What’s “sportraiture?” you ask? Simply put, unique portraits of fervent athletes showing them doing what they do best. Pro photographer and SmugMug educator Levi Sim has a place in his heart for the passion and thrill of this type of portraiture, and today he’s sharing the three key tips on how to make it happen for you.
By Levi Sim
When I started photography four years ago a local photojournalist, Eli Lucero, opened my eyes to sports photography. He said, “You know when you make a great portrait that shows emotion and it’s awesome? Athletes are finally performing what they’ve been practicing, and powerful emotions show on their faces all day. It’s great to be a sports photographer.”
Ever since then, I take every opportunity I can find to shoot sports.
Still, I’m a portraitist at heart, and I can’t help making portraits of people everywhere I go. Here are three tips that let me maximize every opportunity I get to shoot great sports portraits.
1. Know Your Game
Athletes spend many hours every day for many, many years to learn to perform flawlessly. They have worked incredibly hard to have the body and the skills to do what they do. It is disrespectful to put them in front of your lens and then mess around with your camera, trying to figure out the best settings. You owe it to them to be proficient at what you’re doing because you’re photographing other passionate people.
Now, I’m not saying you have to be a pro who knows everything before you photograph someone. I’m saying that you do your practicing before you shoot the athlete. At the very least, grab a kid from the sidelines and practice your setup right before you invite the athlete over. Then you can be confident that you’ll get a good image from that same setup.
I’d also recommend quitting while you’re ahead. If you’ve just taken a good picture with a test setup, don’t say, “Let’s try this other thing,” unless you’ve also practiced the other thing, too. They’ll think you’re the best photog in the world if you fire off two frames and have a great picture; if you mess around with the unknown, they’ll be frustrated and disappointed.
Practice your setup, take a good picture and say thank you.
2. Seek Passionate Subjects
I’m not likely to get the opportunity to spend a few minutes photographing a famous athlete, like John Elway or Danica Patrick. But, if I go to the open track day at the local race track, I’ll definitely be able to photograph some very passionate people, and they are likely to let me spend more than a few minutes taking pictures of them.
This is my pal, Jeremy. He’s the one who told me about the open track days, and his wife’s a member of my local SMUG, so he invited the group down to make pictures. Now it’s become an annual event on Memorial Day for the club, and we have a great time.
The track is crawling with guys and gals who are so passionate about racing motorcycles that they travel across the country to race on a world class track.
These people spend their lives working to earn money so they can blow it on a few tanks of fuel and a few sets of tires in a single weekend. They aren’t the kind who ride because it’s cool. They ride because they can’t not. These are the kind of people you really want in front of your lens, and they are the kind of people who will be pleased to help make a picture.
All athletes fit this category of Passionates. I hope you do, too.
3. Use Technique, Timing, Lighting – Anything It Takes to Create a Memorable Shot
It’s interesting that when talking to athletes they can describe the winning goal of a game they played ten years ago. Passionate athletes remember the intricate details of a split second for their entire lives. And if you think about it, that’s exactly what we do as photographers, too.
When you make a picture after a game, that picture will be part of their memory, and an important piece of the experience. I recommend that you prepare a few techniques that will allow you to create a memorable image –something your subjects will be happy to show off to future generations.
In these motorcycle portraits, the guys just got off the track where they broke speed records passing others around the turn, one knee dragging on the ground and sending sparks flying. They have the courage to get back on their bikes after tipping over and sliding through gravel for a hundred yards. I’m just taking it for granted that you have the courage to approach them and ask to take their picture.
After chatting for a sec about the bike, or the game (or whatever), I usually say, “There’s some really good light right over here, and I wonder if you’d let me make of picture of your bike — yeah, with you in it!”
I’ve never been turned down.
Now, put on your widest lens and get in close. No, closer! These portraits were made within inches of the subject, almost touching their bikes with my lens. I used the incredible Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8. When you get in close with a wide lens you make a picture that is distorted and absolutely not normal. And not-normal makes it memorable.
The key to these pictures is the lighting. These are all made within a half hour of noon, so the sun is straight overhead, and there is no light in their eyes to fill the raccoon shadows on their faces from their eyebrows and ball caps. My solution is to use a speedlight to pound some hard light back into their faces and the shadows on their bikes. These are hard looking guys with sunlight casting hard shadows all around, so using a bare bulb speedlight really fits the scene.
Remember: the speedlight is not mounted to the camera–that would be obvious in the picture and ruin the look. The flash is off to the side, and high, as if it’s a little more sunlight from a slightly different direction. Whether you use your camera’s proprietary speedlights controlled by the camera, a radio trigger or an extension cord, you’ve got to get the flash off the camera to control the direction of the shadows. When using a very wide lens (shorter than 35mm), you can even hand hold the flash to the side and it will be enough. I prefer to have my buddy or my subject’s buddy hold the flash.
One More Thing…
For best results in sportraiture, bring a friend. Or two. The more the merrier! You’ll have more people there to help make your vision happen, and more visions to make things happen. You help each other hold stuff, ask each other questions, make the rest of the town jealous by talking about “that great time you spent at the track,” which then gets more people to join in next time. Photography is always better with friends.
All photos by SDesigns Photography
Have you been to one of our SMUGs? Whether or not you have (or are planning to), the only thing you need to know is that FisheyeConnect is your key to finding out where and when the next event meets.
In fact, it’s the only way to be 100% sure that you know what’s going on and where all those great photos came from last weekend.
Don’t be left in the dark!
How does FisheyeConnect Work?
It’s easy: FisheyeConnect is a website devoted just to photographers and photography workshops, so you can be sure to find something that fires your strobe.
1) Visit their Advanced Search page.
2) Type “SMUG” into the Instructor or Company box. You can also plug in your zip code if you wish.
3) Browse the results and click to open details for the SMUG nearest you.
You can sign up for the specific workshops listed there, but these change each month as they plan great new stuff. Your best bet? Hit the orange “Subscribe” button to get all updates about future events they’re offering.
Will I get spammed?
But I’m already on Facebook!
We know that every SMUG has its own Facebook page, too, but while Facebook is a great place to spark discussions we think FisheyeConnect’s strengths lie in their ability to manage registration and head counts for SMUG events. Please use both!
FisheyeConnect is giving away a pile of photog-friendly goodies to one lucky winner in the USA who signs up to a FisheyeConnect SMUG group from January 21st to February 21st, 2013.
Here’s the complete list of prizes:
- A SmugMug Business account for 1 year
- 250 dotcredits at ShootDotEdit
- Rogue Flash Gel Color Correction Kit from ExpoImaging, Inc.
- Digital Photographer’s Complete Kit from PhotoshopCAFE
- $250 gift card from Adorama
- Browse the list of SMUGs on FisheyeConnect.
- Subscribe to your local SMUG so you can be notified of future events.
- That’s it!
No SMUG near you? Just sign up for our virtual SMUGs mailing list and you’ll get entered into the pool, too.
We’ll pick one lucky random winner on February 22nd, 2013 so keep your eyes peeled here, on our SMUGs blog and on your SMUG’s Facebook page.
Good luck and stay sharp, stay focused!
The Austin SMUG welcomed John Langford, a successful commercial, advertising, and editorial photographer, to their SMUG. Two years ago he decided he wanted to travel the world with a camera. He sold everything he owned and embarked on a journey around the globe that he dubbed "The Rompin' Stompin' Circus of Love Extended World Tour." His travels have taken through over 20 countries, and the Austin SMUG was lucky enough to have him speak during a brief layover in Austin before he heads out for another year of world travel.
To continue SmugMug’s dedication to make you all photo stars, we’ve got an incredible opportunity you won’t want to miss.
We all know that Sandy Puc’ is an amazing woman. She’s a talented photographer, a driven businesswoman, a passionate heart, a generous soul, and patient instructor to boot. You’ve seen us post about her whirlwind tours, traveling around the country showing photographers just like you how to shoot babies, brides, bombshells and more. And how to market the heck out of your business and rock the industry.
Don’t chase the bus. This spring, Sandy is coming to you.
Tune In… and Win
In partnership with our SmugMug User Groups, Sandy is holding three 1-hour webinars about how to turn your passion for photography into a rewarding business. If you’re already part of a SMUG, talk to your leader to find out if you can tune in as a group to watch each class.
To make things even more exciting:
- The busiest SMUG wins. We’ll keep track of the SMUG that grows the most over the next three months. The winning city will get a visit from Sandy herself and an exclusive night dedicated to growing your business to success.
- The most passionate Pro wins. The SMUG member that brings the most guests to their local meetings will win a trip to Sandy’s studio in Denver, CO, for an all expenses paid, completely one-on-one marketing makeover from the lady herself. An opportunity that could change your life (and your business) forever.
Stay in touch for details
So keep your eyes peeled for an email from SmugMug with more info about this opportunity and what to expect. If you have’t yet joined a SMUG, see what you’ve been missing on their blog. You’ll find a bonus podcast from Sandy there, too, in the menu bar on the right!
Photography. Friends. Fun. What’s not to SMUG?
Find your SMUG right now.
New Cards. Yule Love Them.
Face it: A lot of us don’t get the holiday stuff done until the eleventh hour. It’s already December but tonight we’re showing you that it sometimes pays to procrastinate:
We’ve released a slew of new Winter Holiday and Christmas cards, so dive in and get your greetings going now! They’re available in both 4×8 and 5×7 sizes. More info.
SMUGs: Growing Up Mighty Swiftly
From Philly to Fairbanks, our SmugMug User Groups have grown from a sprinkling of cities to a nationwide wave of happy SMUGgers. We’ve updated our info site so that photographers of all shapes, skills and sizes can find where to geek and gab.
Check out our new, intuitive map and locate your closest meeting. Click a pin to get details on when and where:
If you’re dying to charter a meeting in your town and want to know how, we’ve got good info for you, too. Look right under the new Leaders tab, or click here.
Remember that our User Groups are open to everyone, so whether you’re a veteran Smugger or if you just love photography, there’s a seat waiting for you. See you there!
- You can now change the case in your SmugMug nickname (example: “smugmug” to “SmugMug”) in one easy go. That option is always found in your Control Panel’s Settings tab.
- HTML entered in your gallery description fields no longer cover thumbnails in Pros’ “Set Prices” screens.
- Pros can once again buy their own photos in bulk even when they’ve custom priced their items at $0.
Here’s to sharing great photos together,
The SmugMug Family