Experiences: Polo Photoshoot

     [Please note that pictures below fall under a joint copyright between The Cornell Daily Sun and myself. Unauthorized reproduction of these images will result in a removal of them from this site and would probably get me in trouble. Please be nice and respect my content – just ask me before using any pictures from this post.
Thank you!
Connor Archard]

10 Questions Photoshoots:

Every week, one of the photographers from the newspaper’s staff gets sent out to meet with an athlete that our sports writers are going to interview. They are asked, you guessed it, ten questions. As a photographer, I am charged with taking a lighthearted picture to go along with the article where I get to have a lot more creative freedom than I would for any other journalistic assignment. I collaborate with the athlete and their teammates to get images that are indicative of the sport and then generally have a fun time. These photoshoots are also an opportunity for me to work with lighting set ups and are a great place to stretch my legs and challenge myself. In the following article, I will be discussing some techniques that I use/used and talking about how things went. Hopefully, you will get something out of this or will at least be entertained by my narrative. Once again, I need to stress the importance that you do not steal these pictures!

Final image used in the paper

This week, our writers interviewed a senior on the polo team, Ali,  who managed to rope her teammates and a few ponies into the shot. The first tip that I have for any important photoshoot, especially one where you can control the lighting, would be to plan ahead of time. Ali had told us ahead of time that she wanted to take the pictures in the barn and in her polo uniform and we also knew that she would be bringing along her friends. The importance of this is that we built up an idea of what she expected from the shot so we had something to strive for. The second part of planning ahead is to either know the location so you can visualize the shots that you want to take, or to arrive early before your subject shows up so you can familiarize yourself with the setting. Christian (my roommate and assistant for the day) and I got to the barn a half hour early to start looking around because we happened to know that there were some really, really nasty fluorescent lights in the barn that we worried would destroy our color balance and we wanted to work around them. It was also helpful to know that the barn was in fact full of horses and that there was… well, feces. Everywhere. I’m very happy in my decision to have worn boots and to have packed in such a way that I never had to leave anything on the ground.

In the half hour we had before the shoot began, we talked with the people in charge to make sure that the horses would be okay with the speedlights that we needed to use because we wanted to make sure that no one would get hurt during the shoot. Then, we started looking. I try to look for angles that will result in high degrees of symmetry because I thought that those places would result in a strong compositional background in which we could pose our athletes. It was also important that I found spots that would make the sport shine through in the picture. In the picture above, I made sure to include the tractor that maintains the field in addition to the horse pens in the background. All this on top of the mallets and other props we brought in, we made the shot tie back into the sport instead of just being a portrait of a girl that would be seemingly unrelated to the article.  Before every shoot begins, I try to have at least three shots in mind and from there I always ask if the athlete has any ideas or anything they would like to do. I think that it is true for almost any portrait shoot that you are being asked to do that your subject will have an idea of what they want. Don’t ignore them just because they are on the other side of the camera! For example, I never would have thought to take the shot below (I was still worried the horses might be startled), but it ended up being Ali’s favorite picture from the day.

Before I go any further, I have to explain that I purposely over-expose these pictures slightly because they ultimately get printed in a newspaper and I have been taking pictures for the paper long enough to know that everything darkens up in the print. Please don’t bash me too much for the left side of her face being blown out – it is just how I edited this.

This seems as good a time as any to talk about lighting, so here we go: the barn was dark. I knew that balancing ambient lighting with the flashes that we had was not going to work very well because I did not want to push my camera’s high ISO capabilities. I decided to use my two SB-28 speedlights with their diffusers on and with one shooting into an umbrella, which bounced and spread the light to try and light the area we were in. I had a PocketWizard II transmitter on my camera and receivers on each of the two flashes to get a nice, dynamic lighting setup. It is important to familiarize yourself with positioning flashes to get a professional look to your pictures. If you just use your flash on your camera, you will notice that the picture will have no shadows from the front. This is a very unflattering lighting for faces and tends to white people out. This is why it is imperative to either bounce your on-camera flash towards a white/gray wall or to use an off-camera setup like I did. In most of these setups, I used the SB-28 bouncing into the umbrella to do an area lighting and to fill in shadows from the second flash that I pointed towards the ceiling with the diffuser and white card out on. I will refer to the first SB-28 as my “bounce flash” from now on and the other one will be my “direct flash.” The general formula of filling lighting with the bounce flash while providing a more selective light with the direct flash produced a nice effect here because it helped to bring out the surroundings of the photoshoot while keeping the athlete in an interesting lighting situation.

“Direct Flash” setup with white reflector card and diffuser

“Bounce Flash” setup with reflective umbrella

One of the most important things to check when using all of this equipment is that you aren’t out of batteries. It may seem like a small thing or like you can get away with carrying a few AAs with you, but this isn’t always the case. My flash setup used 4 AAs in each flash and 2 AAs in each transmitter and receiver; that’s a total of 14 batteries on top of the battery in your camera. I like to use rechargeable batteries and normally have 8 AAs and a few AAAs (for my small cowboy studio wireless flash system). One of my biggest problems in these shoots is that something always runs out of batteries and it can take a little bit of time to fix. It’s just unprofessional to have to waste time digging through your bag to get batteries and to then change them on the flash. Although it might seem obvious, it can even take a few shots to realize that something is running out of batteries and failing. Flashes can sporadically stop firing for some shots if the receiver or flash is low, and that can mean missing the “perfect moment” that you are looking for.

What NOT to do: shadows on faces

I’m including this next shot (above) as an example of what not to do in pretty much any photoshoot. If there is one thing that you get out of this article, please let it be this: do not have unintentional shadows on any point of interest, especially the face or torso. I can’t tell you how much this detracts from the image. I had done everything else I could in the image above (I even tried to avoid contamination from those awful green lights I was talking about earlier), but my one mistake was having the two girls who were standing not facing enough towards my flashes. This left only half of their faces lit, which is just sloppy form and honestly a rookie mistake. It is important to try and catch these faux pas on camera and to pose people so that this does not happen. It is good habit to check that everyone is looking good in the picture too, which means doing a quick, zoomed-in sweep through the faces. People blink, people make weird smiles, people get uncomfortable in front of cameras. Just keep talking to your models and try to be casual and not frozen. Beyond that, take more pictures than you think you need. If worst comes to worst and you don’t end up with one single picture where everyone is looking just right, you at least have some fodder to go into photoshop with!

That’s all for now. Please comment if you liked this post or have any questions about specifics of the shoot. I’m happy to help!


Horses are large animals.


3 responses to “Experiences: Polo Photoshoot

  1. Connor, nice shots! I love the article too! One of my favorites is the last image where she’s coming right at you.

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