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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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September 6, 2007 12:57 PM

Special Sections Require Special Photographs, Part 2

Posted by Rod Mar

Our pro section this year focused on Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones. The idea is that Jones is the best Seahawks player ever.

These sections are designed to inspire reader debate, so that's why a certain former wide receiver's name isn't even mentioned on the cover.

My assignment was to simply make a cool photo of Jones that demonstrated all his best attributes - strength, toughness, size, along with one of the thems of the story -- Jones is a pretty simple guy from a small town who somehow became one of the best linemen in NFL history.

With that in mind, I chose to do a simple (one light), dramatically lit portrait of him.

I spoke of preparation in the first part of this post, and here's an example. As well as scheduling the a shoot time through the team's p.r. department, I also have remember to tell them what I want the player to wear.

This is way more important than one would think. For example, if I want to shoot a player "in uniform", I have to specify EVERYTHING that I Ithink "in uniform" means. For the player, that might mean, jersey, pads, pants, socks. But if I'm shooting the player from head-to-toe in a n action pose, that also means I have to specify jersey, pads, pants, socks, SHOES, HELMET, GLOVES (if he wears them), and ball, if that's part of the image.

Many's been the shoot where a player comes out in flip-flops and the photographer has to act fast to save the shoot. Players are loathe to return to the locker room and p.r. people hate you when everything's not in order.

Also, you have to specify WHICH jersey you want the player to be in -- home or away, or in the case of many teams now, the alternate jersey. The Seahawk have a couple of different combinations of uniforms, so it's important to know exactly what you want.

With Walter Jones, I wanted to show his strength, and I knew he had some new tattoos, so I told him I only needed him in a workout shirt. Specifically, I said, "a sleeveless workout shirt, one that fits him tight, and is of a dark color like black or at least blue". I also added that pants and socks and shoes wouldn't matter because they wouldn't be visible.

I arrived at the Seahawks headquarter in Kirkland two hours early for the shoot. This way I had time to rearrage their conference room for the shoot, and also to set up and test my lighting arrangement.

In order to be totally prepared, I recruited one of the Seahawks p.r. staff to pose for a couple of test shots. Doing this greatly enhances the time you have with the actual subject, since everything can be fine-tuned.

Jeff Garza, a p.r. assistant for the team, was my contact. Over the past couple of years he's stood-in as a test subject for Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Deion Branch, Mike Holmgren, and now Walter Jones.

I also scouted an area outside where I could so a different shot which we might use on the inside of the section.

When the time came, I went out to the practice field to meet Walt do to the shoot. Jeff found Walt, and we began to work.

I started outside, and used a simple white reflector to bounce light coming from behind Walter back into his face. I shot from below him to emphasize his size:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 24-70mm lens, ISO 200, 1/1000 sec., f8.0)

When I shot this horizontal I saw the "Big Walt" tattoos on his forearms and made a mental note to remember that for the studio shots:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 24-70mm lens @ 32mm, ISO 200, 1/1000 sec., f8.0)

After a couple of minutes outside, we moved upstairs to the makeshift studio I'd created in the conference room. The lighting setup was simple -- one Dynalite strobe head with a 10 degree grid, on a light stand about three feet off the ground.

Shooting a portrait follows a progression. I usually have an idea of what I want as an end result, but getting there involves gaining the trust of the subject. What's important here is making he or she feel comfortable and that you're not going to make them look bad.

So I start with a couple of comfortable poses, to get them used to the lights and the camera, and the way I work. Here's how I started with Walt -- it's nice and simple, and I'm getting him used to me:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom, ISO 200, 1/250th sec. @ f16)

I want to get to his forearms and the tattoo's I've seen earlier. I think that a simple shot that says "Big Walt" will say everything I want the cover image to say. Also, it will be simple, strong and to-the-point -- just like Walter Jones. So my next move is to get his arm up and to see if I can get his face framed in the cradle of his arm and bicep. This is somewhat of a cliche'd pose and a transitional picture as I move towards shooting his forearm tattoos. While this frame is nice, it doesn't quite work for me because as a lineman, he doesn't have huge definition in his biceps, nor does he have the flexibility to create the frame for his face I'm looking for. Also, too little light is falling on his face and far too much light is falling on the tattoo, which isn't a quick read:

I finally ask him about the "Big Walt" tattoos. He's pleased I've noticed them and he's very proud of them in his own shy way (yes, there is irony is a man with huge "Big Walt" tattoos who is shy). They're meaningful and I tell him I want to emphasize them. So we get his elbows up on the stool I've placed on the floor in front of him:

The stool is throwing reflections around, so I cover it with a dark cloth. The pose seems "open" and his pose is more reminiscent of a boxer than of a football player. Again, I'm trying to communicate a sense of who this person is, so a boxing connotation isn't working for me. Lastly, the light isn't quite right -- it feels flat and without dimension, so I move it slightly more towards the front of him. The light is much better:

Finally, we get to image I've envisioned. I ask Walt to clasp his hands above his head. I get the light to sneak in between his arms, and the severe angle of the ten-degree grid keeps the light from spilling around. He tilts his head *just so*, and the portrait comes together. We work this pose for a bit, and then I tell him we're done. I show him a small preview of the shot, and he tells me he loves it. Wants a copy:

The entire shoot, from outside to inside, has taken only 15 minutes. For a player in the middle of training camp, time is of the essence. He's happy, I'm stoked, and we've pulled it off without a hitch. Here's a proofsheet:

Not all shoots go this smoothly. Walt was a pleasure to work with, and the Seahawks have been great about access for our portraits.

Now the big question: Will the Sonics' preview feature moving vans?

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Posted by JackEbrown

5:06 PM, Sep 06, 2007

Wow! Walt is the man. Those tattoos are amazing. Hes the nicest guy with a huge smile and a big heart. Seeing him like this is a little bit fantasy and a little bit comedy. This isn't the real him. He could never be as mean as he looks. Hes just a big ole teddy bear! Such a great man. Sweet as the pecan pie he served at the Seahawks All Access Live event. You're my hero Big Walt. I can't wait to see you play this weekend. You always give us the security we need as fans to know we have the ability to win any game. Without you there is no Sean Alexander and no Seahawks period. You are the most valueable player in the history of the team. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to more articles like this. Walter is way under represented in the media. He needs a publicist at this point to really get his image out there!

Jeff Hobbs aka JackEbrown

Posted by gar

3:28 AM, Sep 07, 2007

awesome shots, Rod!

Pretty cool seeing the whole sequence of how you picked and posed the different shots... the final is definitely an awesome portrait with a lot of personality.

Posted by F.Padge

8:11 AM, Sep 07, 2007

It was great seeing all the shots come together for the special section. I didn't read the special section while on the bus this morning, punched up my browser and saw your blog post. I immediately recognized the image from the front page and went to grab the "Armed for Success" insert. The Jones shots, the Branch shots... all great work. thanks again for blogging all of this. keep it up.

ps: w/ the indoor shots, you used the 70-200 lens. at what length did you shoot him at, curious. thanks!

Posted by wm.

12:27 AM, Sep 08, 2007

What, nothing broke on-location?

Something ALWAYS breaks on-location!

Great stuff. All the black and white cover shots lately have been Grade-A. Really nice, classic stuff.


Posted by Mr. Michael

9:50 PM, Sep 08, 2007

That can't be the proof sheet beginning to end... there aren't any shots of Jeff Garza!

Now that the players can read how you... manage them... in a photo shoot, do you think they'll be easier or more difficult to do what you need?

Posted by Rod Mar

11:54 PM, Sep 13, 2007

thanks for all the comments.

gar -- i really liked the final shot, and i'm truly disappointed it didn't run in the paper.

f. padge -- thanks for looking. i think those were at 140mm.

wm -- let's see -- one of my light stands has lost the bolt that loosens and tightens -- does that count?

mr. michael -- jeff garza has forbidden me from running his photo -- after all, they were test shots. i don't worry one second about any players reading this blog...



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