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Wide world of “sportraits”

The sports department has kept me busy recently. On top of regular feature stories here and there, the paper is running articles on the players of the year from each sport. I’ve shot so many sports portraits that I tried to coin the phrase “sportrait.” (Don’t forget my underwater portrait of the two swimmers or the group shot of wrestlers.)

Unfortunately, it only takes a quick Google search to see that I was not the first to be so clever.

I’m fortunate that I get to do all of my sportraits as environmental portraits. I have a tremendous amount of leeway in how I shoot it.

There are a few things I look for when doing an environmental portrait.

  1. Dynamic lighting
  2. Clean or purposely integrated background
  3. Something that ties the subject to their sport or profession
  4. Probably some other stuff that I notice subconsciously

That being said, sometimes that isn’t so easy to do.

Many of the locations I’ve been shooting at are indoors in a cluttered room. I have a few options. I can either overpower the ambient light with my own lighting or alter my shooting angle to fill the background with a clean area of wall, floor or ceiling. Or in some cases, both techniques used in tandem work best.

In a recent portrait of a swimmer, I stood on a bench and shot at a slight downward angle with my 70-200mm lens to compress the subject, William Kelsik, against the pool in the background.

William Kelsik - Swimmer at New Castle Chrysler High School. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

William Kelsik - Swimmer at New Castle Chrysler High School. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

The free space to the left provided a nice balance of negative space and gave the ambiance of a pool because it is a pool. When it went to print, we used that area to run the beginning of the story.

B1 of The Courier-Times on March 11, 2010. ©2010

B1 of The Courier-Times on March 11, 2010. ©2010

On another outing, I was sent to photograph former Tri High coach Don Schwarzkopf.  The school school board had voted to rename the gym after him. Great. I’ll get a shot of him in the gym.

It’s never that easy.

Of course, there were multiple activities on the court. Instead, I went to the upper deck of the seating which was halfway compressed (collapsible bleachers compressed for storage) and left maybe two feet of room to work side to side.

I tried to frame him the best I could with his sectional championship banners in the background.

Former Tri coach Don Schwarzkopf looks out at the high school basketball court with three sectional championship banners hanging in the background. Schwarzkopf won all three of the titles. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Former Tri coach Don Schwarzkopf looks out at the high school basketball court with three sectional championship banners hanging in the background. Schwarzkopf won all three of the titles. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

No matter how much I want to be in control of every portrait I shoot in terms of lighting, apparel and location, I can’t always have it my way.

For almost a week, I had a scheduled portrait set up with Shenandoah High School’s star diver, Kate Hillman. I showed up on time with all of my equipment. I went to the school’s office and had them page her.

When she came in and saw me with my gear, she said “Oh my gosh. It’s Tuesday, isn’t it!”

Yes it was. And she had locked her keys and swim apparel in her car. Oh well.

The original idea for the portrait was to have her in her swim gear in the halls of the school. Shenandoah doesn’t have a pool for her to practice in so she drives to a pool nearly half an hour away. We wanted to illustrate a swimmer without a pool.

Instead, I just posed her in the halls of the school as she was.

Shenandoah's Kate Hillman will dive for Indiana University next season. Hillman finished second in the state this season in diving. She also set an Indiana High School record in the sport this season. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Shenandoah's Kate Hillman will dive for Indiana University next season. Hillman finished second in the state this season in diving. She also set an Indiana High School record in the sport this season. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

I wanted a backup option for this shoot. Since I couldn’t have any swim gear or a pool, I wanted something that had the schools name on it. We headed to the gym. At center court, the name Shenandoah wraps around in an arc.

An alternative portrait option of Shenandoah's Kate Hillman (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

An alternative portrait option of Shenandoah's Kate Hillman (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

This image clearly wasn’t as strong of a portrait as the first but I always like to have multiple options to present.

My latest shoot has definitely been my most difficult. A portrait of a gymnast. The problem is that I know very little about gymnastics and I am not sure how to best make an image that represents the sport and the subject.

I spent quite a bit of time with the subject, Ashlan Millikan, to ensure I made satisfactory images.

At first, I had her practice parts of her floor routine while I had my light aimed at her. As she interacted with it, I fired.

Ashlan Millikan poses parts of her floor routine in the path of my light. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Ashlan Millikan poses parts of her floor routine in the path of my light. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

I knew an image like this was usable but I was not satisfied. I wanted something more dynamic. We headed over to the beam.

She began to practice parts of her routine. When I saw something that I thought might work, I had her do it a few times to insure I had a sharp image.

New Castle's Ashlan Millikan practice a move on the beam Wednesday afternoon. Millikan will be competing in the all-around completion in the state tournament this weekend. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

New Castle's Ashlan Millikan practices a move on the beam Wednesday afternoon. Millikan will be competing in the all-around competition in the state tournament this weekend. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

This ended up being the lead art for the sports page.

I wanted to have a backup image so I took a photograph that was more portrait-esque. That image ended up running as secondary art.

Ashlan Millikan poses for a portrait on the beam in New Castle's gymnastics room. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Ashlan Millikan poses for a portrait on the beam in New Castle's gymnastics room. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Like I said, I’ve been busy.

Most of these images were lit with my DIY Beauty Dish. The light was set up on a stand and fired by Pocket Wizard.

Try something different - change your angle
An unnecessary self-portrait
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4 Responses

  1. Please correct the said quote from me – I do not use the Lord’s name in vain, the worst I would have said would have been “oh my gosh”. That was the day that I had locked my keys in my car and my diving bag was inside the car, so I did not have access to my suit. I truly appreciate your photographic talent…you do beautiful work. Thank you. Kate

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