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On Assignment: Soccer Preview Shot

First of all, I would like to note how unfair it is that some people get to have the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop in their dusk shots and I have to settle for nondescript Lake Elkhorn in sleepy little Columbia, MD.

That said, many of you saw this when it was posted in the Flickr Strobist group pool by London-based photographer Ant Upton. Ant was kind enough to answer my e-mail and send me some detail and outtakes on his Paris shoot.

Before you get into the article, here are some important points to remember.

• Notice how Ant tests his ideas and nails down whatever variables he can before the actual shoot.

• And just as important, see how he sticks with his pre-tested idea during the shoot until he gets what he wants.

The difference between a good shooter and a mediocre one - especially when it comes to pulling off a lighting concept - is testing and persistence. You want to be ready and willing to do both in the quest for a cool shot. Give water enough time, and it will always find a path downhill. You want to be water, and your ideal picture is at the bottom of the hill.

Beyond that, extra credit goes to shooters who, having reached the "bottom of the hill," keep working the job with low-odds, high-payoff picture attempts. You already have your shot. It's not like they are going to take it away from you. You can even see it on your TFT screen. Now is not the time to walk away. It is the time to aim high for a truly killer shot. There's no risk - "good enough" is already in the bank.

Enough of my drivel. Here's Ant. For clarity, his (paraphrased) stuff is in "block quotes," which are the inset paragraphs. Mine paragraphs are not inset. Also, the italicized notes within Ant's inset graphs are mine.

The photos were taken in preparation of the UEFA Champions League final to be held in Paris and my client needed photos to help publicise their involvement with the tournament through a competition. Preparation and Planning prevent piss-poor performance. With this in mind we did a map recce ( reconnaissance) of Paris to work out where to do the photography from to place the sunrise behind the Eiffel Tower, which was one of the landmarks chosen to place the footballer in Paris.

Having worked out the azimuth and done the map recce, I decided a couple of bridges over the Seine would provide the clearest view of the Tower with the sunrise behind it. With no buildings in the way to mess up the skyline, Bir Hakeim Bridge proved to be the most suitable once we had reviewed the test shot. We had one of the clients jumping up on a plinth in place of the competition winner who would be actually kicking the ball.

After a fitful night's sleep, my two alarms (smart guy) went off at 4am in the hotel room. The client and I made our way to the Bridge. We wished to be in place at least half an hour before the estimated time of the sunrise. This would allow us plenty of time to set up the lights, practice the ball kicking and generally not have to rush. It is always better to get the things you can control right (before you start shooting) so that you are able to react to the things you can't control, either by changing your plans to minimise the impact or sometimes changing you photo direction totally to take advantage of a new set of opportunities.

(Well, now we know how Ant pulled this off in Paris without having to wade through layers of bureaucracy. That's a pre-sunrise shot. You get up at 4:00am, and you can get away with darn near anything.)

On the bridge I started setting up the lighting and working out my position. (Questions: Should I use a wide angle lens and have the footballer big in the frame using perspective? Or have a more realistic rendition using a more normal focal length?)

I used a 580 EX Canon flash. I had decided was going to be triggered by the ST2E, which fires the remote flash gun by infrared signal. This would also give me control of the flash's power level from my camera position without having to run back and forth adjusting the flash power to balance with the ambient as the sun rose. It soon became obvious that whilst the range of the ST2E indoors is pretty good, outdoors it often just didn't fire due to the distance I wanted to stand at from the flash head.

So out came the trusty Pocket Wizards, which always work. But I did lose the ability to control the flash from the camera position. A quick explanation to the client who was going to be the 'walking light stand' about how to change the power of the flash and we were ready to go.

There goes Ant, stealing a future "On Assignment" from me. I use "carbon-based light stands" all the time. I usually only take two light stands with me, assuming I can offer some bystander/client/assistant a total immersion experience in the world of location-lit photography without charging them a dime... :)

Here's an example of what Ant is talking about, from another location in the same shoot. If you aren't making use of people this way, you really have to ask yourself why not.

After a safety briefing to the winner ("Don't fall in to the river!") and a few practice kicks, the footballer was helped up onto the plinth which formed part of the wall of the bridge. We started shooting with the client acting as a mobile light stand holding the 580 EX flash.

The main problems we encountered were shadows cast either by the ball onto the footballer or the flash being pointed in the wrong direction.

The latter is one of trade-offs of using a human light stand. It is easy to move the position of the light. But the flash may just not be pointed in the right direction. The other was loosing two of our three footballs into the river, however I was starting to see some images I was pleased with.

Here's an idea. Rubberband a straw or small cardboard tube to the top of your flash, so your "human light stand" can use it as a scope to aim the flash at the subject's face. This works 100% of the time - even when the subject is moving around.

After about half an hour of shooting, adjusting the exposure of both the flash and the camera to take account of the changing light as the sun rose, we felt we had covered the job as per the brief. After the client gave a quick check on the back of the camera, we moved onto the daylight shots. On the whole were pretty simple. Although we did still use off-camera fill in flash to give the subject better modeling rather than straight on camera fill in flash.

(Note: See the "person-holding flash" shot, above, for this location.)

All photos ©Ant Upton

Next: Robert McNary: Shoot Your Kid


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