When Lindsey Vonn enters the room, you can’t help but notice she’s arrived. Like a uniquely perfect snowflake, she takes your breath away with her uncommon beauty and wide smile. But behind her crystalline green eyes is the tenacious resolve to compete at the apex of her sport—and then win.
Whether on skis, at the gym, or in the studio, Lindsey Vonn is hard-wired to work at the highest level. She’s an Olympic gold medalist, the women’s record holder for World Cup victories, and she is one of the most naturally beautiful women I’ve ever photographed.
“I was almost sorry that I watched the film because witnessing her emotional strength made her that much more of an intimidating a figure.”
But those great qualities pale in comparison to her resilience. She is beyond determined. The depth of her resolve is on full display in a film called The Climb which documents her rehabilitation from injuries that kept her from competing in the Sochi Olympics. She will undoubtedly show the same resolve after her most recent setback. I watched The Climb as part of my research ahead of my day-long studio session for Red Bull. After viewing the documentary, I was thoroughly humbled by the courage and persistence that lies at her core. For someone this strong, a photo shoot had to be nearly effortless. Still, I was almost sorry that I watched the film because witnessing her emotional strength made her that much more of an intimidating a figure.
Not every assignment triggers all of my dopamine receptors, but the one’s from Marv Watson always do. The reason is that his projects always require significant problem-solving, diversity and focus. Commissions that call upon all of your neuronal capabilities may leave you exhausted by the end of the shoot, but they also tend to be deeply satisfying. This particular one demanded both speed and polish in order to capture a few beauty shots, several branding shots, and illustrations for a forthcoming book on fitness.
With a call time of 1pm for Lindsey to arrive, we began building the sets at 9am. Ultimately we needed to prepare four distinct locations—including one exterior—so that we’d have the maximum flexibility to capture her in each wardrobe selection. When working with someone of her caliber, a ticking clock is always the enemy. Even though we were scheduled to have her for four hours, I knew that the initial hair, makeup and styling would easily consume 90 minutes and that wardrobe changes in between shots would consume even more. That would realistically leave us with less than two hours of actual shooting time. Having four locations ready to go would give the client the most variety in the time we had to work with her.
The first set was a nearly shadowless setup that would allow Lindsey to pose in almost any position and still look amazing. Light like this is very broad, but it’s also very forgiving. It’s achieved with big light sources positioned close to the subject and the arrangement can be seen in this video from the shoot:
The second setup was at the opposite end of the lighting spectrum because it was a very small, single source, positioned at a fair distance from the subject. The lighting was designed to mimic the quality of direct sunlight and to cast a distinct shadow. This is easily accomplished by making the source as small as possible by either using a modifier, moving the light far away, or both. The easiest way to achieve this effect is by using something called a Hardbox. It’s designed to make the source as small as possible and eliminate any reflections or stray light from escaping into the shooting space.
The third setup incorporated more of the studio environment into the frame and served as the location for most of the fitness shots for the book. We used three strobes mixed with beautiful window light that created interesting shadows on the floor. One of the four lights was an optical spot that projected a subtle window pattern onto the brick wall and helped to create the illusion that the sun coming through the window was lighting the wall. The dappled light also produced an alternative fifth environment for making a few branding images.
The number of pictures needed for the book were extensive, so I decided to use a Really Right Stuff gimbal mount for the camera. Mounted atop the tripod, it allows the camera to move freely, but it also supports all of the weight of the camera and lens. I tend to use it mostly when I’m shooting fashion, beauty, or an action portrait. The gimbal makes following the subject nearly effortless by providing stabilization and the freedom from supporting the weight of the camera for long periods. It has all of the benefits of using a traditional tripod, but almost none of the restrictions.
The final setup was simply a reflector that could be quickly positioned to add a bit of fill light when we worked on the shadow side of the roof above the studio. The rusty metal provided a nice contrast to Lindsey’s soft features and elegant style. We also created a few additional interior setups on the fly; in the kitchen, against the bricks, and on the floor.
The entire team that worked on this project was amazing—especially Ilana from Red Bull. She had clear vision about what she wanted to see in the images and she was deeply supportive during the entire shoot. Assistants Shawn and Dylan made sure everything ran smoothly and stylists Charles, Jenn and Madison made sure Lindsey looked amazing throughout the shoot. I was fortunate to spend the day with such a great group of people and a tireless subject who, as always, gave it everything she had.