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.
- Dynamic lighting
- Clean or purposely integrated background
- Something that ties the subject to their sport or profession
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.