Annotated BTS: Dan Winters Shoots Jack Nicklaus

I remember seeing this Golf Digest cover in the grocery store two years ago. It jumped out at me from across the aisle as having Dan Winters' name written all over it.

The lighting, the moment, the quietness—the unmistakeable look of his Winters' 4x5, shot on film—a portrait of a master, by a master.

Now, two years later, the Golf Digest BTS pops up on Vimeo. And as it is our policy to pre-empt regular programming whenever an good Annie/Greg/Dan BTS surfaces, the fully annotated video follows below.

Time-Coded Annotations

It's only a minute twenty two, but there is always good info if you look:

[0:03] So here's Dan's usual 4x5 … Wait, what? A 35mm? And... a Canon? I'm feeling a little woozy… (* See note below.)

[0:06] And Jack arrives in shorts for the shoot. I'm liking this guy already.

[0:10] Here's your studio for the day. Windows everywhere, a low ceiling and a giant support column. So he is creating this portrait is an office environment, and a less-that-ideal one at that.

[0:15] Christian Iooss is the DoP at Golf Digest. That last name should ring a bell for any sports photographers...

[0:18] The table is built on sawhorses. Also, note Winters is killing the window light with a big flag on the left.

[0:20] Here are his photos, popping up right out of camera as he shoots tethered. Winters has long shot 4x5 on film for his portraits, so of course he gets it pretty freaking close in-camera.

[0:22] Nice big octa behind the camera, on-axis. Not totally surprised here. That big fill light has a painterly look as compared to bare ring.

[0:27] That flag/gobo on the right is there to cut the key from hitting the camera-right side of Nicklaus. Think of it as creating a shaft of light that Nicklaus is emerging into. Just the Nicklaus' face and the front of his body catch the key.

[0:30] Winters is directing Nicklaus to open his hand up when resting his face on it. Nicklaus responds that he usually rests his face on his hand differently. Winters smoothly rolls with what Nicklaus is giving him, just letting the pose develop naturally. This kind of rapport and easy approach, IMO, is even more important than light.

[0:40] Second big surprise of the BTS: An on-axis octa and a bare ring flash? (** See note below.)

[0:48] Still going with what Nicklaus is giving him, now coaxing a nice moment out of a formal, lit portrait. This sequence would end up yielding the cover image.

[0:56] So there's his backdrop. Notice it has physical as well as tonal texture. And while unseen in this BTS, it is definitely getting its own background light.

[0:58] Chistian Iooss: "Dan is really a master at lighting his subjects." Um, yeah.

[1:00 - 1:14] Blah, blah, blah, golf, yada, yada…

[1:22] Again, that's straight out of the camera. Would you be okay with that? I would.

Notes From the Above, From Dan Winters

[*] On shooting digital after having long been a 4x5 & film guys for portraits:

"It feels the same to me to shoot film or digital. I shoot both regularly depending on what it is I'm working on. I love using both of the technologies."

[**] On the use of octa and ring fill combo:

"I used the octabank on axis as a way to build up my base stop. It's a great way to get a good adirectional source to open things up before going about working out the rest of the lighting. Like anything the situation will often times dictate the approach," Winters said.

On adding a bare ring on top of that, he adds, "I like the specular highlight in the eyes that you get from a small source. I'm not crazy about the light quality of the ring light as a sole fill source. It has its place for sure but if I can avoid using it for fill I will."

More Resources

Full-frame (better, IMO) version, absent the magazine's crop: here

Related post: Golf Digest BTS Annika Sorenstam Shoot

Hat tip to ISO1200 for catching the video.


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Blogger Mat ISO said...

Thank you very much David.To find this video was a pleasant surprise for me. There are not many videos about Dan Winters.

June 11, 2012 8:18 AM  
Blogger Brendan said...

An octa AND a ring flash. I didn't see that one coming.

June 11, 2012 8:22 AM  
Blogger Jon Reid said...

A consistent theme about Dan Winter's work is his colour palette. At 1:01 you see a preview of a picture with the reds quite saturated. A split second later, Dan's colours kick in. It must be a recipe of some sort that he works from straight off of the import.

June 11, 2012 8:47 AM  
Blogger mtherrmann said...

Any idea as to what background Dan is using here? He uses that in some other shoots and I love the concrete look of it

June 11, 2012 8:52 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


He makes/scrounges/finds a lot of his own cool stuff like this, including full sets, props, machines, etc. Quite sure this is not something you could just go out and buy to duplicate. Which, of course, is the point...

June 11, 2012 9:02 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

@Jon Reid - that's Lightroom rendering the 1:1 preview (vs reading just the jpeg from the camera). Obviously there could be a preset being applied as well though.

June 11, 2012 9:03 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Love watching that guy work.

I'm sure you noticed and just didn't annotate, but for completeness, it looks like his key is a beauty dish from high camera right (0:10).

June 11, 2012 9:13 AM  
Blogger Nicolai "Cuki" Gamulea said...

0:51 Notice the gridded BD, partially flagged by one of those big panels, behind Christian Iooss' head. IMHO that's the key. Behind can be seen the grey background roll used, mounted on chromed supports.

June 11, 2012 11:08 AM  
Blogger Nicolai "Cuki" Gamulea said...

0:55 One assistant (the guy with a ponytail) is manning what looks like a black panel, camera right. By the way he checks and adjust its position, I'd guess the panel has a silver reflector on the other side?

June 11, 2012 11:17 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


The black panel on right is a cutter, and is being moved to vary the amount of the key light beam that is reaching Nicklaus' face.

June 11, 2012 11:20 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

I'm glad you post a Golf Digest cover shoot BTS video (especially with Dan Winters). For my job, I deliver the GD mag and I'm often amazed by the lighting of the cover but I'm having a hard time reverse-engineering it.

Do you have a hint on the special sauce used by Iooss' team ?

June 11, 2012 2:21 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

What kind of backgrounds does Winters use? Are they Muslin?

June 11, 2012 2:25 PM  
Blogger Todd Walker | Blogificator said...

Thanks for posting David! You're a master at dissecting a Photo & BTS vidos!

Anyway you could do a sketch of presumed lighting setup? Maybe with ratios?

Also, any guess on what length of lens he's using?

June 11, 2012 2:45 PM  
Blogger Aaron Chung Photography said...

You can see the effects from the beauty dish in the catch lights at 1:27.

June 11, 2012 3:48 PM  
Blogger Rajiv Sarathy said...

In the postcript: "On adding a bare ring on top of that, he adds, 'I like the specular highlight in the eyes that you get from a small source. I'm not crazy about the light quality of the ring light as a sole fill source. It has its place for sure but if I can avoid using it for fill I will.'"

What does the ring light add that a bare speedlight would not? If you look at the closeup of the Golden Bear's photo at 1:27, the catchlight shows the octa and the ring as a spot within it. The specular in the rest of the eyeball is probably from the ring and maybe the key. Couldn't that specular be achieved with a speedlight?

June 11, 2012 3:52 PM  
Blogger NOODLEZ said...

I do not understand why Dan complains about the ring-light as fill source!? It seems that he used it in almost every picture of him...It would be interesting to know what he would use to avoid it?

June 11, 2012 4:18 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


He is not using the bare ring as fill. He is mostly using it for the specular in the eyes. Which, obviously, did not come into play in this edited photo. The fill is coming from the octa.


You asked:

"What does the ring light add that a bare speedlight would not?"

Better to ask, what would the sleedlight add that a ring would not? The answer being, a thin shadow on the bottom side of anything protruding forward. Thus, the ring works better.

June 11, 2012 4:27 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I remember that at the time this magazine was on the newsstands, Winters also had the covers of ESPN The Magazine (Albert Pujols) and Time Magazine (Tom Hanks). That's a pretty sweet trifecta.

June 11, 2012 4:52 PM  
OpenID dannybird said...

Thing that surprises me is that he's not using something like a phase one camera given his preference for large format and that it's a studio image.

June 11, 2012 5:38 PM  
Blogger John said...

Thanks for sharing this, but most importantly, thanks for sharing your annotations! It really helps putting all of it together in a short (but sweet) video.

June 11, 2012 6:43 PM  
Blogger Iden Pierce Ford said...

This is the most informative website about lighting on the web. I'm embarrassed to say that I had never seen Dan Winters work before...his photos combine lighting I a unique way but more importantly he's up there with Avedon and Penn....truly amazing work ...thank you for posting this

June 11, 2012 10:03 PM  
Blogger Ash said...

Something else to note...the frame at 1:22 shows a snap that is almost identical to the final. Looking closely and comparing the two, we can get some ideas as to the post work.

For instance:
* the highlight on his forehead was significantly reduced
* skin tone warmed up quite a bit (assuming the video captured the color accurately on the laptop, which it probably didn't)
* contrast bumped; darker shadows burned in along the rim of his face and on the right side of his right arm
* the background ring of light was accentuated

Nothing surprising, but still cool to see what Winters might have done in post. His portraits clearly go through a lot of post, but it is done so elegantly.

June 12, 2012 1:52 AM  
Blogger trix said...

Thank you David for another great post. I've been awestruck for many years with Dans's portrait of Helen Mirren in some sort of attick. It looks very natural yet not something you could do only with natural light. I've been wondering if you could reverse engineere it or maybe ask Dan for walkthrough...

June 15, 2012 5:38 AM  

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