Working with professional athletes is sometimes tricky. Like celebrities, you don’t really have very much time and you may even be limited in the activity you can have them do. For instance, our first shot (the cover shot) we had to know exactly what we wanted before we started because we had to have Paul George jump and dunk over and over again, which is obviously exhausting, so we limited that because we knew he had a game that night.
Knowing this before hand, ESPN The Magazine Sr. Deputy Photo Editor Nancy Weisman and I talked about what we wanted out of the shoot and I came back with these very crudely drawn "mock ups.”
Obviously the finished product is slightly different but there is something very gratifying about bringing a doodle that I outlined in photoshop to life.
We arrived at the Indiana Pacers practice facility and started to go over the shot lists. On top of the cover photo we knew we needed at least 2 more photos for the inside feature spread and one more in the TOC (table of contents).
The problem was we had barely 30 minutes to pull this off. Now, 30 minutes might seem like all the time in the world but if something goes wrong and you cannot fix it immediately this eats away at your time pretty quickly. So preparation is key!
To be prepared, I had 3 assistants to help me position lights and equipment around in addition to this we had backups ready to go incase something happened to one of the other lights or cameras during the shoot.
I also didn’t make this easy on myself, I chose to shoot with a 1 frame per second Phase One IQ140 medium format instead of my quick focusing and firing Nikon D800E. I did this because I love the way the images look straight out of the camera and I feel I have to do a lot less color fixes, especially on skin tones with these images.
The lighting for the cover shot was 1 medium octobank set very high and overhead to provide light for his face.
Then I used a large umbrella facing straight at his chest for fill on camera left and a medium soft box under the backboard and a little off camera right for fill on the right.
I then placed 5 lights with reflectors around the outer edge of the court to give light to the floor and add the “hotspots” at the top of the court.
We took about 20 minutes of our time perfecting the cover shot. This involved me framing and pre focusing while standing on the back of the backboard and and directing Paul and my assistance for light changes. The hardest part about being up on the edge of the backboard wasn’t that a 6ft 10inch 220LB professional athlete jumping at you, it was not being able to see the screen after so I had to rely a lot on my digital tech to let me know if things where tack sharp.
After we wrapped up the cover, we immediately moved over to the middle of the court for a few variations for the opener and then moved again to the gyms matted wall for a quick personality portrait.
I love shoots like these. They make me have to think on my feet very quickly to come up with interesting photos and to fix possible problems with lighting, framing, or anything else that may go wrong. You don’t have time to overthink anything and I feels great to come back with some nice images after.