UCA athletics student photographer is industry’s rising star
The first time Jaden Powell ’22 picked up a camera, his life came into focus.
In the eight years since that day, Powell has not only honed his craft but has also been recognized as one of the nation’s most talented up-and-coming sports photographers.
All despite never setting foot in a formal photography class.
“I’ve always been in sports, but I had a lot of injuries in high school. Every time I would get sidelined, I would take pictures instead. It was my way to stay involved,” said Powell, a Wichita, Kansas, native who plans to earned a degree n marketing from UCA’s College of Business in December 2022.
When he arrived at UCA as a second semester freshman transfer student, Powell jumped headfirst into campus life by serving as the mascot for football and basketball games. When his true skills came to light, however, athletic department leaders knew they had a golden opportunity on their hands. Powell was quickly moved into a photography position where he began shooting all UCA sports and related events.
Regardless of the sport, Powell – who now serves as UCA’s lead athletics photographer – is there to record the action. His photos are featured on the UCA website, social media, posters, ads and anywhere else the university promotes its athletics programs.
While his favorite sport to photograph is soccer, Powell especially enjoys one-on-one shoots with athletes where he captures their grit, skill and personality in portrait form.
“I enjoy shooting portraits because I can control the lighting and work with shadows,” said Powell. His admiration of famed civil rights photographer Gordon Parks has inspired Powell’s use of contrast to display the depth and determination of athletes both on and off the field.
“When I started shooting portraits, I was really into Gordon Parks’ work and tried to bring his style and use of light and dark into sports photography,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Powell’s friends and coworkers to see that. While his vibrant style and engaging talent were a boon for UCA athletics, his work deserved a far wider audience. But that would take this modest rising star far outside his comfort zone.
“At the time, I didn’t think I was that good,” he said.
In 2021, at the encouragement of his former athletic department supervisor, Powell agreed to apply for the prestigious Doug Pensinger Photography Fund Grant and Mentorship. Established in 2019, the fund supports emerging and early-career sports photographers through $5,000 grants and one-on-one mentoring.
“I had never heard of the fund and didn’t realize how big it is. I sent in my application and about three months later got a call that I was selected for both the grant and mentorship,” said Powell, adding that he was only one of three applicants chosen for both honors.
An online conference followed during which doors began to open. Powell met and learned from nationally recognized sports photographers, as well as Maxx Wolfson, the Getty Images director of sport photography for the Americas. Getty Images is the foremost source of photography from newsworthy events around the world.
He also began a relationship with his new mentor, award-winning Kansas City-based sports photographer Jamie Squire.
In addition to critiquing his portfolio during regularly scheduled online visits, Squire urged Powell to apply for another contest that would potentially give him an opportunity most sports photographers only dream of.
Hosted by NCAA Photos and Clarkson Creative and sponsored by Canon, the Men’s Final Four Sports Photography Workshop is a highly competitive event that brings together 12 students to learn firsthand from professional photographers and gain the exclusive experience of shooting during the Final Four.
“I assumed there would be thousands of applicants. I thought I would just go through the application process and that would be all,” he said.
It was only a matter of days, however, before Powell received notice that he had been selected as a workshop participant and would be traveling to New Orleans for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Walking into the Superdome was mind blowing,” he said. “It was definitely an experience to see all the background that goes into shooting the Final Four. A lot of people see the final images, but they don’t know how many cameras the photographers are controlling.”
While there, he got the advantage of having his work critiqued by nationally recognized sports photographers, as well as the experience of shooting practices, media events and the Reese’s College All-Star Games.
Powell also met Squire and Wolfson in person for the first time, both of whom made a point to offer him encouragement and support. “I didn’t realize how big this all was until I got to the Final Four,” he said.
Squire also was instrumental in helping to secure $25,000 worth of Canon professional equipment for Powell as he establishes his career.
“It’s been wild,” said Powell, who aspires to work for a company like Getty Images where he can photograph sporting events around the world.
Looking back, Powell believes his time with UCA Athletics has been the perfect place to kickstart his future in the sports photography world.
“I haven’t had some of the glitz and glamor of bigger schools, but I have had more opportunities and access. I have taken advantage of all of that during my time at UCA,” he said.