Sunday, February 28, 2010

Roy Halladay cover shoot

My love of photography began with baseball cards. My brother Pat and I had thousands of cards, and I think I picked my favorite players based on the player photos. Whenever I have a chance to shoot a professional baseball player, this is always on my mind. When the Sporting News asked me to photograph Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay, I knew it was an amazing opportunity. Roy had been traded from the Toronto Blue Jays and had never put on the Phillies uniform. I would be able to make the first ever photos of him in full uniform.

The assignment was to make a cover photo of Roy on the pitching mound. The Phillies hold their spring training in Clearwater, and Roy lives in nearby Odessa. He always reports early for camp which makes photo shoots like this possible. It is nice to be able to have this kind of access before all the other players arrive - before all the media requests and before they have a regimented schedule. I brought along two assistants for this shoot. My regular assistant Jorge and Shaun, a college kid out of Central Florida (UCF).

This is a breakdown of what I brought for the shoot:
-Profoto 7B generator with 1 head
-Profoto Acute 600B generator with 1 head
-Profoto Acute 1200 generator with 2 heads
-Profoto Acute 600 generator with 1 head
-4 speed rings, 2 White domes, 2 small softboxes, 1 Octobank , 1 Profoto medium softbox
-4 grid reflectors, 6 c stands, 2 100' extention cords, power strip
-2 Pocketwizard transmitters, 4 Pocket Wizard receivers, AA batteries
-1 large apple box, 2 sandbags, 1 multicart, 1 Scrim Jim, 6 foot ladder, 1 monopod, 2 mats, a baseball glove and major league baseball
-Cameras - Nikon D3, 2 D300's
-Lenses - Nikon 20mm, 50mm, 24-70, 70-200, 300 2.8

We had full access to Brighthouse Field, the main baseball diamond where the Single A Clearwater Threshers play. The only "negative" was that we had to shoot this photo at high noon. When you shoot outside, there are many things you can control, but the most important variable is the sun position. When it is high in the sky it is difficult to make the light look pretty. Overhead light is harsh and not warm. I think that most people would agree that low, colorful sunset light is the best.

I found out that we had Roy for a total of 1 and 1/2 hours. That is an eternity! I am glad he was so willing. Of course, I had 25 minutes, the rest of the time was for Sporting News reporter Steve Greenberg's interview. Most of my photo shoots with athletes are usually 7 minutes or less, so I was more than happy. With all this time, I wanted to make sure that I had multiple photo locations ready to go. The most important one was the cover shot, the vertical photo of Roy on the mound. We arrived at about 10am for the noon shoot.

Set up #1 - I always like to over light subjects, and this was no exception. I set up the Profoto 7B as the key light, about 5 feet in front of the mound, just to the third base side. I put the 5' Octobank here so I could get beautiful soft light on his face. This battery operated generator was set to 1000 WS. I made sure to position the light low enough so the visor on his ball cap wouldn't cast a shadow on his face. I put the Profoto Acute 600B between the pitchers plate and firstbase, with the zoom reflector. I put the Profoto Acute 600 on the other side, mirroring the first rim light. Both rim lights were set at 600WS, or full power. I normally would put a neutral density filter on the lens to knock down the exposure, but from the low angle I was shooting, there was no real background other than blue sky. When you shoot large aperture portraits, it is a nice look because you normally do not get such depth of field control with lit portraits. The light for this photo was 1/250th @ F/16 , 200ASA with the Nikon D3 (24-70) and Nikon D300 (70-200). Since the sun was at a high position over first base, I had my assistant Jorge stand on a 6 foot ladder with the Scrim Jim. He blocked out the sunlight so I was able to light him only with my light. At 12 sharp, Roy came out. I told him that it was weird seeing him in that red uniform! All of us are used to seeing him in the Grey and Blue of the Toronto Blue Jays. He smiled and said that it was the first time he put the full uniform on and he didn't even look in the mirror yet. He went out onto the mound and did about all you can do as a pitcher - He posed from the windup, the stretch, hands up, slightly down, ball exposed and hidden, smile, no smile, etc. I made sure to shoot tight, medium and loose shots, allowing plenty of space for the page designer. You always try to shoot a little loose because the dimensions of the magazine is never the same as your camera image.

Set up#2 - I have always wanted to shoot a low, wide angle photo of a professional pitcher as he delivered the pitch to home plate. I think that action photo captures the power and elegence of pitching. The light for this setup would be easy adjust for - I just needed to eliminate the light on the firstbase side and move the third base rim light towards second base. Now, with my position low, and to the third base side of the pitchers mound, I get a dynamic look, low angle view of Roy pitching the ball. The reason this photo works was because of the sun's position. Normally you would not shoot into the sun - however, when you have full power generators providing strobe light, you have the ability to knock down the ambient light and make a nice image. The stands at Brighthouse field would be backlit since I am shooting into the sun, but I thought it added a nice dramatic effect. One last bit of technique, I used a 8X neutral density filter on the 20mm lens. I didn't want the stands to have too much sharpness - you have so little control of depth of field with wide angle lenses so I use this whenever I can. The exposure here was 1/250th @ F/8 , 200ASA with the Nikon D3 (20mm). Roy was very interested in the shot and looked at the image preview on the back of my D3 a few times to get his positioning and action just right. I had to move his follow through angle to right of home plate so that I could get his glove to hit the sun when he broke his hands.

Set up #3 - If possible, I always try to shoot something different. You never know what the magazine would like to use, so this is where having extra gear is useful. We staged another setup with the Profoto Acute 1200 with the medium softbox on the dugout steps. I was going to put in a soft light onto the dugout bench and wall. The exposure here was 1/250th @ F/8 , 200ASA with a Nikon D300 (70-200). This was the simplest set up and the quickest to execute. The first image I shot was a close up of Roy holding a baseball. I love details of the game, so I wanted an image of him holding his sinker - that is his out pitch. This may be interesting only to me, but I think it is worth seeing. After that, I shot his portrait as he sat on the bench.

I was very happy with the shoot. It was a real pleasure working with Roy Halladay. He was open to all my ideas and posed for each image with a lot of energy. These images ran in the February 15, 2010 issue of the Sporting News. I think that the magazine looked great. My favorite image from the shoot is the wide angle image that became the full page opener inside the magazine. Special thanks to my assistants Jorge and Shaun.
Shaun also pulled double duty, shooting some behind the scenes video for this blog.