About a month ago, I had a photo session with the Rock Ridge High School volleyball team in Ashburn, VA. The plan was to create individual banners and a large team banner to be hung in their school gymnasium during their season. I was excited about the opportunity because it combined my interests in sports photography and portraiture.
A week or so prior to the session I had a chance to visit the gym and test my lighting equipment. The team coaches were very cooperative and acted as test subjects. Just after I had my lights set up, the electricity in the school went out, which was unexpected, but something I will plan for in the future. We waited about fifteen minutes, and I was just about to head home short of my goals for the visit, when the power came back on.
Lesson 1: Move to portable battery packs to avoid dependence on anything or anyone else providing power.
I planned a 7' parabolic umbrella to light the whole team and added a single sidelight to separate the subjects from the background. I wanted to light the players, but have the background go dark. Not completely dark, but dark enough to keep the attention where it should be--on the players. The lights hanging from the ceiling and the sunlight coming through the windows added some ambient light, but not enough to cause any problems.
Luke Reichel, my friend and one of the coaches, posed for a test shot and later I would process that shot to add a "gritty" look that I thought might work well for the team banner. This shot also told me that I didn't want the players to stand so close to the net for their individual photos.
On the day of the shoot, the twelve young women on the team showed up right on time and ready to go. Their engagement was something I worried about, but needn't have. It really helped that they had "met" me before when I had photographed them in action for vivaloudoun.com. Once some of them recognized me, any nervousness they had dissipated quickly.
Lesson 2: Make a personal connection before trying to photograph your subjects.
I came to the session armed with four poses, and I let each player choose the one they liked the best for the team photo. I asked them to give me their "game face," which I explained is confident, but not mean. They all got the idea right away.
With a few other minor posing and expression adjustments we were in business. Within no time, we had the shot for the team banner. In fact, I was able to do a shot of just the seniors for possible later use because we were ahead of schedule.
Then it was on to the individual shots. The expressions had to be "smilier" and the poses a bit more friendly. Again, the girls were fantastic to work with. With little coaching from me they totally understood what I was looking for, and twelve individual photos were done in no time at all. Working with Luke, I developed and refined a design for the individual banners. After the design was final, I could easily insert a photo of each player, which became fantastic 4'x6' banners.
Within ten days I had the team banner above and twelve individual banners designed, printed and delivered. The coaches held an unveiling, and I've heard that the players were thrilled with the end result.