My craptacular portrait skills are most often employed on the news side of the paper for business stories or features, but our sports staff also come looking for photos to accompany their features. Cleverly called "Sportraits" by some, these photos can be a headache to make depending on where and when the athletes are available.
I've touched on this in a few previous posts ( A Smashing Success, Extra Innings and Freeing and Damning), but when it comes to frustrating sportrait situations, baseball players have got to be the toughest.
The bulk of my photo experience before joining the Herald was spent at the Oregon Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon. And while the football team was never ranked #1 in the country while I was there, national media had their eyes on Ducks athletics and I was rarely afforded any time with the stars we were spotlighting. I had no choice but to shoot them quick and dirty, especially considering my even more limited equipment and photo skills. The athletes' frequent media contact also meant they were generally easy to work with and accustomed to, if not totally comfortable with, being in front of the camera.
During my first year on staff here, we ran a feature on CBC second baseman Tyler Reeves. Largely unaware of the pitfalls, I showed up during practice and asked him to join me at second base for a few portraits. As we ran through a few poses, his teammates ran laps. Each time they jogged within earshot, a cacophony of insults like, "nice pose, faggot!" peppered our spot.
I ham-fisted my way into keeping some highlight details in the sky with an off-camera flash and got this passable shot:
About a month later, I headed out to Gesa Stadium to shoot features of pitcher Parker Frazier and outfielder Charlie Blackmon. I got Blackmon out in center field after interrupting some drills and told him my idea was to get a couple shots of him standing by the wall and then a couple pseudo-action portraits of him jumping up like he’s catching a fly ball. He agreed to the basic shot, but asked politely and firmly if we could skip the action shot. Reminded of my embarrassment the month prior, I stuck with the nice-and-boring:
When it was Frazier's turn, I took him into the dugout for the even lighting and relative segregation from the rest of the team. I went for some shallow depth of field and had him toss the ball a few times:
I thought I had learned my lesson, but as I packed up my gear, a teammate walked up to him and asked, "How f---ing gay was that?"
"Pretty gay," he replied.
Sometimes you just can't win, I guess.
Since then, I've worked to either get feature shoots scheduled outside of practice or looked for portrait locations away from the rest of the team. High school athletes have generally been very easy to work with, only giving me trouble when a lack of judgment yielded this lil' doozy:
You can read more about this snafu in Extra Innings.
But that trouble came in the form of backlash. The kids were pretty funny during the shoot, tossing out posing ideas that were even more inappropriate:
Working with them and the Richland seniors for this shot:
have reversed my earlier conclusion that baseball players are needlessly difficult to work with.
The three sets of Southridge soccer brothers were game for my roughhousing photo idea:
but my background could have used a little more attention to detail.
And getting Hanford tennis star Luke Thompson away from his team also gave me a chance to use the high school's second floor to get a little different angle on his serving motion:
And while they're usually down to play along with my ideas, it usually takes a little goading and working to get them to relax a little more. Richland cross country seniors Katie Mahoney and Maggie Jones, however, were quite the opposite. When I arrived at Fran Rish Stadium to meet writer Kevin Anthony and the girls, I rolled my eyes. Of course, there had to be a middle school football game going on. I started looking around for other background options. They apparently had a bunch of photo ideas already, and it didn’t take much listening in on the interview to see that these girls weren’t going to be the shy high school athletes I’d gotten used to working with. As soon as Kevin finished his interview, he quipped that they shouldn't hurt themselves because not only would the coaches get mad at him, but his story idea would have to go on injured reserve as well.
One asked if they could climb onto the radio tower next to the bleachers for a photo.
That was even more reckless than I'm willing to do, and I'm pretty sure she was joking, so we started with their idea of climbing a fence:
I'm not sure how I could have tied in this concept with the story, so I didn't work on getting the lighting legitimately set up, but let them have their fun and used it as a way to get them warmed up for the camera — not that they really needed it. The photos all ended up featuring a stuffed cow that has been passed down through the years as a Richland cross country good luck charm, so during a leap frog idea, it was involved:
And in a strange role reversal, I was the one not understanding the photo concept, evidenced here by the excessive space I left for Jones to jump over when they were really just getting the cow its 15 minutes:
This continued for a while
before we shifted gears into their most usable idea of running through the scene. This tied in nicely with both of their assertions that training together was the most fun they have, so we started with some goofy jumping
before I tweaked my lighting setup (one strobe with a 60” reflective umbrella at camera left) and ended up with this as the winner:
It was the most fun I'd had on one of these after-practice portrait sessions and I hope the photo adequately captures their personalities. It's funny, thinking back to all my concepts that athletes have rejected, to end up in the opposite position — especially when photographing for a sport that doesn’t lend itself to dynamic visuals. I had racked my brain leading up to this shoot, trying to come up with something fun and different, but they had done most of my work for me.
If only they could all go this smoothly.