Greetings fellow sports photographers (spotographers, horrible. Just horrible).
Been back home for a while and almost forgot to post the second part of this post.
Long story short, everything went swimmingly during my stay in DR. We ended up visiting couple more academies, most notably the only Japanese run academy in DR. Only the administrators were Japanese. We were also fortunate to have some time at the beach. Well, only for one hour so dont’ feel too bad for me.
On this final instalment of “How to sports reportage”, I bring you “How not to do a portrait project”. Had I known better, I would have planned it better and I also would have bought the “Lighting for Dummies” series.
I initially wanted to do a series of portraits of the academy players in front of their house. Most of them come from poor neighbourhoods and I thought this was appropriate as I wanted to show that these kids are hoping that one day to play in the US Ayight. This idea was first shot down by my wife and then by my cousin. These two happen to be my in-family art director and technical consultant. They said was that the rags to riches athlete angle has been done as often as Japanese people eat rice. Therefore they suggested I do something different, like shoot them like they were a superstar baseball players. Idiots.
Other ideas were also floated before we came to the superstar angle: Favourite objects and athlete portrait. Things you want to bring to America and athlete portrait. Uniqueness of each athlete portrait. High key portrait. Yup, they all kind of sucked, thanks to me.
We settled on a black background with dramatic lighting. I also went a step further and wanted to go sexy with sweat and no shirt. For some reason I still had in my mind a young athlete training to make it to the Big Show (not to be mistaken by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann during Sports Center). I wanted to light up just their eyes and leaving the rest dark enough but you can make out the details. Since my knowledge of lighting is as deep as a puddle on the street, I bombarded my poor cousin with technical questions. We settled on grid / snoot to shape the light with a black background made of papers. Cloth was too difficult and my ironing skills were not sufficient enough. As for my cousin, if he hadn’t thought about strangling me by my 17th email on “What is the difference between snoot and a grid?”, I’d say he’s either a saint or he needs professional help.
What I did wrong: Trying to come up with an idea without meeting the subjects. When I do portraits for magazines, I do talk to them or listen in on the interview that the journalist is conducting. This way, you get a feel of what kind of person he/she is and how I want to shoot them. And obviously, I was over my head with this lighting business. A rectangular light on just his eyes? Sometimes you think you are better than you are and of course you’re not.
I should just execute myself after this debacle. Heeding the advice of my always generous cousin, I practiced on my colleague the day before the shoot. I’m sure he also wanted me dead, but then the test went well or at least that’s what I thought.
At the San Diego Padres academy the following day, I rounded up couple of academy players who were willing to participate in my project. In my years of doing sports photography, I had my fair share of shooting portraits of famous athletes. The scary thing is that my knowledge of lighting is akin to my mother asking me how to attach a picture onto an email. But somehow I got the work done and the editors come back to me to do more. I always do try to keep things as simple as possible As you can see from these so-called photos, you now know I’ve got no idea. I really felt terrible for the players because they took their time to work with me and all I could come up were these barfs:
After I bashed my head on the wall and drank my sorrow away with some excellent DR beer (Presidente), I shot an email to my wife and my cousin. My wife, who has the green light to comment on anything to do with my work, went off on me. After, “You know you could do MUCH better” and “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”, she started giving me less shit and more advices. She suggested that I compose it landscape rather than portrait. And please, put the shirt back on. Apparently, she wasn’t feeling it with the nakedness citing that “Baseball players don’t have the body to pull this kind of look”. The rectangular eye light thing went out the door and a grid with duct tape as a single source came waltzing in. Higher shutter speed and lower f stop came hand in hand to help me black out the background.
So I came up with these:
What I did wrong: Although I’m content with these images, I’m reluctant to use them as series of portraits of DR baseball players, because by looking at them, you couldn’t tell. Could I have done something more interesting? Sure, but the problem is me in that I couldn’t come up with anything exciting. More work needs to be done and I need to get better. I do think it’s time I take some classes on lighting so that my cousin won’t have the need to unfriend me on Facebook
I’m planning to goto Japan at the end of the year to shoot some sumotraits. That my friends, should be interesting.
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