Monday, March 23, 2009

My 20 second portrait shoot with Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods, photographed for ESPN the Magazine
I thought Tiger Wood's victory at the 2008 US Open was one of the greatest sports moments ever. How could anyone win a tournament on just one leg? Possibly the greatest finish I have ever seen.

The day after he won the playoff, I was playing golf with Mark Ashman, a fellow Orlando photographer. I remember telling him how much I desperately wanted to shoot a portrait of Tiger. In my close circle of photographer friends, I was the only one who has never have had a portrait session with Tiger. Driving home that day, I got the call. ESPN The Magazine was granted permission to shoot Tiger during his commercial shoot for EA Sports. What an amazing opportunity! ESPN would be given 15 minutes total - an interview with ESPN reporter Kenny Mayne and my portrait session.

Tiger Woods shoots all of his advertising commercials and photos during one week in the summer. This year, the location was at the Grand Cypress Resort, in Orlando. They were filming the famous "Tiger Woods - Walks on Water" viral video. The ad agency directing the commercial was Wieden + Kennedy, the same agency Nike used to create those memorable Nike ads with Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson. This new video was a response to a perceived glitch in the 2008 Tiger Woods video game.

After that sequence was filmed, Tiger changed his shirt and went up to the green.
They wanted to shoot a second video of Tiger - this time putting a Rubik's Cube. They were going to digitally alter the cube so after he putts it, it would be "solved" after they retrieve it from the bottom of the cup. On Tiger's FIRST attempt, he drains the Rubik's cube. It was AMAZING!!!! His emotional reaction was real. No one expected him to be able to do it. The director asked him to try his best, but they thought all along the putt would have to be altered in post production. That shows how great a putter Tiger is. Who can putt a square cube over 15 feet and drain it?

Those two sequences took all morning to film. At 1pm, Tiger was taken to Soundstage 24 at Universal Studios to film the in game interviews. I wasn't sure where or when we would be allowed to take his portrait. I had a only a few options. I could set up inside the soundstage, but all the walls were black and they were still filming the video interviews. I would have to be very still and quiet. I would not be able to make any test shots. The only other place was just outside the soundstage, using the outside walls as a background. I made sure to set up the mini studio just outside the door so Tiger couldn't walk past us. His route back to his trailer had to pass our photo position.

I knew I had less than a minute for the session, so I planned accordingly. My assistant, Jorge and I set up 2 Profoto 7B packs, with three heads. The main light was with a 5' Octobank just off camera to the right. The two back lights were modified with two softboxes, one from each side lighting Tiger from the back. I like to add these back lights to give a soft, white light edge on the face of the subject. I used a Nikon D300 and a 70-200 VR lens (Normally I would use the Nikon D3, however, there is a vignetting problem with that lens and the full frame D3.

After chatting with Kenny, we both agreed that the portrait had to come first. It is always best to get the photo done while they are walking to where they need to go. It took nearly three hours for Tiger to finish the video session. At 3:30pm, Tiger was ready for us.

When he walked out of the soundstage, Kenny walked Tiger right to my setup. I had to quickly remove the mic they had attached to his shirt and then he was ready to go. I tried to get a series of smiling and serious looks in the time allowed. Tiger followed instructions very well and gave me everything I needed for the 20 second shoot. I was able to get over 50 images. The exposure was 1/250th of a second @ f/7.1 (ASA 200). The focal length was 150mm on the D300. I am glad I have those Profoto 7B packs. They require NO power outlets since they are battery operated and they recycle almost instantly.

When people ask me what was my favorite photo assignment, I usually have no answer. Every job seems to have its own special moments and no one assignment seemed to stand out above the rest. However, after shooting Tiger Woods, I think that this photo shoot will always be the most memorable. Maybe next time, I can get a photo of me with Tiger, and not just his stand in!