A few weeks ago I got the gig to shoot a series of images that would be used for huge vinyl banners (literally wall sized) for the grand opening of a new gym called “Fight Factory” in Tampa where a number of number of high-profile professional athletes are already training, and I thought I’d share some of the images and some behind-the-scenes production photos.

Deadline: Less than 24 hours
The images had to be shot in one afternoon, edited that night and sent for approval, then I had to deliver the high-res files the following day in order to have the banners printed for the grand opening that coming weekend.

One of the images the client was most interested in having me shoot, was an athlete running up some concrete stairs (like in an old stadium), and I immediately thought of a park in Downtown Tampa where I did a fitness runner shoot this summer that had stairs like that. After talking with the client, the plan was to shoot in the gym first, and then head out to the park afterward, but once I got to the gym, the client informed me that we wouldn’t have enough time to get out to the park. They asked if  there was any way we could create that look using the wooden stairs you see below, which lead up to a storage loft above the gym’s offices. Yikes!

Of course, I said “Hey, we’ll sure give it a try” (hiding my internal cringe as I looked over to the temporary wooden planks we’d be shooting upon).

Above: Here’s the shot on the stairs. Nothing fancy—a hard light on one side, and a fill from behind. The light on him is OK, but everything else looks pretty bad, but I knew I wasn’t going to keep him on those wooden stairs for long, so I was OK with it. I can only imagine the client was more than a little concerned at this point.

Above: I know this is kind of a busy shot, but I added some captions to help cut through the clutter—-click on it for a much larger view (photo by Brad Moore). Brad thought we should bring two separate battery power packs just in case, so we brought our beloved Ranger Quadra with two heads [though we only used one], and a Ranger RX unit with one flash head. The Quadra flash head is positioned in front and to the side of Mo—our subject running up the stairs. The second is behind and to the side acting as a fill light. That’s me at the bottom of the stairs wondering how this is all going to work.

A big shout-out to Mo, because after a few frames he asked me, “Should I be running up one step at a time or two?” I had him show me both, and we settled on two. This turned out to be a key move in this whole process (thanks Mo) as you’ll see in a moment.

Luck Favors the Lucky
OK, I totally lucked out on this next part. I head home after the shoot, and I bring up the Fitness Runner shoot I did last summer and start looking to see if there’s a shot of the stairs where I actually wanted to shoot this scene in the first place.

Above: I took about 300 shots that sweltering August day, so I figured I’d have an outtake or two from the shoot that might work as a background for the Gym shoot, and sure enough, I found the shot above, of our fitness runner Jill Papapanu, that I thought might work.

Above: This is the result of nothing but trying Photoshop CS5′s Content Aware Fill one time. Nothing else. It’s not perfect, but I’m about 95% of the way there in just 15 seconds. Content Aware Fill still amazes me to this day. Of course, Jill’s probably not too crazy about this shot. ;-)

Above: Here’s the final composite again, just so you don’t have to scroll back up to the top. Thankfully, the client was absolutely thrilled with shot (especially after seeing it shot on those wooden stairs).

By the way, one of the principals of Fight Factory is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL Wide Receiver Yo Murphy (who also went to the Super Bowl with the Rams). Yo is the one and nicest, funniest, and sharpest guys you’d ever want to meet. Super cool guy all the way around.

Post Processing
I got Mo off the stairs using CS5′s Quick Select tool and the new Refine Edge features, which are truly amazing (Matt says they’re his single favorite feature in CS5, and I think I’d probably have to agree).

Once I dragged Mo onto the background I darkened the entire image by reopening it in Camera Raw, then I added a dark Vignette all the way around in Camera Raw as well. Then I applied contrast using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0. Since I’m not a shark at shadows, I usually add more than one—that way I can claim to have multiple light sources and things get squirrley. There are a few other important tricks that help make it look like he’s really there, and I’m showing every bit of these techniques (well, not to this image, but the whole start to finish technique, including the lighting) in my “Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It Live!” tour, so if you’re in Boston, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, or Chicago, you’ll be seeing exactly how to composite stuff like this live, because I have a whole class dedicated to it. If you haven’t signed up yet, it’s not too late.

Above: Once I had Mo selected off that background, I found another background from that same fitness runner shoot, and gave them a second look just in case. Hey, since I had him on a transparent layer, I put him on different backgrounds—at a carnival, at the beach, jumping hurdles, sky diving, underwater (OK, I didn’t do those last ones, but you know it would have been funny as $#%&).

Step Two
Remember when Mo asked me if he should be running up one or two stairs at a time, and I said “two?” Man, did I get lucky, or he wouldn’t have fit on those large concrete stairs. I also used Free Transform to make sure his feet landed at the right place—-I just proportionally scaled him down until it worked. I did have shots of both one step and two steps, but mostly the two steps. Again, I really got lucky.

I added their logo, and some slogans for the final vinyl signs, and they had us print some 20×30″ posters for hanging around the gym as well.

More Shots to Come
I’ve got a lot more shots from the shoot, and I’ll share some here in the coming days, but I thought I’d kick things off with this one—the only layered composite from the shoot. Thanks to everyone at Fight Factory, including Mo our subject, Andrea in Marketing, and of course Yo Murphy. And, as always thanks to my assistant Brad Moore for his help, and for thinking to bring two power packs.