2.16.12 – OU Swimmers for Ohio Today

A while back (a very long while back now) I was contacted by Ohio Today, the Ohio University alumni magazine, to see if I wanted to do a portrait shoot with a couple of Bobcat swimmers. I was really excited by the prospect of having an excuse to once again use some lights in the aquatic center, and to drastically expand on the last time I shot portraits in the pool when I was just learning how to use speedlights.  So, after working out rates and setting up a time for the shoot, I enlisted the help of one of my very good best friends, Jenna Smith, to help me out on the shoot.  At this point in my career I’m not really accustomed to shooting with an assistant, but I can’t really stress enough how invaluable it was to have some helping hands during this shoot, and I’ll get to exactly why that was in just a moment.

In the meantime though, I decided to go with a three light set up and planned out a couple of different scenarios so that we could transition quickly from one shot to the next.  I thought at first one of the biggest challenges I was going to have to face was that I had to use two different models of lights for this shoot because I was renting equipment from the school’s gear check out room and due to a lack of available lights I was using two Profoto heads and one AlienBee head. I was able to work around this issue fairly easily while testing out the lighting equipment the day before the shoot, which is something I always do to make sure that everything is firing correctly, and because my roommates enjoy when I turn our apartment into a photo studio.

With everything working well with the lights I assumed that everything would run smoothly once we got to shooting, which was obviously hilariously naive of me. My contact at the magazine, Sarah McDowell, and I had scheduled the shoot to immediately follow a swim team practice so that the swimmers would be in their uniforms and the pool wouldn’t be packed, because they close it down to only the team during practice. However, all parties involved forgot to check the pool’s open swim schedule which apparently begins as soon as the team’s practice ends. So despite the fact that we had arrived for the shoot plenty early to set up our lights, we ended up still being under the gun, trying to get as much shooting done before the swarms of recreational swimmers crowded the pool. This proved to be futile as within about 15 minutes of practice ending the pool was inundated with people swimming laps and a couple of high school swim teams practicing. This proved to be where having help was most valuable as Jenna was able to make adjustments to the lighting, and Sarah was able to coral bystanders away from our shooting areas, both helping to make sure that things went as safely, smoothly, and quickly as possible. I really can’t stress enough how impossible this shoot would have been without the help of those two. I would probably still be huddled in the fetal position in a corner of the aquatic center to this day if it hadn’t been for their help.

Now on to the actual photos. The shoot called for both a cover photo and another photo that would run on an inside spread. Knowing that I was shooting for a cover was helpful because I was sure to leave plenty of space at the top of my frames for the title of the magazine. Other than those instructions, I was given full creative control on the shoot. I had set up about 4 different scenarios I wanted to shoot the swimmers in, but I was sure to shoot some pretty straight forward head shot style photos to get those in the bag before I branched out a bit and made some riskier images.

Betcha didn’t think my camera was capable of shooting verticals! That’s a feature I had to dig deep in the manual for because I knew I’d have to shoot vertical for the cover. It was pretty weird, but I made it through with only minor psychological damage. As for the lighting set up for the head shots, and this next picture, it was pretty straight forward with the two Profotos set up about 45 degrees off to the left and right of the subject, and the AlienBee firing behind the subject towards the water which I couldn’t have predicted working any better, the reflection off the water was even able bounce back up and give some rim light, which was an added bonus and really helped create some separation between the swimmers black caps and where the light on the water started to fall off.

Next we moved to some more actiony shots, where I had the swimmers run through a couple of laps doing butterfly strokes. While I was optimistic about this set up heading into the shoot, I think that it turned out to be the least successful of the set ups.

Finally, I saved this set up for last because I knew it would be the biggest gamble. There is an underwater window in a maintenance room underneath the pool and I had the girls dive deep underwater where I would shoot through the window and pray to the photo gods that the transmitter could make it back up to the pool surface. I then had Jenna hold one of the Profotos so it was shining down onto the water. Using our iPhones to communicate I was able to have Jenna give instructions to the swimmers and to my surprise the light was actually able to pick up the transmitter through about 10 feet of concrete and provided a pretty cool look.

And I was even able to draw off of how the swimmers would move in the water as they swam back up to the top to add another image I wasn’t really expecting to make.

I was especially pleased with how these last few pictures turned out. And towards the end of the shoot it gave the girls a chance to finally joke around and have a little fun after graciously posing for me for about half an hour.

The folks at the magazine seemed to be pretty pleased with how the shoot turned out as well, and they gave the photos some great play.  Overall, it was probably one of my most stressful shoots to date, but ended up being one of the most fun as well.  It really showed how a truly dynamic product can be produced when all parties involved are willing to work together, compromise, and think critically to achieve the best result possible.


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