Derek Jeter is a lifetime New York Yankee baseball player. He is the only player in history to win both the All-Star Game MVP Award and the World Series MVP Award in the same year and he’s the all-time Yankees hit leader, passing Hall of Fame member Lou Gehrig in 2009. In other words, he’s a superstar.
I had the opportunity to photograph Jeter at the 2010 All-Star Game in Anaheim, CA while working for Major League Baseball. The assignment was to make a portrait of every player who attended the game so that the league could use the images in magazines, marketing materials and other promotional efforts.
In a situation like this—what’s commonly called a gallery shoot—players are photographed in a random order and usually whenever they become available. In most cases you don’t get more than a few minutes with each player and in that short amount of time you try to get as many looks as possible. This gives the client the most usage possibilities down the line and maximizes their opportunity to photograph the talent. In the case of someone like Jeter, it’s possible that this might be one of the only opportunities MLB might get for him to sit for a portrait for the entire year.
My strategy when I’m assigned something like this is to set up multiple lighting arrangements in the same physical space to try to get as many different shots as I can without taking up a lot of time moving the subject around. At the All-Star Game, I was given a shooting space that was also where the home team took batting practice. When I scouted Angel Stadium a week in advance of the game, I was relieved to find out that the space I was going to work in had high ceilings, but disappointed to learn that the smallish 10′ x 20′ area wasn’t going give me much room to position lights.
When game day arrived, I was fortunate to have first-class assistant Shawn Cullen along for his experience and cool head. When we arrived, the space that we were assigned that was supposed to be empty and ready for use was instead filled with cases of soft drinks, exercise bikes and training equipment. As the great Arnold Newman used to say, “Photography is 1% inspiration and 99% moving furniture,” or in this case, Gatorade. So, before we could even begin the process of lighting the set, we needed to move everything out of the way.
After some quick work to clear the space, we began constructing what would be two lighting arrangements. The first would be more of a general and safe arrangement—a broad swath of light that would allow us to be ready for anything. This was necessary to produce a “safe” headshot of each player. It was also necessary in case I needed to photograph a player with a teammate or two, or with their kids or possibly in a full-length pose. This first setup had four lights arranged so that the head shots would have a little edge to them and not look like a yearbook picture, but it still gave me the flexibility to be able to shoot almost any possible arrangement of people.
In contrast, the second setup would be very refined and wouldn’t allow for much flexibility at all in terms of the player and how much he could move. This would be the setup that we’d use only if we had the time, but it would give MLB a look that would work where they needed a more refined portrait—maybe as an opener in one of their publications or for any other use they might have.
“This was important because once a player sees an opportunity to leave, they usually take it.”
The way I arranged the lights was to create two lighting setups that would overlap each other in the space. The first camera would have a PocketWizard set to a unique channel and that would allow me to trigger the lighting for setup number one. Then, by simply switching cameras with a different PocketWizard on a separate channel, I could immediately start shooting in the tighter, more refined setup without turning multiple packs on and off and potentially slowing down the process. This was important because once a player sees an opportunity to leave, they usually take it and I couldn’t afford to have that happen—especially with a player like Derek Jeter. In a perfect world—and in less than three minutes—I’d have at least two distinctive images and the player would never sense that there was even the slightest opportunity for escape.
We were completely setup by noon and at about 1PM, the players began to arrive in the makeshift studio. By around 4pm we’d photographed close to a dozen players. A short time later we got word that Jeter would be coming in soon and that we’d get just one minute with him.
Shawn and I had worked out our system of separate cameras, radios and lighting arrangements and it was all working great. The first setup was easy and effective, but the second one was a challenge because of the narrow beam of the five-degree grid I had chosen to be my primary source. The secondary source was a large light bank set to nearly three f/stops less than the grid exposure that would fill the shadows just slightly. For the background, I was using a spot projector with a breakup pattern on white seamless to create some depth to the shot. The exposure was at f/11 with a 200mm prime lens.
The potential failure point for the shot was that the five-degree grid left absolutely no room for error. Each player was a different height and the light would need to be repositioned very quickly for each subject. To make the process of aiming the grid easier for Shawn, we mounted the head on a boom arm and left it loose so that he could essentially follow the subject with ease once they sat down. He had all the pressure on him because if the subject moved even a little—and Shawn didn’t reposition the head—they’d be out of the narrow beam of light and the shot wouldn’t work at all.
When Jeter finally arrived, he was pleasant, kind, and efficient. Obviously, this was not his first photo shoot and he was ready to go. He did exactly what I asked him to do and we captured the first shots in the broad lighting before moving on to the more refined image. Without hesitation or pause, we switched cameras and immediately went into the second setup. When it was all over, according to the metadata in all the Jeter images, 86 seconds had elapsed from the first frame in the first setup to the last frame in the last setup and we had everything we needed.
Everyone who was there after he left heaved a collective sigh of relief. He was the big “get” of the day and somehow, we’d gotten him in 86 seconds.
Five ideas to increase your success behind the camera at a shoot like Derek Jeter:
- Arrive early.
- Try to build at least two completely different sets.
- Look for what could be the failure point for each setup.
- Work with a great assistant.
- Be ready to shoot when the big name arrives.