December 17, 2012

Titanium: Power and Grace - Dignity and Respect

Each winter, I put the challenge upon myself to shoot at least one personal project.  And the inspiration and planning of these projects doesn't necessarily have to begin during the winter months!

As a father of two daughters, I'm always looking for ways to empower the importance of dignity and respect to young ladies through my photography and everyday living. And thanks to Kiana and Samantha participating in this photo shoot, they brought me one step closer to that dream.

This particular concept came to me a year and a half ago.  It all started when we were watching a local high school volleyball game.  As I watched the game, a young lady by the name of Kiana came up to serve.

It's not often you see jump serves in high school, or at least executed well...but when I saw her serve for the first time, her jump serve was exquisite.  I totally got the chills and was reminded of an image Dave Black once took of Kevin Barnett during the 2000 World Volleyball Championships.

And the wheels began to spin...I wanted to capture this young lady's power and grace in her jump serve.  And the inspiration was to try and do so in the same manner as Dave Black did with Kevin Barnett (you can see the image in my Pinterest Sports Photography WOWs inspiration board....or better yet go to Dave Black's Sports Image Portfolio...a phenomenal orgy of eye candy sports shots you don't want to miss ).
I was then introduced to another fabulous volleyball player, Samantha, during a volleyball tournament we attended.  Samantha has a wicked jump spike. I had to add her to this photo shoot project whirling away in my brain.  Add to that the song Titanium by David Guetta as added inspiration (I LOVE this song), and I knew I wanted to create a photo shoot of power and grace infused with dignity and respect these two young ladies represent.

I contacted both sets of parents to see if they'd be interested in letting their girls participate in this project I was concocting.  Both girls were excited to participate and the parents were delighted!

From there it was a matter of logistics and planning...from June until November of this year, I worked it.  First we had to rent the gym at the school. In November we got the lease agreement signed for December 9th from 10am to 12pm...future note...2 hours is not long enough!

We had our pre-production meeting with the girls and their parents in our conference room the week before the photo shoot and went over the shot list and gear we were going to need for the shoot.  The parents made it possible to get all the prop assets needed for the shoot (volleyballs, net, etc).  And of course the two dads and myself went and scouted out the gym to plan and strategize on how to get the camera high for the jump serve shot.
To facilitate the jump serve shot, I rented a fabulous piece of equipment from Manfrotto Magic Arm (an elbow arm, with a sure locking lever control at the pivot).  This was mounted to the back of basketball backboard.  We then secured a small Dell XPS 14z laptop to the flat portion on the back of the basketball rim, tethered the laptop to the Nikon D700 camera that was attached to the Magic Arm.  I used a Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 lens.  On the laptop, I set the power/display settings in Windows 7 to "Do Nothing" when the lid is closed.  That way it would stay on and running the remote trigger software, which was the OnOne DSLR Camera Remote Professional Edition along with the accompanying trigger App on my iPhone.  We raised the backboard in the up position so that the backboard was as parallel to the ground as possible, thus angling the D700 straight down....We did have to lower the backboard once to adjust the angle of the camera so as to make sure it was pointed perfectly downwards. (Here's a crappy iPhone shot of the setup before being raised into position...if I wasn't so pressed for time I would have tried to get more behind-the-scenes shots).

I brought a Wireless router to the shoot and connected both the laptop and the iPhone to the wireless connection and viola!....with the software running on the iPhone I was able to trigger live view on the camera so I could tell Kiana where her sweet spot was and was also able to adjust the exposure setting and focus on the camera from down on the ground with the was sweet heaven!  Then we were ready to go!  From the iPhone I hit the Fire button to trigger the camera.  It took a couple of shots to get the timing as the firing was not instantaneous.  What I like about this software, is that it shows you a preview of the image after you take it, right on your iPhone.  Kiana and I were then able to see each image, and she could adjust accordingly to help get just the right shot.  She was a master!

Samantha's spike jump shots image above is a composite of three separate shots.  To get this shot, I laid myself down on the ground, and had a spotter to protect me from any stray shots (you would be damned surprised just how hard and fast this girl hits!)

Behind Samantha we setup an Alien Bees B800 strobe with a spill kill reflector.  I then had Samantha's mom hold a large silver reflector just below the reflector so as to bounce light onto the ball and kill some of the light hitting the ground.  In post, I had to blacken out the background and isolate just what I wanted to show. (here's a shot out of camera so you can sort of see the setup)
A nice little surprise was the flying specs of sweat and dust...added some drama to the shot.

We also did some portrait shots of the girls to finish out the Grace part of the Power and Grace theme.
Here I used my favorite setup of an Alien Bees B800 with a 10x36 gridded softbox and a fill reflector camera right.  I then aligned another Alien Bees B800 on the left edge of the net and scrimmed the light across the net to give it some highlight and then in the background lit the school's logo.

Like I said earlier, 2 hours was not enough time.  We had several other shots lined up to try, but we ran out of time.  But because we prioritized the shots beforehand, we got the big ones we wanted most and I am so freaking pleased with the outcome of the shots we did get.

Kiana and burn with the brightest flame.  Thank you!

Until next time:  Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor, and Stay Unique!

Michael P. Young

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