I had a great assignment on New Year’s day photographing Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots for Sports Illustrated at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Here is a step by step behind the scenes look at how I shot it.
As I arrived at the stadium, there were still some question about where the shoot would take place. What I did know was that I was going to have about 15 minutes to photograph Gronk and it was going to be somewhere at the facility. We were hoping to photograph him in a weight room and with the help of the Patriots communications department, that’s the space we were given. My assistant and I started moving equipment to the weight room. Once in the room I had to quickly determine what I wanted for my photographs, remembering the 15 minutes allotted for the shoot. I determined I could get 4 different photographs in my 15 minutes. That meant less than 4 minutes per shot, including any adjustments of lights or make up. The key to getting this done, is preset all the lights, test them, then re-test them. We did 2 different lighting setups. One on the weight machine and the mirror and another compete set of lights for the photographs on a backdrop. When we moved from the weight machine and mirror photographs to the backdrop, no lights had to be moved. Both Nikon cameras and all 4 Dynalite strobes had PocketWizards connected, all on the same channel. You want minimize any chance of anything going wrong. On a shoot like this I always have back up equipment, I don’t need it, but it’s there, just in case. All of the lighting tests had been done ahead of time using my assistant, who is about 1/3 Gronk’s size as the stand in. We rehearsed how the shoot was going to flow. I put small pieces of tape on the floor as a mark for Rob to stand on.
After the standing and sitting shots at the weight machine, while I explained to Rob what I wanted for the shot with the mirror, my assistant moved the Chimera strip light on the left back 2 feet and turned the strip light on the right about 20 degrees toward the mirror. The beauty dish never moved from the first setup to the mirror setup and we lost no time during the quick change from one photograph to another and lost no time when we moved from the weight machine to the backdrop. When working with mirrors, watch for your reflection and the reflection of the strobes. This was shot on a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 24-70 f2.8 lens at 55mm ISO 100 at 1/200 f5.6.
How this was lit:
The lighting on the standing and sitting shots were a Dynalite Baja 400WS battery operated strobe with a 30″ Chimera Octa Beauty Dish with an Egg Crate at a 45 degree angle for the front light. For the back lights I used a Dynalite Uni 400WS strobe with a medium Chimera Strip light on camera left. This is first soft box I owned and have had ifor over 30 years. I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth out it. On the right side I used a second Dynalite Uni with a small Chimera Strip Bank. I had a PocketWizard Plus III on camera and on each strobe. The 4th light in this photograph was a Nikon SB 900 Flash with a Rosco #83 Medium Blue gel, behind Gronk on the bench, pointed at him. This flash was set on manual and fired using the SU-4 setting in the custom functions.
For the shot of Gronk in the mirror: the strip light on the left was moved towards the wall so it became the back light. The small trip light was turned about 20 degrees towards the mirror and the beauty dish and the beauty dish was not moved. All of my settings remained the same. This was shot with a Nikon 17-35mm lens set at 17mm.
The lighting on this photograph was a Dynalite Roadmax 800 power pack with 2 heads. The front light was a Chimera 5′ Octaplus light bank on a Dynalite head. Opposite my main light is a Sunbounce Sunmover silver and gold zebra pattern reflector. The hairline light was a Dynalite head with an extension tube, a grid holder with a 20 degree grid and a Rosco 1/2 CTO filter to warm up the light. This was shot with Nikon D800 with a Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lens at 1/250 of a second, f5, ISO 100. I used a Sekonic L-478DR light meter to determine exposures and a Hoodman Loupe to check my focus. All the equipment was moved in ThinkTank cases. I recently got a ThinkTank Production Manager case. It is perfect for this type of shoot.
Last, but not the least, when you have a shoot like this, be nice to everyone. not just your subject, but the publicist and PR people. When I am working on creating a portrait, once I have an image I like, I will show it to the subject and ask “what do you think of the photograph we are creating?” The subject and I are creating the photograph together, I can’t do it without them. The subject now feels more involved in the photograph, often makes suggestions and quite often give me a few more minutes to create the image. I gained an additional 5 minutes to my 15 minutes shoot, because it was a pleasant experience, Many may not see this, but it is very important!
Thank you SI for the wonderful assignment to kick off my year! I love my job!