Thanks again to everyone for throwing down your thoughts on how I shot this photo. Lots of good ideas presented in your answers, and lots of you nailed several components of image. Overall, I think Derik got the closest to detailing how we did this, so if Derik will ping us offline, we’ll send him a signed copy of TBCITOTWY. In the meantime, here’s the debrief of the soccer shot from my portfolio.
1. Environment. This shot is NOT a composite. It’s all shot in camera. The model is standing in front of a brightly colored, yellow, concrete wall that has a ton of structure to it.
Why? I love doing as much work as possible in camera. Cool locations, great textures, and technical savvy help pull images together more naturally.
2. Main Light. The main light is a bare naked bulb from a single strobe head sporting a dish (reflector that aims the beam).
Why? The light is meant to be harsh…trying to exaggerate a technique you’ll see here in the next section…
3. Fill Light. The fill light is nothing more than the rich fiery ball in the sky that is the setting sun. It’s late afternoon in December, so the light is quite rich. I’ve slightly underexposed the image to keep it rich. That texture of the wall is exaggerated as the sun rakes across the groves in the wall.
Why? The sun is a great fill light. Often overlooked. If you’ve got the room in your exposure to employ it, give it a shot. It’s free and you don’t even need a light stand or an assistant to dial it in.
4. Hacking the camera’s sync speed. From an earlier post I wrote on the subject…”The principle is simple…… If 1/250th of a second allows your camera to sync perfectly with your flash (full flash coverage across the entire frame), other incremental steps up the shutter speed ladder (1/320, 1/400, 1/500, 1/640, 1/800, 1/1000) don’t give you ZERO light, they in fact give you partial–even substantial–light on your subject according to a relatively predictable pattern.” That’s what’s going on here. There is a very predictable LINE across the image where the top portion hasn’t seen the strobed light and the bottom portion has been exposed to the strobed light.
Why? This is a technique I’ve used when I’m trying to get one or more of the following to happen: a) a faster sync to freeze the action, or b) i’m looking to intentionally “frame” the subject in a direct and aggressive manner with light. Such situations might include the image we’re discussing here or another instance where I want the subject properly exposed and either a harsh dark or harsh bright portion of the frame next to them…whether to highlight something, obscure it, or create negative space in an image for some future end use (copy, text, logo, etc).
5. The talent. You may or may not know, but I went to college on a soccer scholarship, so I’m expressly picky about my soccer talent. This stud here, Santa, fits the bill. He’s an incredible player. His instructions were simple: juggle the ball on your head in front of this yellow concrete wall. There is no posing, no real “set up”. He’s just doing his thing and I’m shooting like mad. I shot hundreds of images in this manner and this was my favorite from the take.
Why? Asking sports talent to “fake” something, often yields very fake results. There’s nothing like having them actually “do” the task at hand. Let the talent’s job be to do the thing and let yours be to capture that in a moment. As such, knowing something about your subject matter (ie me knowing something about soccer) really helps get better images. You know what those little moments are like, you know the right time to take the shot, what feels good, authentic and engaged.
6. Overall scene. The overall scene is very simple. One player and one ball.
Why? There is beauty in simplicity. In creating this scene, I used the hacked sync speed trick draw the viewer into the talent’s face. The concentration, the emotion, the “dance” element. Contrasting his dark skin and hair against the blown out wall seemed like a great way to do it.
7. Camera stuff. Nikon D2x. Nikkor 17-55 2.8. ISO 200, f16, 1/400.
Why? This image was captured before Nikon’s current flagship – the D3 line – was released. So it was captured on their then-flagship, the D2x. That generation of camera didn’t have a full frame sensor either (how spoiled we are these days!), so it was captured on DX glass…the Nikkor 17-55 2.8, shot at 44mm. Shutter speed of 1/400 (faster than the typical max 1/250 second sync speed). The shutter speed was just enough to get the hacked “line” we discussed above, the ISO was keep low to reduce noise, and the aperture dialed us into the exposure we needed, and gave us plenty of depth of field to capture our talent and the cool background all in focus.
8. Post production. There’s some grit and texture here, but for the most part, it’s contrast and a little color work done using photoshop.
Why? You can see the original capture here, below. It’s a good bit more middle of the road regarding exposure. That’s a good habit to be in so you have the most latitude when you go to work on the image in post. In this case we’ve hammered the contrast pretty hard using curves in Photoshop. There’s a few extra tricks to pull out some grit, but for the most hammered the image to get the look I want. A reminder: I’m far less concerned with having a technically perfect image (boring) and way more concerned with raw visual impact. It’s nice to have the knowledge of what a “technically correct” image is, but resist falling into the trap of that being the “right” way. There is no right way. Raw impact wins over technical specification every day of the week.
And for reference, here’s the final again….
Well, there ya go. Congrats again to Derik for getting really close, and a shoutout to everyone who shared in this. Seem like these are still popluar, so we’ll keep em coming every once in a while. Also, if there’s anything you’d like to know about the shot that I didn’t reveal here, ping me and I’ll do what I can to share some more.