Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale featured in ASMP advertising

ASMP_PDN-JUNE_SEale_full

I’m honored to have a testimonial quote and one of my sports portraits featured in the ad for ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) in the June 2014 issue of PDN (Photo District News).  This is the big 2014 Photo Annual issue, (which I should probably enter next year!), but nevertheless it’s cool to be in the issue, albeit in a bit of a loophole sort of way through the ASMP ad!  Hey, whatever works.  ;-)

Nevertheless, I’m proud to be featured by our main professional photography organization, ASMP, and I would encourage anyone interested in commercial photography, whether corporate, advertising, or even magazine editorial photography, to definitely join the organization.  ASMP provides a number of member benefits, member discounts on insurance and equipment, lobbying on issues affecting commercial photographers (copyright and photographer’s rights), and a number of educational programs and resources to help you with your photography business.

Here's a tighter crop of the June 2014 ASMP ad in PDN.

Here’s a tighter crop of the June 2014 ASMP ad in PDN.

Photoshelter Video: 11 Essential Tips for Freelance Photographers – Hosted by Robert Seale

Photoshelter’s  Allen Murabayashi and I had a nice discussion on June 6 about what it takes to start a business as a freelance photographer.  Photoshelter has posted the link here:  Video:  11 Tips for Freelance Photographers – Hosted by Robert Seale

Allen brought up an interesting point about photography professional organizations, mainly ASMP, APA, and NPPA, and if those organizations were slow to catch on/educate their members about changes brought on to the industry by the digital revolution.  He had a point, but as I said during the webinar, most of the organizations are volunteer oriented in their education programs.  Many on the ASMP side (which I’m more familiar with) have given selflessly of their time – time they could have spent working on their own business, to try to help colleagues about these and other issues facing photographers today.  Judy Hermann, Blake Discher,  have hosted excellent ASMP programs for continuing education for us, and in particular, Peter Krogh, and the late Susan Carr published books related to the changes in our industry brought on by digital licensing and workflow.  Just wanted to add those points to the discussion.

Another issue I brought up is the changing world of licensing in a digital environment.  We used to live in a very cut and dried world, where media buys and photo  licensing were finite ideas with very defined parameters.  For instance, an old media buy might consist of:  “20 metro billboards, 52 full page inserts in Time and Sports Illustrated  magazines, 50K POP displays at a defined size, and 500K direct mail pieces.”

Today, a more likely scenario is:  “We’re doing a web campaign through a third party web advertising vendor that will serve up an unknown number of ads in an unknown number of websites, based on a user’s previous browser history, in various sizes for a duration of 6 months.  We won’t know the number of total impressions until the campaign is over.”

One of our challenges will be to come up with licensing models to meet the needs of clients, and fairly compensate content creators at the same time in this new landscape.  I welcome the discussion of how any of you:photographers, reps, or art buyers have handled these new situations.  Feel free to discuss in the comments section below, or email me privately, and perhaps I’ll do a follow up on this in a few weeks.

Upcoming Photoshelter Webinar: 11 Essential Tips for Freelance Photographers with Robert Seale

Photoshelter_Robert_Seale_webinarRobert Seale, established corporate, advertising and editorial photographer based out of Houston, Texas knows a thing or two about starting a freelance photography business. After 11 years as a staff shooter for Sporting News and additional years of experience shooting for various newspapers, Robert decided to take the plunge and go freelance. Today you’ll find him working with clients such as Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health, ESPN, Rolling Stone, along with Fortune 500 companies, and more.

Throughout his freelance career, Robert has kept his business successfully afloat by building upon a solid foundation. In this live video webinar via Google Hangout, Robert will cover the 11 key tips photographers should know to run their business smoothly and grow it over time. Whether you’re considering going full-time freelance, or have been doing it for years – Robert will offer up essential tips and lessons learned in an in-depth dialogue with host Allen Murabayshi about what it’s really like to be a photographer and small business owner.      

In this webinar you’ll learn:

  • The steps you must take before going freelance
  • Money issues: how to balance your budget, and keep on track
  • How to build out a marketing plan
  • What gear to invest in and how to know when to rent vs. buy
  • The number 1 thing you need to do for your business

Join us Friday, June 6th at 4pmET for this live video webinar Google Hangout – sign up to receive the link to tune in.

Photographing Heavyweight Boxer Butterbean for Sports Illustrated

Former Heavyweight boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch near his home in Jasper, Alabama.

Former Heavyweight boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch near his home in Jasper, Alabama.

Sometimes we head into an assignment with preconceived notions and expectations, and it’s always interesting when those stereotypes we carry in our brain are challenged.

I recently visited the lovely little town of Jasper, Alabama to photograph Eric “Butterbean” Esch on a feature assignment for Sports illustrated.  The magazine runs an annual “Where are they now?” issue, and revisiting these once famous athletes usually makes for great pictures and fun assignments.

The story brief was to visit with Butterbean in his home town of Jasper, Alabama. He had risen to fame in the early 90’s by winning Toughman competitions, later becoming a heavyweight boxer, then a pro wrestler, and later an MMA fighter. He was often called “King of the Four Rounders”, and he ended most of his fights by knocking his opponent out cold. He was not, however, a svelte guy known for his bobbing and weaving. Butterbean was a brute – a massive, huge fire plug of a guy – under 6’ tall and nearly 500 lbs at one time . He was down to a svelte 450 or so when we met last year.

He had briefly been on a reality show where he worked as a small town deputy, and I had seen clips of him in the first Jackass movie, where he dispatched Johnny Knoxville in the middle of a clothing store. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a clip worth watching.

I was fully expecting a tough, redneck, barbeque eating, southern, he-man figure. I had visions of him in full on Boss-Hog deputy mode standing in front of a police car. Of course my expectations were wrong. He had only been involved with law enforcement for a short time, and I think mostly for the benefit of the reality show.

Well, ok, if nothing else, we’ll eat well in this little Alabama town – perhaps we’ll have a great plate of ribs somewhere. That was not to be, either.

“Do you guys like sushi?” he asked me and the writer, SI’s Lars Anderson.

Lars and I looked at each other with the same puzzled look, “…uh, yeah….sure.” We DID both like sushi (very much) – we just didn’t expect to find good sushi in a landlocked town in the middle of Alabama. It actually wasn’t bad.

"Do you guys like sushi?"

“Do you guys like sushi?”

Butterbean was a soft spoken, genuinely nice guy, living the quiet life in his hometown where, people for the most part leave him alone. He was now a grandfather, and we saw him hug and squeeze his grandkids.

He had owned a restaurant, next door to his house for a while. A lot of his old memorabilia – pictures of him in his American flag shorts in Vegas with Cindy Crawford, Sylvester Stallone, and basically every 90’s celebrity you can imagine, signed gloves, championship belts, etc were scattered throughout the now defacto storage building.

Buterbean petting a horse in the Alabama rodeo arena where he first fought professionally.

Buterbean petting a horse in the Alabama rodeo arena where he first fought professionally.

After shuttering the restaurant, he had taken up many hobbies, among them woodworking, making turkey calls, and even winemaking. He gave me a bottle of port as we toured his property – a sweet gesture.

Despite all the good reportage from around his town, I knew that he would be immediately recognizable in his signature red white and blue boxing shorts. It rained both days we were there, but I really wanted to photograph him in his old fighting outfit. It would make a great opener before showing the other pictures of his current reality. For the full first day, he put me off, claiming he didn’t even know where his shorts were… “those are packed up in a box somewhere….” He said.

I pressed on, gently. When we arrived for his portrait on the second day, he had found the shorts and reluctantly agreed to don them for us. We went to a neighbor’s property (his was heavily wooded and surrounded by fences), for the shoot. He immediately turned into his old persona and gave us the crazy Butterbean poses and faces he was once known for.

As we were leaving and heading back to Birmingham, he shook my hand while departing….”be sure to let me know how you like the wine, ok?”

Lars Anderson, an excellent SI staff writer wrote a great piece, where he provides more background on the origins of Butterbean’s awesome nickname.

Butterbean Butterbean

Left Jab:  I don't often take photos with celebrities I photograph, but i just had to do it this time.....

Left Jab: I don’t often take photos with celebrities I photograph, but i just had to do it this time…..

Advertising Photography Concepts for Huntsman Corporation

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Huntsman insulation products.

Advertisement for Huntsman insulation products.

We’ve been fortunate to work on an ongoing advertising campaign for the Huntsman Corporation (HUN), a very large differentiated products company.  Huntsman doesn’t make products that you or I can buy in the store, but their products are everywhere…the foam in auto seats, insulation in buildings, even the soles of athletic shoes.

The challenge for Huntsman then, is showing what they do, without “selling” a specific product.  Their advertising is often BTB in trades within the industrial world, and the theme/concept for their ongoing campaign is collaboration between Huntsman and the partners who use Huntsman materials in their products.

To that end, I’ve done a few shoots for them, always collaborating with the incredible Chris Pearson, a British designer who really knows his stuff.  I’ll break down a few of the recent shoots I’ve done for them below:

In advertising photography, unlike corporate or editorial photography, you often get a very specific comp or brief.  In the old days, designers would draw the concept on paper, and after these were presented to the client, the advertising photographer was brought in to execute the idea.  These days, the comps are often “theme boards”, or “mood books” – multi page PDF presentations with a mixture of drawings, existing stock (to show mood or lighting style), and sometimes, full-on Photoshop illustrations made up of 10 or more individual photo elements….a background from here, a person from there, etc…with color changed to suit the designer’s vision of the final piece.  Sometimes there is room for collaboration and interpretation, and a good photographer always tries to give the designer what they want, but improve on the concept if at all possible.

For the first shoot, we needed to show a builder and a client looking at plans within an unfinished home highlighting a spray foam insulation product.   We used Plume Wafer 100’s with Lighttools grids on each person, lighting each model’s face.  We used a large softbox to fill the scene (very slightly) from above the camera, and a low shutter speed on a floor level tripod to open up the ambient light coming in from the window.  I used the new Canon 24 Tilt shift on this shot. (If you would like to see more lighting scenarios from previous shoots, you can find them here.)

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Grocery store shoot for Huntsman freezer insulation products.

Grocery store shoot for Huntsman freezer insulation products.

For the grocery store shoot, which was to highlight the insulation products Huntsman makes for commercial freezers, , we had to rent a large grocery store location after hours (the middle of the night!), and balance our strobes to the existing banks of fluorescents overhead.  It was a tough lighting situation, as the lights couldn’t show in the final picture.  We ended up using two large rectangular softboxes high above the camera on either side of the camera, feathered up slightly above level, and two Canon 580 speedlights inside the glass freezer cases on each side to pop a little fill on each model’s face.  A retoucher removed signage on the back wall in post.

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Stadium shoot with two soccer players for Huntsman products in athletic shoes.

Stadium shoot with two soccer players for Huntsman products in athletic shoes.

For the third shoot, we rented a large Texas high school football stadium to highlight Huntsman’s products used to create Adidas soccer shoes.  Since the theme, was one of Huntsman working together with other companies, the decision was made to show a couple of soccer players doing pre-game drills….working together on the soccer field.

Finding soccer players that looked realistic was a tall order for casting, but eventually, we found models with soccer experience, and we shot a series of drills that players might do together on the field – running, stretching, warming up, kicking a ball back and forth, and heading the ball back to each other.  Again, the emphasis was on teamwork – not competition, hence the identical uniforms.

This shoot was the most elaborate in terms of lighting.  We brought in three assistants for the shoot, and used Profoto 7A’s with Bi-tube heads and Magnum reflectors from behind the subject on high-rollers, 2 more 7A’s with large Plume 140 strip banks with grids from a slightly closer to side angle (still slightly from behind though), and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 feathered up slightly from high above camera.  We shot throughout sunset, and did enough takes to make the models really, really sore the next day!  A retoucher was able to duplicate the edge of the high school stands in the background and create a mirror image that made the stadium seem larger than it actually was.

In the end, the client was very happy, and we had a great time creating images for some hard to illustrate concepts.

High-tech engineering schematic of the set.....drawn with pinpoint laser accuracy.

High-tech engineering schematic of the set…..drawn with pinpoint laser accuracy.

Behind the scenes set shot, showing assistant Andrew Loehman with the 5 light setup.

Behind the scenes set shot from the soccer shoot, showing assistant Andrew Loehman with the 5 light setup.

 

 

Robert Seale photographs Leading Medicine Magazine for The Methodist Hospital System

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist HospitalI recently completed a cool corporate photography project for The Methodist Hospital System’s Leading Medicine publication.  Methodist is the official health care provider for several of the sports teams in the Houston area, among them, the Houston Astros, The Houston Texans, The Houston Dynamo MLS team, Rice University, and The Houston Ballet.

The project was coordinated by the creative team at Methodist, working with the help of an outside agency, Adcetera, here in Houston.

Among the stories we photographed for the issue, were a story on Houston Texans running back Arian Foster’s vegan diet (I think he has since recanted…), and a story on NFL quarterbacks dealing with concussions, featuring then Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist Hospital

We had a lot of fun with Arian Foster and his vegan diet story.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Houston Texans Matt Schaub

The photo of Matt Schaub for the NFL quarterback concussion story. We used an LCD projector to project a brain image on the side of Schaub’s head.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Houston Texans Matt Schaub

Another view of Schaub, using the projector to generate a background of brain synapses.

For the Schaub story, we ended up trying two photos in addition to his cover shot setup:  in the first “concussion story” shot, we used an LCD projector to project an image of a brain on the side of Schaub’s head.  To make the head stand out and keep the “brain area” in mostly shadow, we used a Profoto strobe with a small softbox (a Plume Wafer 75)  on a backdrop in the background (to silhouette the head with a graduated falloff), and then another Profoto Acute 1200 from 90 degrees camera right with a 3 degree grid on a Profoto grid reflector.  This gave us a nice tight light on the face, but with a quick falloff to black so that the brain image would show well on the side of the head.   The second concussion shot was more simple, as we just projected an out of focus image of brain synapses in the background, with the same keylight on Schaub.

In addition to the inside stories we shot for the magazine, one of the ideas was to create a giant fold-out cover, reminiscent of the Vanity Fair “Hollywood issue” covers with a representative from each team/organization featured on the piece.

The tricky part was, these were eight (count em – 8!) separate photo shoots!  Planning was crucial, and just to hedge our bets, we actually created two lighting schemes that we used on each and every shoot:

-A large, soft, one light setup with a big Plume Hexoval 180 camera right – very close to the subject.

-a three light setup, with two gridded rimlit softboxes and a Plume Hexoval 140 boomed into the middle.

(Both of these lighting scenarios are shown in diagram form on a previous post about a San Antonio Spurs SI cover shoot here.)

With the help of assistant Nathan Lindstrom, we created a template on seamless during the first shoot with exact locations and measurements for all the lights.  The strobe settings, angle, and height of the lights were matched exactly on each shoot, along with focal length and camera position.  We unfolded this giant diagram at every shoot to place everything in the proper locations.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist Hospital

The inside tri-fold cover with the 3 light setup. (L to R): Texans running back Arian Foster, Rice basketball player Jessica Goswitz, Houston Dynamo soccer player Brad Davis, Texans QB Matt Schaub, Houston Ballet’s Lauren Anderson, Olympic gymnast Chris Brooks, HS soccer star Lindsey Biggart, and Houston Astros pitcher Bud Norris.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist Hospital Houston

The outer tri-fold cover with a one light setup. Background is a heavily retouched image provided by the ad agency.

The project went on for almost three months, due to the crazy schedules of the athlete participants.  Once the final work was completed, the Methodist team and the Adcetera team produced a marvelous, incredibly printed publication – and ended up using BOTH lighting setups – one as the outside cover foldout, and one on the inside.  The final retouching and composites were put together by the agency.

Among the really fun moments… having longtime Houston Ballet prima ballerina Lauren Anderson teach me the proper way to stretch on a ballet bar rail.  (There are photos, but hopefully, I will take them to my grave… you really DON’T want to see what that looked like!).

Behind the scenes with Houston advertising photographer Robert Seale

Crew photo at the end of the Houston Ballet/Lauren Anderson shoot: From left – Nathan Lindstrom, makeup artist Wendy Martin, Arick Chikiamco, Lauren Anderson, me, Sheshe Giddens, Melanie Fritzsche, and Hugo Perez.

Behind the scenes with Houston advertising photographer Robert Seale: Lauren's idea:  It's not every day you get to hold a world class Prima Ballerina on your shoulders.

Lauren’s idea: It’s not every day you get to hold a world class Prima Ballerina on your shoulders.

Houston advertising photographer Robert Seale announces launch of new portfolio website

Check out the new Robert Seale Photography website.

Check out the new Robert Seale Photography website.

After several years with another company, I recently made the change to an HTML 5 site from Rob Haggart’s APhotoFolio.   I wanted a clean, customizable design that performed very fast, and APhotoFolio fit the bill.  My blog will still remain here (with links of course on the new site), and my archive will remain with Photoshelter, and I hope to focus on making more stock available there in the near future.

The biggest change you’ll notice, right away on the new Robert Seale Photography site, is the scalable HTML 5 design.  You can literally grab the bottom right hand corner of the web browser window, and drag it to fill your screen on any device, from a laptop to a 30 inch monitor, and the photographs will scale to that size.  This is an incredible improvement over the old site, and I’m very excited about it.  It works well on Ipads and Iphones as well, but hopefully, you’re viewing it on a big monitor!

Security is still a bit of a concern, as we’re now uploading bigger and bigger photos onto photographer’s websites these days.  I’m happy to have people link to the actual articles, and I always appreciate those that ask for permission first, but sites that just screen grab stuff with no attribution – that’s a no-no.  None of the photos published on the site are in the public domain, by the way.  Anyway, the photos are registered with the US Copyright office, so if anyone is stealing stuff or publishing my photos without permission, I’ll chase them back to their caves in Afghanistan (or wherever it is that copyright infringing losers hang out these days…a dorm room in Baton Rouge?), and shoot them in their kneecaps before I sic the attorneys on them.

I’ve refined the categories somewhat and added a ton of new work.  I kind of have my feet in two worlds:  Sports Portrait photography that I do for both advertising clients and magazines (Sports Illustrated, etc.), and Corporate Annual Report Photography which I do for Fortune 500 corporations, design firms, and ad agencies.  If you’re a Houston photographer, a lot of the annual report and corporate photography is of course geared toward the oil and gas industry.

Here’s how I’ve organized the portfolio section on the new site:

Under the Advertising and Editorial Photography category, we have several sub-category portfolios:

SPORTS ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY - This features not in-game, traditional long-lens sports action photography, which I used to do a lot of, but instead, sports portraits featuring athletes in action or motion, or photographs that emphasize movement.  I find that 9 times out of 10, this type of photography involves me laying on the ground in goose poop or mud, destroying my clothes, and getting covered in chigger bites, but that’s usually what it takes to make players look like they’re levitating.

SPORTS PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – This category features more traditional static portraits of athletes, including many high profile celebrity sports figures.  I’ve been able to photograph many athletes over the years like LeBron James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Alex Rodriguez, although considering the trouble he’s in this week, it may be a while before Arod agrees to any photo shoots any time soon.

AVIATION AND SPACE PHOTOGRAPHY – As part of an ongoing personal project, I’ve been trying to make memorable portrait photographs of notable pilots, both civilians and famous military aviators.  I’ve also had the awesome opportunity to expand this body of work into working for several aviation magazines and aviation photography clients.  As a Houston photographer, I’ve also been fortunate enough to do several shoots with NASA astronauts including a series on the end of the Space Shuttle program.

REAL PEOPLE PHOTOGRAPHY – Although I tend to concentrate on annual report photographs and sports advertising , I don’t just limit my work to those two categories.  I often have opportunities to make environmental portraits of Texas musicians, Houston celebrities, sports celebrities, cowboys, barbeque pitmasters and just eccentric characters from all walks of life, and this category is a catch all for some of my other portraits that don’t fit these other main categories.

Within the Corporate  Annual Report Photography section, we have a few more portfolios:

OIL AND GAS-ENERGY PHOTOGRAPHY – Most photographers who live in Houston do their share of work in this area, and I enjoy this work very much.  The first photographers I admired were guys like Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, and Arthur Meyerson, and in corporate annual report assignments you kind of get to indulge that colorful and graphic inspiration first brought forth by these masters of the medium.  I also love challenges and problem solving, so for me, it’s really fun to be sent to a fluorescent-lit lab full of lighting challenges, an industrial factory setting, chemical plant, or refinery, and be forced to make good, interesting, well-lit, and well designed photographs out of something that looks unattractive to most people.  I’m fascinated by light/shadow, and good design, and man-made structures often have their own inherent beauty – you just to have to find it and make the proper composition in the right light.  This category focuses on photographs of people working within the oil and gas industry, some at-work portraits, offshore oil and gas drilling and production platforms, and aerial photography, which are all part of the job of an annual report photographer.

INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY – Over the years, I’ve been asked to do “beauty shots” or landscape photos – wide overall views of industrial refineries, chemical plants, oil wells, and other oil and gas facilities and details.  With the right time of day and long exposures, these can often be interesting and beautiful.  That, and I get to wear cool Nomex coveralls and safety glasses, too.

EXECUTIVE PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – Dealing with athletes and sports celebrities for years has prepared me well for photographing busy CEO’s and other executives.  In most portraits of professional athletes, you have 5-15 minutes to get the job done, so preparation is key, and the same goes for corporate executive portraits.  Like the annual report stuff, finding an interesting background or setting to photograph an executive within the confines of an office building is an interesting lighting and logistical challenge.  We often scout ahead of time, show up super early, and have multiple lighting set ups ready to go and pre-tested in different locations throughout the building, so we can quickly walk from one setup to another and finish quickly to minimize the executive’s time commitment on set.

There are also sections for Press, which feature links and other news about me from other photography sites and blogs, a link to my Blog (robertsealeblog.com), which features behind the scenes info, lighting diagrams, and problem solving stories behind the photographs, and of course, the all important Bio page, where you get to read boring stuff about me.

I’m excited about the new site and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check it out.

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!

Sports Illustrated cover shoot with San Antonio Spurs “Big Three”

The final cover treatment, designed by SI Creative director Chris Hercik.

With the NBA Conference playoffs nearing completion and the Spurs already a lock for the Finals, I got a call from Brad Smith, the Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated, asking if I could quickly get to San Antonio.   Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker rarely if ever pose together, but had reluctantly agreed to pose for an SI cover which would come out a couple of days later, to coordinate with the beginning of the finals.

Andrew Loehman, a great digital tech/assistant from Austin agreed to sacrifice his Sunday and help us out, and gathered additional gear from Taylor Jones of Texas Grip in Austin.  Loaded for bear, Andrew and his wife Chrissy met me in Austin early on a Sunday morning before Spurs practice to scout potential locations.

We knew we would have a mere 5 minutes with the Spurs “Big Three” so we wanted a location from which we could coax multiple looks.  Unfortunately, the Spurs Sunday practice was slated for their practice facility, not the arena where they normally play.  At the arena, setting up multiple backdrops and lights would be no problem, as there is ample space off the court, under the stands, in high bay loading docks, etc.

The practice facility, though very nice for basketball operations, had no such wide open spaces, and network crews had already commandeered the limited available real estate to shoot their NBA Finals introductions and promo spots for the upcoming TV broadcasts.

The original plan - note: we changed the V-flats out and just used the strips.

It had rained heavily that morning, so outside was not ideal either, although we had a cool corrugated metal wall picked out that would have worked well.  Then we saw it…next door to the facility, across a parking lot, was the world’s greatest parking garage!  It was the world’s greatest because it was empty and had a 12-14 foot high ceiling – which I’ve never seen before.  It would make a great studio.  With the help of Spurs PR man Tom James and Facility supervisor Julio Rodriguez, we were able to set up in the garage and prep for the shoot.  Power was at a premium, but Julio saved the day (and our bacon) by finding additional avenues and helping us run long cables across the parking lot.  We were all set.

Our lovely parking garage studio.....

Brad had mentioned how much they wanted a white background for the shot, so we elected to set up a big Matthews 12 x 12 as our backdrop.   We did this instead of just seamless, because it was much more stable in case a gust of wind came through the open garage.  We used the seamless for a white floor, and rolled it back to where the silk began.  It would require a minor retouch if we shot full length, but it was the safest solution.

Giving the art director options is always a good thing, so we set up our lights so that they could serve dual purposes.  Normally, we would set up large foamcore V-flats and stands with regular reflectors bounced into them to light the white background.  We decided instead to use two Plume Wafer 140 Medium strip banks to light the white silk from each side.  If I turned them off, we would get the same shot with a medium gray background.  Then, if they were turned back toward the subjects with Lighttools grids inside, we would get a rimlit version with a black background.  Andrew, with the generous help of his lovely wife Chrissy, would drop in a black 8 x 8 Westcott Scrim Jim to make sure the background went black.

So essentially, without moving our subjects, we got six different setups:

1. Boomed key, rimlit, gray background

2. Boomed key, rimlit, black background

3. Boomed key, rimlights off, white background

(reposition players in a row)

4. side key, white background

5. side key, gray background

6. side key, black background

We used two different key lights:  A Plume Wafer Hexoval 140 on a boom for most of the shoot, and then a Wafer Hexoval 180 on camera right for the final photo.  All of the lights were Profoto:  7A 2400’s for all but one light, which we had to substitute a 7B for when we ran out of power.

Chrissy filling in while we were testing our backlights.

We practiced several times and made careful calculations to determine the number of apple boxes each player would have to stand on to be in the appropriate position. We then choreographed the shoot, making several dry runs in sequence so we would be smooth when the players arrived.  We would start with the rimlit gray, then add the black 8 x 8 solid for the rimlit black, then flip the strips around 90 degrees and remove the grids for the all white background, and finishing with the sidelit big Hexoval shot…..all in five minutes!

The players arrived after practice and we actually got a rare smile out of Duncan, who is normally quite reserved.   His kids came with him, and after sharing photos with them on the camera lcd screen, they climbed on my back and were making bunny ears behind my head to get their dad to crack a smile.  It was a blast, although tough to keep horizons level when you’re being climbed like a tree.

I rushed back to Houston to file, (you know you’re in a serious rush when you pass both Bucee’s AND Luling City Market BBQ without stopping!)  SI Creative Director Chris Hercik whipped up an awesome cover within a few minutes of receiving the photos, using a cool spot-color silver treatment which went great with the black and silver unis.

The black background shot with rim lights.

The white background setup with a smiling Duncan.

Manu goofing off.......

The last shot with a Wafer Hex 180. We shot this with white, gray, and black backgrounds.

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.

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.