Today I decided to start what might turn into a sporadic series that takes you behind the scenes of how I set up and executed a particular shot. If you’re not a photographer feel free to read on if you want but you might start to feel your eyes glazing over.
The shot that I have chosen for my first is THE SHOT from my portfolio that I get the most comments about by far. This shot was taken two years ago and as a photographer that might as well be 10 years. Any good photographer is always learning and making an effort to improve and evolve in the craft. So to look at a shot that I took 2 years ago makes me immediately start finding all of the things I could do differently. Nevertheless, since it’s such popular shot let’s do this!
Austin was a senior football player at Midway High School here in Waco, TX so we wanted to incorporate that into his senior pictures shoot. For this shot I was thinking of the feel that is created in those Gatorade ads or in a particularly edgy shot that you might see in Sports Illustrated or ESPN the Mag. I had been envisioning something like this for a while so I was glad that Austin was game!
The key to this type of shot is to have the sides of the head lit brighter than the front of the face. Kind of a rim light that might be created by stadium lights I guess. Once you know that this is the key then the shot becomes pretty easy. I had one bare flash camera left slightly behind him and pointed at his ear. On that flash I had a honeycomb grid which really contains the light to a small spotlight of flash rather than spreading it out. On camera right I had another small flash firing through a 16×16 soft box. The softbox softens up the light a bit though for this kind of edgy shot you don’t want the light too soft. Ideally you would do this with three lights. Two pumped up pretty bright on the back/sides of the head and one softer light turned down on the face. At the time I either didn’t have 3 lights available or one of them was giving me probs. I don’t remember which. Anyway though.. I used the softbox to perform the duties of a 3rd light on the ear and one on the face all in one. I fired these lights off using a Phottix Strato wireless trigger setup.
Here’s an incredible MS Paint rendering of a bird’s eye view of the setup:
As you can see from the caption I shot this at f/13. The reason for that was to shut down as much light as possible to create the dark background. The camera I was using at the time did not have high-speed sync capability meaning that it would not let me go above 1/200 of a second when shooting with a flash so I had to shut the ambient light down by going ISO 100, 1/200 and f/13 aperture. This makes the flashes have to work harder but being so close and with pretty low ambient light to begin with the small flashes could give me what I needed. With my current setup I would possibly put a 3-stop neutral density filter over the lens and shoot at a bit wider aperture. I might use High-Speed Sync. I also would have used a proper 3 flash setup for sure.
Obviously there was some post-processing involved in this shot too. One key part of the look here is using what’s called a “bleach bypass filter” along with a lot of playing with contrast. A bleach bypass was an old film processing thing and I’ll let Wikipedia describe it for you “Bleach bypass, also known as skip bleach or silver retention, is an optical effect which entails either the partial or complete skipping of the bleaching function during the processing of a color film. By doing this, the silver is retained in the emulsion along with the color dyes. The result is a black and white image over a color image.”
Of course now this can be simulated digitally in a number of photo editing programs. When I look at the photo now I see a lot of processing things that I would improve upon especially with the dodging and burning (photography words for “lightening” and “darkening” respectively). That right ear definitely needs to be darkened some. I would probably not do bleach bypass next time also but I would opt for adding a high pass layer in photoshop along with some other things.
Originally I had Austin holding the ball up with his arms/elbows out perpendicular to his body. He improvised holding it with his elbows down and it really looked a lot better so I’m glad he did.
I’d love to do some more edgy sportraits like this. If you’re an athlete that would like to have your senior pics done or you would just like to have some baseball/football/basketball/soccer/etc.. pics then consider booking a shoot. We can make you the next SI cover model… or at least we can make you look like one. I have lots more ideas – this is just the beginning!
Post any questions in the comments section below.