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Photographic Lighting

Houston Art Car Parade legend Mark "Scrapdaddy" Bradford

 

Mark “Scrapdaddy” Bradford with his 2012 Art Car “Mr. Green.”

Art Cars are a unique Houston institution, and I was fortunate during a recent assignment for Texas Co-Op Power to work on a story featuring the Houston Art Car Museum, and a colorful character named “Scrapdaddy.”

Mark “Scrapdaddy” Bradford is the Leonardo da Vinci of the Art Car world.  Not merely content to cover classic cars with hot glue gun affixed collections of things, Bradford actually is a unique combination of artist, welder, and engineer.  His outdoor studio, near the railroad tracks in the Rice Military area, looks like Fred Sanford's house.  His studio may look like a scrapyard, littered with projects past and present, but recycling old metal is the lifeblood of Bradford's sculptures.

If you've lived in Houston for any period of time, you've probably seen Bradford's creations around town:  Giant 20 foot armor plated Armadillos, lizards made of airline galley spoons, fire breathing creatures with legs that move, and multi-legged creatures torn from the pages of a 1950's science fiction movie.  His creations, really more moving sculpture than car, not only look fascinating, they have to work.

After photographing several of his creations in the Art Car Museum for the story, I just had to meet him.  Reluctantly, he agreed to a short portrait.  You get the impression he would much rather be welding his next piece together than stopping to pose for pictures with something from his past.

As the annual Art Car Parade rolls around this weekend, there will be around 200,000 people on hand who can't wait to see what kind of contraption he's cooked up this year.

Bradford with “Azaba” at his workshop in Houston.

“Spoonazoid”, made up of over 6000 discarded American Airlines spoons.

A detail of “Spoonazoid.”

 

Don't mess up my abs: NFL Draft portrait shoot with DJ Hayden

UH cornerback DJ Hayden, the 12th pick in the NFL draft.

I recently photographed DJ Hayden, a cornerback from the University of Houston, who surprised many by being selected number 12 by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of Thursday night's 2013 NFL Draft. Hayden survived a freak injury: a November 2012 collision with a teammate in practice that ruptured his inferior vena cava, which is fatal 95% of the time, and normally only seen in serious car injuries. Medical personnel rushed him to the hospital and saved his life, but his stock in the draft dropped with the uncertainty about his condition, with many pundits not even picking him in the first round.

I photographed DJ for a story leading up to the draft in Sports Illustrated, and of course we wanted to make a telling picture that spoke to the seriousness of his injury. Normally, we might have scrubbed the shoot due to the rain and dreary weather, but we decided to press on, as the moody sky sort of went with the tone of the story. DJ posed shirtless, baring a scar that went completely down the center of his abdomen. ( His last words to doctors before they split him open to repair his torn vein were, “Ok, just don't mess up my abs…”)

We used two Profoto 7B's on the UH practice field late in the day. We decided to use a Plume Wafer 75 with a Lighttools grid from the right side, to just barely light the edge of DJ's face, with a little bit of spill highlighting the scar on his wrist from the many needles and transfusions he endured during his hospital stay. We used a regular 7″ reflector with a 3-degree grid with a Cinefoil snoot to highlight the scar on the chest and abdomen. Andres Quintero, my assistant on the shoot, operated the 3-degree grid by hand to make sure it stayed in the optimum position as we shot.

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With the under-exposed gray stormy sky, the result was a dramatic portrait that told the story of what DJ Hayden had been through en route to the 2013 draft.

Inspirational bracelets made for DJ during his hospital ordeal.

UH cornerback DJ Hayden, who survived a ruptured vein to be the 12th pick in the NFL draft.

David Price for the cover of Sports Illustrated Baseball preview

The final cover shot with blue background added in post by SI imaging.

I recently photographed 2012 Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price of the Tampa Rays for the cover of Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue. Each year, SI publishes several regional covers for the baseball preview, along with a centerpiece story, and of course all the usual team specific preview spreads. I was fortunate enough to do the Price cover and the opening centerpiece spread story on the Rays pitching staff. Legendary Sports Illustrated Staffer Walter Iooss and longtime staffer Robert Beck shot the other regional covers , so I was in good company!

This was a team effort with different photographers shooting covers in different cities, yet the magazine wanted them to look the same. I was sent a rough comp with a pitcher following through in his delivery, on black, with the broken glass added to the foreground in post. This is not an uncommon assignment, especially in the advertising world, so being able to interpret a comp and match what other photographers have done previously is a useful skill.

The first critical task was finding a place to shoot. Since we were trying to keep these consistent, we needed a large room where we could essentially set up a studio. Spring Training in Florida is often super bright, super windy, and there aren't many private spaces away from fans and other teammates to do this sort of thing. We essentially needed to build a black box of black fabric 12 x 12‘s to control light in the shoot area, and we were lucky to find a spot in the minor league clubhouse that worked well. Setting up an overhead, a background, and two side 12 x 12's in the wind and weather was something I was trying to avoid at all costs. You would need a crew of 3-4, and a million sandbags to do that, and we were on a limited budget.

We photographed all five starters in various stages of delivery.

Since we were dealing with white uniforms, and the background was black, I decided to rimlight the pitchers from behind, using two large chimera strip banks oriented vertically on each side and fill from the front. Since we had left handers and right handers, I decided to use two small lightbanks on boomed C-stands positioned close to the ground in front of the pitchers (Chimera mediums I think…I normally use Plume stuff, but these were rentals). We had each light on it's own Profoto 8A pack so we could shoot everyone fast. We didn't know when we were setting up if we would get all five pitchers in rapid succession or spread out throughout the day, but we wanted to be ready so that we could maximize our time with them.

We varied the ratio slightly on the front lights depending on whether the pitcher was right or left handed (we just flopped settings on the packs accordingly). By doing this, we were trying to keep them from looking too flat. We also used cinefoil on the bottom third of the front lights to prevent the legs from getting too hot in the photo.

Since we were inside, and not on a mound, we drug the lights outside the night before the shoot and lit a practice mound in the same fashion so we would have foreground plates for the retouchers at SI to use.

We photographed all five pitchers throughout the day, in various stages of their delivery, but when it was David Price's turn, we asked if he minded shooting a few photos outside. He was relaxed and said sure, so we promptly moved him out to a practice mound outside of the building we were in. We worked quickly and shot him with an Elinchrom Octabank at full power (2400 w/s) to overpower the high 1 PM daylight. Not an ideal situation, but you take David Price whenever you can get him.

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The next day, we finished the story on Tampa's pitching factory, shooting a setup with the Tampa manager and pitching coach, and a young prospect, Taylor Guerrieri, mentioned in the story. When we were done with Taylor, we asked him to hang around and pitch in the foreground for us, which made a nice framework for the coach photo…and of course we shot “normal” stuff of both coaches as well.

My favorite Florida assistant, Cy Cyr, was nice enough to join me on this adventure, and helped us out tremendously by renting gear for us from Rummel Wagner at Central Florida Strobe in Orlando.

In the end, SI imaging changed everyone's backgrounds to blue, and they used a different mound, which was lit a little differently. All the photos were opened up in the shadows so that they were a closer match. The coolest part about SI's final presentation? If you looked at the magazine on an ipad, you hear breaking glass as the cover appears. Cool.

The same frame as the cover – shown as it was originally shot on black.

This is the outside photo of Price – making the most out of crummy high noon light.

One of our shots of young pitcher Taylor Guerrieri.

Tampa manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Portrait shoot with former POW Col. Bud Day

The March cover of Air & Space, with Col Bud Day on the cover.

I've had a keen interest in military aviation since childhood…when other kids were reading Curious George and other children's books, I was reading military biographies and books about World War II and Vietnam. I remember one summer day, when I was in about 3rd or 4th grade, while returning books to our local public library, one of the elderly librarians tried to usher me from the “grown up books” to the “kid's section” on the other side of the building. One of the other librarians quickly corrected her, “He's ok, Mabel….he just returned a book titled Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism. ” After that, Mabel left me alone. (I actually can't remember what her name was…… Mabel just seems like the perfect name for an old lady librarian).

I thought being a fighter pilot would be cool, I even requested info on the Air Force Academy at one point during junior high or early high school. 20/400 vision, however, and projectile vomiting during a simple Cessna 172 plane ride with a friend conspired to keep me out of the ejection seat.

After photographing the Doolittle Raiders a few years ago, one of my friends from the assignment, Matt Jolley, of Warbird Radio recommended me to some of the nice folks at Wings over Houston, the annual airshow here in the Houston area. I had mentioned to him an idea about a personal project, trying to photograph environmental portraits of notable pilots. The people with the autograph tent at WoH were nice enough to let me set up in their area and shoot simple, white background portraits of the pilots who were there signing autographs. I was able to photograph Col. Bud Anderson (a triple ace in the P-51 during WWII), Col. Dick Cole (Doolitle's co-pilot on the WWII Doolittle Raid on Tokyo), Gen. Boots Blesse (a famous Sabre jet ace from the Korean war) and several others during my weekend there. I was also lucky enough to meet and photograph former POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Bud Day.

The photos were interesting facial studies, but I lamented the limitations of the white background. I would have loved to have captured each of them with their respective airplanes, but during mid-day sun at a packed airshow, it was just not in the cards.

The first shot we took, before sunrise on the field at Ellington.

Several months later, John Simmons, one of my buddies from the WoH event sent me an incredible video of Bud Day, eagerly climbing into the cockpit of an F-100 Super Sabre just like the one he had flown in Vietnam and going up for a flight! The video was from the Collings Foundation, a non-profit foundation that owns and maintains not just World War II era prop planes, but also several Vietnam era jets, at….get this…..Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. The F-100, painted just like Bud's Misty 1 Vietnam bird is one of two in the world in flying condition.

John went to work, getting us permission from Rick Harris of the Collings Foundation to use the airplane. We made arrangements to photograph Bud, who lives in Florida, during a visit to see his son George, a former F-16 pilot, who now works as a SWA captain in Houston.

A few months later, there we were before sunrise on a warm summer morning in Houston, pulling the F-100 out of the hangar and towing it to the proper spot on the taxiway. We had scouted a few days before, using the iphone app LightTrac to position the plane.

Bud showed up in his flight suit, with his boots and Nomex gloves on – he was definitely ready to fly the plane if necessary! His son George also wore his flight suit. Part of my plan was to do a nice group shot of the father and son fighter pilots together.

We started shooting before dawn – long exposures on a tripod with battery powered strobes. Nathan Lindstrom assisted on the shoot and did a great job. We used a Profoto 7B with a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 on the side, and a Wafer 100 on another 7B boomed in front of the face as a fill.

The second shot, with a Wafer Hexoval 180 and a Wafer 100 as the sun rises in the background.

We next moved onto the backlit side of the plane, and photographed the Col.'s Day together and also the elder Col. Day alone, again using the same lighting setup. Fortunately, the sun came out for a few minutes before going back under a layer of clouds. The sunrise was beautiful!

Col. Day with Col. Day…two generations of fighter pilots.

We next moved to a shot with a long lens looking at the signature angle of the F-100 – straight up the open nose air intake. We carefully framed Col. Day in the foreground and backlit him from each side with a Profoto 7B and a Wafer 100 on each side. We then boomed in a Chimera small strip bank powered by an Acute 600. Although 87 years old, and with his body ravaged by years of torture and POW abuse, in this pose, with this light, in front of the F-100, Bud Day looked like he could still kick some serious ass.

The shot that made the cover, Col. Day still formidable at 87.

We finished with a 3/4 side lit portrait, with his glasses off, which showed off the MISTY patch on his flight suit.

The 3/4 lit portrait with “The Hun” front view in the background.

We did some group shots with the Collings Foundation folks who had so generously donated their time and effort to showcase the plane, and some USAF U-2 pilots, who had gathered during the shoot. All USAF pilots go through survival training at the AF Survival School at Fairchild AFB, named in Col. Day's honor. It was like watching a bunch of NBA rookies meeting Michael Jordan for the first time.

After packing up, the whole crew adjourned to a nearby Ihop for a truly memorable breakfast. I could literally sit and listen to George and his dad tell flying stories for hours. It was a fantastic experience.

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After the shoot, I sent a few of the photos to my editor at Air & Space magazine, just on the off chance that they might be working on a story related to Col. Day, MISTY, or the F-100. Several months later, as it turns out, there was a story on the MISTY program in the works. They eventually decided to use one of the photographs of Col. Day on the cover of the issue, with another one running inside.

I didn't want to jinx anything, so I didn't mention it to Bud or George until the cover was posted online. I've worked for many magazines, and covers often get pulled or changed at the 11th hour.

It was really an honor and a highlight to finally be able to make the call to Col. Day and let him know that not only was there a story on MISTY in the current issue of Air & Space, but that he had made the cover! This was truly one of the coolest things I've been able to work on, and I'm grateful to A&S, the Day family, Rick Harris and John Simmons for making this happen.

Col. Day and Col. Day reviewing some of the photos with the me.

A little background on Col. George “Bud” Day: He joined the Marines and fought in World War II just after high school. He came back to the US and earned a law degree, then continued in the Air Force flying fighter jets in Korea and eventually Vietnam. He miraculously survived a no-chute ejection the 1950's. At an age and mission count when other pilots were retiring, he volunteered for another tour and came up with the MISTY Fast Forward Air Control (Fast FAC) program, of which he was the commander. MISTY pilots flew low and fast over North Vietnam, marking targets including SAM missile sites for other aircraft to attack. It was so dangerous that it was an all volunteer squadron.

During one of these MISTY missions in 1967, Col. Day was shot down and captured. Badly hurt and barefoot, he escaped after a few days and evaded the enemy for 12-15 days, subsisting on frogs and berries, traversing miles of enemy territory and crossing the river into South Vietnam. He was within a mile or two of an American base when he was shot twice and recaptured. He spent the next 5 years 7 months in the “Hanoi Hilton” being tortured along with other notable POW pilots like Sen. John McCain and Admiral James Stockdale. For his valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today he is the most decorated living service member. After returning from Vietnam, he received 13 medical waivers and continued flying. He eventually amassed over 8000 hours – nearly 5000 of those in fighter aircraft. As if that weren't enough, he retired and went to work as an attorney, eventually suing the US Government on behalf of veterans who were not getting promised medical benefits and won. As a result, millions of veterans (my late mother-in-law among them), have benefitted from the program, called Tri-Care for Life.

 

Here's a cool behind the scenes video my friend John Simmons put together of the shoot:

Advertising Photography for ExxonMobil Chemical

I recently photographed a series of advertisements for ExxonMobil Chemical at one of their technology centers.  We worked with a fantastic team from McCann Erickson in New York, and they did a great job of conceptualizing the final ads.  The comp we were presented with showed a black and white image of an ExxonMobil scientist working in a lab environment with a detail breakout photo of a macro subject from their lab.

The labs were very tight and cluttered spaces – lots of scientific equipment everywhere, lots of hoses and pipes, and very few clean simple backgrounds.  We decided to shoot several different lab techs and scientists working with their respective equipment on white.  This was a serious challenge, as there was not ample room to do a normally lit white background.  We settled on placing a 6 x 6 scrim jim behind the subjects, just to de-clutter the room, and give the retoucher clean images of the subject and foreground equipment to work with.  This worked well, but it was a very tight squeeze all day.  To look good in B&W, the light needed to be fairly dramatic and contrast-y.  We used gridded softboxes, a Wafer 100 and a Wafer 75 in some cases, both with Lighttools 30 degree grids.

We also had great fun creating the macro images.  Kelly Clark, our art director, would work with us to pick out various interesting pieces of scientific equipment, and we would then set up lighting and photograph details, often with the Canon 100mm macro, which is just an incredibly sharp piece of glass.  It was interesting to create tight abstract views of everyday science equipment.

One of the cool shots we did, came about during the scouting trip.  We noticed that several of the scientists would write in wax pencil on the plexiglas cover of their lab enclosures….math formulas, notes, etc.  We decided it looked pretty interesting, and ran out to Home Depot to get a clean new piece of plexi to recreate the same look on white in the lab.  (Apologies to Neil Leifer and his iconic Bear Bryant portrait. )

Andrew Loehman did a great job digital teching for the day, and Nathan Lindstrom assisted.  Juan Guadiana, a stellar Houston-based retoucher did a masterful job of cutting out our subjects with their equipment for the final ads.  These were not easy to do.  Andrea Kaye, the art buyer at McCann Erickson, Valerie Sena, the account manager, and Kelly Clark, the art director were wonderful to work with, and we were able to enjoy a fantastic Tex-Mex meal with our ExxonMobil client at El Real, a cool new restaurant in the former Tower Theater during their brief visit to Houston.

Here's the “before” photo in color…

One of the other ads….we created four of these.

 

 

Photo Shoot with Heisman winner "Johnny Football" Manziel at Texas A&M

The shot that ran in the magazine: “Johnny Football” centered on the 50 yard line at Kyle Field.

Last week, in preparation for the upcoming Heisman Trophy announcement, Sports Illustrated sent four photographers out to shoot portraits of the four leading Heisman candidates.  My sports portrait photographer colleagues all made great images, and SI published a multi-page story on the Heisman frontrunners just three days before the announcement.  Peter Read Miller photographed USC WR Marqise Lee, Darren Carroll photographed Kansas State QB Collin Klein, and Todd Rosenberg photographed Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o, while I got the call to shoot Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, known more commonly here in Texas by his nickname:  “Johnny Football.”

Manziel, a redshirt freshman sensation, was sequestered from the press by his coaches until the week before the big announcement.  When he finally spoke, the country heard from a charming, positive young kid who was enthusiastic and enjoying every minute of his journey.  I've shot a ton of athletes, and normally we do a few “tough guy” or heroic poses, and we tried a few with Johnny, but he literally couldn't stop laughing and smiling.  The best shots were the ones where he was grinning from ear to ear.  That's truly him – just a bubbly kid who's happy to be here – overflowing with excitement that he gets to wake up each day and play QB for the Aggies…..and that was BEFORE he won!

For the shoot, due to newfound demands on his time and a TON of media interest, we had a shoot time of 2pm, which is not the most flattering light to photograph in.  Actually, we were overjoyed to have any time with him at all, and Texas A&M SID Alan Cannon, who's a really great guy I've known for many years, made it all happen.  We had a 30 minute slot (really only 25 minutes, because SI was also doing a quick video interview for the website in the last 5 minutes).  We had to really plan all our shots in advance and have everything tested and set up ahead of time in order to maximize our time with him.

We really wanted a dramatic stadium tunnel look, with Johnny lit from above and the background blown out.  I had done a similar shot of Jason White at Oklahoma years earlier, and the editor had mentioned using a tunnel if possible.  We scouted the stadium for a couple of hours before the shoot, and didn't find any suitable tunnels.  At A&M, many of the tunnels were narrow with chain link gates/fences in them, and it wasn't clean enough in my opinion to pull off the shot we had in mind.

I also knew that the photo was probably running as a square in the magazine so I shot most of the shots loose enough so that they could be cropped in that shape.  There was also some discussion of converting all four players to sepia (which they decided not to do) so I tried to shoot with contrast in mind.

The sun was high and blistering, there was no shade to work with, so for the first shot, we planned to place the sun behind him and use it to our advantage.  By placing the sun behind his head and underexposing the scene, we silhouetted the stadium (and Johnny).  We added a Hexoval 180 from the left and made a dramatic portrait with a darkened Kyle Field behind him.

For the next setup, I wanted to emphasize the large “Home of the 12th Man” sign on the student side of the stadium.  We were able to find a small tunnel entrance on the 50 yard line, where I shot from, and then we backlit Johnny from each side with Wafer 100's.  Assistant Nathan Lindstrom then used a long boom to place a Hexoval 140 directly in front of Johnny's face, centered right over the camera, while Butch Ireland ( a longtime and very talented photographer colleague from College Station) manned an 8 x 8 Westcott ScrimJim to keep the harsh sun out of the scene.  We also ditched the backlights and did a few dramatic shots with the Hexoval boomed to the right side.

We then walked Johnny over to a corner tunnel, which had a really interesting pattern in the poured concrete wall.  It almost looked like a hand painted muslin fabric.  We set up two other lighting setups there.  The first one was a raw reflector head, which cast a shadow of Johnny on the wall.  The idea was to replicate the look that stadium lights would have in the tunnel if you were about to take the field at night.  The other setup was just a Wafer Hexoval 180, which we used to do some classic 3/4 shots of Johnny from the waist up and tight on his face.  I wanted some simple shots with a big light source that would capture his ebullient personality.

When we stopped, I looked down at my watch – we had done 6 different setups in three locations around the field in 21 minutes!  Johnny sat down for his interview – and then…oh Lord, the video shooter, Dan Blust, a talented videographer from Houston, interviewed me about the shoot.  SI did this at each location and put together a nice behind the scenes video which you can see here.

(All photos ©2012 Robert Seale/All rights Reserved).

Lighting Workshops at Photoshelter Luminance conference

Our model, rhythmic gymnast Olga Karmansky. (Photo by Robert Seale)

I returned recently from speaking and doing a lighting workshop at the Photoshelter Luminance conference, September 11-13 at the TriBeca Performing Arts Center in New York City.  Luminance was far from a typical photo industry conference or convention.  Photoshelter founder Allen Murabayashi and the great folks at Photoshelter put together a unique event, bringing in a wide variety of speakers from the technology world to compliment the usual suspects from the photo industry.

On the bill for the three day event were interesting and varied speakers like:

Eric Cheng, DP at Lytro; Lucas Allen Buick, Hipstamatic CEO; Chris Chabot, Google ; Amy Dresser, retoucher; Sara Friedlander, VP of Christie's; Eileen Gittins, CEO/Founder of Blurb; Taylor Jones, Dear Photograph; Craig Peters, Getty Images; Donald Pettit, NASA Astronaut; Alan Taylor, The Atlantic; Cory West, Engineering Manager, Facebook, and also wonderful photographers like Peter Yang, David Burnett, Barbara Davidson, and Michael Muller.  Each speaker gave a short, 20 minute eye opening talk in the spirit of the TED conference.

On the first day of the event, held at  ROOT Drive in Studios, in NYC, I, along with lighting genius Joe McNally, Atlanta commercial photographer Zack Arias, and Miami celebrity portrait photographer Brian Smith, held lighting workshops in separate studio spaces there.  (Bill Cramer, a Philadelphia photographer and founder of Wonderful Machine gave a separate session on business practices.)

The most overqualified assistant ever? Photoshelter Chairman Allen Murabayashi helping us get our lighting setup together. (Photo by Robert Seale)

I felt super intimidated to speak and do my little demo in such good company, but I was very lucky to have some super overqualified assistant help, including Photoshelter folks Allen Murabayashi, Sarah Jacobs, and stellar music photographer Chris Owyoung helping out.

Our model, Olga Karmansky, a rhythmic gymnast, was wonderful and patient during two back to back lighting sessions.  We had a short window of time, so we concentrated on doing multiple lighting looks from one setup in the studio.  We were able to create several different looks without moving the model at all – very similar to the lighting talk and demo I gave at the Photoshelter event in Austin.

Allen and Photoshelter CEO Andrew Fingerman put together a hell of an event.  It was wonderful to hang out with the other photographers and speakers, especially a speakers dinner on the first night, and a wonderful get together with my good friends:  bay area baseball photographer  Brad Mangin, and Boston commercial photographer and ASMP president Shawn Henry.  It was also great to meet the young, super sharp and vibrant Photoshelter team, many of whom I had talked to over the phone over the years, but never met in person.  These are creative, smart people that you wish you could work in an office with every day.

Hopefully Andrew and Allen will be able to make this an annual event!

Close up of Olga Karmansky during the lighting demo. (Photo by Robert Seale)

Olga, photographed with a 5 degree grid during the lighting demo. (Photo by Robert Seale)

Allen introducing the speakers. (Photo by Michael Treola)

 

 

Shaking hands with Joe McNally arriving at the studio. (Photo by Michael Treola)

McNally shooting in the studio downstairs. (Photo by Michael Treola)

Seale shooting during the lighting workshop. (Photo by Michael Treola)

Zack Arias speaking to his class. (Photo by Michael Treola)

Brian Smith speaking during his lighting workshop - note the model is ASMP president Shawn Henry. (Photo by Michael Treola)

Jeremy Lin portraits for Sports Illustrated

Jeremy Lin posing for a high flying pass on his first day back in Houston. This photo was featured as a double truck in Sports Illustrated. © 2012 Robert Seale

As Jeremy Lin was in the process of inking his deal with the Houston Rockets last week, I got a call from Sports Illustrated.  Often in sports, when a star player is traded to another team, there is a big fancy press conference to introduce the player to the media.  Usually the player stands at a podium with the new owner, professes his love for the new city and holds up a freshly minted jersey with his name on the back.  Interviews follow with all the local media outlets:  radio stations, TV stations, teenage sports bloggers, and typically, the surviving newspaper in town.

What most people don't see, is the behind the scenes photo shoots.  Put together in a rush, the sleepy player gets herded to multiple locations throughout the building to pose for the NBA, a magazine or two, the local paper, and a host of team sponsor PSA's.  It's a challenging situation, very similar to “media day” shoots that we all engage in during preseason training camps. Each photographer or news outlet gets the player for a couple of minutes and they produce the best sports portrait they can.

After I hung up with the SI photo editor, I immediately called my good friend, Rockets photographer Bill Baptist, who I knew would be doing the same gig for the NBA.  I found out that we were scheduled to be on one half of the practice court, since the other half was being used for the press conference setup.  Billy had to do two large setups, so he generously offered to have our shoot moved to the empty arena floor.  I quickly jumped at the chance and agreed that a larger room would be beneficial for all of us.  This way, we wouldn't be crossing cords or competing for space.  Plus, the last time Billy and I were that close together, I'm pretty sure he kicked my ass at tennis.

Stellar assistant Nathan Lindstrom and I showed up to the Toyota Center the next morning with a ton of gear, and made our way to the main arena floor.  An empty arena makes a great photo studio, but unfortunately, it really was empty:  as in, no floor!  Since the arena hosts a different event almost every night, the wood basketball floor was in storage – along with the basketball goals, etc.

With the help of some friendly folks at the arena, we were able to get one of the basketball goals rolled out onto the empty concrete floor.  I figured that, even if the floor didn't show, we could at least utilize the goal as a background element for context.

We put together lighting setups in two locations:  A wide angle view with the goal in the background, backlit on both sides with Profoto 8A's and  large Chimera gridded softboxes.  We used a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 as the main light near the camera.

On the other setup, we put together a seamless paper backdrop with two different lighting setups:  a three light setup with two Plume Wafer 100's with Lighttools grids, and a Profoto Beauty dish on a boom just above the camera.  The other setup was another Wafer Hexoval 180 to the right of the camera.  We used three Profoto Acute 600's for power on the seamless setup.

Lin showed up in a brand new red Rockets uni and made his way to our set.  After shaking his hand and welcoming him to Texas, we quickly put him through both seamless lighting setups, and then standing and dribbling poses on the backlit concrete floor setup.

Part of Lin's appeal is his status as a young, springy, high-flying point guard.  He looked great flying through the air, going to he hoop, and passing in mid air to his Knicks teammates during the a few months of “Linsanity” last season.  At the end of the shoot, I asked Lin how his knee was feeling.

He said it felt great.

Great enough to jump on a concrete floor?

Sure, he said.

Ok then, let's do it.

I placed the camera, a Canon EOS1DS Mk III on the floor, and proceeded to shoot Lin leaping straight in the air with the basketball goal in the background.  He looked great – our only minor tweak being that of changing his hand positions during the jump.  At the end of the shoot, I handed him a towel, shook his hand and said thanks.  I looked down at my watch and a mere 12 minutes had passed.

He left the arena soon after and was mobbed……not by New York paparazzi, but by mouth-watering Houston real estate agents, eager to spend at least some of his 25 million bucks.

 

Robert Seale speaking at Rich Clarkson Sports Photography Workshop

Stacy Geare, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado. © Robert Seale

I'm pleased to announce that I've been asked back to the Photography at the Summit Sports Photography Workshop July 19-24. I've been a lecturer at the workshop 4-5 times, but it's been several years since I've attended. The Summit Series of Photography Workshops were founded by legendary photographer and editor Rich Clarkson, who in addition to running Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper photo staffs in Denver and Topeka, was also Director of Photography at National Geographic during the 1980's. I'm looking forward to working with Rich's great staff and helping out the students there as they embark on assignments at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

This year's staff also includes good friends and colleagues like former Seattle Times staffer Rod Mar, Sports Illustrated staffer John McDonough, New York Times Photo Editor Brad Smith, AP staffer Mark Terrill, and his brother Joey Terrill, who does fabulous work for Golf Digest and a variety of magazines.

Colorado Springs has some fantastic locations and is one of my favorite places to visit. Should be a great week!  You can register for the workshop here.

Creating a Swimming Portrait

This one is lit with two Wafer 100's with grids for backlight, and a Hexoval 140 directly over the camera.

I'm really drawn to barren landscapes.  I told a photographer friend of mine once that if I could establish my business at the edge of El Mirage dry lake bed in California and shoot all my photos there, I would be a happy camper.  There's something about the flat textured landscape with distant mountains in the background that makes your work look like you just landed on Mars.

Our assistant Ryan playing the human light boom.

I had heard from friends in Utah that the salt flats often were coated by a thin layer of water during the early summer, and I thought that location would be a fabulous one for a portrait of a competitive swimmer reflected in a mirrored otherworldly landscape.  Things don't always go as planned, and when I arrived to scout the area, I found a lot of mud, but no water.

This is where newspaper experience becomes a handy thing.  I knew from my feature photo hunting days that I could make a cool photo with little more than a puddle to work with.  With the right lens and an extremely low angle, I knew I could make a 2 foot wide puddle look like a lake.  After considering the possibility of building a tray of water using 2 x 4's and a black tarp (it works – ask any car photographer from the early 80's…), we eventually found a puddle right behind a rest stop.  The rest stop had a water hose/shower set up so people touring the area could wash mud/salt from their feet before getting back in their cars.  How convenient.

I tested the look with my Salt Lake City based assistant Ryan Faulkner, and it looked great.  The next morning at sunrise, I photographed our swimmer with our “lake”, using a Plume Wafer 100 mounted to a Manfrotto extension pole so that Ryan could boom the light near her face and still stay out of the frame.  We used a Profoto Acute 600 for this photo.

I had another photo I really wanted to make, and that was a tighter image of our swimmer, backlit from both sides with Wafer 100's and Lighttools 30 degree grids, and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 140 directly above the camera on a boom.  As the sun came up, we made a few other photos with the beautiful early morning natural light.

A "lake" created with about 2 inches of water in a very small area.

An available light photo made with a long lens and gorgeous early morning light.