Athletic Portrait Examples
For me, photographing athletes is being prepared as doing something like this. This photo shoot right here was 30 seconds with Floyd Mayweather and 30 seconds with Manny Pacquiao. I shot that for HBO originally, and one of the biggest things that I'd like to tell any potential photographer that's out there is whenever you shoot stuff, regardless who you're photographing, like, I didn't do this shoot with them and get them and say, "Oh my God, I made it. "I shot Floyd and Manny. I'm great," right? When you do a shoot like that, right, like, congratulations, no one cares. Like, right? You shoot them, no one's gonna hire you after that or like publish them, right? So when I did this shoot it was for HBO. When you shoot stuff for a network like HBO or MTV or anything like that, it's usually a buy-out. You don't own the images. So I did the shoot, but I could still market them directly to all the editors that I know, so after I did this shoot and I had the images, I sent them to all the edi...
tors that I knew at Sports Illustrated, at ESPN, and all those sports magazines. And I didn't hear anything back. Like, right? It was just, like, nothing. And then about a month and a half later, I got an email back from Sports Illustrated from an editor that I knew and he was saying, "Hey, we're working on the Floyd and Manny Pacquiao issue "and we need images for the opening spread. "Can you send me the contact sheet from that shoot?" First thing that came in my mind was like, "Oh, you bastard, you did see my email. "You just never replied to it, right?" One of the reasons why I wanna make that a point is because I think one of the worst things or most discouraging things as a photographer you could get is when you market, you send your stuff out. Like if you were all editors, right, and just picture it, and I send you my work, I hear nothing back, I send it to you again, I hear nothing back, I keep sending it. Like, right, not hearing back could really kill your motivation or determination, and just know, when that happens and you're trying to get jobs like that, it's not that they're not liking your work. It's just that they're really busy, and they're not gonna get back to you unless they could use what you're sending. And just to give you even the more back-end story of that, shooting stuff like that, I'm gonna bring out on of my books because when I was shooting something for HBO for Pacquiao, a lot of, let me bring out my books, a lot of fans go out there and just kinda go out and kinda see the stuff. And there was a guy there that was really a cool, a huge Manny Pacquiao fan, and then he asked me who I was shooting for, and when I told him HBO, he was like, "Oh, that's awesome." He was like, "How do you get a job like that?" And that actually made me think, because I've never really thought about it, because it's technically not a job because I'm a freelancer, right? So, the way you get that job, to get with HBO it took me about two years, the same exact thing with Sports Illustrated, so to get work you'll do what every photographer does, or at least what I do. You should do a personal shoot. This is a personal shoot of a boxer I know. His name is Devin Lee. I did a personal shoot. I always like to say shoot for the jobs you want, not the ones you're getting. So this is an unknown boxer. You guys have no idea who he is. Pretty sure you don't. Devin, if you're watching, bro, I love you, but like, you know, you're not in that level yet, right? But you guys know who, more than likely, people know they are, right? But the way you get jobs to photograph people like that is you'll do a personal shoot like this, right? Specifically, let's use HBO in this case, right? You do an entire shoot like this, you make a promo for it, you email it to them or you send it to them, I promise you, I guarantee you, you're not gonna hear nothing back the first time, right? Then you have to go out, and let's just say, let me go through here, and this is actually his brother, Maurice Lee. You'll do another shoot like this, am I right? Work like this. You send it to them, you hear nothing back, right? So after about the third or fourth time, right, like, right, you'll hear something back, you'll do another shoot, you send them stuff like that, maybe you'll get an email back, like, right? So you gotta keep doing that over and over, and then on top of that, what I do, I'll send them a work and I'll say, "Oh, I'm gonna be in New York in this date. "Could I come in, in person, and introduce myself?" And I'll actually show 'em this book in person. And that happened. I met with HBO. And they see the work, they'll love it, right, and that went on for two years. Do more personal work, do a shoot like this, send it to them, and "It's a great work collection, "but we didn't need anything like that yet. "Thank you so much." And it's kind of like, damn. You know what I mean? I'm not gonna lie. It's frustrating, doing that two years. And then finally, eventually, right, they hit me back up, and then they hire me to do this shoot. But that's how you get that work, right? You have to produce personal work like this that's tailored to that client, that's really, I don't wanna say really good, I just think there has to be solid work that's tailored to that client and you send it to them over and over again, and it's a process, because marketing, it's not, it doesn't happen overnight. The biggest mistake that I hear photographers say they wanna photograph athletes or celebrities or whatever. They wanna wait to, "Oh, I have this one big shoot coming up "and I'm gonna wait for that to start," emailing whoever that decision-maker is. That's a mistake. Because I promise you, 99 times out of 100, they're not gonna reply to your first email, right? It's gonna probably be after the 8th or 9th time, and probably after like a year or two years after doing that, you're eventually gonna get hired with a small job, and then you get a high pressure situation like that and you then you better deliver. So that's why you gotta do all that stuff. But like, this is all personal work. I've done a lot with boxing, so like, these are all shoots like that. I showed that to HBO. "Great work, Alexis, but we didn't need anything like that." That went on for about two years. Similar stuff like that, even with Sports Illustrated too, and then I finally got in there and stuff like that. So it's great shooting the stuff like that, but it doesn't happen overnight. You need tenacity and consistency. And in my opinion, that's what makes you a photographer versus knowing lighting. I have no issue and no problem sharing my lighting setup because a lot of photographers thinks that'll make him a good photographer. It won't. That's gonna make you a great photography assistant. The difference between someone who knows lighting and is an assistant versus a working photographer is that, in my opinion, the working photographer has the tenacity and consistency to still market and still do personal work when you're getting no jobs or no one's replying you back, you still could keep churning that out and keep working and working and marketing, so if you're not getting work sitting down and doing nothing, it's not gonna help you at all. You have to produce personal work, good work that people like, and just have a positive attitude and keep grinding it out and keep going out there. And that's to say, you know, that's the work that you show. You know, I still do sometimes head shots or other work and pulling money like that and I just don't show that to anybody or I don't market it to those people. 'Cause they, like, he wouldn't care if I shot like a (mumbling). I'm trying to get something like this for a client, they wouldn't care if I do like corporate head shots or anything like that, you know what I mean? So that's one of the big things, you know, that for photographing athletic portraiture at this level, that's how you get those jobs. And again, for this shot, this was cool. This was five covers. I got the shoot for Sports Illustrated. And one of the biggest things too, when you do portfolio reviews, they wanna see personal work. A lot of the stuff in these books, this boxing book, is personal work that I did on my own. And the reason is because they wanna see your vision and your ideas. For this shoot, that was an exploding pattern that they had. That was not my idea. That was the creative director Chris Hercik from Time Inc who had that idea, and then they wanted to represent Team USA in the cover, and I said, "How about we use the flag?" They were like, "No, we did that last year with the men, "so we don't wanna do it the following year with the women." And I was kinda sitting there with Brad Smith, the director of photography, trying to go back with ideas, and I'm thinking, "How do you represent Team USA "without using the flag?" I'm like, "Do you have them eating "like apple pie and drinking the Bud Light "in the Chevy truck or something?" It's like, how do you do that, right? Thankfully the creative director said that, and then it was my job to figure out how to do it. But at the end of the day, this is their version. I kinda edited my own version, but at the end of the day, that was the creative director's idea that I had to execute. So that's why when you do a portfolio review, they wanna see personal work. They wanna see what you do on your own. So even though these are cool and they're great and a lot of people love it, it was Chris Hercik's idea. And one of the biggest things for that, I'm avid on knowing studio lighting, 'cause if you wanna do this as a living, you have to be able to produce your images over and over on a consistent basis, whether it's day or night or in the same location, and this is a perfect example of that. 'Cause I was fortunate enough to get five covers for this one. This one, this one and this one were shot on the same time. They added Sydney Leroux later on, and I had to fly to Kansas City and make the lighting match the other ones and they composite her together, right? If you're like a natural light photographer (mumbling) you're not gonna be able to do that. You have to be able to deliver and be able to adapt, like I said, all the time. One of my favorite quotes is from one of the greatest philosophers of the 21st century that I've gotten the pleasure to meet, and that philosopher is Mike Tyson (laughing) in my opinion. He has a quote that he's known for that everyone has a game plan until you get punched in the face. And that's like an analogy for boxing, 'cause you can train however you have, but when you get punched in the face, you resort back to the habits that you have. So with photography I think that who you are as a person and how you practice your lifestyle comes out when something goes wrong in the photo shoot. So if you're the type of person that always blames everybody else for a problem, right, and something goes wrong, you're gonna blame everybody like on set that (mumbling). If you victimize yourself and you go, "Why does this happen to me?" right, you're gonna find a reason why bad stuff happens to you. But if you're a problem-solver and you gotta make stuff work you'll find a way to make it work. And it doesn't matter how prepared you are. I was overly prepared for this shoot with them because the first shoot I did was with the men, and this was my first shoot with Sports Illustrated and it was the toughest shoot I've ever been in, because I only had one minute with each player. I was supposed to have 15 minutes for the cover and I ended up only having four minutes. And having only one minute with each player, it's one of the toughest things because you can't really create rapport with them, and to have to get a tight shot, a three quarter shot and a full-length shot, and I had a bunch of lists, so preparation is key on this and being really prepared. I know this looks really, really complicated, but this was a tough shoot, and I had all kinds of technical problems with that. I had a power pack blow up. I was having issues with the triggers triggering the light. I've never had that problem before in my life, but what better time to when I get my first cover for SI, you know, to have that problem? I was having all kinds of issues. So I ended up, originally my original idea and plan was to use three sets and have 20 lights and I had to cut that down in half and only use 10, but I'm gonna kinda explain to you why I use all these lights. Because I, you know, I posted this picture and somebody made a comment and they really took me off guard on Instagram, or I think it might have been Facebook. She saw this and she comment, "Wow, why do you need all that power?" And I'm thinking, "Why would you think that's a lot of power? "Yeah, that's like, you know, like, 10 power packs "or whatever, but it's not like they're all "plugged into one light pointing in the same direction." Right? They all have a reason. They all have a purpose, and a different job to them. And I'll be explaining that. But like this is kind of the job that I did. I only had one minute with each player, but I wanted to do a different look with each one. This is kinda what the basic one that they needed. I know this seems like a really, really simple shot, and it is, but like the circumstances that you have on it to make it like... They tell you where to be. This was like between the locker room and the bathroom in the middle of nowhere and they didn't tell me if I was gonna have power 'till the day of the shoot, right? So in the middle of the daytime. Right, you know, at like 1:00 PM, and I was getting each player for each day, so you gotta be ready for everything and you gotta prepare yourself. And again, this is the shoot for him that we had for the cover, and I wanted to do different looks too as well, so this Tim Howard. I wanted to do something completely different with a black background and give it a different view than the other ones. Kinda with a slightly blue background. If you're in (mumbling) class, like, I went over and over how, you know, how to do this.