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Sports Photographer

Sports and fitness photography with Kate Upton for Strong4Me Fitness

Model and actress Kate Upton photographed at her home in Houston, Texas for her new fitness brand, Strong 4 Me Fitness. ©2018 Robert Seale

I recently had the really cool opportunity to work with supermodel Kate Upton for the launch of her fitness brand, Strong4Me Fitness.  Strong4Me is the brainchild of Kate and her personal trainer Ben Bruno and is designed to provide strength training and nutrition solutions for busy women on the go.

We were originally going to use a studio, but at the last minute, the shoot was shifted to Kate's Houston area home which she shares with her husband, Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander.  The brief was to shoot portraits and workout shots that could be title and dividing pages on the Strong4Me site and app.  Other models would fill in the blanks with the actual “how to” sequence shots.

Working in a home, no matter how well equipped and nice, provides some challenges, chief among them, finding enough wide open space to create light, bright, and open fitness scenarios.  I was reminded of environmental portrait photographer Arnold Newman's famous quote:  “Photography is 5% inspiration, and 95% moving furniture.”  That was certainly the case for assistants Travis Schiebel, Michael Klein and I as we cleared out spaces for these photos.

We created this look by covering the window outside with an 8×8 Scrim Jim, and firing some strobe from outside.  The indoor key light was a Wafer Hexoval 140.

Once Houston makeup artist Misty Rockwell got her ready, we started with a white seamless background setup.  One of the rooms in the house provided us with almost a perfect wide doorway scenario and lots of white walls, so we could set up a traditional white seamless without the need for cumbersome v-flats.  Kate had her own ideas about the lighting and was very involved….after looking at a few frames on the digital tech's monitor, she suggested a more contrasty look, so we switched gears, used a smaller key-light source (a medium sized Wafer Hex 140, instead of the huge box we were using before), and placed a large black velvet fabric on the ground in front of her to soak up some of the bounced light and create more shadow under the chin and neck area (her suggestion – which worked out great!).

Shooting someone of her talent and stature is an incredible thing…I've shot lots of models, famous athletes, and celebrities over the years, but no one like her.  One second she's talking to you, and everything seems pretty normal, but when the camera is raised, she brings it…..all the while making subtle adjustments to her pose, chin height, arm position, leg angles, to create perfect photos.  It goes without saying, but she's an incredibly talented pro….all I had to do was show up with a pulse and keep firing the shutter.

Kate's dog Harley offered his own exercise tips to help us out with the photo shoot

After the white background scenario, we moved on to a “light and bright” airy high-key location in her dining room to do some shots with a workout bench and mat.  Kate's friendly boxer, Harley, who has his own instagram account, btw, wanted to be in most of the photos, so eventually we just went with it.  Sometimes the spontaneous stuff is the most fun.

We next moved on to an outdoor setup, shot some exercise photos there, and finished with some shallow depth of field photos modeling the Strong4Me yoga mats available through her site.

It was great working with her, and I wish her the best with both her fitness business and the recent birth of her daughter Genevieve.  Harley might just have to share the spotlight next time around.

Check out the main portfolio site to see more of Houston Sports and Fitness photographer Robert Seale's work.

Model and actress Kate Upton photographed at her home in Houston, Texas for Strong 4 Me Fitness. © 2018 Robert Seale

I don't often do it, but this shoot called for a couple of crew photos with Kate. She was nice enough to oblige. ( L to R: Michael Klein, MUA Misty Rockwell, Kate, me, Travis Schiebel).

Kate Upton and Robert Seale….she's really tall!

Sports and Fitness Photography with Carmen Morgan for Renew Houston

Fitness trainer Carmen Morgan, lit with a Profoto B-4 with a Plume Wafer 100 and a Lighttools grid.

Although we've been doing more commercial photography for the last decade or so, I've spent over 20 years doing sports photography – particularly sports portraits for magazines like The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.  I also used to do all the covers for the Houston Chronicle's Health Magazine, but unfortunately, it went away a few years ago.

I was thrilled when I recently got the call from my friend, Features Managing Editor Melissa Aguilar to shoot for a new fitness product for the Chronicle titled “Renew Houston.”  The new section would be a reboot of the Health Mag, but as a broadsheet section with fitness and health tips.

Our first subject was the stunningly beautiful and fabulously fit  Carmen Morgan, a local certified fitness trainer with a ridiculous Instagram following of 620 THOUSAND followers. (@mytrainer carmen)  She also has her own iPhone app available in the App Store.

I'm really into concrete backgrounds lately, so rather than shooting Carmen in a gym or crossfit studio, we decided to work with some superb concrete architecture generously provided by the Cindy Lisica gallery.  Although we supplemented some of the photos with a Profoto B-4 strobe and Plume soft boxes, we shot many of the photos in the incredibly soft natural light tunnel at the gallery.

We sent Carmen through her paces in a couple of different outfits, all while Chronicle writer Joy Sewing interviewed Carmen about the keys to her success.  It was a great shoot with great people.  Hoping to hear more great things from Carmen in the future!

Carmen in her “Super Hero” outfit. Lit with a Plume Wafer 75 and a 30 degree Lighttools grid.

Carmen, lit with pure super soft natural light with my favorite concrete background.

Another available light portrait against the concrete – taken with a Canon 50mm/1.2 lens.

Houston Sports Photographer Robert Seale now in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston permanent collection

Nolan Ryan's fastball grip, Arlington, Texas, April 28, 2010.  © 2010 Robert Seale.

Each year, the Houston Center for Photography holds an extensive charity auction to benefit HCP and their various educational programs.  I was honored to be asked to donate a print to the auction, and even more honored to see it in the auction catalog alongside some of my heroes like Keith Carter, Herb Ritts, and Maggie Steber.  My print was purchased by Lisa Volpe, the Associate Curator, Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts and is now part of the museum's permanent collection.

The auction encompasses several individual events, including an exhibition, a tour of the exhibition with the fantastic former MFAH curator Anne Wilkes Tucker and Clint Willour, Curator Emeritus of the Galveston Arts Center and a major donor to the MFAH.  The auction culminates in a dinner/live auction at the Briar Club in Houston.

The print I donated was a simple black and white closeup of Nolan Ryan's fastball grip on a baseball.  It was taken during a 2010 session for Sports Illustrated….the actual assignment was to shoot Ryan with a group of young pitchers, but of course I wanted to maximize my time with him, so I also arranged an individual portrait of Nolan, and also the closeup of his hand, an obvious homage to the work of Charles Conlon.

Prior to Sports Illustrated, I worked at The Sporting News (known for many years as the “Bible of Baseball”) for over a decade, so I was aware of the work of pioneering baseball photographer Conlon (his photographs and negatives were part of the TSN archive when I worked there).

I had pitched (lol) a story on shooting closeups of the signature pitch grip of an array of Hall of Fame pitchers, but the story never took hold.  It was probably not a super original idea, but I thought it would have been interesting.  Portrait on one side of the layout – closeup of the pitch grip on the other side.   On this particular day, I was there for the pitching group photo, but story assignment or not, it seemed silly not to take advantage of the opportunity to document the closeup photo, since I had an audience with Ryan.  Years later, long after my tenure at TSN was over, I think another sports magazine finally published a story featuring the closeups of various pitchers grips, but not quite the way I envisioned it.

Anyway, it was exciting to watch the auction happen in real time, with curator Lisa Volpe and Clint Willour pairing up to win the auction and donate the print to the MFAH.  I am told it's the only piece they purchased at the auction this year.  I'm incredibly honored, and I hope to someday donate another photo worthy enough for the museum.

Here's a blog post from the original shoot in 2010.

 

Creating a football concussion Photo Illustration

I was commissioned recently to create an  photo illustration for Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation’s Annual Report  Photography for a story on concussions in high school football players.  This is a big issue not just for the NFL, but also in youth sports.

I think that originally we were just going to shoot a simple portrait of a young athlete in football gear, but after giving some thought to the issue, the art director and I collaborated on a few other more illustrative ideas.

A few years ago, I had photographed Matt Schaub, the Houston Texans quarterback at the time for Methodist's Leading Medicine publication.   We did a couple of different versions:  one was using a projected background created by a computer and an LCD projector of MRI brain scan imagery and another photo showing medical illustrations of nerve synapses in the brain.

I thought we might appropriate the brain projection idea, but add some other elements to it: a silhouette of a generic kid in a football helmet this time to keep the illustration anonymous; and a multiple exposure strobe effect to look like a violently shaking head.  Our art director helped us in researching a suitable stock photo of the brain that we could use in the projector.

After doing some testing in the studio (do we need a white helmet or black helmet, for instance?), and ordering some props (youth sized football helmet, jersey, and shoulder pads) we booked a young male model for the shoot.

(If we were truly going to be literal here, the concept probably should have been a brain bouncing around with multiple exposures/blur INSIDE a sharper helmet image, but I quickly decided that would have just been a blurry mess and would not have been as easy of a read as the brain inside a shaking helmet.)

This is an early shot, showing the strobe on the background (gelled orange), the projected image on the helmet foreground, but without the multiple exposure/multiple strobe on the background effect.

The key was to tripod the camera for the “brain exposure”, keeping it absolutely still for this exposure provided by the projector, and then with the shutter open, firing multiple strobe bursts (with strobe lighting the background seamless only) with the model's head in slightly different positions to show the silhouetted helmet with movement.  Although I liked the randomness of the head movement in each photo, we finally settled on zooming the lens smoothly and evenly to create the multiple strobe head images.

The intention was to do this just like the film days, creating the entire photo in camera, and we were successful with this for the most part.  Some of the images admittedly had some “unintended brain movement” from the long exposure of the projector (I think it was around 1/4 to 1/8 of a second), so we ended up retouching a couple of the selections with a “sharper brain” from another exposure.

Changing the color of the gel on the background strobe created some cool multi-colored silhouettes during multiple pops of the flash. I think it's especially interesting where the colors cross over and mix. Not a new idea, but fun to try nevertheless!

We used a Canon 5DS, and tried it with two different methods:  leaving the shutter open and firing the Profoto strobe manually, and also with the multiple exposure feature engaged.  We also tried two different methods to create head movement:  having the model shake his head around during the multiple exposures; and also leaving the model still and zooming the lens during multiple exposures.

We even tried this with different gels on the background strobe, but in the end my favorite was a monochromatic look with just the brain projection in color.

Another example with different gels and changing the color balance.

I prefer this monochrome version with lots of exposures created by zooming the lens.

Robert Seale speaking at Asian American Journalists Association convention

I'll be speaking at the 2018 Asian American Journalists Association annual convention at the Marriott Marquis, 1777 Walker St, Houston, Texas, Room 2734.

In addition to the regularly scheduled lineup of writers, editors and TV correspondents, longtime AAJA member Darrell Miho has organized an additional educational curriculum for still photographers over the three day convention.  I'll be doing a lighting talk from 11:00-12:30 Friday, August 10th.

Here's the list of speakers and subjects for the still photo program:

Thursday, August 9

11:00am Lisa Krantz, San Antonio Express-News:   Photo Stories

4:00pm Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Minneapolis Star Tribune:    Images from the Rohingya Crisis

Friday, August 10

9:00am Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle :  Baseball and sports photography

11:00am Robert Seale, Houston Commercial photographer:   Lighting for Impact

2:00pm Laura Elizabeth Pohl, freelance photographer:A Long Separation. Families Divided by the Korean War

Saturday, August 11

3:00pm Chang W. Lee, New York Times:2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics

4:30pm Portfolio Reviews/Photo Critiques

The Photo Hangouts are FREE to all AAJA18 attendees! If you're not attending the convention and interested in just attending the Photo Hangouts please call or text Darrell Miho at 626.975.6349 or email us at aajaphoto@gmail.com

Robert Seale featured in new ASMP collateral

One of the new ASMP postcards (Photo by Robert Seale)

This is definitely one of those Wayne and Garth “I'm not worthy…” moments,  The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) have featured me, Houston commercial photographer Robert Seale, in their new collateral pieces (brochures and postcards).  Wow!

The American Society of Media Photographers is the premier trade association for the world’s most respected photographers. ASMP is the leader in promoting photographers’ rights, providing education in better business practices, producing business publications for photographers, and helping to connect clients with professional photographers. ASMP, founded in 1944, has nearly 7,000 members and 39 chapters.  ASMP's “Find a Photographer” feature on the national ASMP website is a wonderful tool for connecting photo editors and art buyers with photographers in a given area.  Despite the word “media” in the title ASMP is not a press photographers organization.  ASMP members are typically commercial photographers who work in advertising photography, corporate photography, as well as those who shoot for magazines.

“I'm not worthy!….” – sandwiched in with some big names inside the new ASMP brochure (cover photography by the great Stephen Wilkes)

These pieces are distributed by mail and also as handouts at professional photography seminars, workshops, and events as recruiting tools.  I'm humbled and honored to featured alongside some of the most notable photographers in our profession past and present, including many virtual mentors who continue to inspire my work today, like Richard Avedon, Dan Winters, Arnold Newman, Mark Seliger, Herb Ritts, Albert Watson, Joe McNally, Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, Gregory Heisler, Walter Iooss, and a host of others.

An inside spread in the brochure (photo by Robert Seale)

Major thanks to our executive director Tom Kennedy, a former Director of Photography at National Geographic, and a major force in the photo world, who continues to represent our organization and who leads the fight for working photographers every day.

Robert Seale featured in the December 2016 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine

The opening spread of the Robert Seale article in Professional Photographer Magazine.

The opening spread of the Robert Seale article in Professional Photographer Magazine.

Shameless self promotion alert:  I'm featured in a 9 page article in the new December 2016 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine.  Professional Photographer is the publication of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) and is edited by Jane Gaboury.  The writer, (and fellow baseball fan) Eric Minton was a pleasure to talk to about my work and career path, and PPA art director Debbie Todd did an excellent and very classy job with the layout.  I'm honored to be featured, and I want to express my sincere thanks to all three of these folks for the cool opportunity.

Here's a link to their “anatomy of an image” sidebar feature.

Unfortunately, you have to log in to see the entire  digital version of the article.  Those of you that are PPA members can see it there.

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BuzzFeed photo shoot with Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesWith the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio coming up, I thought this might be a good time to write about a shoot we did earlier this year with US Olympic gymnast  Simone Biles.  Biles, who trains in Houston, is 4’9” tall and a three time world all around champion.

The media landscape is changing these days. This is the kind of shoot we might have done for Sports Illustrated once upon a time, but instead, this time we were commissioned by Buzzfeed to do this sports portrait shoot.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesIn the months leading up to the Olympics, the notable competitors (like Simone) have huge demands on their time. In addition to their normal training schedule, they are also doing interviews with various writers and television programs, and posing for photo shoots with not only media outlets, but potential endorsement partners. They are seriously busy, and it’s hard to stay focused on their training with all these various demands on their time.

To that end, we knew that we would have very little time to work with her, and that everything would need to be prepped carefully so as not to waste any of her time.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesThe photo editor wanted a classic, quiet portrait and sent several examples of gymnasts/fitness models on concrete walls and muslin backgrounds. Since Simone’s family-run training center was brand new and very modern, we knew we weren’t going to get the muted, moody industrial concrete wall background. We took a big muslin backdrop instead , and did a classic one-light portrait that stayed within the spirit of the comps.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesWe also prepped a secondary setup on a balance beam to capture some rim-lit “action” shots of Simone doing her thing. For this we used big tall C-stands with two Profoto B4’s and one Profoto 7B. (Note to self: always be careful when setting up lights in a gymnastics facility….one false step and you might find yourself neck-deep in a Nerf-cube-filled landing pit….not that this happened to me or anything….).

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesWe mixed in some available light practice shots (I was able to dust off my usually dormant Canon EF 300/2.8!) of Simone and her coach working together to round out the assignment and give the photo editor lots of options.

The backdrop session went very fast…about 6-10 minutes. The balance beam shot went fast too, but not by choice. The coach shut us down after just a few frames saying the strobes were a distraction to the other young gymnasts training there. Even though we prepped them for what we were doing, you really can’t argue in that situation with the person controlling your access…..you just have to say yes ma’am and move on. I knew we had some nice frames already, ( thanks in large part to Simone’s perfect technique on the first few frames – thanks Simone!), so we pivoted and quickly moved on to available light practice shots.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesThe new family-run gym, World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas is an incredible facility.   Simone’s parents and brother work together managing the facility and they do it with class and good humor. We were surrounded by a steady stream of youngsters training at various stations who I’m sure were hoping to someday be the next Simone. A “WARNING” sign near the lockers read, “CHILDREN LEFT UNATTENDED WILL BE SOLD TO THE CIRCUS.”

Buzzfeed recently ran an extensive story and collection of the photos here. I thought the story and presentation turned out great! Because of the virtually unlimited space they were able to run many more photos than you would typically see in a normal magazine layout.  We in the newspaper/magazine journalism world have been talking about this advantage for years….it was nice to finally see a media outlet exploit the web format to full potential.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

All photographs © 2016 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing Tim Duncan – the greatest power forward of all time

Tim Duncan, photographed for the Sporting News on June 27, 1997. ©Robert Seale/The Sporting News

Tim Duncan, photographed for the Sporting News on June 27, 1997. ©Robert Seale/The Sporting News

I covered Tim Duncan during countless games, including three San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals titles in 1999, 2003, and 2005. I probably took thousands of photos of him, but on the occasion of his quiet retirement, I picked a few out just for this blog.

I first met and photographed Tim Duncan on literally his first full day in San Antonio. He was drafted in Charlotte at the 1997 NBA Draft and flown to San Antonio, and then early in the morning of June 27, 1997 at Trinity University I photographed him for The Sporting News, my employer at the time. I had a crazy schedule back then, and had just flown back from Vancouver, and then been dispatched straight to San Antonio the night before for the Duncan portrait.

My Filofax page from June 1997. Things were busy at TSN back then!

My Filofax page from June 1997. Things were busy at TSN back then!

There were three shooters there that day: the Spurs photographer (and all around classy guy) Clarke Evans, Patrick Murphy Racey, who (I think) was shooting for NBA photos at the time, and me. I think Clarke was the only one with an assistant, Patrick and I were there alone.

This “photo day scenario” was not an uncommon practice: you’re scheduled for a shoot with some big time pro athlete, and the team schedules several different media outlets for the same time frame. The athlete might be on set for half an hour, but each photographer gets 5-6 minutes on their own individual background , and you’re literally shooting a couple of feet away from the other photographers in the same room. I think Clarke and Patrick both had seamless setups, so I went outside on the balcony of the conference room we were in and set up my lights out there.

What I remember most is how quiet and childlike Tim was back then. He had a friend with him from college, and I remember them sitting together between the shots and chatting about nerdy guy stuff: knives, swords, or something.  I could totally picture them playing Dungeons and Dragons. I wondered how many 20- sided-dice might fit in his gigantic hand. It was really innocent, and there was no ego or bravado. I remember none of us being able to force much of a smile out of him. He was completely uninterested in being a star – he just wanted to play….and I don’t think he ever changed in the next 19 years.

An overhead remote shot of Tim Duncan. © Robert Seale/The Sporting News

An overhead remote shot of Tim Duncan. © Robert Seale/The Sporting News

The best part of covering the Spurs during the NBA Finals was the camaraderie among fellow basketball photographers, all of whom travel together for weeks during the playoffs like a big traveling circus. Everyone works long hours, but after the gear gets put away, there were wonderful late night meals at Mi Tierra or drinks in the hotel hospitality suite with guys like Andy Hayt, John McDonough, Andy Bernstein, Bob Leverone, Andrew Loehman, Ronald Martinez, and a host of others.

Tim working his way out from under heavy Pistons coverage. © Robert Seale/The Sporting News

Tim working his way out from under heavy Pistons coverage. © Robert Seale/The Sporting News

The worst part of covering the Spurs in the NBA finals (at least the first one in 1999…): hanging strobes and remotes in the ridiculously high catwalks of the God-forsaken Alamodome. The elevators only went to the middle mezzanine, and each pack/head/long lens/etc. had to be hoisted up with a rope from the top row of the nosebleeds.   I used eight 2000 w/s Dynalite packs and heads, and about 750-1000 feet of zip line to connect the strobes for the playoffs there. (If they ever tear the building down, I might visit just to spit on the rubble).

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A Sporting News cover of Tim Duncan from 1999. (Photo by Robert Seale)

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Sporting News cover featuring The Admiral and Tim from 2003. (Photo by Robert Seale)

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A cover from the Spurs 2005 NBA Finals championship. (Photo by Robert Seale)

After I left the Sporting News in late 2006, I had the good fortune to shoot Tim for a couple of covers while on assignment for Sports Illustrated. In 2013 I photographed him with his teammates Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker during a quick “studio” shoot in a parking garage. We had no more than 5 minutes to shoot the setup, and I had several lighting/background variations to run through. I had a little help, as Tim’s kids climbed all over me during the shoot….his son was hanging piggyback on me making faces, and his daughter was holding up “bunny ears” behind my head to try to get him to crack up. It was awesome!

A 2013 SI cover with the Spurs "Big Three." (Photo by Robert Seale)

A 2013 SI cover with the Spurs “Big Three.” (Photo by Robert Seale)

In 2015, we did another SI cover, this time for the NBA Preview issue. We had about 2 minutes with Tim and LaMarcus Aldridge. The concept (which SI carried through to several teams), was to have the newcomer to the team doing a signature move or pose of the team veteran. In Tim’s case, everyone knows he has a ritual in which the referee tosses him the ball, and he hugs it closely for several seconds before tossing it back to the ref for tip off. We managed to get LaMarcus to do the same move with Tim standing with him. There was no levity this time….just Tim with his usual deadpan expression, almost challenging you to try to take a “heroic” image of him.

A 2015 NBA Preview cover with Tim and Aldridge. (Photo by Robert Seale)

A 2015 NBA Preview cover with Tim and Aldridge. (Photo by Robert Seale)

The shoot was quick, but I took Tim aside at the end and gave him a large print from that first shoot we did together, more than 18 years earlier.

“Wow, man….thanks.”, he said….and then he disappeared quietly.

Timmy performing his pre game ritual before tip off. © Robert Seale/The Sporting News

Timmy performing his pre game ritual before tip off. © Robert Seale/The Sporting News

 

(Photos are © The Sporting News, or © Robert Seale.   Feel free to link back with attribution, but please don't steal my pictures.  Thanks.)

JJ Watt portrait for Gatorade Advertorial

Gatorade Advertorial

Gatorade Advertorial

Gatorade recently partnered with Sports Illustrated to create a special “advertorial” magazine called “Fuel Illustrated” to be packaged with subscriber issues of SI a couple of weeks ago.  (An advertorial is a sponsored section of editorial content promotion for relating to a specific brand…still advertising, but less overt than traditional advertising).

Each spread features a different high profile athlete, and they chose one of my JJ Watt portraits, originally taken for the magazine for one of the spreads.  It's cool to see one of your outtakes, especially one that you liked, published again for another client.

Secondary uses like this are one of the reasons to maintain ownership of your work, so that you can negotiate rates for future use.

Something to think about next time you're presented with a crappy, rights-grabbing contract.