Category Archives Photography

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!

Last weekend, I was very fortunate to get to speak at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference in Ft. Worth Texas, and I have to say—I had an outstanding time. I met so many great people, plus I got to share the stage with two photographers I consider to be among the best: Bill Fortney and Jeremy Cowart. (Photo above by Stanley Leary)

An Amazing Opportunity for Students
They offer a student conference the day before, aimed at College students, and what a great program they put together. I went early to be a part of the Student Conference, and along with instructor Bill Bangham (heck of a nice guy) we took a group of five students to the Stockyard area of downtown Ft. Worth for a 2 hour photo walk. I had been to the Stockyards 10 years ago, without a camera, so it was fun to get to finally shoot it (some of my shots from the photo walk are shown in the Lightroom Grid above, and below—click on them for a much larger view). Our students were awesome, and I enjoyed getting the chance to teach one of the students how to shoot her first HDR photo.

I started the Photo Walk just kind of shooting anything, and then with only about 20 minutes left, I decided to give myself a practice assignment of shooting as if I was shooting for the Ft. Worth Visitor’s Bureau, trying to get images that capture the flavor of the Stockyards. I didn’t have enough shots of people at that point, but having a goal, an assignment like that, actually made that last 20 minutes more fun (and it made it absolutely fly by).

Here’s an HDR shot (above) taken inside a wonderful little boot shop we came across called the “Ponder boot company.” Amazing place, and the owners were kind enough to let our students shoot there as long as they liked. The image was processed using Photoshop CS5’s built-in HDR Pro, and then I hit it with the Tonal Contrast preset found in Nik Software’s Color Efex 3.0.

After we got back, we worked on the post processing for a few hours, and the students edited the photos down to just a few they would display to the entire group during the full conference. I got to spend some one-on-one time with the students in my group helping them with the post processing, and it was so cool to see them getting into it like they did. I was really glad I came a day early.

(Above: That’s Bill Bangham in the Ponder Boot Company store).

The Business Side of Things
On Friday night I did a presentation on the state of our industry, and what we can do to stay competitive, get an edge, and keep working in an industry with greatly increased competition and clients with very tight budgets. The crowd was really receptive, and I had lots of questions afterward.

Photoshop Time
On Saturday morning, I did a class on my current “Photoshop Seven Point System” for CS5 and we had a ball. What a terrific crowd to present to. Afterward I did a few one-on-one portfolio reviews (as seen above. (Photo above by Stanley Leary ), and before I knew it, I was on my way to the airport for my flight back home.

(Above: This shot was taken at our lunch stop—The Love Shack (Love baby, that’s where it’s at). Awesome place. Great live music, even at lunchtime).

I Was Really Impressed
The conference is coordinated by the Southern Baptist Photojournalists, with support from Christians in Photojournalism, and it was hosted at a beautiful conference center on the campus of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I have to say, they absolutely put on a first class event. What a great job they’ve done bringing all these people together for such a great learning experience. I met so many really wonderful, really passionate instructors and participants, and I totally see why they get people like Bill and Jeremy (and past instructors like Joe McNally). Highly recommended. Here’s a link to their site in case you want to mark your calendars for next year.

I want to thank my friend and photo assistant Brad Moore for getting me involved in this event (Brad has been going to this conference for years now, and he was there this year as well). Also my personal  thanks to the SWPJC conference team: Stan Leary, Matt Miller, Morris Abernathy, Bill Bangham, Bob Carey and especially Jim Veneman for letting me be a part of their very special event.

P.S. Ashley Landis, one of the students at the conference, posted some B&W shots on her blog of me teaching which I actually like, which is saying somethin’ right there, because as you might already know, I pretty much hate all photos of me. Here’s the link.

Hi Gang:

Remember last week when I did that post about my incredibly lame College Basketball Shoot? Well, after that post I heard from my buddy, pro sports shooter Mike Olivella (who laughed at me hysterically), but between his howls of laughter, he pointed me to the video above, which he put together showing how he shoots a College Basketball game, along with tips and insights on how to shoot a game like this. Here’s the link to Mike’s blog.

Thanks Mike for sharing this with us (and you can stop giggling now).

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. ;-)

It’s official: The Grid, our brand new LIVE talk show about Photography, Photoshop, and anything else remotely related is launching next week.

You’re invited:

When: Monday, March 7th, at 12:30 pm EST
Cost: Absolutely Free. Every week.
Rebroadcast: Free, and available whenever you’d like to watch.

Please feel free to bring a guest. Or two thousand. ;-)

We want you to be a part of the discussion, and share your thoughts live on the air via Twitter and our direct online chat.

Also, each week we’ll have an in-studio guest, as well as some friends chiming in on the topics via live video feeds. I can’t wait.

I hope you will join us on Monday, and in the meantime I would love it if you would help us spread the word about the new show on Facebook, Twitter, your Blogs, and wherever you can. :-)

See you Monday on “The Grid”