With the coming of football season, I’m not just shooting sports action, but sports portraits as well. When I’m given an assignment to shoot and athlete of any sport, it’s usually because their achievements or abilities make them stand out from the pack.


Zach Devaney is a tight end and linebacker for Argonaut High School in Jackson (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec @ f/20 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200).

In approaching a sports portrait, I take the tact of making the athlete I’m shooting look not just strong and able but heroic as well. Shooting from a low angle helps to achieve that bigger-than-life quality. When I can, I try to light them in a way that sets apart from the background which also helps to show their specialness. A simple fill-flash technique with a hotshoe strobe or two on a light stand off to one side (or even one held at arm’s length) can add a little something to a portrait. For the most part, I use the flash’s light unmodified (no umbrellas or soft boxes). I think the harsher light can add a little edginess to the photo.

Gary Gellerman is a linebacker and center for the Calaveras High School Redskins in San Andreas (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 30mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec @ f/11 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 100).

Often we don’t have a lot of time to shoot the athletes. Many times they’re pulled from the middle of practice to have their portrait done. They’ll be hot, sweaty and sometime dirty. And, with the male athlete especially, there’s a tendency for them to have stoic, non-smiling expressions, but that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it can all add to the appearance of gritty determination and athletism.

Malique Micenheimer is a linebacker for the McNair High School Eagles (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec @ f/8 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 100).

Whether it’s high school, college or professional athletics, we tend to put a lot of interest and importance on sport and we revere the athletes who play them. We tend to elevate them to epic, sometimes almost mythological status and when I’m shooting a sports portrait, I want to hear something like Wagner’s “Ride of Valkyries” in the back of my head and hopefully you’ll hear it when you see the pictures.

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