THE BIG GAME: Photographing A-List Sports Stars without Fumbling the Ball

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One of the most exciting aspects of my becoming a professional photographer has been the opportunity to take portraits of celebrated entertainers and athletes, including Lakers guard Nick Young and Dodgers power hitter Yasiel Puig. Most recently, I had the honor of shooting the upcoming marketing campaign photos for pro football star, pro bowl, Brandon Flowers, a former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback who recently signed with the San Diego Chargers. Brandon Flowers formally with the Chiefs

With such great privilege comes great responsibility, however, and you can’t afford to disappoint a VIP. Celebrity photo sessions require even more preparation and fast, on-your-feet thinking than high-fashion shoots, in large part because the celebs’ time is so limited. You usually have only a couple of hours to get the shots you need before your subjects are whisked away to their next engagement. Indeed, my team and I were supposed to photograph several other athletes at this year’s ESPY Awards, but the players in question had such full schedules while they were here in LA that we now have to fly to their home state in order to shoot them. To make the most of the VIPs’ valuable time, we plan ahead with their agents, consulting them on how best to work around the stars’ commitments and on what types of images they need for their clients’ publicity.

Brandon Flowers photoshoot

In Brandon Flowers’s case, we had the chance to photograph him in the informal environment of his hotel suite as well as in a more structured studio shoot. Impromptu sessions on location can be daunting; you may have little or no opportunity to scope out the setting before you arrive for your appointment. To facilitate my lighting setup under such circumstances, I keep my travel kit as simple as possible: a Profoto 1000 w/s D1 Air strobe with a Profoto umbrella that has a diffusion cover. We wanted to highlight Brandon’s fashion sense in these photos, so his clothing had to look its best. For nice, crisp images that capture the texture of the fabric, you really need to use the smallest aperture you can manage. In addition, I try to set my ISO as low as possible so my shutter speed will be quite slow. That means I definitely need to mount my camera on a tripod to prevent any jiggles that might blur the image.

A particular challenge of photographing celebrities like athletes is that, unlike models or actors, they may not have much experience posing in front of a camera. As with any average person, they may become self-conscious, stiffen up, fidget, or slouch. To get the looks I want as quickly as possible, I apply the people skills I acquired while directing inexperienced models during catalog shoots for suit companies. You need to get to know as much about your subjects as possible in a ten-minute time span in order to cultivate the rapport you need to put them at their ease.

Fortunately, with Brandon, this was no problem—like the other athletes I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with, he’s a friendly, down-to-earth guy who exudes heartfelt enthusiasm for his sport. You’ll see that genuine warmth in some of the great shots we got, which are due to appear in several magazines with the launch of his marketing campaign. More than anything, it’s the VIP himself that makes for a Very Impressive Photo!

Brandon Flowers best dressed ESPY'S 2014

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