TAMPA — When Andrej Sustr doesn’t have a hockey stick in his hand, he typically has a camera around his neck.
The Lightning defenseman picked up photography overseas while he played for China’s HC Kunlun Red Star team for two years out of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Everyone walks around with cameras in their pockets every day thanks to cell phones, he said, but it’s different with an actual digital single-lens reflex camera in hand.
“I fell in love with it,” said Sustr, 30, who played in 317 games with the Lightning from 2012-2018. “It’s something to do off the ice, get away from the game.”
Sustr has been all in from the start on his hobby. After messing around with a teammate’s camera, he went out to a store in Beijing that same week and purchased his own Leica compact digital camera.
He likes the simplicity of the device, how he shoots with one lens in black and white and lets the image speak for itself. Rarely does he need any editing.
“It’s more to the bone,” Sustr said of shooting in black and white. “That’s attractive to me. You get to see the world through a different eye.”
Sustr hopes he can get into film photography in the near future. Shooting digitally requires less equipment when traveling, so it’s been easier to handle while playing professional hockey.
Photography is an escape for the defenseman.
“If you want to be good at something, you have to put in the time and the work,” he said. “You study the game or study the photographers and stuff like that, so it taught me a lot. I’m grateful for that, it gave me a sense of balance.”
Sustr’s eye for the shot has come with time. He enjoys street photography most, as it allows him to explore new places. But as hockey season begins, he doesn’t have as much time to “roam the streets.” So he turns his camera on his teammates in the locker room.
“I have access to that room that no other photographer would have,” he said. “It’s been cool to capitalize on that.”
It helps having teammates as close friends, people he has known from his previous six seasons with the organization who allow him to capture their true personalities.
“I learned the best shots happen usually when you just press the shutter at the best time,” Sustr said. “Obviously, you pick your spots but you want to let the guys be themselves and not try to force something.”
One of the last times Nikita Kucherov saw Sustr walk into the locker room after a skate the two shared a laugh over Sustr’s hobby.
“Oh, you still play hockey?” Kucherov asked. “I thought you were a full-time photographer.”
He hasn’t had any complaints from his teammates about the moments he has captured away from the ice — players packing up their equipment at their locker room stalls or receiving treatment after practices. Sustr’s camera even followed the team while they recorded their promotional snippets that are used for the entire season.
“I think guys like it,” he said. “It’s something they get to keep and it’s something (I) can share with the guys, and I think they’re grateful for that.”
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