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Category Archives: Lighting

Hoop dreams

Being someone who is 6 ft. 6 in. tall, every so often I am asked the question, “Did you ever play basketball?” Aside from informal pick-up games with friends on the playground, I never played organized ball in school. I was always drawn more to sports like baseball and cycling. But I’ve always enjoyed watching basketball and following the progress of certain teams and athletes, both professional and collegiate.

So I was very excited to have the opportunity early in 2011 to photograph a couple of University of Richmond basketball players at the campus’ Robins Center arena. Brittani Shells and Justin Harper were two standout players who’ve gone on to play for professional teams since graduating last spring, Shells with a team in Israel and Harper with the Orlando Magic of the NBA.

With each of them I wanted to create a portrait that was somewhat unique, and not simply a headshot of them holding a basketball. Way too many of those kinds of media shots out there. With Brittani, I wanted the camera to have a very low viewpoint, so that she would appear more prominent in the setting. This meant I had to be flat on my stomach with camera at the floor, looking up. Being a tall photographer, getting myself smaller is always a challenge I’m faced with when doing shoots. I also wanted dramatic light, so I lowered the ambient (available) light of the arena with the exposure and lit Brittani exclusively with off-camera flash, one to camera right through an umbrella and one to the left for a slight edge light. I may also have had the on-camera pop-up flash triggered for a slight fill light.

For Justin, I did some shots of him on the court with the basket in the background, but then moved to a second location, the seats near courtside. One thing I had underestimated with the 6 ft. 10 in. senior was getting his huge frame into a spectator’s seat (something I should have realized, as I am always apprehensive about things like movie theatre and airline seating myself! Where to put the knees?) This setting also required a step-stool for me to get up to his eye-level while shooting, always a handy thing to bring along on a shoot! I wanted his shots to be somewhat more relaxed and not as “game-time” intense, so I tried to keep up some light conversation as I shot, to hopefully, capture a genuine moment with him. The lighting setup was somewhat similar to Brittani’s, with the key light on the right and rim light above and to the left.

They were really great to work with during these shoots, and I’m so proud to see these two student-athletes go on to fulfill their dreams of playing basketball after college. Good luck Brittani and Justin! And go Spiders!

Music and creativity

I love music.

Growing up in a musical family where everyone had played an instrument (at one time or another) and everyone could sing, music has always been a big part of my life. When my wife heard my mom, dad, sister and me all singing around the family piano in four-part harmony for the first time, she thought she had married into the von Trapp family (depicted in the movie, “The Sound of Music”).

Music also had an influence on my early years as an artist. I can remember spending hours drawing in my sketchbooks while listening to classical music; Bach, Mozart, Pachelbel, Fasch, Vivaldi, and being lost in my imagination of what could be created with a pencil on paper. There is something mysterious that happens when listening to music and the effect it can have on the imagination. Perhaps psychologists can explain it better, or physiologists who study brain waves and electrical impulses and connections. All I know is that music, especially certain kinds of music, is very inspiring to me.

Last year, as Kim and I enjoyed a concert by the internationally renowned Shanghai Quartet at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts, I was again inspired as I listened to their performance. Their music is passionate, intricate, bold, complex, subtle, humorous and always expertly played. As I listened, my thoughts quickly went in the direction of asking myself, how would I photograph them if I ever had the chance? How can you portray the feelings that music produces in a still image, without the music? How do you picture a musician and also convey something about their music at the same time? Can this even be done?

To my surprise, and joy, I would get a chance to find out. After starting a correspondence with one of the members of the group, Yi-Wen, who also is an accomplished photographer himself, we arranged a time to get together for a photo session during their most recent stop in Richmond. For me, it was basically a dream-come-true opportunity.


Yi-Wen Jiang


Weigang Li



Honggang Li


Nicholas Tzavaras

Conceptually, I only had one requirement for the images: the color red had to be involved somehow. Passionate music=red. Shanghai, China=red. Guys wearing dark suits=need a red background.

For you camera gear geeks: For lighting, I had to get creative since I was using small flashes to do the work. A key light of 2 Speedlites through a 60″ umbrella above and slightly camera right. A fill from a 3 ft. octobox directly behind my head and a light behind the group directed at the red backdrop (this was moved to high and camera left after failing to trigger at the end of the group portraits. Pesky infra-red system! Although not so bad, because during the equipment-tinkering intermission, we were treated to an impromptu practice session. It probably helped my mood! And I actually like the background light better in that spot.) All these were triggered by the master flash at the very back and very high, attached to the camera with an extra-long sync cord. Yes, I love Speedlites!


It was a great experience and Kim and I had fun spending time with this brilliant group of artists. We’re looking forward to their next concert and another opportunity to be creatively inspired by their music. Thanks guys!

Shanghai Quartet on Facebook
Quartet performance videos

March Madness

I’m a huge sports fan. And I enjoy all kinds of sports — baseball, football, basketball, cycling, winter sports, summer sports, on land, sea, and air — I’ll watch ’em all. And especially the big events, like the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Tour de France, and Olympic games.

So, in the United States, the month of March also marks a sports phenomenon that I gladly follow — March Madness — the weeks-long NCAA college basketball tournament that determines the nation’s #1 higher-ed. hoops kings, at least for a year.

This year, the tournament has even greater interest for me, as our University of Richmond team, the Spiders, have earned their spot in the first round of play in the South region, after an outstanding season (a school record 26 wins!). The team has generated a lot of excitement and interest around our campus and I was recently fortunate to have the opportunity to photograph one of our top players (and A-10 conference Player of the Year), Kevin Anderson, for a feature story on the UR Web site.

I was thrilled with the chance to do a shoot like this and initially had visions of some kind of Sports Illustrated-type shot of him on the court in full uniform in some very dramatic pose. But after considering the article, about his life not just as an athlete but also as a student, I decided something a little more low-key and relaxed would be more appropriate (albeit, still dramatic). He was great to work with, a really nice guy and super-cooperative.

Along with the lighting arrangement (1 key light at right w/ shoot-through umbrella and 1 rim light behind him on the left), one part of the composition I really wanted to include were the NCAA banners hanging from the rafters, hopefully alluding to the team’s upcoming games in the tournament. To do this, with Kevin seated in a chair, I had to get as low as possible, which meant, on my back on the floor looking up. Fortunately, it worked and I managed to get some good shots off before having to wrap up.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s game and to see how far the team can go. However they do in the tournament, I’m sure that Kevin’s got a bright future ahead of him — as an athlete and a person — and I wish him the very best!

Go Spiders!!!

Brad and Kristen

What better way to get practice doing portrait photography than to have your good friends as your models! (And good-looking ones too!) It’s an added bonus when they’re expecting a baby—as our friends Brad and Kristen are. Kim and I had a fun time doing some “expectant couple” shots of them recently in their home. They could totally model for a living, if they ever needed second careers, they were that easy to work with and comfortable in front of the camera. Although it was a challenge to keep Brad’s shirt buttons from popping off—he’s such a proud dad-to-be!

Here are several shots I got, using a white backdrop and two Canon Speedlights, one on each side, with shoot-through umbrellas. My talented wife Kim provided the art direction and styling. You can also check out her shots here.

Oh yeah, by the way … go Penn State! Another Nittany Lion is on the way!

Changing seasons

An exercise I enjoy seeing from other photographers is when they pick a location to photograph and then take the pictures in different lighting, weather conditions or seasons of the year. One of my favorite Flickr contacts, Harry Mijland, does this and I love his results.

Being fortunate enough to work in a beautiful setting every day at the University of Richmond, I’ve begun to accumulate a number of images on campus at different times of the year. The small “island” and gazeebo in the middle of Westhampton Lake in the center of campus has been my favorite location to shoot. Here are a few of the images I’ve taken showing different perspectives on this spot.

Enjoy!

Westhampton-Lake

Lake-mist

Happy lighting, under pressure

I had a great time at the KelbyTraining photography seminar yesterday in Washington, D.C. Renowned photojournalist and magazine photographer, Joe McNally, lead the attendees through a series of setups, showing various lighting techniques using small flashes that are very helpful especially when there is little time allowed for taking photos—a scenario faced by just about all professional photographers.

Watching Joe’s examples and hearing his stories about the time constraints he’s faced (12 minutes for Sports Illustrated cover shoots! … barely enough time for me to get my equipment setup), made me think of my own experiences with pressure-packed picture-taking.

In March of this year, Kim and I had the great opportunity to photograph Chris and Lindsay’s wedding here in Richmond. It was a beautiful occassion and they were a fantastic couple to work with (very laid-back and accomodating), but a wedding is a wedding and we had to work with the time and circumstances that were presented to us at each moment of the day.

As with most weddings I’ve  been to, we were asked not to use flashes during the ceremony. Very understandable but a bit of a problem for the photographer who doesn’t want the participants to look like ghosts, blurring all over the church sanctuary. Taking the sage advice of my photographer friend Kevin, I chose to “embrace the insanity” of the situation and crank up my camera’s ISO setting (a measure of the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light) to stop the action as best I could. My Canon 5D Mark II allowed me to do this and still keep the graininess to a minimum. So, to ISO 2000 I went!

Another constraint we faced was not being able to get close to the front of the church when all the ceremony-action was taking place. One of the most significant moments for the couple is when the bride arrives at the front to join the waiting groom. How do you capture the emotion of that moment when you’re in the back of the church? My wife Kim came up with the idea to simply shoot it beforehand during the guys’ group shots. Just stage it. Brilliant! My instructions for the groom were: “OK Chris, think about how you’ll feel when Lindsay gets to the front here.” Beaming smile!

The wedding reception added it’s own set of challenges: huge room, dark, people moving around, lots of activity. The approach I took there was to slow the shutter way down to be able to capture the ambient light of the room (warm, active and inviting) and use a flash with a dome diffuser attached to stop the action of my subjects so they weren’t blurry. There’s no guarantee of a good shot with this technique but I got a frame at just the right moment as Chris and Lindsay arrived for the reception party. Don’t think I could have art-directed them any better in their expressions and gestures. What a party it was! Congratulations again to Chris and Lindsay!

Kim and I left for home that day totally spent but exhilirated at the experience of sharing an important part of their special day. And with a new appreciation for how photographers handle time-pressures on happy occassions.