Category Archives Photo Shoots

In Episode One of “The Grid” Matt Kloskowski brought up one of our favorite things about Twitter, which is that it’s such an amazing resource when you when need to find….well…anything. If Matt’s heading to a city to teach a seminar, sometime he’ll ask on Twitter if anyone in that city knows a good place to shoot, or a great steakhouse, or whatever, and he gets a dozen responses in minutes, if not seconds.

Last week, I went to Twitter for something similar. My son’s all time favorite band is the Christian Metal band “Disciple” and I surprised him with tickets to their show last week (I actually like Disciple, too, and have some of their songs on my iPod). Then I thought it would be cool to see if I could shoot a portrait of the band before the show, as I would take my son to assist on the shoot (he assisted on my shoot for Fight Factory), and that way he’d get to meet his favorite band in person.

I put out a Tweet asking, “Does anybody have a connection with the band Disciple? I’d like to shoot a portrait before their Florida show.” Well, in short—it worked. Within just a few hours, I was working out the details of the shoot with the band’s tour manager, and he invited me to shoot the concert that night as well. Amazing. I was excited. My son nearly blacked out.

An Unexpected Twist
We got to the shoot early and met with the band’s manager outside their tour bus. As it turned out, he told us we wouldn’t be able to do the portrait shoot after all, because one of the band members was actually on stage at that moment playing with their opening act—he was filling in for their missing guitar player, so the shoot was off. I was OK with it, especially since my son got to meet their Bass Player when we were out at the tour bus, and he was pretty psyched.

Shooting the Show
I still got to the shoot the show, and they gave me full access to go pretty much anywhere. I think the tour manager felt bad about having to cancel the shoot, so he let me shoot the entire show (not just the first three songs, like usual).

Six Lights, but only Five Were Working
It was a pretty challenging shoot, because there were only five lights total on the band, which had me shooing at around 8,000 to 10,000 ISO all night long. Thankfully, my Nikon D3s did an amazing job (but as pro concert photographer Brad Moore warned me—this is what Lightroom’s built-in noise reduction was made for. I had to apply a little on some shots, and it worked brilliantly).

Disciple put on a great show. We got to meet the band afterward, and I got a great shot of my son with the band (can’t show shot of the kids here on the blog. Mom’s rule). and he got a signed shirt and a poster for his room. My son had such a blast (and he knew every song. He has EVERY Disciple album).

Brad to the Rescue
Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of the shots I got here. I really felt Brad’s pain when he shoots a band without a big light show. It makes it really challenging, but Brad did give me some pointers on how to set up my camera for shooting concerts, and I have to say, his settings worked really well (He also had me turn on Auto ISO, which is why I wound up at 8,000 ISO most of the night).

There’s also a great feature story in this month’s Photoshop User magazine from pro concert shooter Alan Hess on not just the shooting, but the post processing, so if you’re a NAPP member, make sure you give it a read.

The Power of Twitter
Thanks to Brad for the settings; to Twitter for once again proving the power of social media, and to @chadphillips for the Disciple hook-up in the first place and to everyone who tried to help me make a Disciple connection. It was a day my son will never forget, which is all this dad wanted to give his awesome son. :)

Above: Here’s the last set from my shoot at Fight Factory, and that’s Mo (you remember Mo from Monday and Tuesday’s posts) doing some curls. When he was done, he handed the dumbell to me, and I was pinned to the floor for 40 minutes.

Above: Here’s the production shot (photo by Brad Moore). Pretty simple set-up, but it’s the only one where we actually used all three flashes. The main light is to the left of me, and that’s powered by the Ranger RX pack. The kicker light behind him is a bare bulb flash with a metal Grid attached to the front to focus the beam. Then, on the floor right behind Mo, you see the third flash, positioned down low, aiming upward to light the white seamless paper. But, there’s a problem. And I caused it.

Above: When I first got there, I did a few test shots using just the available light in the gym, so I set my f/stop to around f/4. But then when we set up the strobes, I never switched back to an f/stop that would give me focus throughout the image, like f/8 or f/11. Of course, I didn’t realize this until I opened the images hours later in Photoshop and realized that only part of each image was in focus. Uggh!

Above: In this shot, the dumbell is out of focus, but his body is in focus. Although I hate having to use Photoshop to fix mistakes I should have gotten right in the camera, in this case I was thrilled to be able to use Photoshop to fix my mistake. My plan was to combine the in-focus parts of the two images, into one image where everything was in focus.

Photoshop To The Rescue!
I used the Pen tool to select the in-focus version of the dumbells, and dragged it over to the photo where Mo’s body was in focus, and positioned it over the out-of-focus dumbells. It took all of two minutes to get the size right (they were taken at different focal lengths) and the proper position, but it worked and created the shot you see at the top of this post. Whew! That was a close one.

I had some questions after Monday and Tuesdays post about my location lighting gear, and I posted some photos of it packed up in its travel case so you can see how small it all breaks down to. Those images are on my Facebook page at

Above: Here’s another shot of Mo on the rings. I showed the production photo of this shot on Tuesday (link), but I noted that the flash with the softbox was turned off—that other shot was just lit with the bare flash and reflector with grid. Here’s what it looks like when the softbox is on, adding a little fill light.

B&W Conversion
I converted this to Black & White using Nik Software’s just released Silver Efex Pro 2.0, which I have to say is absolutely amazing. Every pro I know was already using Silver Efex Pro 1.0—but 2.0 kicks so much @#$, I can’t imagine they all won’t upgrade as soon as they try it. Seriously great upgrade. Way to go Nik! BTW: I just used one of their built-in presets. Also, you can download a 15-day free trail copy of the plug-in right here.

Above: The gym arranged to have Dallas, a model and friend of the gym, do a few shots inside the boxing ring that’s the center piece of the gym (real fighters train here, too). They wanted a shot where Dallas looked exhausted between rounds, with her arms “on the ropes” and I got the capture you see here.

Above: Here’s the production shot for that image (thanks Brad) and I’m just using two lights: The main light up right and to my left, and the same bare bulb flash with a metal grid that we’ve been using all day coming in behind Dallas and to the right. We had to put the stand up on some workout pads to get it up high enough. I’m shooting with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.

Now, when you look at the production image versus the final image, you might be wondering why my final image is so dark. I intentionally underexposed the shot by at least two stops, so my subject would be mostly lit with the just the strobe, and not the flat even boring ambient light in the gym. If I hadn’t, the shots would pretty much look like the production shots you see above (no offense to Brad whatsoever—the production shots looks exactly as they should—they’re exposed for the ambient light).

Above: Here’s another shot, but this time I’m outside the ring, down low shooting upward (as seen below).

Above: Here’s the production shot for that image. Same two lights, same modifiers, positioned the same way (each facing each other diagonally), we’re just shooting from a different position. You can clearly see the workout mats we stacked up to get the main light high enough.

Above: Here’s Mo again (he had quite a workout that day) in a dramatic lighting look, as he gets ready to sprint. I added the text (at the client’s request). The large faded text in the background is the font Futura Extra Bold and the smaller text is Helvetica Condensed Bold Oblique (Oblique is a type geek word for “Italic”).

Above: This is just a one-light shoot–the light on the left side isn’t turned on. That’s the Ranger Quadra, with one bare-bulb flash and a reflector, aiming straight at Mo. You can see how small the Quadra battery pack is in this shot—that’s it hanging on the light stand.

That wraps up this shoot. A funny thing just happened: as I’m writing this, a commercial for Fight Factory: Tampa just came on TV. Too cool!

Above: This was probably my favorite from the gym shoot, and while it was fairly easy to make, the athlete (his name was Reeth) who had to do pull up after pull up until I got it just like I wanted it, had it a lot tougher than I did by a long shot.

Above: Here’s the production shot (photo by Brad Moore—click for a larger view), and although there are two strobes in the shot (one to my left, as noted in the image, and one behind Reeth, we turned that back one off for this shot after I didn’t like how it looked).

The one strobe we did use is a flash head connected to a Ranger RX, but to make the light punchier, we removed the front diffuser (you can see it hanging from the bottom of the softbox). We did leave the inner diffuser still on the inside of the softbox, so while it wasn’t a bare flash bulb, it was pretty darn close.

Above: Here’s why I felt bad for Reeth—he had to do pull ups and then hold himself there while I fired off shot after shot. After I took a few shots and looked at them on my LCD, I felt like Reeth wasn’t doing it exactly right, so I asked him to step aside for a moment, and I jumped up there and did a few reps to show him what I was looking for. I started by just hanging on the bar, and then I looked at Reeth and said, “Watch….and learn,” and then I….then I…. (ah heck, even I can’t keep this up this charade with a straight face). Hey, I had ya there for a minute though, right? No? No? Rats!

Camera Settings
The shot was taken with a Nikon D3s at f/9 at 1/80 of a second. The shutter speed isn’t very fast—what froze the powder was the flash—-I just had to time my shot to when his hand hit the bar, which was much easier than actually being the guy on the bar. My ISO is 200, and since I was using strobes, I was in Manual mode. I shot this with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (seen above) out at 200mm.

Post Processing
I wish I had an exciting story about the post processing, but sadly I don’t. In Camera Raw (well, Lightroom’s Develop Module) I added some contrast (using the Tone Curve) and I added quite a bit of Clarity as well. Then I opened the image in Photoshop and sharpened it quite a bit, using the Unsharp Mask with these settings: Amount 100, Radius 1.5, Threshold 0. This type of shot, where every detail can be really crisp, can really handle a lot of sharpening, so I wasn’t shy about pouring it on. That’s pretty much it.

Above: Here’s another shot of Mo (the stair runner from yesterday)—suspending himself from two rings. I went for a really dark dramatic look, because if I didn’t you’d see those darn wooden stairs behind him, and all that other distracting stuff.

Above: Here’s the production photo (by Brad Moore) and you can see where I positioned the lights—-on either side of Mo, facing each other diagonally. Once Mo pulled himself up on the rings, they would start to rotate, so once he was facing that strobe without a softbox (just a reflector and a spot grid), I would take the shot, and after a few tries I got the shot you just saw previously.

Camera Settings
I started by underexposing the ambient room light by a few stops so it was really dark, then I would light Mo with just the flash. Again, I got lucky that I got shots of him from different angles without me moving my position as Mo slowly rotated on the rings. Of course, since he was rotating, each frame looked different, both from a lighting perspective and a posing one as well. Some looked good (like the one above) and some stunk, but hey—I only needed one good one, right?

Same lighting and camera set-up. Same f/stop, ISO, and all, but the shutter speed was 1/125 of a second. Why the shutter speed change? My finger probably accidentally hit the control dial on the camera at one point or another.

Keeping it Simple Rocks
I hate to say—I loved having such a simple and portable rig for this gym shoot. Just two very small battery packs (an Elinchrom Ranger RX, and a Ranger Quadra), with just two small flash heads total. We used just one small softbox and a reflector and a Grid—that’s all we used for the entire shoot, and that’s why I was able to get 8 or 9 different looks done, in different parts of the gym, with different people, in just a few short hours.

I hope to post a few more images from the shoot, and some behind-the-scenes production shots as well for you all on Friday. In the meantime, don’t miss Guest Blog Wednesday, and Pimpy Thursday here, and then I’ll see you on Friday.

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.

I’ll be in Boston a week from this Thursday (March 24th) kicking off my new “Light it, Shoot it, Retouch It Live!” tour. Hundreds of photographers are already signed up and I want to make sure you’re there, so go snag a seat right now (here’s the link), and spend the day with me seeing the entire process—from the lighting to the shooting, to all the post processing and portrait retouching in Photoshop. You see it all, unfolding live, and I don’t leave anything out.

You get a detailed workbook (shown above) covering all the stuff I’m showing in class (in the same order I’m doing it, so you can follow right along), plus, we offer a 100% money back guarantee if for any reason you think it doesn’t totally kick butt and make you want to run home and try all these new techniques yourself (which by the way, puts a ton of pressure on me, but that’s OK—I’ll have Brad there to create a diversion).

I hope I get to meet you in person in Boston in just 10 days! I am totally psyched!!!! See you there!

Wednesday night I got photo credentials (thanks to my buddy, sports photographer Andy Gregory) to shoot the USF Bulls vs. Pitt college basketball game and I absolutely stunk. So much so, I wasn’t even going to show any photos from the shoot, but there was one teaching moment in all of this mess, so I thought I’d show just enough to keep from totally humiliating myself.

First, a lovely iPhone photo of my gear
Here’s what I took to the shoot. Two bodies: A Nikon D3s and a D3. Two lenses: my beloved 300mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8 on my second body. It got there in my Think Tank Airport International rolling camera bag, and I remembered the all important basketball shoot collapsible seat. A lean, mean set-up. So far, all is well.

It Started Off With Such Promise
When you shoot basketball, in many cases the spots where you’re allowed to shoot from are pre-assigned before you get to the arena, and when you get to the photographers work room, you look at the seating chart to find out where you’ll be sitting. They only had 8 spots filled (and there’s usually around 16 or more), so I was pretty happy to see lots of open spots (my name wasn’t listed, but I figured somebody wouldn’t show up, so I’d take their spot).

About two minutes prior to game time, there were a total of only four photographers in their spots, so I just took a seat to the right of the basket, with the Bulls heading my direction. So far, I’m thinking “This is going to be sweet. I can shoot for just about any corner, or right up under the basket. Lots of room to move, stretch out. This is going to be a great night.”

(Above: He’s got a funky look on his face, but I like the frantic coach in the background. Not a good shot, but then, none of these are. Brad says it looks like the coach is slapping him in the head).

Then I Picked up my Camera
It seemed pretty bright in USF’s Sun Dome arena, but when I picked up my camera and pressed the shutter button half way down to get a reading at my usual starting aperture of f/2.8 at 1,250 ISO, I was stunned to see it read a shutter speed of only 1/200 of a second. I need at least 1/1000. Uh oh.

I cranked it up to 1,600. Oh oh. 2,000 ISO. Rats. 3,200. Still between 1/500 and 1/640. I wound up at 4,000 ISO and still couldn’t get much above 1/800 most of the night. This was the first time I had ever shot at f.2/8 and had to shoot above 1,600 ISO. I want to apologize in advance to every one reading this who is thinking, “I have to deal with lighting like that all the time.” If it’s any consolation—I truly feel your pain.

It wasn’t just the lighting
If there’s anything worse than bad lighting for sports photography, it’s probably empty seats, and on this particular night, there were plenty of them. The arena wasn’t full, and everybody that was there sat on the sides, which left the sections behind the basket nearly empty. So were all the top sections, so if I went wide, you saw lots of empty seats. If I shot down court you saw lots of empty seats. So, I tried to compose so you wouldn’t see a bunch of empty green seats. Bad idea.

It wasn’t just the lighting and the empty seats
It was me. I just had a lame night of shooting. I couldn’t get anything going. I was stinking—I knew I was stinking, and I still stunk it up. It was stink-fest 2011. My timing was off. I didn’t like the color of the images. I was missing stuff left and right, and absolutely had no excuse. Uggh.

Assigning Blame
Although I am totally to blame for this lame shoot, I think it’s fun to assign blame to others anyway. Let’s start with the refs. They were clearly out to get me. I saw this view more than any other all night. If I moved to a different shooting location, I swear I could hear one of the refs call out to the other refs—he’s over there now. Stand right in front of him.

Death From Above: Flash grenades
There was another photographer I recognized there, and he was shooting for the Bulls themselves. Nice guy, and we’ve talked several times at different events. He had some flashes mounted in the arena, and he used them against me, setting them off any time I might get a decent shot (as seen above). I’d look over and instead of shooting, he was watching me shoot, with one hand on the trigger of his Pocket Wizard. This was all part of a master plan to make sure I wouldn’t get anything decent. Their plan was working.

A Teaching Moment
Besides learning that I can really stink it up, there is something that might potentially help someone new to shooting sports, so here goes. For most sports shoots, I shoot in JPEG mode (don’t freak out—read this post first, then freak out). On my 2nd body (with my 24-70mm) I notice that the shots are looking really flat. I check all my standard settings, and take a few more test shots, and they’re just looking incredibly flat, so I go to my Shooting Menu to see what my Picture Style settings are. For some reason (Brad!) they had been changed from Standard to Neutral. Normally, if you shoot in Raw, Lightroom and Camera Raw completely ignore these settings, but in JPEG it applies them, and that Neutral setting is really flat.

During a time-out in the first period, I took the test shot you see above with the Picture Style still set on Neutral (I was shooting the floor, not the cheerleaders), and sure enough—the brightly painted wood floor looked pretty flat.

Then I switched back to Standard, and I could immediately see the image look much more contrasty and the colors look more vibrant. Of course, I could have switched to Vivid Light as well for even more vibrant colors (and I considered it), but I thought I’d stick with Standard, and from there on, the color looked much better. Of course, improved color can’t override bad photography, so while it didn’t help my case, at least this Picture Style thing is something you can keep in mind when you’re shooting in JPEG.

All in All, It Stunk
Getting bad shots is bad enough, but it gets worse. The USF Bulls are my home team (The University of South Florida is in Tampa. It’s where Matt graduated from), and although they were leading at the half, in the 2nd period Pitt just caught fire and we wound up losing by like 19 points. Yeech!

A Bad Shoot is Still Good Practice
It was still worth going, and I learned to make sure I check Picture Styles when things look flat. Most importantly, I got to practice some real world blame assignment, in which I was able to liberally assign the root causes of my lame shoot to everything from the arena lighting, the guy with mounted strobes, the refs, to even the JPEG camera settings themselves. All and all, I feel pretty good about spreading it around like I did, which is an art unto itself, and an important step in my growth as a blame-assignment photographer. ;-)