Sunday, June 27, 2010

AON Thunder in the Valley, the portrait photographer who is part action photographer.

The reason behind the AON owners picking me up to do their photographs aside from me being awesome (okay, I had to do that) they knew I had experience where quite a few people don't. Action. Not field sports, not puck, or wheel or ball. Specifically combat sports. Considering I'm the guy that promoters are calling for combat sporting events, I'm guessing that I'm probably one of the more experienced in this field in my area.

I am not saying I'm the most experienced guy out there at everything. I'm specifically saying that regarding the number of combat sporting events I've photographed, save for maybe a newspaper photographer I've probably photographed more of it.

Interestingly enough, I had NEVER photographed professional wrestling before. Some folks call it studio wrestling, because they consider "staged wrestling" to be a slap in the face of Greco/Folkstyle/Freestyle (am I forgetting any?) wrestling. I can understand their grief a little bit, but at the same time I think most people understand that there's a huge difference.

The other difference being is, the professional is expected to get more out of their equipment than someone else. For instance, I liken the precision of good camera technique, to that of shooting a firearm. There's good posture, position of the elbows, support of the equipment et cetera. If you aim incorrectly, the photograph is off. Sometimes just an inch on paper is enough to ruin a composition.

While there will never cease to be luck involved in action sports photography (for instance when the home run record of (brain fart of who) was photographed 3 Canon EOS 1DMark 3 cameras each with I believe a Canon 400 f/2.8L IS lens on them, and a tripod rigged to hold the weight of all of this stuff (we're talking probably 2 grand in rigging alone without camera and lens) there is also a level of skill involved. In the above example, the photographer tried to take luck out of the equation. Pretty much if he shot 100 frames in the 1 second that it was going to happen, he would get a good shot.

So what's the other variable? Skill. A professional being able to take their camera and get what they want out of it. Not luck into it (which still doesn't hurt), but be able to plan into it. That's the mark.

What does this have to do with anything? Well...I'm a photographer. I will photograph anything. Every photographer has an area that they enjoy the most. For me, it is portraiture. One of the reasons I enjoy it so much, is because of the personal connection that I get to make with the client/subject. If I stick a camera in your face, you immediately become a little bit apprehensive. Maybe not a professional model or someone else who just eats it up and is a ham for the camera. Most people though are self conscious about it. So that's where I come in. I have to get you to trust me. Not only do I have to get you to trust me, I have to get you to open up to me. I'm not saying that I need your innermost secrets. I get you to understand that, I, am there to make you look great. That I'm going to give you the best product that I professionally can.

Then we get a connection. Once we connect with each other, we start making great photographs. I'm not saying that we're going out to dinner and we're going to hang out for weeks on end to get this photograph. It may just be a few minutes of conversation during set-up. It may be a few "warm up" photographs, and even me showing you the camera's results. There's a whole world of techniques used by the portrait photographer, and many books written on it. For me, it's an interaction with people. Yeah, I love the photographs. I also love the connection we make, and meeting the people I photograph.

So now I'm guessing you're asking "what does THIS have to do with that?". What does portraiture have to do with combat sports?

To me, it has a lot to do with it. While I don't always get a connection with the fighter/athlete, the two people or however many people in the ring/cage/box have a connection and I'm trusted to show that connection. It also presents an interesting opportunity to me. Some of the best, classic portraits are the ones lit with 1, 2 or 3 lights. Just main/fill/kicker, or even main/kicker, or main/fill or just MAIN! There's also photographs just taken out in the ambient light that do it.

See there's a few schools of thought on what makes a great portrait. In my opinion they are expression, sharpness, pose, lighting. The expression sells the portrait. Period. The best expression can make a poorly lit photograph great. See there's like no "wrong" lighting patterns per se... there's ones that don't look as good as others.

I promise I'm getting to a point.

Well for me, even though I'm photographing people either punching each other in the face, or "pretend" slamming each other or in the instance of "sport" sports photography(ball, wheel, puck)playing a game...I'm also looking for candid moments. These examples I present are not the best photographs in the world, and they may not even be above average. What they are to me is a candid moment. Maybe they were thinking about the fans, or what was going to happen later that night, or maybe even what they were going to buy at the store. I don't know, but that's the connection I'm talking about. The viewer can connect with the subject of the photograph.

Now I wouldn't post about a wrestling event, and not show some of the wrestling that took place...I'm not that cruel to my readers!

Shooting outdoors posing a whole new set of problems for the photographer, than indoors. See, typically the #1 complaint you're going to hear from an action photographer is "I need more light to work with". High ISO is getting much better in cameras in terms of digital noise (grain in the photograph), but the issue then becomes quality control...who the hell is printing the image and on what paper? What constraints do their bosses put on them? What about their equipment? What tolerances do they have to be within? See, I know that I can shoot at X value and push it Y stops in post processing when printing with my lab. I also know that my lab charges much more than a walgreens or costco or anywhere that prints pictures cheaply. There's a few reasons for it, but I can sum it up in one word, quality. The quality of the product is much higher. Anyway, back on topic. Though high ISO has gotten better in cameras, we want MORE light on our subjects.

Alright, so I shot this in daylight...what is the problem now? Ever notice that when you get your picture taken (I don't like to say take pictures, I like to say I make pictures) by a professional that they use lights and modifiers on those lights, like soft boxes or umbrellas? That is to change the QUALITY of the light, and give them CONTROL over it.

Give me control over my light and I create great images every click of the shutter. Give me the Sun moving in and out of cloud cover coming from high above and hard over head...I'll give you photographs of people looking with shadows in their eyes, harsh highlights and dark shadows. That's just the nature of the beast. To get around it, we can use fill flash but if you're shooting in varying conditions adding another variable flash to it, you're getting more of a chance of blowing the exposure.

So we make an executive decision, do we expose for the sky, or do we expose for the subject? One gives us a subject that's too dark to see detail. Another gives us a well lit subject with a sky that is blown to white on paper.

Well, you have to decide what is important to the photograph. In the case of the wrestlers, it's the wrestler. Simple. You blow out the highlights and forget about them and expose for the subject.

Can we keep our camera in manual mode for this? Absolutely not. With the clouds moving in and out of the sun very rapidly, and our exposure going from 1/5000 at ISO 400, to 1/640 at ISO 400, we set the camera to Aperture priority (meaning we tell the camera, listen this is what aperture you're going to shoot at, adjust shutter speed accordingly), and then we dial in a "close" amount of exposure compensation. Something that gets the exposure in the correct ball park. If we have to bring it back .5 stop, that's okay.

Then we can set our camera to spot meter the subject, that way if we grab the sky the camera doesn't give us a bull crap exposure reading. Now, here's where it gets tricky. If we spot meter the camera, and put it on something BLACK it'll try and brighten it too much, and if we put it on something WHITE it'll more than likely underexpose it. The nature of our camera's meter is to make EVERYTHING GRAY! In life, the camera sees everything as middle gray. White? Make it gray! Black? Make it gray! Our camera is inherently stupid. Well not really. It's smart at making things gray, and it does that well. The thing is, sometimes you have to take over for the camera and tell it what to do.

There's a few more factors that are an issue in photography outdoors. You know how lenses have those plastic things on the end? That's a lens hood. It keeps flare from bouncing around the 234874 glass elements in the lens and giving you crazy shapes/colors in an image. There's times that we try and get lens flare, and when done right and NOT OVERDONE (think Zack Wylde's squeals on the guitar...definitely overdone. Yeah Zack, I'm telling you I don't need to hear it 497 times in one song and in every song) it can be cool.

Other times, it just downright ruins a photograph and you don't know it until it's too late to recreate OR it was a once in a life time event that just isn't happening again. For instance, one burst of images I squeezed off had Randy "Ring Master" throwing Black Lightning through a piece of plywood in the bed of a truck. 10 shots in the burst. 9 ruined. Thankfully, there's a good one that was not ruined.

The event was quite great. There was a good bit of butt-kickery going on. I'll post a full gallery shortly. Please follow me on facebook, and let me know your thoughts. I try to post a blog at least 2x a week. Up and coming photographers, I'm not above answering some questions but I'm a professional photographer. I'm not an educator. If you follow my blog, you'll get a lot of tips and tricks. I learn by doing and musing about what I'm going to do. So read, do. Read. Do. Read. Do. Or See...Do!



Please don't mistake the title. I am still your award winning full service photographer. I cover portraits, events, weddings, sports, insurance photographs/inventories and real estate. If you have a photography need, I can take care of it.

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