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.

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…..

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darrell Royal portrait

Darrell Royal, Austin, Texas, 2005.

Darrell Royal was the University of Texas football coach from 1957-1976 and was responsible for Texas winning three national championships.  He passed away Nov. 7 at the age of 88 after a long battle with Alzheimers.

Royal was revered all over the state.  As the son of a coach in Texas, I grew up on a steady diet of Darrell Royal sayings and stories.  It felt like I was going to see the wizard when I pulled up in front of his house in 2005 for a brief portrait session.  He seemed a bit frail and unsteady, and it was only later that I found out he had Alzheimer’s.  I wish I could have taken my dad on the assignment, but alas, it wasn’t feasible.  Although I’ve never bothered any of my sports subjects for autographs, I did break with tradition on this one…..I had him sign a copy of his book to my dad….I’m pretty sure it said, “To Coach Seale-”

Here’s a great column by Jim Dent on Coach Royal.

Darrell Royal, Austin, Texas, 2005.