Bring it All Together
When I talk about bringing it all together, I've told this story a few times, it's from a past job a couple years ago at my alma mater at Iowa State. One day I got an email, I always shoot a lot of their marketing materials for their sports teams and it's one of my favorite jobs each year. I really enjoy working with them, I'm a big sports fan myself, I have season tickets to all their stuff. So this is kind of one of those fun jobs every year where I get to be a little more creative. There's this freedom but they also have a structured plan and they work with an ad agency based in Des Moines, Iowa so I always first of the year, every year they usually start sending out concepts for their sports posters, for football specifically. And a couple years ago they sent me this comp in an email and they said, "Hey Dan, we want you to photograph our sports poster." And again, the whole point of this story is to show you how it goes from creating this personal work and making these environmenta...
l portraits and creating them offsite. So all these photos were taken by an actual game, so they're live action photos. Whether it's the quarterback throwing, the running back. In fact, the reason they were doing this poster is 'cause that coach, those logos are Photoshopped. He was actually a coach at Toledo and he was wearing blue and they Photoshopped his jacket and if you were to see it high res it's just a crude Photoshop job to show how they want the layout of this poster but the catch is, these were all taken in October, November in football season. Two of these guys are no longer on the team but we like this general layout but you can't shoot live game action because we need these all shot indoors in the studio to look like they were shot at the game for the new poster. This is the treatment we're gonna do to it, this is the general composition, can you match that? So this is really fun for me. This is one of those assignments where I'm like, "Alright, we got a puzzle." So, it's breaking down. First thing I look at is alright, we clearly have photos of five people so we're gonna have five players, four players and a coach. We look at the highlights here. We have specular highlights when we're looking at the lighting. It's the sun so we see these harsh highlights or harsh shadows, bright highlights, specularity on the helmets. The coach looks like he's coaching on a cloudy day so that's totally different so we gotta kinda pick something and go with it. And they're telling me, "You're gonna have about three hours to shoot this, "maybe about 20 minutes with each player and the coach, "an hour to set up in the indoor practice facility "on the turf and we're gonna have to cut them all out "and put this back together in Photoshop "but we really like the feel of these photos." So, there's two challenges there. One is the lighting and two is how do you get guys in the off season to really care enough to catch a pass or the running back, and this is a running back down here but they want it to be a receiver but they want that pose. So, I'm a football fan so it's like alright, he just caught a pass, now he's about to take off. Ball's in his left hand which shows me that his left leg is up because his right foot is planted in the ground. Things like that that I'm looking for, how do you create emotion out of a coach who looks like he's coming out on the field after an interception or something to cheer his team on when it's the middle of January and he's never even worked with these players before because he was just hired? How do you create all this? So I'm going through these scenarios of how to get people to do that, you know, watching some football and what came up was alright, I need to shoot in the indoor practice facility on the turf. So here's me. The first thing was the lighting. What you'll see here is a big silk. So this is, it's like an eight by eight or 10 by 10 foot silk, knocks 1.6 stops off the light, and what's behind the silk is two of those Magnum reflectors. You can actually see it here above. It's hard to see but I stacked two of them to get a wide light spread that would give similar light to the sun. So it's just Magnum reflectors without any diffusion other than that silk and the reason I use the silk is to give a nice, wide area 'cause if we're gonna have football players running through here at full speed, we need a little leeway to work with as far as the camera goes. So that was our main light. Then the fill light is a big 46 inch Softlighter, same thing we used in here for the shoot. And then what you can see if you look closely way over here is another light stand and another umbrella up there. That was actually another Softlighter with no baffle with silver to give a little bit of that kicker light like it might be the sun back lighting them or stadium lights or whatever it may be. And I forgot sandbags so we got to use weights. So again, the next thing was how do you get these guys into action? So I asked the coach, we showed him this previous picture, what happened here, and he said, "Oh, I was just coming off the field, "we got an interception at a big time "so I was coming out all pumped out." I was like alright well let's bring a couple players out here and we need to fake this. So there was a lot of laughs as you can see here. He was doing some stuff that was just not into it. I was like, "Is that really all you got?" So what happened was we had to get him in the mindset that this is actually happening so again, when it comes to environmental portraits it's not always natural, sometimes you have to force it. And when we're making a poster like this, you have to get people in the right mindset, especially the football players. So here's a couple of those shots. So again, what you'll see here is we're mimicking that shot so here we have our light. He's walking off the field, we finally got a genuine look. And I don't know if you've ever photographed people clapping, it's really hard to time it out, especially when you're using strobes. I didn't have the fastest recycle time. So we had to do that like 10 times, probably more. This player here, he goes back to the comp and is gonna be this guy. So instead of number two we have number five but I need him to have a spot where he's running and we want the ball in that hand and we want that knee up so I actually put a little piece of Gaff tape on the ground and that's his spot. I told him, "I just want your left foot to stomp "on this spot so that I know I need to shoot "right before that when his leg's up "and get that same angle." And you can see how the lighting's coming together. And then this guy again, if you look at the comp, we have this guy right here so that's number 35. They wanted, he had graduated, they wanted 17. So it's again figuring out those angles but polishing up what was existing in that poster so now we can actually see his eyes, we can see his eyes. The other one you couldn't so it adds a little more connection. And then cutting all of them out in Photoshop, bringing it all together. So there you go, starting cutting it out. We also photographed the quarterback, I just didn't show all the shots. Similar arm angle. I took off the diffusion to make that really harsh light. And what they were actually able to do was Photoshop some of the original game shot with this because the ball was catching reflection weird, but we were able to catch the angle so similarly that they could Photoshop that in and you would never know. So then you can kinda see the progression. So it's just kind of a fun shoot, it's something that I like to show because it shows the commercial version. There's all the personal shoots and those are great but we need to make money as photographers, too, so it kinda shows. They presented me with this and I'm able to break down that vision, bring it through with some behind the scenes and show how it's made, a little bit of the actual shots, and then you can easily cut things out in Photoshop, and then bringing it all together. And they did this design work in-house at the agency. So it's just kind of fun to show that progression and how you can take all the things you know with lighting and again, this is more of a faking that environmental type look, but bringing it together for an actual ad client. And that happens a lot so what's the product you wanna sell? What is the emotion we wanna get from our viewers and all that type of stuff? So, just a sample of that, and that's something I'm kinda proud of and something that's just fun for me as being a fan of that team. In closing, I just wanted to let everybody know, for one, this was awesome and I hope you guys learned something from this. I know I even learned stuff from it just from shooting and working at the motorcycle garage especially dealing with all that reflection. I have a lot mental notes going forward. So getting back to your roots, why did you become a photographer? And figuring out if you have to pick that one direction to kind of master one genre, how are you gonna get back there? Again for me, it was having that portfolio review where someone asked me that same question and thinking, "I don't know, I don't really know," and then remembering, "Well, I used to go to Borders Bookstore "in 2003 in Ames, Iowa and stare at environmental portraits "in ESPN Magazine and GQ and Vogue and all those "and that's what drove me to work at the newspaper "to recreate those environmental portraits." So my roots were pretty clear at that point but I never really realized it. Over the course of experimenting and growing as a photographer, I've shot fashion. I'm not a fashion photographer so that's why it's in quotes. Fashion is like really hard unless you're into fashion. I've shot a lot of the live action sports, I end up caring too much about the game so I don't look through the camera enough. I miss all the shots because I watch them happen in real life. So things like that. It's like, I love all these other aspects of photography and I respect and appreciate the photographers who shoot them but for me the work that was most satisfying to create was these environmental portraits and that'll be different for everybody. I have friends who are amazing food photographers and they know everything about the ingredients and all that and they just are passionate about the food. I just like to eat it. So it's a matter of what you like to do and getting back to your roots as to why you're a photographer. And that goes with shooting for you. While you can have all the paying clients in the world, I know photographers who are super busy with work but they haven't created a photo that actually means something to them in years because they're always just doing it for the client. And again, getting back to the roots and shooting for you, I make myself do those personal assignments and if you don't make yourself do it, you won't do it. It's really easy to find excuses that let you stay in bed or go do other fun stuff and sometimes it is a little bit punishment to go out and shoot for you at first but once you do it you're like, "Oh wow, I'm really glad I created those photos." And it helps you get more jobs and refines your vision as a photographer. Whether you're experimenting with lights to try and use that experimentation to be able to take those type of lighting techniques into your next job. Whether you're messing with new equipment, new locations, any of that. The main thing is just to create work. And like I said, whether I'm doing it because I have a portfolio review coming up or because I'm really just wanting to go out and shoot, I'm always trying to create new work to throw up on my Instagram, put on my website and show people, and just to stay creative and do something new because I wanna keep evolving as a photographer. And that goes to even your question earlier of will I keep the same look. I don't even know if I'll keep shooting the same thing, I just know I love photography and I love what I do so being able to evolve through that process and see where it goes is pretty fun in itself and you can't evolve without going out and creating the work.