In mid-August, I was contacted by the team captain for the NoVA Mutiny wheelchair (“quad”) rugby team. He asked me if I would be willing to take some promotional shots that he could use to advertise what the team was up to, in particular, to help attract sponsors, as the Fall season was just starting. This is a great cause, and one that I enjoy supporting. Therefore, it was a no-brainer!
What the team captain was looking for, to begin with, were just some individual player photos that he could post along with some text describing each player’s background, to let visitors to their website know something about the team. The team captain and I agreed that a low-key (dark, edgy) look would work best for these photos. I had been studying techniques that are used for photographing athletes, and the technique that seemed to be ideal for this case was lighting the subject with strip lights on both sides. This accentuates muscle definition, and with just the right positioning, it can make the eyes glow. As it turns out, this technique has been used to create some of the classic quad rugby photos.
For a first time effort, I’m pleased with the results. These photos captured the mood that we were trying to achieve.
I hope I get the chance to do more posed photo shoots for local athletes. Shooting games is fun, but being able to control the lighting and the quality of each and every photo is very cool!
Results for Individual Shots
I shot these photos on September 11, 2018. Click on the thumbnails below to see the full-size, full-resolution images.
Once I get better at using Adobe PhotoShop, I may consider adding smoke or other effects to photos like these.
Setup for Individual Shots
NoVA Mutiny practices on Tuesday nights at Providence Community Center, in Fairfax, Virginia. For this photo shoot, I just took over a corner of the gym during one of their practices. The individual elements of the photo shoot setup are described below.
Since I wasn’t sure ahead of time exactly what kind of shots the team was going to want, I ended up bringing quite a bit of equipment. I was pretty sure that my black paper backdrop and stand would be acceptable. The details regarding this assembly are shown in my 2016 Annandale Food Bank Christmas Photos blog post, although the paper I used was Superior #45 Ultra Black.
I set up a strip light on either side of the subject as follows. I mounted the strip lights on short light stands that are typically used to light backdrops. One of the unique things about these stands is that the 5/8″ pin that the softbox plugs into can be oriented at 90 degrees from the main boom. This allows me tilt the softbox on its side, so that the wide dimension of the speedlight head lines up with the wide dimension of the softbox. This minimizes the chance that the speedlight will create a “hot spot” at the center of the illumination pattern. I positioned the stands so that the lights were centered about 3 feet from the backdrop, and just out of the field of view of the camera. I installed the Diffusion Dome (SW-15H) on each SB-5000 speedlight, which automatically shifts the zoom setting to equate to a 14 mm (wide angle) lens focal length. I set the speedlights on each side of the subject to 1/4 power, and clearly, I could have increased them by up to one stop.
- (2) Impact LS-3S Two Section Back Light Stand (3′)
- (2) Westcott Rapid Box Strip (10″ x 24″) Softbox
- (2) Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight
- (8) Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA 2550 mAh Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries
Next time I should try these lights using their 40 degree fabric grids.
I set up the hexagonal softbox just to get some off-directional lighting. That setup was as follows:
- (1) Manfrotto Avenger C-Stand 33
- (1) Manfrotto Avenger F600 Baby Offset Arm
- (1) Fotodiox 20″ Quick-Collapse Flash Softbox
- (1) Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight
- (4) Panasonic Eneloop Pro AA 2550 mAh Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries
The speedlight in the hexagonal softbox was set to 1/2 power -0.7 eV. I didn’t have a diffusion dome on that speedlight (the one piece of equipment that I left at home), and I was finding that I was having a hard time getting the right amount of light on the subject. It could have been that without the Diffusion Dome, I was getting a hot spot that that made the lighting very sensitive to the position of the subject’s face.
The camera setup was as follows:
- (1) Manfrotto Compact Advanced Aluminum Tripod with 3-Way Head
- (1) LimoStudio AGG1983 Dual L Shape Camera Flash Bracket
- (1) Nikon D850 Full Frame Digital SLR Camera
- (1) NIKKOR AF-S 85 mm f/1.4G Prime Lens
- (1) Nikon WR-R10/WR-T10/WR-A10 Wireless Remote Adapter Set
- (1) Sony 256 GB XQD G Series Memory Card
- (1) Sony 128 GB SD UHS-II SF-M Series Memory Card
I extended the first telescoping legs of the tripod to about half their full travel (about 4.5 inches). Then, with the tripod stem locked fully down, and the camera mounted to the L-bracket noted above (at just about mid-travel, so that the battery door is not blocked from opening), the center of the lens was about 26.5 inches off the floor, which was somewhat below eye level for the subjects. The tripod was positioned about TBD feet from the backdrop, and its pitch was set slightly upward such that, when using the Nikon D850 in portrait orientation, and with the viewfinder mask set to the 5:4 (30 x 24) aspect ratio, the image was framed against the full width of the backdrop paper, and I could just see the bottom of the paper. I used the 5:4 aspect ratio, 1) because that is the standard for portraits, and 2) because using it would force me to ensure that the composition of the photo is exactly how I want it. Typically, the Viewfinder Mask is set as follows (I actually program one of the function buttons on the front of the camera to trigger that command.):
- MENU >> PHOTO SHOOTING MENU >> Image Area >> Viewfinder mask display = ON
I brought a number of lenses with me for this shoot, but it was my NIKKOR AF-S 85 mm f/1.4G Prime Lens that turned out to be ideal. I had the aperture set to f/2.8, to make sure that I had enough depth of field to ensure that all parts of the subject could be in focus at the same time, but not so stopped down that I wouldn’t get enough light from my flashes. My 105 mm prime lens would have worked for this application also, and the greater stand-off distance would have given me just a little more margin between the width of the subjects and the width of the backdrop, but then I would have had to be positioned further away, on the court where the team was practicing. My NIKKOR AF-S 70-200 mm zoom lens would have worked as well, but since it can only open up to f/2.8, I would have had to set it fully open, where focus performance may not be as good as it would be when set off the stops.
After a little trial and error, I set the camera shutter speed to 1/3200 seconds, to ensure that the background would be essentially black (which worked fine, even in the full gym lighting).
I was impressed with the smoothness of the skin tones that turned out in the resulting photos. I think the key was the fact that I forced the camera to use the absolute minimum sensor gain, which for the Nikon D850 DSLR is ISO 64. This made the maximum sensor dynamic range (maximum number of discrete light intensity values) available for the image. When I’m in a less controlled environment, where the lighting conditions could be constantly changing, I let the camera pick the sensor gain (ISO setting), albeit limited to a maximum of ISO 2000 to limit the amount of illumination noise in the resulting images. But in this case, I knew that I would be driving up the shutter speed, to drive down the number of photons coming from ambient light, and then introducing my own controlled light using speedlights. So, I put the camera in full Manual exposure mode, so that it wouldn’t make any decisions for me. Specifically, I turned Auto ISO off as follows:
MENU >> PHOTO SHOOTING MENU >> ISO sensitivity settings >> Auto ISO sensitivity control = OFF
In post-processing, I did find the need to increase the exposure of the images slightly. So this was just another reminder to rely more on the histogram to judge proper exposure, and not on what the image that the camera shows on the LCD.
I did apply some illumination noise reduction in post-processing, but at ISO 64 I really didn’t have to. More than anything, it really just reduced the detail of skin pores and blemishes.
In some of the photos, the focus is a little soft. I was setting the focus using AF-S, triggered by the Fn button on the WR-T10 remote. Instead, I should have either manually focused through the viewfinder (which would have been a little difficult without disturbing the camera), or I should have used LiveView.
Results for Group Shot
Setup for Group Shot
For the group shot, I was looking for that same edgy, in-your-face feeling. But group shots for quad rugby are kind of challenging. You can take the shot from at, or above, eye level, where you can bunch the players close together, but I think anything above eye level loses power. So, even more so than for the individual shots, I wanted to get down near floor level for the group shot. And to give it an edgy feel, I wanted to introduce sharp rim lights on the subjects, and reflections coming up off the floor below them. With 13 players and 3 coaches, this would require some careful positioning, and a bunch of lights, and a lot of power.
I went with my 20 mm wide angle lens. I used the PhotoPills iPhone app to verify that I would have adequate depth of field at some of the likely apertures I planned to use.
The tough part about going below eye level was that I knew that I would have to stagger the players in distance from the camera. This would force me to use a smaller aperture to get enough depth of field, under conditions where I would already need more light to cover all the players. I went with f/2 (TBR).
1. Nikon D850 AF-F video autofocus
Constantly hunts Focus Tracking autofocus, f/5.6 to f/8.
Only useful for video of a still (talking subject), or bright outdoor conditions with closed aperture (f/11+). Only use AF-S (single focus).
Different for different lenses (28mm faster than 105mm).
2. Use modeling lights
Based on the results that I was getting, I ended up having to ask the players to shift their positions slightly forward and backward during these shoots.
3. When you install an on-camera flash, the Nikon D850 turns off the radio (TBR)