Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Be The Ball

"I want you to hit me with the ball" is what I told my cousins oldest kid, Brant, as I was doing action portraits of him and his little brother Connor playing tennis recently. He would have had I not been behind the net -- on his first try. This is what the ball looked like as it was headed right towards my camera:
Click on each image to view it larger:

Notice the smirk on his face -- it's probably there because he already knew he had done just what I had ask him to do. He proceeded to do the same thing multiple times like there was nothing to it. His brother was able to do the same. Not sure which one of them it was, but I recall one of them actually putting the ball in the lens hood of my 24-70 2.8L lens. The net stopped the ball from actually breaking the filter on the the front of the lens. Moral of the story. Be careful what you ask for, because you might get it, and then some.

I was really impressed with how good both of them were at tennis though. I never have cared much for the sport -- to me it's about as exciting to watch on TV as golf or bowling is. I can understand how all are fun to play though, and certainly respect how in shape you have to be to play tennis and play well. You know, I never had any idea that tennis players could put a tennis ball exactly where they wanted with their racket when they served as the boys demonstrated for me that day. 

So the whole shoot was a learning experience for me. When my cousin Bert commissioned me to do the shots for them, I mentioned I had never done shots like he expressed interest in as far as tennis went, but that I would give it my best effort. So I did. I showed up that day really knowing little to nothing about the sport or how to best portray it through my camera lens. I only had a couple of basic idea's floating around in my head, but other than that, I had no clue what I was going to do. I had no idea what the tennis courts and their surroundings looked like, what the light would be like out there, or even what his boys looked like at that point since it had been a while since I had seen them. Add in that I didn't quite understand the timing and such that went into tennis when I got there, and well, I was feeling a little lost going into it. That's okay though. You just gotta fake it till you make it sometimes, and you will fall into your groove after you've been at it for a little bit. I've found that it usually takes me a bit to get warmed up on shoots the same way it takes a athlete or musician a bit to get warmed up. This shoot was no different.

As I edited through the images from the shoot I could visually see how I was learning to shoot the sport as I went. Some of the first images I got turned out great, but it took the falling sun and quickly diminishing natural light that went along with that to really force me to get it right -- and also realize I wanted to pretty much get rid of what existing light there was left with my shutter speed, and just light it all myself. Both my cousin and I were happy with the results. These are just a few of many cool shots I got that evening:

This is an example of the type stuff I was getting while the sun was still higher in the sky. I was blending my strobe with the ambient light in this shot of Brant. I love how you see the force he is exerting through his face and neck here.

One I captured of Connor just a split second before he hit the ball with the racket.

Probably my favorite from the shoot. This one begs to be printed larger -- seeing it as smaller image on your monitor just doesn't do it justice. I likely will have a 20x30 print made of it for myself. Where am I gonna hang it? I haven't gotten that far yet, but I got a pretty good idea -- like a tennis shop maybe.  

My favorite straight forward portrait I got of Brant.

And my favorite portrait of Connor. 
So now I'm wanting to do even more tennis shots. I feel like I can do an even better job of it now that I have a little bit more of an idea of what to expect. I'm gonna have fun with it.

Bert and Cyndi, thank you for the work. Brant and Connor, I often tell my subjects, "I can only capture of you what you allow me to capture of you." Thank you for being patient with me as I did these shots. I understand you both are happy with them, well, your patience and ability had a huge part in making them what they are.

I should also offer a thank you to Chris Valites and the rest of the crew at Pocket Wizard. I used the "loaner kit" you sent me for this shoot and was able to adjust my strobe power from my camera with it rather than having to stop what I was doing to walk over and adjust it from the strobe itself, which is kinda cool. It came in handy. Thanks! 

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