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.
The March cover of Air & Space, with Col Bud Day on the cover.
I’ve had a keen interest in military aviation since childhood…when other kids were reading Curious George and other children’s books, I was reading military biographies and books about World War II and Vietnam. I remember one summer day, when I was in about 3rd or 4th grade, while returning books to our local public library, one of the elderly librarians tried to usher me from the “grown up books” to the “kid’s section” on the other side of the building. One of the other librarians quickly corrected her, “He’s ok, Mabel….he just returned a book titled Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism. ” After that, Mabel left me alone. (I actually can’t remember what her name was…… Mabel just seems like the perfect name for an old lady librarian).
I thought being a fighter pilot would be cool, I even requested info on the Air Force Academy at one point during junior high or early high school. 20/400 vision, however, and projectile vomiting during a simple Cessna 172 plane ride with a friend conspired to keep me out of the ejection seat.
After photographing the Doolittle Raiders a few years ago, one of my friends from the assignment, Matt Jolley, of Warbird Radio recommended me to some of the nice folks at Wings over Houston, the annual airshow here in the Houston area. I had mentioned to him an idea about a personal project, trying to photograph environmental portraits of notable pilots. The people with the autograph tent at WoH were nice enough to let me set up in their area and shoot simple, white background portraits of the pilots who were there signing autographs. I was able to photograph Col. Bud Anderson (a triple ace in the P-51 during WWII), Col. Dick Cole (Doolitle’s co-pilot on the WWII Doolittle Raid on Tokyo), Gen. Boots Blesse (a famous Sabre jet ace from the Korean war) and several others during my weekend there. I was also lucky enough to meet and photograph former POW and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Bud Day.
The photos were interesting facial studies, but I lamented the limitations of the white background. I would have loved to have captured each of them with their respective airplanes, but during mid-day sun at a packed airshow, it was just not in the cards.
The first shot we took, before sunrise on the field at Ellington.
Several months later, John Simmons, one of my buddies from the WoH event sent me an incredible video of Bud Day, eagerly climbing into the cockpit of an F-100 Super Sabre just like the one he had flown in Vietnam and going up for a flight! The video was from the Collings Foundation, a non-profit foundation that owns and maintains not just World War II era prop planes, but also several Vietnam era jets, at….get this…..Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. The F-100, painted just like Bud’s Misty 1 Vietnam bird is one of two in the world in flying condition.
John went to work, getting us permission from Rick Harris of the Collings Foundation to use the airplane. We made arrangements to photograph Bud, who lives in Florida, during a visit to see his son George, a former F-16 pilot, who now works as a SWA captain in Houston.
A few months later, there we were before sunrise on a warm summer morning in Houston, pulling the F-100 out of the hangar and towing it to the proper spot on the taxiway. We had scouted a few days before, using the iphone app LightTrac to position the plane.
Bud showed up in his flight suit, with his boots and Nomex gloves on – he was definitely ready to fly the plane if necessary! His son George also wore his flight suit. Part of my plan was to do a nice group shot of the father and son fighter pilots together.
We started shooting before dawn – long exposures on a tripod with battery powered strobes. Nathan Lindstrom assisted on the shoot and did a great job. We used a Profoto 7B with a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 on the side, and a Wafer 100 on another 7B boomed in front of the face as a fill.
The second shot, with a Wafer Hexoval 180 and a Wafer 100 as the sun rises in the background.
We next moved onto the backlit side of the plane, and photographed the Col.’s Day together and also the elder Col. Day alone, again using the same lighting setup. Fortunately, the sun came out for a few minutes before going back under a layer of clouds. The sunrise was beautiful!
Col. Day with Col. Day…two generations of fighter pilots.
We next moved to a shot with a long lens looking at the signature angle of the F-100 – straight up the open nose air intake. We carefully framed Col. Day in the foreground and backlit him from each side with a Profoto 7B and a Wafer 100 on each side. We then boomed in a Chimera small strip bank powered by an Acute 600. Although 87 years old, and with his body ravaged by years of torture and POW abuse, in this pose, with this light, in front of the F-100, Bud Day looked like he could still kick some serious ass.
The shot that made the cover, Col. Day still formidable at 87.
We finished with a 3/4 side lit portrait, with his glasses off, which showed off the MISTY patch on his flight suit.
The 3/4 lit portrait with “The Hun” front view in the background.
We did some group shots with the Collings Foundation folks who had so generously donated their time and effort to showcase the plane, and some USAF U-2 pilots, who had gathered during the shoot. All USAF pilots go through survival training at the AF Survival School at Fairchild AFB, named in Col. Day’s honor. It was like watching a bunch of NBA rookies meeting Michael Jordan for the first time.
After packing up, the whole crew adjourned to a nearby Ihop for a truly memorable breakfast. I could literally sit and listen to George and his dad tell flying stories for hours. It was a fantastic experience.
After the shoot, I sent a few of the photos to my editor at Air & Space magazine, just on the off chance that they might be working on a story related to Col. Day, MISTY, or the F-100. Several months later, as it turns out, there was a story on the MISTY program in the works. They eventually decided to use one of the photographs of Col. Day on the cover of the issue, with another one running inside.
I didn’t want to jinx anything, so I didn’t mention it to Bud or George until the cover was posted online. I’ve worked for many magazines, and covers often get pulled or changed at the 11th hour.
It was really an honor and a highlight to finally be able to make the call to Col. Day and let him know that not only was there a story on MISTY in the current issue of Air & Space, but that he had made the cover! This was truly one of the coolest things I’ve been able to work on, and I’m grateful to A&S, the Day family, Rick Harris and John Simmons for making this happen.
Col. Day and Col. Day reviewing some of the photos with the me.
A little background on Col. George “Bud” Day: He joined the Marines and fought in World War II just after high school. He came back to the US and earned a law degree, then continued in the Air Force flying fighter jets in Korea and eventually Vietnam. He miraculously survived a no-chute ejection the 1950′s. At an age and mission count when other pilots were retiring, he volunteered for another tour and came up with the MISTY Fast Forward Air Control (Fast FAC) program, of which he was the commander. MISTY pilots flew low and fast over North Vietnam, marking targets including SAM missile sites for other aircraft to attack. It was so dangerous that it was an all volunteer squadron.
During one of these MISTY missions in 1967, Col. Day was shot down and captured. Badly hurt and barefoot, he escaped after a few days and evaded the enemy for 12-15 days, subsisting on frogs and berries, traversing miles of enemy territory and crossing the river into South Vietnam. He was within a mile or two of an American base when he was shot twice and recaptured. He spent the next 5 years 7 months in the “Hanoi Hilton” being tortured along with other notable POW pilots like Sen. John McCain and Admiral James Stockdale. For his valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Today he is the most decorated living service member. After returning from Vietnam, he received 13 medical waivers and continued flying. He eventually amassed over 8000 hours – nearly 5000 of those in fighter aircraft. As if that weren’t enough, he retired and went to work as an attorney, eventually suing the US Government on behalf of veterans who were not getting promised medical benefits and won. As a result, millions of veterans (my late mother-in-law among them), have benefitted from the program, called Tri-Care for Life.
Here’s a cool behind the scenes video my friend John Simmons put together of the shoot:
I recently worked on a great project that lifted my soul.
I got a call from Karen Holland, a creative director at Richards/Carlberg (Chuck Carlberg’s venerable Houston advertising agency, Rives Carlberg, recently merged and became the Houston arm of The Richards Group). Karen was spearheading a project to rebrand an Alzheimer’s care facility known as The Senior’s Place into a new entity called Amazing Place. The new Amazing Place is a non-profit memory-care center providing therapeutic programs for adults with mild to moderate memory loss. The center is funded by donations and local churches.
The visual challenge in photographing the Amazing Place, was the fact that they were about to move to a new building at a new location. Karen had specific ideas about the look she wanted for the photographs…..high-key, hopeful, positive, and (whenever possible) with very little or no background detail that might identify the old building.
We found the solution in using very limited depth of field, and tilt-shift lenses to achieve very limited and selective focus on the subjects. We used minimal lighting, mostly a Profoto 7b and some Canon speedlights to supplement the window light in the building, and to provide a very natural look. It was a tight space to work in, but we managed to make some nice images.
I was able to shoot in a virtual documentary style throughout the project, and it was incredibly rewarding to work with the clients, families and staff at Amazing Place. It was especially rewarding and meaningful for me since I’ve had experience with two close family members with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.
Although the printed materials haven’t been finished yet, here’s a look at the newly redesigned website, featuring a great new logo and color scheme also designed by Karen Holland.
On February 13, 2009, I took part in the Do1Thing project by shooting portraits of homeless teens at Covenant House in Houston. The project was the brainchild of photo editors Najlah Feanny Hicks and Pim Van Hemmen. They had previous success with the Heart Gallery project, in which photographers donated their time and talents to photograph teenage foster children.
Do1Thing grew from that project, and on Feb. 14, professional photographers and award winning photojournalists around the country came together to produce documentary work, portraits, and multimedia to highlight teen homelessness.
I was humbled to have been asked by Najlah to participate in the project. There were ultimately over 114 photographers involved, including 31 Pulitzer winners, and some of the top commercial and magazine photographers around the country.
In Houston, I was fortunate to participate with Dave Einsel, Smiley Pool, and Todd Spoth, each of whom tackled a different aspect. Our work is slated to be combined into a multimedia project featuring photographs and audio interviews with the kids at Covenant House.
To find out more about Do1Thing, check out the website here.
To donate locally to Covenant House in Houston follow the link here.
On April 17th, my colleague Brad Mangin and I will be presenting a slide show program of our work during the first annual “Photography Education Day” at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
My good friend Brad is an absolutely stellar action photographer who lives in the Bay Area, and shoots baseball for Sports Illustrated and MLB. For over 20 years, Brad has been making iconic baseball images, and understands the game , players (and good light….) better than any photographer I know. I’m honored to be presenting this program with him.
I, of course worked at The Sporting News from 1996-2006, shooting over 200 covers for them, including many cover portraits of baseball players. I’ve had a couple of winning photos enshrined in the hall from the annual Baseball Hall of Fame Photo contest, so I’m looking forward to finally visiting their vast baseball archive in Cooperstown.
We were invited to give a joint photography presentation, with Brad handling the action photography, and me talking about portraiture. We’ll both tell stories of some of the great games we covered and of course, some behind the scenes stories about the famous (and infamous…) players we’ve both dealt with over the years.
Baseball photography has a rich history, and we’ll also be producing and presenting a short educational program on the History of Photography in Baseball.
Here’s a link to our program on the Hall of Fame website. For more information, please call 888-HALL-OF-FAME