The Rebirth of Underoath
A few years ago, the band Underoath played what was then to be their final tour ever as a band. They did their farewell tour, made a documentary about the whole thing, and then each of the members moved on to the next phase in their lives, but they all remained friends after this.
Fast forward to late last year, and they’re all on a group text joking about what it would be like to tour again. Then the joking turned serious and, after much discussion and figuring out logistics, they decided to reunite to tour once again and play their two most popular albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line, back to back on the Underoath Rebirth Tour.
The first official show of the tour is tonight in St. Petersburg, Florida at Jannus Live, the same venue where they played the final show of their last tour. And the band has allowed me to document some behind the scenes images of the events leading up to this show.
Last week, they invited me to come out to their practice space and document one of their final practices before taking the stage once again. The space is a storage unit, lit solely by one fluorescent light inside, and some typical parking lot lights outside. Thankfully, I had two Canon 1DX bodies at my side, coupled with the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses, to handle the high ISO situation.
As the band practiced, I tried to cover them from every angle I could think of while staying out of their way as best as possible. During this time, they’re focused on making sure they remember how to play the songs and are all on the same page with everything rather than performing. So while they’re into it, it’s definitely a lower energy situation than a live performance.
For post processing, I prefer converting behind the scenes/documentary images to black and white. I just think it gives them a more timeless feel, and helps differentiate the images from my live concert work. In this particular case, I used Macphun’s Tonality Pro plug-in to do the black and white conversions. I started with the software’s Bold Contrast preset, then tweaked it to best fit these images and created my own preset. Once I had that in place, I did a batch process of the images and ran my preset at 50% so the images didn’t look over-processed. This gave the shots a nice but gritty look that almost made them feel like they were shot on film.
While many of the band’s shows on the tour are already sold out, including their first show tonight at an approximately 2,000-person capacity venue, they announced a “secret show” at a 400-person capacity venue in Tampa on Sunday night. This show was $10 at the door on a first come, first serve basis; and once it was full, it was full.
The venues they normally play at have big stages and a barricade/photo pit between the crowd and the band. Not so at this one, as you can see in the video below:
This time I was armed with the same Canon 1DX bodies and 70-200mm f/2.8, but this time I had the 11-24mm f/4 and 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses as well. The latter two ended up being the only ones I used during Underoath’s set since it was such a small venue. I started off right in front of the stage in the crowd during the opening bands and was fine. But once Underoath took the stage, I only lasted for two songs before I escaped the flying bodies and pummeling from the fans to try to catch my breath and make my torso cease feeling pain.
My name is Amy Willard and I am a music photographer based out of New York City. I am very excited to share my story on how I got to photograph some of the top artists in music, get published, and go on tour.
Probably the biggest myth about working in the music industry is that you have to know someone in order to get in. When I was 18 years old, I moved to Washington DC to study architecture and could count the number of concerts I had attended on one hand. I hardly knew anyone, I certainly didn’t know anyone who worked in the music industry, and yet somehow I would end up spending the next 10 years photographing some of the most recognized names in music.
My career didn’t begin with befriending a local band and hopping into the back of a tour van. I guess if anything, my journey was similar to that of the kid in Almost Famous. Instead of a tape recorder, I had a camera and my synopsis would be something more like:
Small town girl, deterred from going to concerts in her youth, suddenly falls in love with live music after seeing a Fall Out Boy show at the 9:30 Club. This inspires her to be part of that world and to one day photograph bands for Rolling Stone. She reaches out to a photographer on MySpace, buys a point and shoot camera, makes a portfolio, gets her first credentialed assignment and goes on to photograph bands for years in hopes to finally get published.
Fade to black. Roll credits.
The day everything changed was when I discovered some photos online from an All-American Rejects show that I went to. The photographer, Stacy McCarthy, signed her name to the edge of the photo. I looked her up on the internet and eventually found her MySpace page. Curious about how she got to take those photos, and pretty much deciding right there that I wanted to be like her, I sent her a message.
She was kind enough to respond and encouraged me to start shooting from the crowd in order to make a portfolio. When I had enough shots, she would offer to let me shoot for her site. I picked up a FujiFilm FinePix, a pocket camera designed for low light, and tried my luck at a few shows.
I think the first lesson I ever learned from photographing live concerts was to accept defeat. Having always been the type of person who needed to succeed at everything, this was the hardest lesson and it usually came in the form of very blurry or underexposed photos.
My first few shows shot from the crowd were terrible. At the end of the night, I would have nothing to make a portfolio and I continually felt defeated. I didn’t give up, however, I kept shooting and eventually learned the second lesson in music photography: patience.
It’s important to note that when you’re photographing a concert, everything that happens is out of your control. Unlike a photoshoot, you can’t direct your subjects and you can’t position the lights to your liking. You have to work with pre-existing conditions and wait for the shot. I began paying closer attention to the elements of the show: the music’s rhythm and the lights. I learned to anticipate the next bright moment on stage and strategically time when I clicked the shutter.
My own tips came in handy when I was close to the stage for The Fray, a piano-rock band. Everything about that night was ideal: a lead singer seated at a piano was less likely to be moving about and there was way better lighting.
I stood in the crowd, anchoring my arms to my body to stabilize my camera as I snapped away. I took over 300 shots, most unusable, but enough decent ones to make my first portfolio and finally get an approval for a photo pass. This would lead to another hard lesson in music photography: overcome the unexpected.
My first credentialed show was Matt Nathanson at the 9:30 Club on October 20, 2006 that I shot with a used Nikon D70 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. The shorter focal length shouldn’t have been an issue since a photo pass allows you access to area between the barricade and the stage, better known as a photo pit. Unfortunately for this show, there was no barricade setup close to the stage and what was even more unexpected was that 50 frames into the headliner’s set, my camera shutter locked up. Suddenly my first crack at being a pro was over.
I had to swallow the immense feeling of pride I had just hours prior when I picked up my photopass, and figure out how to apologize to both my editor and the band’s publicist.
Although my first show did not go as planned, I pressed on. I wanted to shoot more and more shows, but my editor couldn’t keep up with my requests, so a year and half later I launched my own music blog called Barricade Buzz. At first, many artist managers and publicists declined my requests. Thankfully one approval turned into many, and suddenly I was covering shows all around D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
As I began to cover more and more artists on a regular basis, publicists and venues began approaching me to cover their shows. With my work in music photography beginning to get noticed, I developed three goals: cover festivals, get published in a physical magazine, and go on tour.
I did a lot of cold-emailing to bands, festivals, print magazines and the like. No one responded. It became clear that I needed to get my foot in the door some other way. I decided to apply for an internship with Outerloop Management, a small artist management company just outside of D.C.. While the bands they managed weren’t exactly my style, my internship created many new opportunities and helped me achieve two of my goals simultaneously.
One of the artists I worked with through my internship was a metalcore band called We Came As Romans. They were asked to play The Bamboozle Festival in New Jersey in 2010. The whole company drove up from DC to support them. I was given a laminate for the festival and allowed to photograph the band’s whole set. I also had the opportunity to shoot both from the stage and the pit. At one point, lead singer Kyle Pavone hopped off the stage and began climbing the barricade. I followed him with my camera. I hopped up on the barricade and snapped away, trying to get a decent angle for the shot. This was an experience I had dreamed of having for so long.
Months after the festival, I got an email from Alternative Press magazine. They had checked out my site and were interested in the photos of We Came As Romans, specifically my photo of Kyle in the crowd. That shot would eventually be selected to run in their August 2010 issue. I was going to be published in print!
After my first run in the magazine, work started to pick up. I was hired to photograph a few of the major music festivals like Shamrock Fest and Virgin Mobile FreeFest. With two out of three of my goals achieved in just a few short years, all I had left to do was get on tour.
In 2011, the Vans Warped Tour, one of the largest touring music festivals in the world, held an open application to be the Monster Energy Pit Reporter. While the title is a bit goofy, the job itself was everything I wanted: spend an entire summer on tour shooting videos and taking photos of bands. I filmed a video of myself rambling about all of my experience and how I wanted to be on tour. It was a real disappointment to not get selected that year, but looking back, my application video was painfully boring.
Refusing to let that year’s defeat get the best of me, I had my second chance in 2012 and came up with an idea to finally get noticed. I channeled my inner Natalie Portman (http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/natalie-raps/n12021) and put together a satirical rap video about Warped Tour. A few months later, I was packing my gear and headed to Salt Lake City to be the 2012 Vans Warped Tour as the Monster Energy Pit Reporter.
I spent 8 weeks traveling the country with over 100 bands, many of which were favorites from my youth like Yellowcard and Taking Back Sunday. It was hard work, but by far the best experience of my life. I met so many people in music and became friends with other up and coming music photographers like Adam Elmakias, Josiah Van Dien, Ashley Osborne, and Matt Vogel. I even got to meet Todd Owyoung, a music photographer whose work I had been admiring for many years.
I’ll be honest, I wish I could have stayed on tour forever. I had never felt like there was some place where I really belonged more than on the road, but unfortunately, life had other plans and priorities.
Touring through the summer, spending 12 hours in the heat daily for weeks on end took its toll on my health and I was hospitalized upon my return home. Something most people don’t know about me is that I have an auto-immune disease called lupus. While I took every precaution to stay healthy on the road, the heat and exhaustion inevitably won and I found myself facing severe health complications months later. Although being hospitalized was a setback, I refused to let it be the end of my dream of touring and working with bands.
After accepting that being on tour was too hard on my body and knowing a connection with the music world was far too important to me, I took a job in New York City at a record label called Fueled By Ramen. As part of the label, I am able to continue to work with some of my favorite bands and maintain the medical care I need.
While I am no longer hopping on tour buses across the country with my camera, I am grateful to be in a city where I still have the opportunity to photograph bands like Paramore, Panic! At The Disco, twenty one pilots through Fueled By Ramen. I hope maybe one day I can get back on the road– even if only temporarily– and that I’ll land a shot in the pages of Rolling Stone. Until then, I’ll keep shooting!
I’m standing in the middle of an airport surrounded by friends and family, filled with excitement for the arrival of one man. As he turns the corner, everyone starts clapping, cheering and cameras flashing. He’s dressed in his full United States Army uniform and has a smile on his face that I will never forget. Running to his side are his wife, Heather, and their children, Luke and Nevaeh. His parents, Donna and Tim, follow. Sgt. Ryan Dickinson is finally home.
There is another group of people standing alongside Ryan’s friends and family that I’ve never seen before. Most of them appear to be bikers, wearing leather vests and jackets adorned with patches. They have formed two long lines down the middle of the airport lobby that extends to the exit doors. Each of them is holding an American flag that they raised when Ryan entered. The men and women in the flag lines stand strong and salute as he triumphantly walks through. It’s a sight I had the honor to witness and photograph.
None of these men and women knew Ryan personally. They are just there to commend a soldier and give him a hero’s welcome home. These remarkable people are The Patriot Guard Riders and they honor the men and women fighting for our country.
Almost 5 years later, on September 1, 2013, another American soldier killed Ryan at Fort Hood in Texas. It was devastating. The Patriot Guard Riders were called on once again to honor Ryan, this time in a different way. A group of them were at the airport when the casket arrived and escorted it to the funeral home. On the day of the wake, The Riders stood outside of the funeral home and saluted every person that entered. Even in the background, they had a strong presence throughout the day.
As the bugle played Taps in the distance, my friends and family were in tears. The Patriot Guard Riders had surrounded us, standing proud with their flags flying in the wind against the blue sky. I thought to myself “these people don’t know Ryan yet they’re all standing here with us.” From that moment on, I wanted to give them the recognition that they deserve by showing the world their stories through strong portraits.
Five months had passed since the funeral and I was ready to begin production on my portrait project. There was a lot to figure out to make this successful, including logistics of where to photograph everyone, how to get as many PGR interested, scheduling and all other details that are involved in shooting such a large group. I was very fortunate to have L.W. Murphy, one of the Riders and a former military photographer, lend me his help during the process.
With his connections, I was able to meet with many of the PGR at a motorcycle club on Long Island to introduce the project and myself. I knew that I had to explain my true intentions and to build a trust with them and not to make the project come off as exploiting or disrespectful. After many conversations, networking and buzz, I was able to schedule 60 people to photograph. L.W. was able to secure a location for the photo shoots at the Jacob’s Light Foundation building, a charity that sent care packages to soldiers.
To create an iconic and respectful portrait, I used two 69” Elinchrom octabanks to camera right as a key light to create a soft, yet slightly dramatic lighting. The portraits were shot with a Phase One 645DF body and P40+ 40MP digital back. That was my go to camera at the time (I’ve since upgraded to a Phase One XF body and IQ350 back). The portraits were converted to black and white in Capture One and touched up in Photoshop to enhance contrast and remove blemishes.
I wanted to capture moments and show who these people are rather than worry about the technical details. Many of The Riders are veterans and wanted to pay respect to other military soldiers and their families. Others have children who are currently serving or have died in action. Some are simply American patriots and want to show their appreciation for our military.
People got very emotional telling their stories. One veteran had brought his father’s medals and the flag that was presented to him at his father’s funeral. He told me stories about his dad and began to tear up a bit. The PGR at his dad’s funeral left such an impact, he joined himself for that reason.
Conversations aren’t always necessary to bring out a strong portrait. I requested that everyone bring something(s) that show who they are and why they are a PGR member. Some brought the flags that they received at a funeral or military tags, and a few wore their old uniforms, including a 90-year-old Marine veteran.
Ryan’s son, Luke, wore his dad’s hat for his portrait. Heather, Ryan’s wife, wore his jacket while holding the flag she received for him. Donna, Ryan’s mother, wore a U.S. Army sweatshirt and held tightly on to the flag she received. As difficult as it was to see Ryan’s family getting emotional and wearing his uniform, it also made me feel so proud that I was able to give something back.
Since the end of the project working with the Long Island and New York City branches of The Patriot Guard Riders, the project has gained national attention, as I hoped for. The series won a 2015 PDN Faces award in the personal work category and was also featured in the November 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest, which has over 3 million subscribers and an overall audience of almost 19 million. Although many of you may not have heard of the Patriot Guard Riders before reading this post, now you are aware of these extraordinary, selfless people and what they stand for. Thank you Scott and Brad for allowing me to share this story.
Hey guys, the release of my upcoming Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Basics class is right around the corner and I’m getting excited! I can’t wait to share with you how easy this speedlite system is to use and how truly amazing it is. It’s a game changer in so many ways and I’ll cover them all. I’ll walk you through the buttons, dials, menus; teach you how to set up wireless communication between the camera and off camera speedlites; work with ETTL and manual; set up groups; share my must-have tips and techniques and sure fire lighting patterns; explain why you need artificial light in your bag of tricks; teach you how to use and understand high speed sync; give you a live studio shooting demo, and so much more! With any luck you’ll leave this class as amped as I am about light and shadow and chomping at the bit go out and put everything you’ve learned into practice.
If you’re like me, you may have found handheld flash intimidating at one point or another. Maybe you decided right then and there to leave well enough alone, put the flash down, and call yourself an “available light shooter.” Maybe you even have a speedlite or two sitting on your shelf collecting dust or languishing unused in your camera bag. Well guess what kids, your speedlites are “available lights.” In this new class I’ll strip away the fear and mystique surrounding these powerful tools, and flash in general, and give you the simple, straightforward info you need to get up and running with your new speedlites.
I’ll show you why the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite and its companion ST-E3 controller represent a quantum leap forward in handheld flash technology. They have easy to use interfaces, easy to understand menus, and a first of its kind built-in radio based communication system. Simply said they just work! And there’s more good news, the 600EX-RT Speedlite and ST-E3 controller both share the same interface, so once you’ve learned one, you’ve essentially learned the other. Thank you Canon, we love that!!
It’s not just speedlites that can strike fear into the hearts of the burliest of men, but flash in general can have this effect too. So I’ll simplify that too! In a “teach a man to fish” approach, I’ll show you how to think about light and understand the why, when and how behind the choices you have available to you. Together we’ll look at the 4 key components that make up flash: quantity of light, quality of light, direction of light and distance of light. It doesn’t get more complicated that I promise, and after this class you’ll understand why. So come along with me on this journey of light and technology, things will never be the same!
I’ve included a selection of images I created with the Canon 600EX-RT system below to whet your appetite. I want to get you as excited as I am about this incredible system. In the captions for each image I’ve described the techniques I used, how they were lit, and why the 600EX-RT system was the perfect solution. See you guys in class!
First let’s start my two favorite, no fail, location lighting patterns, Cross Light and Wedge Light! These two lighting patterns are quick, easy, work every time, and form a solid foundation to build upon with additional techniques and light modifiers.
Cross Light is a simple but very effective lighting pattern that quickly adds a polished, sculptural, dimensional quality to your subjects. It’s created by aiming two speedlites at each other along the same axis and placing your subject between them. By doing this you’re creating a key light on one side and an accent light on the other. This arrangement can then be rotated around your subject so you can light them using either Broad Light or Short Light. Your bases are covered with this one simple pattern. You’ll see Cross Light used a lot in the images below, give it a try!
Here’s Cross Light in action! I’ve hidden one speedlite behind the gritty column camera left. This is my accent light. It’s been fitted with a half cut of CTO gel to create a warm tone and replicate the look of setting afternoon sun on my model’s hair. Like my key light placed camera right, both flash heads were vertically oriented and manually zoomed to 200mm. Doing this creates tight vertical beams of light that not only provide a natural looking in-camera fall-off of light but also more closely match the vertical shape of the body.
More fun with Cross Light. Here the key light is placed camera left and the accent light is over the model’s right shoulder providing a punchy highlight on her hair and shoulder. Bare speedlites, vertically oriented and zoomed to 200mm do the trick here delivering dramatic, specular light. I’ve underexposed the ambient by 2 stops using my shutter speed to get that killer blue sky! I explain this in detail in my class.
Just as I used my shutter speed in the image above to create one effect, in this image I’ve used it in another way to create a completely different look. Dragging the shutter (using a very slow shutter speed) along with a high ISO and Cross Light allow me to balance the beautiful shimmering lights of Chicago’s evening skyline and the strobe illuminating my model. The key light here is modified with a Chimera collapsible beauty dish and the accent light is bare flash with a 1/2 cut of CTO gel to warm things up a bit.
Next up is something I like to call Wedge Light. This is another super flexible and easy to use location lighting pattern. It gets its name due to the pie slice shape in which the key and accent lights are placed. Like Cross Light, this pattern can be rotated around your subject, in this case to introduce more or less shadow. The distance between each light can also be widened or shortened to create different effects.
Here you can see the results of Wedge Light positioned to the side, exactly like the diagram above, to create directional, shadowed, dramatic light. Both speedlites are bare bulb delivering a punchy, specular quality of light with rapid transitions between shadows and highlights.
In this image I’ve taken the same Wedge Light pattern used in the image above and positioned it in front of my model to create an even, almost shadowless lighting effect. Each speedlite is modified with a 24×24” Lastolite EzyBox Softbox and the harsh light from the midday sun overhead is being diffused with an 8×8’ scrim.
Wedge Light is also great for 2 people! Here I’ve got both speedlites camera left in a in pie slice arrangement, each inside a 24” Lastoilte Ezybox Softbox aimed toward each subject. I’ve also got an 8×8’ scrim overhead to diffuse the harsh sun above.
Now let’s talk about why you need speedlites with built-in wireless radio communication! The next two images demonstrate perfectly why the Canon 600EX-RT/ST-E3’s built-in radio communication is such a game changer. Optical based systems require something called “line of sight.” Meaning both the speedlite and controller need a clear visual path to see one another in order to communicate. When it comes to placing speedlites behind walls and inside soft boxes this line of sight is broken and communication is lost. Not so with radio based systems. Obstacles are no problem and the line of sight requirement is gone! Optical systems are also prone to problems in bright sunlight. In other words, radio rules.
This image like the others was made using the 600EX-RT and ST-E3’s wireless radio based communication system. It’s a perfect example of radio’s superiority over optically based systems. Note the position of the accent lights in this Cross Light setup… It’s behind a wall camera right. There’s no line of sight between the controller on my camera and the speedlite behind the wall, if I were using an optical trigger system there would be no way to trigger the flash. Plus not only can I trigger hidden lights but I have full control over their power and exposure modes. This is all huge!
Here’s another practical example of the many ways radio based communication makes things much easier. Here I’ve got a speedlite inside a soft box placed camera right. Again the controller and speedlite have no line of site, so optical is out of the question. Additionally the speedlite is inside the softbox, meaning that without radio communication, every time I wanted to make a power adjustment I’d need to open the softbox and dig inside to get to the speedlite’s controls. Trust me, that gets to be no fun real quick! Again, radio rules.
Last but not least I’d like to talk about direction, direction of light! I’ll cover all of this in class, but I want to encourage you to start thinking about directionality. The more direction or angle at which you have your light in relationship to your subject, the more shadow you’ll introduce. For me shadow equals drama and mood; I’m a big fan. Think about it… At its essence photography is nothing more than highlights and shadows, so embrace them! Shadows can be infinitely controlled, using distance, source size, and the modifier used to control the speed of the transition from highlight to shadow.
Placing my lights to the side of my model introduces shadow and drama. Think about how different this image would be if it were produced using flash on camera! Did somebody say flat? If you did you’d be right on target! Throw some direction into your lighting, you’ll be glad you did.
There’s nothing like a little side light when it comes to creating mood and drama. Here I’m using Cross Light Light again. My key light is a bare speedlite, camera left, and my accent light is another speedlite placed outside the widow camera right.
Clearly I’m passionate about light and I can’t wait to share what’s possible with Canon’s 600EX-RT and ST-E3 speedlite system! Hopefully the images above have stoked your creative fires and gotten you ready to dust off your speedlites and explore new ways to create with light. My class will be live tomorrow, I hope you’ll join me. Together we’ll get you all dialed in and up and running!
Thank you Scott for another opportunity to share my photography adventures on your blog.
Few television shows ever achieve the 300th episode milestone. On February 9, 2016 NCIS not only accomplished it, they did so while being the most viewed television show in the world 2 years in a row!
My name is Mike Kubeisy, and I am humbly honored to have been the photographer for 301 of those episodes. 301 you ask? I was involved with the spin off from JAG also. I have been involved with many shows that have achieved the 100th episode, and a few that reached the 200th milestone. 300, that’s a first for me. Allow me to share some thoughts and statistics with you.
The U.S. viewership on a Tuesday night for a new NCIS episode, on average is 17 million viewers. The average worldwide viewership is around 52 million. Now that number is not for Tuesday night alone, our international viewers watch NCIS on different nights and also depending on the country, they may be watching an earlier season. Then you have syndication, you know USA Network every night. That’s a lot of viewers enjoying “Gibbs” and the gang.
Scott Bourne from Photofocus acclaim has said “No Photographer’s work is seen by more people than Mike’s work worldwide.”
Alright here are some fun statistics: I have shot as many as 2000 images in one day, as few as 30 images in a day and an average of 400 images on one day of production. I have been on set as long as 16 hours and as little as 30 minutes, depending on what it is scripted and needs to be shot. It takes the cast and crew 8 days to shoot 1 episode, when aired is 43 minutes long with titles and credits.
Think about this for a moment…12 hours a day times 8 days equals 96 hours on average to shoot 1 episode. We will shoot for 2.23 hours to capture 1 minute of what you’ll see on TV.
Then there’s another 20 days of Post. Editor gets about 3 days, then the Director’s cut gets about 4 days, then you have sound, dubbing, foley, music, spotting, colorizing and all that stuff they do in dark rooms. The shortest turnaround from completion to airing was 9 days, the longest was 60 days all depending where we are in the season. There are about 100 members of cast and crew on the set when shooting on average.
Now allow me to share some more of my photos over the years. This is probably my favorite shot of Mark Harmon.
He knew my camera was on him, and he kept the horse still till I got the shot. One of the most lovable characters is “Abby”. She is always a blast to shoot, she brings such energy to the set.
She is also a super friend and prayer warrior with me.
Michael Weatherly who plays “Very Special Agent Dinozzo” is so witty you need to have your camera set and ready. You never know when or what he’s going to do.
When my boys are visiting the set, Michael will always make time for them and make them feel special.
David McCallum is a fine Scotsman who loves my camera and allows me to shoot anytime.
We have shot a few personal projects together.
Let me share some of the F/X shots with you.
These guys keep you on your toes with the toys they bring to the set. The show is shot in Santa Clarita, California and takes place in Virginia. It could be 85° outside and we need snow, call in F/X.
NCIS has had a lot of awesome special guest stars. Here’s a shot of Mark Harmon and Jeri Ryan chatting for a moment while the crew “turns around”.
Ralph Waite played “Jackson Gibbs”, the dad of “Jethro Gibbs”, when I took this shot. It was fun because the 2 of them were just horsing around so much it was playful watching 2 established stars having such a great time together.
I was blessed they used my photo to honor Ralph Waite on his passing back in 2014.
Another powerful image that received a lot of comments on social media was this image of a homeless vet and his dog.
The show wanted to feature the photos of photographer Lee Jefferies on homeless vets. So I needed to match the look of our character to Jefferies’ work. The episode was very powerful.
Let me share this final image of real soldiers turned stuntmen/actors with me.
I’m the one with the Canon ;).
My next milestone will be on NCIS: Los Angeles’ 200th episode next season.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my milestone with you, Brad and Scott. Livin da Dream Boyz!
IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE
It’s always a privilege to appear as a guest blogger on Scott’s Photoshop Insider Blog. Having a chance to share some of my experiences in photography with Scott’s blog readers is always a pleasure. If anything I say plants a seed in your mind that you then nurture and turn into a unique memorialization of a moment in time, I couldn’t hope for more.
This will be my fourth appearance as Scott’s guest blogger and this time I’ll be chatting about one way to create some sports images that are different than the usual stuff you may see. If you’ve tried your hand at sports photography you know how much competition there is in the field. With camera equipment becoming relatively affordable and with technology advancing so much that pro level equipment is readily available to all, there has been a proliferation of folks who are geared up to shoot sports. With so many new shooters, I find it necessary to do anything I can to distinguish myself from others for the sake of continued photo assignments. Thus, I strive to capture images that stand out from what others capture.
15mm fisheye shot from the floor
For many years, I have used a diagonal fisheye lens to add one or two images to my typical set. The unique image curvature created by this lens is always good for images that are different from typical sports images. The shot above is an example of a basketball image taken with a 15mm fisheye and the camera body placed on the floor angled upward. The problem is that a little fisheye goes a long way. One or two images in a set are plenty.
Trying a different perspective for this shot
To supplement equipment in my bag of tricks I try to use creativity as a means of generating novel images. Over time, I have developed a reputation among colleagues as the guy who will try almost anything in order to get a different perspective for an image. It’s become a running joke with my friends and it’s gotten to the point where they are no longer surprised when they find out from where I managed to get a given shot.
And here’s the shot
My philosophy is pretty simple – the best way to separate my work from that of others is to be creative enough, and sometimes crazy enough, to find unique perspectives for images. The early bird may get the worm, but the creative one is more likely to get the shot that turns heads.
Perspective is one of the easiest things you can change to make an image look completely different from another one depicting the same scene. That’s why for sports like basketball which are played indoors, I have been venturing up into the nosebleed section of FSU’s basketball arena to shoot some images during a game. To do so, I had to force myself to overcome a fear of heights but it has been well worth it for the sake of unique images.
The view of the Tucker Center’s basketball court in Tallahassee, Florida from the catwalks above the arena
Normally, when people talk about going to the nosebleed section of a stadium or an arena it’s usually a sarcastic reference to being relegated to crappy seats. When I tell people that I’m headed to the nosebleed section, it’s not with sarcasm in my voice, it’s with a mixture of excitement, fear, and a lot of trepidation. My version of being in the nosebleed section of an arena is different than sitting in the cheap seats – it’s making my way up to the catwalks that ring FSU’s arena high above the facility.
The catwalks and the steel girders that support the structure
In order to get to the best spots from which to shoot, I have to climb up and down ramps, scale ladders, and negotiate obstacles, cables, and lights, all the while petrified beyond words. I don’t like heights. No, that’s an understatement. I really, really hate heights. But when I sit at my computer after a game and look through the images that I get from the catwalks, I can only smile.
The arena lights just in front of the steel grates that make up the floor of the catwalks
Some photographers set up remote cameras on the catwalks and then trigger them from the floor. For them, spending one minute more than necessary perched on a catwalk sends shivers down their spines. I wish I was more willing to trust technology but I still believe that if I want something done right I need to do it myself. I refuse to trust a camera’s autofocus capabilities or pre-focus on a spot and set the camera to Manual Focus to generate images. I’d rather not hope and pray that a given shot sequence is in focus only to find out later that the images aren’t sharp. Old school still rules so I shoot from above.
Two shots taken from a side angle
There are some guidelines I follow when venturing up to the catwalks. As far as equipment, I only take one camera body strapped diagonally and securely around my body with the lens attached. Since basketball is the sport I typically photograph from catwalks, I’ll walk you through what I do to shoot basketball from the heavens but the same basic principles apply to anything else that you might shoot from up there.
My lens of choice for basketball is usually a 300mm f2.8 that I hand hold. On occasion I will also take a wide angle lens or my 15mm fisheye for artsy fartsy stuff, but if I take an extra lens it is stuffed deep into my pants pocket. I leave everything else on the arena floor and that includes camera bag, lens hoods, cell phone, monopod, keys, glasses, and anything else that I might accidentally drop from above. Not only are these items superfluous, they pose a risk of serious injury (and possibly even death) to the people below if accidentally dropped.
Two more shots taken from a side angle
Some arenas do not have catwalks that run directly above either basket or directly above center court. For a long time, that was the case at FSU’s Tucker Center but I was nevertheless able to find spots where I could position myself to nab some cool stuff. Even though I wasn’t directly over a basket, I was able to alter the images’ perspective somewhat in Photoshop to make them look almost as if they were taken from directly overhead. The two images above are examples of images I shot from the side and then corrected to some extent in Photoshop.
A couple of other images shot from different vantage points
By moving around on the catwalks and changing locations I use different vantage points to get different perspectives on images. I shoot some images vertically but most of the time I stick with a horizontal orientation.
The Tucker Center during player introductions taken with a 17-35mm lens
I use a wide lens for shots of the venue during games that pit FSU against teams that are usually highly ranked, such as Duke, Louisville, or North Carolina. These games usually mean that the seats in the arena will be full which lends itself to desirable images. But after those shots are in the can I switch to the 300mm lens. The 300mm on a full frame camera body is ideal from up top because it lets me get tight on the action while still allowing me to follow it so I don’t miss too many shots.
The grate over the center catwalk supported by girders underneath. Top/center is the opening through which I shoot
Me (right) and a colleague (left) shooting from the catwalk pictured above. Photo by Colin Abbey
The best shots from overhead are when players are looking up at the rim or up at the ball, such as the opening tip, going for a rebound, about to release a floater in the lane, or just before a dunk. Last year, Florida State renovated the Tucker Center and finally cleared out an area that has a small opening over each of the baskets so I can now shoot from a position almost directly overhead. That is the ideal situation as I can now mix up my shots, some from the sides and some taken from directly overhead.
Two images shot from almost directly overhead of the baskets
I try to stay alert even when play stops as opportunities for images often present themselves after the whistle blows. If I had let my guard down after the whistle blew (first image) or after a timeout was called (second image), I would have missed the images below, one of a player who collapsed in pain and the other of a dance team member doing a back flip.Fortunately, I kept an eye on the floor after play was stopped and snapped away.
A Clemson player collapses in pain shortly after the whistle blew
An FSU dancer does a back flip during a time out
Another shooting opportunity presents itself during timeouts. I keep an eye on the game clock and anticipate the media time outs. When I know one is approaching, I’ll boogie over to a spot directly above one of the teams and wait for the players and coaches to gather for their strategy session. Shooting the teams from the catwalks during a timeout yields images that are not your traditional, vanilla time out images. Here are a couple of examples.
Duke men’s team uses its bench for seating during timeouts
FSU women’s team uses seats brought out to the floor during timeouts
If you’re fortunate enough to have catwalks available for use in your arena, by all means give it a go. To shoot from the catwalks I obtain permission from the arena facilities director to access the catwalks. That individual is usually making the rounds around the floor of the arena before the game. Once I find him and obtain permission, I make sure he contacts his staff via radio to ensure that someone will unlock the stairwell door that leads the catwalks. I make my way to this door long before I intend to shoot so I can slowly, carefully wind my way up and down the ramps and stairs that eventually end up on the catwalk that rings the arena.
My first time up in the catwalks I made sure to leave myself enough time to get a feel for what it was like up there and explored the vantage points that exist by walking around. I took test shots of the teams as they warmed up to dial in the right exposure and explored the image possibilities from the different vantage points. After that I was all set to create my images.
If you make it up to the catwalks of an arena and you’re like me, your heart will be in your throat until you are safely back down on the court. But when you download your cards and take a peek at what you got, you’ll be glad you made it up to the nosebleed section of nosebleed sections.
Miguel (Mike) Antonio Olivella, Jr. is a professional photographer based in Tallahassee, Florida. Mike has been a Featured Photographer for Florida State University Athletics for over ten years and a stringer for two international wire services. Mike’s sports photographs are routinely published worldwide and his astrophotography, wildlife, travel, and landscape images have been exhibited in solo and joint gallery exhibitions. You can see more of Mike’s work at BaselineShots.com, on Google+ , or on Facebook.