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Robert Seale on faculty for Rich Clarkson Sports Photography Workshop

Professional climber Chelsea Rude was among our models for the workshop in 2012. ©2012 Robert Seale

Professional climber Chelsea Rude was among our models for the workshop in 2012. ©2012 Robert Seale

It is indeed an honor to be invited back to teach again this year at the Photography at the Summit Sports Photography Workshop in Colorado Springs, July 17-22.

The workshop is the brainchild of Rich Clarkson, the legendary photographer and former Director of Photography at National Geographic and several newspapers.

Among the scheduled faculty this year:  Brad Smith, Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated; Nate Gordon, Photo Editor at Sports Illustrated; Lucas Gilman, adventure photographer; John McDonough, photographer at Sports Illustrated; Mark Reis, Director of Photography at the Colorado Springs Gazette; Mark Terrill, staff photographer at the Associated Press; Joey Terrill, Los Angeles based commercial photographer and frequent Golf Digest contributor; and several others.

The workshop is sponsored by Nikon, and offers students a chance to shoot in and around beautiful Colorado Springs, with access to the Olympic Training Center and many of the elite athletes that train there.

To register for the workshop, visit the link: Sports Photography Workshop.  Hope to see you there!

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)

Robert Seale featured on I Love Texas Photo

Photography consultant Jasmine DeFoore has recently started a great website called featuring photographers and production resources from Texas.  Jasmine was a photo editor and marketing guru for the Redux agency in NYC before moving to Austin to start her consulting business.  She's done a great job organizing events and helping the Texas photo community, and the new ilovetexasphoto website is an awesome resource for photo editors, advertising art buyers and anyone else producing visuals in Texas.

Austin photographer and ilovetexasphoto contributor Destry Jaimes interviewed me recently for a photographer feature on the site, asking me about my work, education, and influences, and featuring some of my favorite photos.  If you're a photographer or photo enthusiast in Texas, or a photo editor producing jobs in our state, this site needs to be in your bookmarks toolbar.

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.

Robert Seale Featured in Digital SLR Magazine

The opening spread in the Nov. 2011 issue of Digital SLR

Yep, you guessed it – the second spread…

I'm featured in the November 2011 issue of Digital SLR magazine, a photo magazine published by Dennis Publishing in the UK.  It's available at most camera stores, Barnes and Noble and fine bookstores/magazine shops everywhere.

Daniel Lezano did a great job with the article, and translated a few of my quotes to add Brit-speak (“brilliant, kit, flashgun”), but other than that it's pretty much what I said.  Big thanks to them for asking me to be a part of it.

Here's the text from Daniel's article:

When the leading US sports publications  are looking  for someone to add energy and impact to portraits, it’s the Texas-based photographer Robert Seale that gets the nod.  He explains to Daniel Lezano the  techniques he uses to capture his  Portraits in Action:

“I’ve been actIvely Involved with photography for all of my adult life. Having studied photography and interned on a newspaper as a photojournalist, I later joined The Sporting News, where I worked for ten years as a staff photographer. there were three of us covering the whole country, shooting major professional sporting events, including the World Series, Superbowl and college sports, although around a third of the time was spent shooting portraits for magazine covers.

In 2006, I left to start my own business, working for magazines like Sports Illustrated, as well as ad agencies and design firms, then later shooting for large companies, like oil firms.  “As much as I enjoyed shooting live sports, taking portraits was always more fun. this was especially true after 9/11, when the added security meant it became more difficult travelling into stadiums with the large amounts of camera kit required to shoot major events.  “the two disciplines are very different. With the portrait shoots, I obviously have far more interaction with the subject. I’ll usually have time to prepare in advance for a shoot, being provided with an outline or thesis of the article. often, though, I’ll fly to some city not knowing what the location will look like and what’s needed and I’ll sit on the flight planning out the possibilities. That’s where the newspaper experience comes in, because if you do assignments for a newspaper, you get thrust into situations where you have to think on your feet and come up with ideas that work without much pre-planning. I obviously much prefer knowing a little about what’s needed in advance, as being able to read the story or speak with the reporter lets me add some context to my ideas for the shoot.

“Perhaps the biggest difference to action portraits over live sports is the ability to control how a subject is lit. I learned lighting techniques through a combination of studying – both at university, and on my own – I have bookshelves full of photo books – and practice. When I worked on the newspaper, I would volunteer for various studio assignments, such as one to support a story on wedding dresses, so that I could get better at lighting. It gradually developed from using a small number of flashguns to using studioflash with various types of light modifiers. My current lighting kit consists of a number of mains and battery-operated Profoto heads.  “one of the techniques I enjoy using to add the element of motion to my sports portraits is to set a slow shutter speed with flash to capture a little subject blur. The vast majority of photographers often try to use rear-curtain sync to capture the effect of movement. the problem is, if you use rear-curtain sync, you can’t control what part of the picture is stopped because you never quite know when the shutter is about to close, causing the flash to fire. To get around this problem, I’ve developed a method that allows me to use first-curtain sync. What I do is pre-focus on a spot and have the subject jump in place.  Even if they appear to be running in the image, they’re actually jumping straight up in the air. I coach them on the body position and what their legs should be doing, what facial expression to have and anything else important.  Then what I do is fire the flash at the apex of the jump and as they come up, a silhouetted blur is recorded on the bottom of their feet that makes so it look as if he is leaping.  The key advantage of this method is that I can choose exactly the moment I want the flash to fire.

“The number of heads I use really depends on the type of shoot and the location. Much of my lighting set-ups are relatively simple and use between one and three heads, but I do sometimes use four or six heads when the need arises. If you look closely, you can usually work out the number of heads used, for instance, images where the subject’s outline is highlighted are usually the result of using two back lights and one or two front lights.  “On most of my shoots, I’ll only have one assistant, and then I’m fortunate that if it’s a bigger budget job, we can hire more. Sometimes I have a digital technician and a couple of assistants, but it really depends on the budget. If it’s an editorial shoot for a magazine, then it’s one or two assistants and me, but if it is for advertising, it may well be two assistants, a digital technician and a make-up artist.

I often use Plume softboxes, which are made in Colorado, and I regularly use grids from a Canadian firm called Lighttools, which are great for limiting the direction of the light spill.  “When I used to shoot film, I was meticulous with my flash metering and used a handheld flash meter. but after a time, I got good at judging exposures without metering and would only use a flash meter to double-check. I use one now when I’m doing really critical things, like trying to balance two backlights or using a technical white background, but often when it’s outside, we will just go with what we are seeing on the camera or computer screen, which we use as a digital ‘Polaroid’.

“I use a Canon EOS-1dS MkIII for portraits and an EOS-1d MkIv for anything requiring a motordriven sequence and find their lcd monitors to be fairly accurate. I’ve an extensive set of Canon lenses, including the 16-35mm, 24-105mm, 70-200mm f/2.8 and 300mm.  If I need an extreme wide-angle then the 16-35mm is brilliant, but the 24-105mm is my main choice for portraits as it offers such a useful range.”

To see more of Robert Seale’s brilliant portraits, visit: To view his lighting blog, visit:

The cover. Not my photo, but in case you're looking for the issue…

Mike Tirico and Deion Sanders shoot for GMC

There's a strip mall behind that cloud curtain……

As photographers, we are often thrust into bad situations.  Try as we might, it's often not possible to schedule photo shoots during magic hour, or work in wonderful and exotic locations with gorgeous people who have all the time in the world.

In reality, I often deal with very busy people, and things need to get done on their schedule, not mine.  Back in August, I received an assignment to shoot ABC/ESPN television commentators Mike Tirico and Deion Sanders.  The catch?  I was piggybacking on an existing video shoot, and would have a whopping 5 minutes with them.

No problem, I'm thinking….I've done ok with less time than that before.  Then, I heard more details:  high noon shoot, they're wearing dark suits, with a black truck, in a strip mall parking lot, you can't take them anywhere else, you'll have 5 minutes, and, oh yeah….did I mention it was August in Houston?

No problem, I'll arrive early, take every piece of lighting gear I have, and figure something out…..maybe it's a huge parking lot near a school with a football field – I can surely get them to go there.

My assistant, Todd Spoth and I arrived early, and canvassed the neighborhood.  The video shoot was at a small sound stage 30 miles from downtown.  It was literally suburban hell – strip malls, gas stations, light poles, and power lines everywhere…we literally couldn't find a clean location to take our subjects anywhere near the studio.

I found a parking lot next door with a slight slope to it, parked the spanking new GMC Sierra at the edge of the lot, and placed the camera on the ground.  If you can't get your subject in a clean, nice location – go low.

A 12 x 12 shaded the area in front of the truck where Tirico and Sanders were to stand, and some large mirror boards (borrowed from the super nice video guys) gave us a great kick on half of the chrome grill of the pickup.  A Wafer Plume 140 lit the other half of the grill.

Under the 12 x 12, we set up a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 and a Wafer Hexoval 140, which were set up near each other in a corner lighting arrangement.

Good thing we were there early, because our talent left the studio early and were ready to shoot an hour before we had originally planned.  We shot Tirico and Sanders individually, then together, shook hands, said thanks and they hopped back in their limos before they melted.  We were literally done in 5 1/2 minutes.

The Tirico-Sanders insert

The magazine loved the photos but decided to change the background, dropping out the strip mall on the horizon and replacing it with sky.   I had anticipated the change and had already asked retoucher extraordinaire Pratik Naik to work one of the frames up as an example.  GMC liked that photo so much that they relicensed it for use in their online newsletter e-blast, and in a NFL insert in their magazine, as well as using it in the original “advertorial” feature in their trade magazine.  They used the sky photo in the eblast, and they decided to have their retoucher add grass to the insert photo.

The lesson here?  Keep a good attitude and do your best, even in a rough situation where you feel like there is no good picture to be made.  Light your subjects carefully, even if you are stuck with a less than desirable background.  You never know when a little  shoot could turn into something bigger.

The “advertorial” spread featuring Tirico

Robert Seale named SFASU Outstanding Young Alumnus

Cover image of me defacing a rental car in Germany. (Photo by Todd Spoth)[/caption] This happened a while back, but the story just recently ran last quarter in Sawdust, the Stephen F. Austin State University Alumni magazine.  Here's the text from the article and the 6 page layout featuring some of my photos.  A big thanks to SFA Student Publications director Pat Spence for crafting the story to make me sound like Mother Theresa.

Robert Seale shoots Eadward Muybridge homage

Trevor Bauer's pitching motion, in an Eadward Muybridge style grid.

Trevor Bauer, a pitching prodigy from UCLA, recently drafted third in the 2011 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, is known for his unconventional pitching motion and training philosophy.  He's been compared to another wildly successful, yet undersized pitcher: Tim Lincecum of the SF Giants, who generates torque by rotating his hips, arms and legs in a whip-like motion, allowing him to pitch as fast as some of his taller, more muscle-bound counterparts in the major leagues.

When I originally got the call to shoot Bauer for Sports Illustrated, the photo editor, Nate Gordon and I discussed shooting a stroboscopic sequence on a black background, much like the work of Life Magazine photographer Gjon Mili.   I had done this type of shot before, in fact my first cover for the Sporting News was a stroboscopic photo of Mets pitcher Pete Harnisch.

My first Sporting News cover: circa 1996.

I first learned about Mili and his work during college.  I took about 27 hours of art history classes  (is that enough for a third major?).   The most memorable one was my mentor, Dr. Michael Roach‘s “History of Photography” class.  Presented chronologically, each class featured a wonderful slide show and biographical talk about pioneering photographers.  Each day we would tackle the work of two-three new photographers, and it was really great to go out and shoot later in the day, channeling the styles you had absorbed by osmosis that morning and trying to emulate that photographer's look in your own photographs.

It's great to formulate and grow your own style, but I think it's equally important to know the history of our craft, learn all those techniques, and have them in your toolbox for when you're called upon to provide a specific look.

In addition to Mili, one of those early photographers that Dr. Roach introduced us to was the pioneering motion sequence photographer Eadward Muybridge.  Muybridge, using a series of cameras triggered in sequence, put together grids of individual photographs featuring motion studies of humans, horses, and other animals.  There's not an animator or artist who doesn't own a dog eared copy of Muybridge's “The Human Figure in Motion”, first published in 1907.

Anyway, I mentioned I had also been wanting to try a Muybridge homage, and perhaps Bauer's motion was a good chance to explore the idea.  Nate liked the idea, and after pitching it to Director of Photography Steve Fine, gave me the go ahead to put the shoot together.  One wrinkle in this was that Bauer had not yet been signed to a contract by the diamondbacks at the time of our shoot.  That meant that we had to literally scour the country to piece together a Diamondbacks uniform from several different vendors for him on short notice.

Bauer's pitching coach Ron Wolforth, helped us find a nearby high school gym to set up the sets for both shots.  Assistant Nathan Lindstrom morphed into a master set builder for this one, designing and erecting a huge plywood wall, that we painted a neutral gray.  We used white tape for the larger grids and chalk pencils for the smaller lines between the grids, and set up the wall in the gym.

Next to that, we erected essentially a cube of black 20 x 20 overheads.  For the Mili shot, it was important that Bauer be rim lit from behind in a pitch black environment.  We used two Plume Wafer 100's with Lighttools grids to accomplish this, and then added a third light to put a little more light on Bauer's profile.

For the Muybridge shot, we took off the grids, and lit the set essentially from the front with the lights at 45 degree angles to the wall.  Muybridge's shots were lit with sunlight, and there were often imperfections and shadows on the walls of his photos, so we didn't want to make the lighting too slick or neat.  We were going for authenticity.  Both setups were lit with Profoto 8A‘s.

The Bauer pitching sequence shot in our black 20 x 20 “cube.”

We monitored the shoot with a tethered Mac laptop, so we could keep track of sequences and make sure we had all the different body positions needed to put together the Muybridge grid.  With stroboscopic photos of a baseball pitch, you can't fire the strobe more than 3-4 times, or the picture turns into a big busy mess.  for this reason, we actually shot the photo as a stroboscopic sequence, and also separately with individual photos, which could then be pieced together into a panoramic sequence by a retoucher.

Although the Muybridge homage photo ran in color in the magazine, I actually prefer it in sepia tone, which I think better evokes the mood of his pioneering work in photography.

(Assistants Nathan Lindstrom and Todd Spoth really busted their tails on this, and Todd put together a great Go-Pro time lapse of the shoot.)

Fan Portrait Campaign for Houston Texans Tickets


Last spring, I received a call to photograph stylized portraits of  Houston Texans fans.  The campaign concept was to honor the Texans season ticket holders by featuring a different season ticket holder on each 2011 game ticket.  The Texans held a contest called “Your Story-Your Glory” in which season ticket holders wrote in about their fan experiences.  The winning entrants were each featured on one of the tickets.  The winners ranged from the super rabid passionate face-painting guys, to a nurse who works her shift in Texans scrubs, a champion tailgater, to a soldier who watched every Texans game he could while stationed overseas, to a couple who were married in the Reliant Stadium parking lot.

I thought it was an excellent idea, particularly with NFL teams emerging from a post-lockout /strike situation.  I met with Laura Heidbreder, Creative Manager for the Texans, Jennifer Davenport, Director of Marketing, Designer Julio Guidi and several other members of their team and they outlined the concept and art direction behind the shoot.

On the shoot day, we actually set up on the floor of Reliant Stadium (sans grass), and set up a large grey studio backdrop.  We kept the background neutral, because Laura and her team were going to drop out the photos and use a variety of different colors/type treatments behind the portraits.  We used grey instead of a plain white, to allow for the rim-lighting effect, which would have been hard to select on a white backdrop.  We lit the set with two Wafer 100 softboxes with Lighttools grids to create the rim-light effect.  A large Wafer Hexoval 180 was boomed over the center of the set to light the fan's faces.  A video crew was also on hand to interview each fan for possible TV spots.

With the help of assistants Nathan Lindstrom, Travis Robertson, and stellar Houston makeup artist Wendy Martin, we set up for the shoot and welcomed each fan, at approximately 45 minute intervals throughout the day.  It was a lot of fun trying to elicit crazy screaming reactions from the fans, basically recreating their passion from an actual game, in an empty stadium.  It was really a blast, and made for a very fun work day:  lots of laughing, lots of great expressions and great pictures.

Laura and her creative team then went to work, selecting the final images, and designing a fabulous set of tickets.  The Texans held an unveiling on July 19th, once the lockout had officially ended.  They also unveiled a TV commercial with each fan, based on video interviews with each fan on the same day as our still shoot.  I think she did a great job, don't you?

[caption id="attachment_763" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Here's all 10 tickets"][/caption]

Robert Seale featured in PhotoPlus UK Magazine


My photo of Evan Longoria, originally taken for Sports Illustrated, was recently featured in PhotoPlus UK magazine on their back page feature “My Favourite Shot.”  The photo and a technical description of the shoot, originally detailed here on the blog, are featured in the July 2011 issue.