employees’ passions and pastimes outside the workplace. I had only played paintball once in my life, with some friends as a teenager. Being the new guy, they put me out front. I was quickly shot and went back to the house to hang out until they were through. So given my limited experience it probably goes without saying that I was unprepared when I suddenly found myself on the edge a battlefield where ten guys were raining hellfire upon one another with paint-filled balls of gelatin.

Justin and I had shot some portraits before things started and, when it was his team’s turn to play, made our way onto the field. He told me more or less where to shoot from to avoid being shot, but once play begins it all happens very fast. Starting at their home base on opposite ends of the field, upon the referee’s signal each of the five members of each team sprint in different directions, simultaneously scrambling for cover behind large bunkers while also shooting rapidly at anything they see moving on the other side of the field. The goal is to eliminate everyone on the opposing team by “marking” them with a splat of colored paint. You’re hit, you’re out. Last team standing wins.

Standing in the mud along the sidelines with nothing but a camera it feels a bit chaotic at first. The bunkers, inflated vinyl balloons, make loud thwaps each time they’re hit. I see Justin take off and immediately move so I can get a clear view of him in action. What I don’t see is one of his teammates crossing in front of me, which immediately draws fire from their opponents. Any shots that miss him, which was more than a few, have a good chance of hitting me.

The first one hits me right in the keister and stings like hell. I try to move along the edge toward the middle of the field where another team is watching. His teammate heads in the same direction and leaps behind a bunker. Paintballs whoosh by my ear. As I turn sideways one hits the side of my camera, ripping through the bag I’ve secured around it for protection as if it was Kleenex. Fortunately it hits a solid part of the camera body causing no harm. But I realize I should have brought a water housing. A moment later the referee yells to stop play and I let down my guard. Another paintball smacks me in the foot, stinging my toe even through the leather cleats I’m wearing for traction. What the &#*@!? The teams exit the field so the next teams can take a turn and, a little frustrated, I assess what I’ve shot. Not much. Besides spending most of the round trying not to get myself shot, Justin had taken a route up the middle of the field keeping him out of view, so I’d essentially taken all that fire for nothing.

Fortunately round two is better. I quickly learn to watch not only my subject but also to look out for anyone else running anywhere near my direction and to not get behind them. This time Justin runs an outside route toward my corner and I’m able to get a clear shot of him while also staying out of the line of fire. I’m shot only once more over the course of the afternoon and am able to get numerous images of him running, firing and diving for cover. Knowing I have what I need I decide to get myself, and more importantly my gear, out of harms way and call it a day. As for Justin, he intends to play for several more hours. Having watched them play I could see why. It’s a strategic, fast-paced and adrenaline pumping game that I’m sure is addictive once you get started.

As crazy as I may have made it sound, it was actually a great time and a really fun assignment. There are a lot worse ways to spend a Saturday. Even if most of them are less painful.

Here’s a video showing my POV from an iPhone I mounted to my camera. See below for more photos from the shoot!

Paintball Photography POV from David Zentz on Vimeo.

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Fitness shoot w/ Diana Redman

Commercial Fitness Photo Shoot in Malibu

Commercial Fitness photo shoot in Malibu

Continuing with my recent efforts to build my commercial fitness and active lifestyle portfolio I recently invited professional soccer player and fitness model Diana Redman to do a shoot in Malibu. Diana, who plays center midfielder for the Israeli National Soccer Team, is a powerful athlete and was really fun to work with. Extra kudos are deserved for her willingness to go through with the shoot despite the nasty, seemingly endless heat wave that had us in 100+ degree temperatures that day! All that training in Israel has apparently conditioned her body to high temperatures as she’s barely breaking a sweat here. Myself and the makeup artist, on the other hand, were melting. Compliments as well to the talented hair and makeup artist, Emily Wetzel, who made Diana look great, kept her looking fresh all afternoon, and was a hell of a sport putting up with the heat. More photos are after the jump!

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Surf Sesh with Venessa Yeager

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach

Lately I’ve had the urge to shoot some new outdoor and active lifestyle images and decided to start with a little surfing, something I’ve shot relatively little of aside from my Still Stoked series on older surfers. I knew I wasn’t going to get great action shots around here that could compete with all of the amazing images you see of big wave surfers screaming down the face of Mavericks or Waimea Bay, so I decided the action would be secondary and set my sites on creating some very natural, photojournalistic images that conveyed the feeling of being out in the water. The first person that came to mind at this point was Vanessa Yeager, a talented and enthusiastic longboard surfer I met while shooting my recent Far West portrait series in Venice earlier this year, and whose daily surfing activity I’ve followed on her Instagram. So I messaged her and a couple weeks later found myself treading water at Blackies, a popular break by the Newport Beach pier.

When I first arrived the waves were small and mushy, the light flat. I wasn’t sure how things were going to go and was beginning to worry I’d made the 1 1/2 hour trip for nothing. Vanessa and her husband knew better though, leading me up the beach past a couple jetties where we found a decent swell. Around that time the sun started poking through the clouds and I knew we were good to go. Although the waves were a bit fast, for an hour or so things were pretty near perfect. Best of all, since the conditions had been poor only moments before, there were only two other surfers out there with us, creating the feeling that she had the whole place to herself. Rare circumstances these days anywhere on the California coastline. After an hour or so of shooting the scene darkened as sun dipped behind a wall of clouds on the horizon. Just then the after-work crowd started showing up and we knew it was time to call it a day.

It was a short, but successful outing. These are some of my favorites from the shoot.

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach

Surfing Lifestyle photography Newport Beach


Day in the Life of judo legend Hayward Nishioka for the Chronicle of Higher Ed

Hayward Nishioka portrait - judo

Last year I had the unique opportunity of trailing judo legend Hayward Nishioka for a piece on the declining role of physical education at colleges and universities for the Chronicle of Higher Education. At 72, Hayward, a 7th degree black belt, has long since retired from professional competition and has been teaching judo at Los Angeles City College since the 1970s. Among his numerous accomplishments in the ’60s are being a 3-time U.S. judo champion and a gold medalist in the 1967 Pan-American games. He is widely considered to be one of the best ever in the sport. While this is impressive and rather intimidating, in person Nishioka is a soft-spoken, gentle man with a good sense of humor, and was a pleasure to spend the day with. And a full day it was, starting with me knocking at the door of his San Pedro home, just steps from the Pacific, at 6 a.m. and ending around 8 or 9 at night at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Garden Grove in order to create a day-in-the-life style profile piece that could accompany the story. The day consisted of a wide range of activities, starting with a stop at the neighborhood market near his home in San Pedro for coffee and danishes, followed by a 45 minute drive in his blue Prius to teach introductory judo classes at LACC, lunch with his girlfriend, a stop for ice cream, a visit to East LA’s Abell auction house — not far from the rough neighborhood where he grew up and where the staff know him by name — a kendo demonstration (another martial art, in addition to karate, that he excels in) on a homemade dummy in his backyard, takeout dinner on a San Pedro bluff a short walk from his home and finally to Garden Grove for yet another judo session. Along the way we had great discussions, ranging from his recalling his heyday as a champion to his earliest days where he and his family were interned at Camp Manzanar during WWII to how one can determine the authenticity of a lithograph. His time in Manzanar, as you can imagine, has greatly influenced his opinions on today’s wars and the public’s common misperceptions of muslims. He also let me give it a go with his kendo sword, which he swings 1,500 times a day. Typically a fairly light, wooden sword, he fills his with lead to increase his strength and control, the object of his training being to stop the sword as close as possible to the dummy without actually hitting it. After about 20 swings my forearms were on fire and I maybe stopped the sword from touching the dummy once. Maybe I’ll be better by the time I’m 72. All in all, a fascinating and humbling day!

The article just ran in the chronicle and can be seen here:

Hayward Nishioka photo essay

Hayward Nishioka San Pedro

Hayward Nishioka Los Angeles

Hayward Nishioka teaching judo

Hayward Nishioka teaching judo

Hayward Nishioka teaching judo

Hayward Nishioka teaching judo

Hayward Nishioka teaching judo

Hayward Nishioka

Hayward Nishioka lunch

Hayward Nishioka

Hayward Nishioka

Hayward Nishioka practicing kendo

Hayward Nishioka practicing kendo


Hayward Nishioka Editorial photography

Hayward Nishioka broken fingers


Hayward Nishioka portrait