Bo Bridges describes Curly as a playful Great White shark. Standing on top of (not inside) a submerged cage, he captured this photo.
Bo Bridges describes Curly as a playful Great White shark. Standing on top of (not inside) a submerged cage, he captured this photo. Photo: Bo Bridges

Alumnus Bo Bridges is action photography's "Indiana Jones"

Alumnus Bo Bridges hung out the window of a plane to get this shot of actor Tom Cruise.

By Donna Boen (Miami ’83 MTSC ’96,) editor of Miamian. This article is from the Spring 2019 Miamian magazine.

Bo Bridges (Miami ’96) majored in art with a focus on photography because he wanted a career that would keep him outdoors. Outdoors? OK, that’s understandable. But out plane windows? In an Airbus that’s climbing at 200 mph? Proof positive Bo will go to great lengths — and heights — in pursuit of the perfect picture. That’s what makes him world-renowned.

During this particular aerobatic feat, he was shooting actor Tom Cruise for the official "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" movie poster.

While the cargo plane ascended, Cruise clutched handholds in the plane’s exterior door, his body suspended precariously over the countryside north of London.

At the same time, Bo squeezed his body, down to his thighs, out one of the plane’s windows, his camera duct-taped to his hands. While two guys grasped his calves, he twisted sideways and aimed backward at the actor.

The icy wind whipped around his head, bouncing off his camera’s eye cup. Some 15 feet away, Cruise looked like a dark blob.

“My eyelid was flapping up and down so hard I thought it was going to rip. The next thing I know, I’m shooting in a pool of my own tears. It was kind of like I was under water and trying to shoot this blurry spot and make sure it was focused.”

Focusing on adventure

Bo knows more than a thing or two about photographing under water. Although he’s jumped out of helicopters at the top of mountains and climbed active volcanos to go after breathtaking vistas, his first love remains the ocean.

Off the shore of Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, he strapped on scuba gear and went cage diving to capture the massive power of the great white shark. In the Bahamas, he left the cage behind and simply jumped off the back of a boat with his 15 mm fisheye lens to detail the sleekness of the blacktip reef shark.

A selfie by Bo Bridges. See his portfolio online.

Yes, he’s an adventurer, but he’s nobody’s fool. The boat’s ladder was within easy reach.

Most would consider Bo’s work style dangerous. And he supposes it is, but he makes sure to study the location before he sets up, and he doesn’t take unnecessary risks. For the most part.

Still, there was that one time in Cordova, Alaska, where he photographed glacier “tsunami” river surfing. He calls it his “craziest, coolest, stupidest” photoshoot.

Aiming at a glacier the size of Rhode Island, with black bears all around him, he “nailed” the sequence in which an ice chunk broke off from the edge of the glacier, creating a massive wave that two surfers proceeded to ride down the river.

“If the ice had gone out instead of down, everyone would have died,” he said.

He’s definitely earned his reputation of “the world’s most badass photographer.”

Even badasses have limits, though. Bo’s is the great white. He prefers to admire them from a paddleboard or a cage. He won’t swim alongside them.

Whether he’s shooting models for eight hours or clicking off 13 frames of Kobe Bryant in 11 minutes, the advertising and fine art photographer keeps it even keel.

When he’s working, he’s in the zone, thinking about exposure, shutter and film speed, and ISO. If it’s action sports, he analyzes where the athlete is coming from, where they’re going, and where they’ll peak in the trick.

During one snowboarding assignment, he crouched down, aimed up, and took his shot, then rolled out of the path of the athlete with only seconds to spare.

“A lot of it comes down to knowing how to use your equipment, but also knowing what you want to accomplish with it,” he said.

Examining the details

“The more you know about a sport, a landscape, or whatever it is that you really love, it’s going to come out in your imagery and videos. You’re studying it, you’re focusing on it, so you’re learning how a body is going to move through that space, what time the sun will set, and how the clouds will come into play.”

A curving wave over a surfer

Bo Bridges loves photographing on and in the water.

He’s most proud of photographing pro surfer Alex Gray in action in Teahupo’o, Tahiti, for the cover of Surfer Magazine.

That shoot was the “holy grail” for Bo, who’s been the primary photographer at the Summer and Winter X Games for nearly 20 years. His gallery in the heart of Manhattan Beach, Calif., displays his wide range of subjects.

Over the past two decades, his work has taken him to more than 35 countries. Pre-kids, he traveled 150 days a year. Now the father of three has “reeled that back.” He’s also curtailed base jumping, free climbing, and big mountain helicopter drops with their potential avalanche dangers.

Traveling is second nature to him, moving every two years while growing up and living in 26 places because of his dad’s career as an Air Force pilot. His dad and mom, an interior designer, are a Miami Merger. After he retired from the military, his dad got into international marketing, which is why Bo was in high school in Zurich, Switzerland, when it came time to consider colleges.

Miami, with its lack of mountains and oceans, was his last pick.

He told his cousin about his reservations when he stopped to see her in Cincinnati on his way to Florida for spring break. That didn’t deter her, another Miami graduate, from driving him to Oxford for a visit.

“It was like a perfect spring day on campus with every flower blooming, and it was beautiful. I remember looking around and thinking, wow this is awesome.”

In other words, pretty as a picture.

These days, both his home and his gallery are a block from the sand. He starts early so he can jump in the water before work and swim, surf, paddleboard, or foil surf, his current addiction. Sometimes his kids join him for a swim before school.

Then it’s off to the gallery, if he’s not headed out on assignment.

Composing the story within the photo

Bo describes his style as clean composition mixed with a little edge. For him, there’s always a story to be told.

Some of his photos are so unbelievable you wonder if they’re photoshopped. They’re not. He wants to be outside in the experience, not sitting in a chair typing on a keyboard. “I want to nail that shot in-camera and do everything I can before it even hits that computer.”

He considers the "Mission: Impossible" assignment the pinnacle of his work and experience up to this point.

“'Mission: Impossible' is pretty awesome cause that’s a whole culmination of building up this background of mine and everything else, and I feel like to nail this shot with a lot of pressure and a minimal amount of time — it doesn’t happen overnight.”

His best photographic advice?

“If you see the action, you’re too late on the shot.”

Surfers ride massive waves at Waimea Bay

Photographer Bo Bridges studies shoot locations and the people to get the perfect shot like this "Bomb Drop" at Waimea Bay.