Farewell to the Captain: Covering Derek Jeter through the years

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Derek Jeter, Throwback uniform, Legends Field, Tampa, Florida, January 1999.

Derek Jeter’s first full season in the majors coincided with my first year at The Sporting News: we both started in earnest at our respective jobs in April of 1996. He was 22-year-old rookie, and I was a fledgling 26-year-old sports photographer.

I covered him in various Yankees games throughout the years, including Six of his World Series appearances, and photographed portraits of him several times for various stories and covers. He was always a humble, quiet, gentleman – a real class act. On the day of his last MLB game, I thought I would share some photos and memories of Mr. November.

I first photographed Derek during game action of the 1996 Yankees season. I don’t remember much about him from that year, other than  having my lens trained on him for hours, trying to get that elusive shortstop levitation picture. That 1996 World Series was my initiation into Yankee Stadium “Bleacher Creature” culture. As the young guy at TSN, I was relegated to shooting most of the series from a camera platform over the right field wall. The cool part, was I shot next to my late friend, legendary SI baseball photographer V. J. Lovero. I remember him being unfazed, even giddy as the Creatures conducted “Roll Call.” For the uninitiated, Roll Call, is a series of chants by the Bleacher Creatures of each players name – (“DEH—RIK —JEEEE—TER!!!), which continues unabated until the player being called tips his cap or otherwise acknowledges the fans, at which point they go nuts, and then move on to the next player. Once that is done, they revert to pelting photographers with beer and open mustard packets.

In 1997, I made portraits of him during the off season at Legends Field in Tampa, which resulted in a cover later on. I was still shooting 35mm then, and he was patient with me as I ran him from station to station, trying to get some different looks out of him.

Composite

An early Jeter cover from a 1997 photo session in Tampa.

In 1999, we had a project where TSN named an “All-throwback Team.” Guys that were old-school, who played the game “the right way” were photographed in black and white in  old uniforms in vintage, Charles Conlon style stiff poses for a photo essay that would be published just before Spring Training.

The tough part wasn’t shooting the photos. It was finding old gloves, uniforms, shoes, etc with no production budget, and then scheduling all of these during January and February before Spring Training started. I was lucky in that the owners of Mitchell and Ness, and Ebbetts Field Flannels, makers of old authentic jerseys, really embraced the project and let us borrow their cool jerseys. One of our issues was finding pants, believe it or not. Nobody had old school baggy baseball pants. I scoured the country looking for them but had zero luck. I didn’t want to create an entire photo story with waist-up portraits of every player. I thought that would be boring. Peter Capolino, the owner of Mitchell and Ness, dug around in his basement and found me a pair of pinstriped pants that we thought would fit Jeter. The problem? One leg was pinstriped in blue, and the other side was pinstriped in RED!

My memory is fuzzy, but he said something about them being made for an old timers event for someone who split their career between two teams…..(for some reason, I’m thinking Tug McGraw -Mets/Phillies – which would make sense since M&N was in Philly), but I can’t remember for sure. In any event, there I was back at Legends Field (which has a nice overhang roof reminiscent of the old MLB stadiums), trying to convince Derek Jeter that he’s not going to look like an idiot in half red/half blue pinstriped pants.

“No, really, dude…we’re only going to run these in B&W….nobody will ever know….really, trust me, come on….”

He was dubious, but he played along anyway, and we made some portraits of him in his “authentic” 1930’s era Yankee uniform. I wanted to shoot type 55 Polaroid, but my boss insisted I shoot color on the photos and have our backshop convert them, so here’s the evidence of Jeter in those goofy pants. Sorry Derek!

19990125_Jeter_D_red

Rare color scan of the Derek Jeter “throwback uniform” shoot from 1999. Note the goofy pants with red and blue pinstripes.

Composite

The “Throwbacks” Sporting News cover as it appeared. Jeter is shown in a composite with Roger Clemens, who was wearing the uniform he wore in movie “Cobb.”

During Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, I was working the New York games with my colleagues, Albert Dickson and John Dunn, and I was still hurting from the night before. Game 3 was the game where President Bush threw out the first pitch, and it was only a few weeks after 9/11. It was a fantastic moment. Unfortunately, because we had to be in our photo positions 3 hours before game time, because of security concerns, I took a screaming Tony Womack line drive to my jaw during BP. My head was ringing and my ligaments in my face were so stretched that my jaws/teeth didn’t line up correctly for a month. I would have gone to a hospital, except that the hospitals were experiencing a scare over anthrax!

So, it’s now Game 4, and on this particular night I was on the 3rd base side…waaaaaay outside – almost in left field. My head still hurt, but despite that and my remote position, there were distractions to keep us busy in the early innings. Just after the game started, the Yankees escorted Spike Lee into our photo well very close to us. I don’t know if they actually sold seats in the photo wells, or if they were just trying to accommodate VIPs, but a few minutes later I was shoved forward as Pete Sampras and his wife Bridgette Wilson (who’s really stunning by the way…), were also seated in the well next to us. A few innings later, I was bumped and shoved forward again as Flavor Flav came by to say hi to Spike (his seats weren’t as good).

Derek Jeter rounds second after his 10th inning walk-off home in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series.

Derek Jeter rounds second after his 10th inning walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series.

After Tino Martinez tied the game with a two run homer in the 9th, the clock soon struck midnight. The Yankees flashed a sign on the scoreboard that said “Welcome to November Baseball.” I was really tired, and remarked to the photographer next to me that I really wished I had the other half of that pastrami sandwich from lunch at the Stage Deli. Jeter came up to bat in the tenth, and on a 3-2 count, blasted the game winning walk off homer, earning him the nickname “Mr. November.”   The fans stayed in the stadium cheering, and singing “New York, New York” until the wee hours. I was ready to go, and found my colleague from MLB, baseball photographer extraordinaire Brad Mangin just standing there with a big grin on his face, taking in the scene. Maybe it was because of my aching head, or maybe it was because I was tired and hungry, but I was ready to head in. Brad stopped me….”Dude, this is one of the best World Series games ever played!” I stopped, took a few more pictures, and hung out with Brad on the field for a few minutes watching the fans, and it is still one of my favorite World Series memories.

Derek Jeter jumps into the arms of his teammates after Game 4 of the 2001 World Series.

Derek Jeter jumps into the arms of his teammates after Game 4 of the 2001 World Series.

In 2002, Jeter was named the cover of the Sporting News “Good Guys” issue. For several years, we did a special issue featuring players who made outstanding community or charity contributions, hence the name. This was about players who were the antithesis of the thug millionaires many had come to associate with professional sports stars….David Robinson had been our “Good Guy” the previous year I think.

I was in New Jersey for the NBA Finals against the Lakers with my colleague Bob Leverone. We were dispatched to Pier 60 after Game 4 to shoot Jeter with his family for the GG issue. For this feature, we photographed the players in street clothes, not their uniform, and Derek showed up in a beautiful custom suit. As I began to shoot, I noticed he was wearing a Platinum Rolex President with a diamond bezel. It was a really nice watch, and not nearly as crazy or blingy as some others I’ve seen, but I thought it would be too distracting on the cover.  I also thought that it might send the wrong message on a cover highlighting his foundation’s good works. I asked to adjust his wardrobe for a sec, and I gently pulled the cuff down over the watch. He looked at me like I was nuts, and I don’t think he knew why I was doing it, (I said something about making the suit look straight), but I felt like it was the right thing to do at the time. His parents and sister were there as well, and we made a nice portrait of them together. They were all lovely people.

Derek Jeter with his parents and sister, from our "Good Guys" shoot at Pier 60 in New York in 2002.

Derek Jeter with his parents and sister, from our “Good Guys” shoot at Pier 60 in New York in 2002.

Jeter's "Good Guys" Sporting News cover.

Jeter’s “Good Guys” Sporting News cover.

One of my favorite portraits of Jeter - taken with simple window light during 2002.

One of my favorite portraits of Jeter – taken with simple window light during 2002.

In 2004, Alex Rodriguez joined the Yankees and although everyone was abuzz about Arod, we also requested some shots of Jeter and Arod together at the shoot. I’m not sure when their relationship supposedly cooled, but Jeter was just as solid as ever, showing up on time with a good attitude. One of the shots of them together made the cover a few weeks later.

Arod and Jeter together during Spring Training, 2004.

Arod and Jeter together during Spring Training, 2004.

Arod and Jeter Sporting News cover, 2004.

Arod and Jeter Sporting News cover, 2004.

I left the Sporting News in Dec 2006 to work on my own, but I’ve been lucky to cover Jeter a couple of more times since then. I really would love to have seen that final single he swatted a couple of nights ago during his final home game. Hopefully I’ll get to make another portrait of him at some point.

Until then, Captain….it was always a pleasure.

 

A happy Jeter probably laughing at something stupid I said during a 1997 photo shoot in the Yankees Florida clubhouse.

A happy Jeter probably laughing at something stupid I said during a 1997 photo shoot in the Yankees Florida clubhouse.

 

 

 

 

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…..

The Definitive Guide to Starting a Successful Photography Business

Glamorous job?  Not really...most of my days are spent sitting in front of a computer, not frolicking in the pool shooting Miss USA.

Glamorous job? Not always…most of my days are spent sitting in front of a computer, not frolicking in the pool shooting Miss USA.

I get a call almost every week from various photographers:  old photojournalism colleagues leaving their newspaper staff jobs (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not…), college students nearing graduation, assistants who are ready to strike out on their own, and sometimes, advanced amateurs in other careers who I’ve met at a workshop.  All of them want the same thing….”we want to do what you’re doing….you know, work full time as a commercial photographer.”

It happens often enough, and I’ve given the same advice so many times, that I thought it might be helpful to write it all down in one place, and along the way, dispel some misconceptions about what it’s really like to be a professional commercial photographer. I don’t mean for this to sound condescending in any way.  What follows is legitimate info for many who are just starting out, and if you find that any of it is below your experience or skill level, then feel free to move on.

Starting a photography business is tough.  When I’ve spoken with college students, I’ve told them not to pursue this if it’s only a passing interest, or something they think would be a cool job.  I tell them to pursue photography ONLY if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.  It sounds corny, but I often compare being a professional photographer to becoming an actor, or professional musician… LOTS of people want to do this, and only a handful make it in any successful way.

Ok, let’s assume the commitment level is there.  What is it really like to be a professional photographer in today’s world?

First, let’s dispel the notion that commercial photographers have a camera in their hands every day.  This will vary for individuals, and by season, but I would guess that I spend a good 75-80% of my working hours in front of a computer – not out shooting.  I consider that to be a pretty successful ratio.  No one starting out really thinks about it, but digital workflow, retouching, billing, marketing, pre-production, post-production, accounting, taxes, etc… and the plethora of general business paperwork takes up a ton of time.

Second, some basic economics about working for yourself in this business.  Let’s say you have a staff job at a newspaper, university, or company that pays you 65K a year, with company camera gear and computers, vacation time, insurance and 401K benefits.  You might want to seriously consider keeping that job.  You’ll need to more than double that figure in revenue to maintain that level of income for yourself.  Those with full time jobs who think this is just a fun, easy career often don’t consider all the various ways you’ll spend money as a commercial photographer.  It’s not just cameras and computers… you’ll need insurance (healthcare, liability insurance, and equipment insurance to name a few), retirement SEP contributions, accounting and legal fees, marketing expenses, website expenses, advertising expenses, digital storage expenses, office supplies, mobile and office phones, high speed internet, software upgrades (legitimate software… you can’t just steal it from the newspaper  or university anymore), really nice custom made portfolios, assistants, retouchers, sales tax, franchise tax, and enough reserve/cash flow to take jobs, pay everybody, and keep the place running while you wait around to get paid – sometimes for several months.

And, oh yeah, I’m not mentioning the fact that when working for yourself, you can kiss that 2-4 week paid vacation goodbye, and that you will spend every spare minute after hours, on your weekends, in your sleep, etc. obsessing about your business and thinking constantly about how to make it better.  A staffer can go home at 5 or on a weekend, disconnect, and enjoy their time off.  When you work for yourself – there is no time off… and every minute will be filled with worry.

Negative enough for you?  Sorry.  This stuff needs to be said… I’ll brighten up and get all cheery in a moment.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new freelancers making, particularly the former newspaper guys, is unrealistic gear purchases.  Many shooters, particularly those that spent a lot of time doing sports think they need to start their business with 3 of the fastest professional bodies (usually 6-7K a piece), a 400/2.8 (9-11K), a 300/2.8 (6-7K), all three zooms , 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, and 70-200/2.8 (roughly 5K), and a new Mac laptop (3K).  After all, that’s what you used at the newspaper or university you worked for, right?  This is what the well-equipped photojournalist needs, right?

Ok, let’s think about this for a second.  That’s roughly 45,000 dollars – just for camera gear.  We haven’t even mentioned lighting, grip, cases, desktop computer, storage, printers, etc.  You haven’t designed a website yet, or paid for insurance, or any of the other previously mentioned things.  What kind of assignments will you do with said gear?  Shoot some football or basketball games?  For whom?

“I’ll just work for my local paper or an agency or a wire service…”    Think carefully about it.  There are predators out there waiting to take advantage of people who just want to go to games, news events, and be in on the action.  Their business models are built around having an endless supply of newbies to provide free (or almost free) content that they can turn around and sell.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll make 125.00 to 250.00 bucks for your effort (in many markets, there are people lining up to shoot games on spec/and/or for free).  When you do the math on how long a sporting event takes, getting there early, parking, shooting, editing, captioning and sending a ton of photos, leaving late, driving home, you’ll quickly see that the average fast food employee is pretty much kicking your ass. …and they didn’t have to invest 45K to buy their own French fry fryers, stoves, or spatulas.  They don’t have to wear a ridiculous fanny pack either.

Speaking of capital investment – that 45K in gear you bought can’t be amortized over 10-20 years like capital expenditures in some other business… it will need to all be replaced in 3-4 years, just like your computers… and as technology advances that cycle will continue for years to come.

This is tough for many former photojournalists to reconcile. Many have made their living this way forever, being at all the big news or sporting events, hanging out with their colleagues all carrying big giant lenses on monopods, credentials around their neck, etc.  To many, it becomes their identity, and it is difficult to reconcile that despite your years of experience, no one is going to pay you to go to the Super Bowl this year, or the Republican convention, or to the earthquake in Haiti.  It’s tough to tell someone who worked at a sports magazine, or a big metro newspaper that, yes, you can still make a good living in photography – it just may not be doing what you used to do.  Letting go of that identity is tough.  I know… it’s something I experienced myself.

The best piece of photo gear you'll ever buy.

The best piece of photo gear you’ll ever buy.

There are a few prerequisites to starting a successful photo business:  You need great, original pictures with a consistent vision ;  You need some serious money, as it is very expensive to start a photography business; You need a healthy knowledge about how to run a photography business.

(A client or two would help, too, but we’ll get to that later.)

The Top 5 Photography Books That You MUST Own

I can’t help with the first two… You’re really on your own there, but I’ve read a lot of business books, and several specifically about the photography business, self promotion, marketing for photographers, etc.,  so I can make these recommendations comfortably.

I’ve sent this list around to various friends in transition, students, and former assistants, and I can promise you, if you read all of these cover to cover, you’ll have a firm grasp on how your photography business should work, and a really good introduction to usage-based pricing, which is the cornerstone of what we do. (If you click on the titles below I have linked them to Amazon for you.)

The Real Business of Photography1.  The Real Business of Photography, Richard Weisgrau ; Allworth Press

One of the best books about photography business I’ve ever read, and really should be the first thing you read if you’re thinking about doing this for a living.  Weisgrau is a former ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) executive director and he speaks intelligently about licensing photography, doing estimates, managing finances, etc.  A really great book.

Best Business Practices for Photographers2.  Best Business Practices for Photographers, John Harrington ; Course Technology

John runs the Photo Business News and Forum blog (www.photobusinessforum.blogspot.com) and has been a respected voice and frequent speaker in our industry.  If you’ve ever watched him dissect an estimate, and show how he turns a simple 500.00 job into a multi-thousand dollar job just by asking the right questions, it’s truly a thing of beauty.  His book has lots of actual examples of job estimates and email trails that show his process.  Very valuable stuff that few people are willing to share with their peers.

ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography3. ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, American Society of Media Photographers – edited by Susan Carr (Seventh Edition) ; Allworth Press

Edited by the late Susan Carr, who really did so many things to educate and help her fellow photographers, this is the latest edition of ASMP’s business bible.  There are chapters on licensing, copyright, releases, paperwork, marketing, you name it.  A good overview of the commercial photography business.  I believe you still get one of these included in your membership when you join ASMP.

The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating4. The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating, Richard Weisgrau ; Allworth Press

Another book by Weisgrau, and really my favorite.  (You still have to read ALL of these, though – no shortcuts!).  He talks about negotiating tactics, how to present offers and counter offers, psychology, dealing with contracts, negotiating strategy, and includes some interviews with real world professionals who have been in business for years.

The Photographer’s Survival Guide5.  The Photographer’s Survival Guide, Suzane Sease and Amanda Sosa Stone; Amphoto Books

I’ve read a lot of books about marketing and self promotion, but this is easily the best and most useful.  Sease and Sosa Stone are both former art buyers, reps, and now consultants, who provide a ton of real world expertise to photography marketing and brand building.  They also discuss presentation, portfolios, promos, and even include a handy disc in the book with essential business and estimating forms you can use.

I can’t emphasize how important it is to study these books.  It amazes me how many people will invest 100k in their business buying the latest cameras and computers, but won’t take the time to study up on how the business works.  Don’t be the dork out there charging by the hour and giving away your copyright on every assignment.  It’s not supposed to work that way, and you’ll be doing all your colleagues a disservice if you fly blind into our chosen field.

All together, these books cost maybe 130 bucks…they really might be the most important pieces of equipment you ever buy.

Without a smart roadmap, your photography business could end up as roadkill.  (Photo by Chip Litherland)

Without a smart roadmap, your photography business could end up as roadkill. (Photo by Chip Litherland)

I have a note on my desk that I wrote down at an ASMP business seminar several years ago.  Detroit photographer Blake Discher, a super savvy business guy, was our speaker, and he said something incredibly simple that I’ll never forget.

“There are three steps to running a successful business:

  1. Create a unique value proposition.
  2. Ensure that you have a large enough addressable market.
  3. Make more money than you spend.”

Sounds simple right?  It is, but you would be shocked how many people don’t think about these simple steps.

Think about number one… What’s unique that separates you from all the other photographers in your market?  What skill or know-how do you have that’s totally you?  If you live in Denver, and you want to shoot outdoor/adventure sports, what makes you different?  There are 50 people already doing what you want to do in that market.  How will you stand out from the crowd?

Think about number two… Do you have a large enough addressable market to survive where you are?  I would love to shoot movie posters or fashion, but guess what – I live in Houston, and we don’t have any movie studios or fashion magazines here.  So that’s probably not a wise niche for me to choose.

You should really think about these first two, analyze your local market and competition, and consider your options carefully before hanging out your shingle.  Are you putting yourself in a realistic position to succeed?  If there’s a specific genre you want to shoot, and it doesn’t exist where you are, you may want to consider moving.

Number three is pretty obvious.

Anyway….those are the really simple steps.  Now I’m going to write about the nuts and bolts of starting up a photo business.  A lot of this is common sense and has been covered before.  Some of these are no brainers, but I’m going to throw them in anyway, just to be thorough.The

21 Tips for Starting your Photo Business

DISCLAIMER:  It would we wise to consult with your attorney or financial advisor:  I’m definitely not a lawyer or CPA, and I can’t even claim I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night either.

1.  SAVE A BOATLOAD OF CASH – Super important.  At a previous photo seminar I attended, the speaker said that you should have at least 6 months salary reserved before embarking on your own.  I think that’s a good guide, but bear in mind that your money isn’t just to buy cameras, computers, etc…You’ll need operating cash to do jobs, run the business and pay assistants while you’re getting off the ground.

2.  SET UP AN LLC OR S-CORP – Talk to your accountant about what makes the most sense for you in your state, but you definitely should be incorporated as soon as possible.  This will help you liability wise, and although you’ll have more paperwork to deal with, you’ll likely get to keep more of the money you make versus being just a sole proprietor.

3.  ENLIST PROFESSIONALS TO HELP YOU – You should have a CPA, a financial advisor, and a lawyer.  You will likely have the CPA on speed dial, contacting them throughout the year to file quarterly reports, sales tax, and pay estimated taxes.  Don’t be cheap and try to do this yourself.

4.  GET A SALES TAX NUMBER – State laws vary, and not all photo jobs are subject to sales tax, but in many states, you’ll be dealing with this all the time.  Don’t be the loser who tries to fly under the radar on this.  Operate your business like a grown up.  You might get wacked 5 years from now and find you owe your state a couple hundred thousand dollars.  That would suck.

5.  SEPARATE PERSONAL AND BUSINESS FINANCES – The first step here, after your corporation is set up, is to run to the bank and set up a business checking account.  Don’t operate your business out of your personal funds….you’ll be confused, and so will the IRS.

6.  BUY INSURANCE – If you’re lucky, you’ll have a spouse with healthcare insurance.  If not, that should be your first step.  Next, you need insurance for your business.  Make sure the policy is by a company that is used to dealing with professional photographers and their unique needs.  It should cover cameras and gear, rental gear, computers, provide shoot insurance for reshoots on botched jobs, rental studio coverage, lost portfolio coverage, and liability coverage.  Many buildings won’t let you set foot inside to do a shoot without proof of liability coverage.  ASMP is a good resource for this type of insurance.

7.  GET A BUSINESS CREDIT CARD – Another part of separating your personal and business finances.  This makes it much easier at the end of the year to see what you spent on gear, hotels, airline tickets, etc.  I recommend a business Amex, as the Membership Rewards program gives you points you can use toward all sorts of things, but any card where you can get points toward future spending will work well.

8.  ONLY BUY GEAR THAT MAKES YOU MONEY –  I mentioned the gear hoarding syndrome that many of us have a couple of posts back.  This is one of the areas that really sinks many photographers starting out.  It might be great to have a 600mm/f4 and 12 bodies, but you could probably do 85% of your jobs with one body and a 24-105mm lens and a small lighting kit.  Think before you buy.  Rent if you can, and ask yourself this question before giving B&H your Amex number:  “Will this piece of gear make me more money?”

9.  WORK ON YOUR WORKFLOW – Think about your archive 1, 5, even 10-20 years down the road and start with good workflow habits.  Learn to properly use Lightroom or Aperture and the correct file naming, organization, and back up system to protect your work.  Have a good computer system in place, with plenty of backup drives, and be disciplined.  If you’re new to Lightroom, Seth Resnick’s D-65 workshop is excellent.

10.  CREATE A WEBSITE AND EDIT RUTHLESSLY – This applies particularly to students and veteran newspaper guys in transition.  What you learned about portfolios up till now doesn’t really apply anymore.  In most cases, no one cares about your spot news or your sports action photos.  Figure out what you’re going after in your market, and edit down to a couple of niches.  Be ruthless in your edit.  No excuses.  Hire a consultant if you have to.

11.  CREATE A PHYSICAL PORTFOLIO – Depending on your market, showing up for a meeting with just an Ipad may not be enough.  There are ad agencies and design firms out there that are used to being blown away by incredible, expensive, custom made books.  We’re talking ink jet paper made from the saliva of free range fair trade South American wasps, and embossed leather from humpback whale foreskins.  Think about what your portfolio should look like, the market you’re after, and make sure it is consistent with the rest of your branding.  In short, it needs to be perfect.

12.  SETTLE ON YOUR BRANDING – Do you see IBM or Coca-Cola changing their logo every couple of weeks?  No.  You shouldn’t either.  Settle on a look, work with a good designer and make sure your branding is consistent across all platforms:  website, business cards, stationary, invoices, portfolios, promo cards, etc….and yes, you need all those things.

13.  NAME YOUR BUSINESS CORRECTLY –  My personal opinion –  but I think photographers should use their own name in the title of their business.  If you want to add “Photography” or “Images” or “Visuals”  or “Productions” to the official name, knock yourself out.  Know this though:  No client out there is going to remember “Hot-Shotz” or “Extreme Images” or “Ginger Snaps”  (I swear, this is not a joke….I met someone at a workshop who used that one – and you guessed it…..her name was Ginger).  They will remember you, Bob Smith, or whatever the hell your name is.  Then they’ll start googling you to look you up one day, because they’ve thrown all your promo cards in the trash without looking at them, and they won’t be able to find you.  Why?…..Because you named your business something generic.  Have you ever seen a coffee table book in the photo section of a bookstore with “Hot-Shotz” or something dorky like that?  No….you see Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, etc…see my point?

14. WORK ON YOUR EMAIL ETIQUETTE – Being able to write well is as important than being able to take great pictures.  As a professional photographer, email may be the primary way that you interact with your clients.  You should project a friendly, easygoing but professional personality.  You should address every email to the person you’re writing (Don’t just send one word responses), and sign every email with your name.  Think about how irritated you get when a potential client emails you with one line that says, “what do you charge?”….and then signs the email with their first name, and no contact info because they haven’t bothered to set up their email signature properly.  Be a professional.  Set up a complete email signature that goes on every email (even on your phone) with your name, business name, phone numbers, website, and your email address listed in type that someone can click on (not an image file).  If a client is in their car, and their contacts are inaccessible, and hey have to search old emails to find you, you want to have all your information easily available for them to click on.

15.  JOIN ASMP – The American Society of Media Photographers provides education, guidance, lobbying, and business resources for commercial photographers.  You owe it to yourself and your colleagues to join.  You can also be listed on the ASMP Find a Photographer website, which is helpful, and probably the cheapest listing website for photographers out there.  You might also consider APA.

16.  EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT USAGE AND LICENSING –  You CAN do copyright buyouts, burn discs of entire shoots and hand over all your raws to the client, and you might survive for a little while this way, but you WON’T be in business for long.  This is not how professional photographers conduct business.  Read the books I mentioned earlier.  They will give you a good overview of usage based licensing.  Join ASMP, go to seminars, study online resources for estimating jobs and writing licenses, learn about contracts, talk to colleagues.  Learn about licensing and how it works in the different fields of editorial, corporate, and advertising.  Learn the language and key terms.  Learn the right questions to ask your clients before giving them estimates.  Run your business the right way, the ethical way, and don’t give away the store and sell out your colleagues.

17.  SET UP A PHOTOSHELTER ACCOUNT – This isn’t just for archiving, although it’s great for off-site backup that you can access through the web anywhere.  I handle all my client deliveries through Photoshelter.  You can give download access to specific people, and track what they’ve downloaded.  It’s much safer than using ftp.  You can also set up stock licensing and print sales. If you want to get an account, this link will take you there.

18.  USE INVOICING/ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE – I use BlinkBid, but some people get by with Quickbooks.  Others use custom Filemaker or Excel solutions.

19.  CREATE SOME GREAT “LEAVE BEHINDS” – Starting out, you may not have the funds for a full color, 48 page booklet, but you can easily print up some small runs of well designed postcards.  After you’ve shown your book to a potential client, it’s good to hand them a “leave behind” card with one of your signature photos to remember you by.

20.  NETWORK WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS IN YOUR MARKET  – Don’t operate in a vacuum.  This is where the ASMP membership comes in handy.  Social gatherings of photo organizations, or events like workshops, or Photo Expo are a great way to meet colleagues, develop friendships, and ask questions.  You might find out about a deadbeat client to avoid, or you might get an estimating or pricing question answered.  Not everyone will be as candid, but personally, I would rather help someone than have them underprice a valuable job because they are new to the game and screw it up for everyone.  You should always keep growing and keep learning.

21.  READ NUMBER 1 ON THIS LIST AGAIN.

If you are thinking of starting a successful photography business, know that it’s a tough road filled with long days of hard work and you’ll be up against ridiculously good competition.  Remember what I said earlier, only tackle this if you really can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.   I probably can’t change the way you see things, or change the work you produce, but if you have the goods, do your homework, and put these steps into place, you’ll be in a good position for your business to succeed.

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.

 

 

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.

David Price for the cover of Sports Illustrated Baseball preview

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

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

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

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

We photographed all five starters in various stages of delivery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of our shots of young pitcher Taylor Guerrieri.

Tampa manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.