With just the mildest case of failing vision, one could easily mistake David Ortiz for a bowling ball with an icebox underneath for support. The Red Sox designated hitter is 6’4″ and 250 pounds, but he seems much more grande than that. And he is. Not just when he’s in front of the camera, but particularly when he’s holding a bat in his hands.
Ortiz looks like he is able to decisively hit the ball out of any ballpark. And, he has done that consistently throughout his career compiling more than 400 career homers as well as winning the home run derby at the 2010 All-Star Game. He is also the all-time leader for hits by a designated hitter making him an on-base threat each time he walks to the plate carrying that Marucci D034 bat.
But it was the long ball he hit on October 13th, 2013 that not only immortalized him as the greatest DH of all time, but also deserving of the moniker Big Papi—particularly the “big” part.
With the Red Sox down 5-1 in the eighth inning, Ortiz hit a grand-slam home run just beyond the reach of a gravity-defying Torii Hunter of the Detroit Tigers. Hunter leaped so high, that he actually went up and over the legendary green wall at Fenway Park and ended up in the Red Sox bullpen. The Red Sox went on to win the game in the bottom of the ninth tying the series at a game apiece. It was a turn of events that Red Sox fans will remember—just as they’ve remembered the infamous Bill Buckner error in the 1986 World Series.
I photographed both Ortiz and Hunter just months apart for Major League Baseball and both men could not have been more cooperative in front of the camera. Torii Hunter was photographed on the balcony of his home over the course of more than two hours, while Ortiz was photographed under more limiting conditions lasting only a few minutes.
The photograph of Torii Hunter was fairly straightforward and was made using only a single Profoto 7b battery head through a 5-foot Chimera OctaPlus Octabank. A 14mm super-wide lens and low angle helped to emphasize the expanse of the sky that was carefully balanced to the exposure of the strobe output.
The portrait of David Ortiz was much more of a challenge because it was made in just a few minutes in a room not much larger than Ortiz himself. As is often the case with professional athletes, time and space are two of the determining factors for whether the shoot will be a success. But in this case, Ortiz was so cooperative that the time and space limitations seemed to disappear.
When a room is confining, light control becomes one of the most important considerations while designing the image. The reason is that large sources such as soft boxes, umbrellas and octabanks tend to spread the light all over the room leaving both the subject and the walls bathed in illumination. This can actually be a successful strategy when the subject is going to pose in a variety of directions. But, if the pose is one that’s specific, the light can be designed to match the pose and the results are often far more dramatic.
Click Diagram to Enlarge
For Ortiz, we used a 10-degree grid to light his face and a medium rectangular soft box to provide a small amount of fill for his uniform. The background was lighted using a small circular pattern through a spot projector. All three heads were powered by a Profoto D4 2400Ws Power Pack which provided the ultimate control of each head. The advantage to the D4 is that each of the four channels essentially functions as a separate unit controllable in 1/10 of an f/stop increments. So, each light can be positioned precisely where the quality of light is exactly what’s desired and then using the controls for each head, precisely modulate the power until the quantity of light is optimal.
“The only other way to achieve that kind of extreme ratio would have been to use three separate packs.”
In this case, I wanted the difference between the grid light and the fill from the box to be about 2.5 f/stops while also driving enough power through the relatively inefficient spot projector to render the background properly. To put the differences between the three heads into numbers, the grid required 19 watt-seconds, the soft box required 212 watt-seconds and the spot projector required 1200 watt-seconds. The only other way to achieve that kind of extreme ratio would have been to use three separate packs—and even then, reducing the power to the equivalent of 19 watt-seconds would likely require a neutral density gel over the light.
Once our subject arrived, assistant Shawn Cullen had the critical responsibility of making sure that the narrow grid remained positioned on the face of Ortiz. Every time the big man shifted even slightly, Shawn followed his movements giving us consistent light and good exposures to select from. When our time was up, we had what we were after, the client was happy, and then Ortiz headed to the field where fans later watched Big Papi stand in the batter’s box and live up to his name and reputation.
Joey Terrill is a Los Angeles-based photographer with clients that include American Express, Coca-Cola, Disney, Golf Digest, Major League Baseball, Red Bull, and Sports Illustrated. He teaches workshops and speaks at seminars including the Summit Series Workshops, WPPI, Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, UPAA Symposium, World in Focus, and Nikon School.