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Being involved in sports for most of my life I have a special fondness of working with athletes. They do things that inspire us to be greater. In today’s article we’ll look at some ways to photograph athletes and make them look like the heroes we want to be!

1. Preparation

As is the case with most of my shoots, preparation is the key to setting up a successful photo shoot. If you’re working with athletes for the first time it pays to do some research and see the types of portraits that some of the top publications are putting out. Magazines like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and many others are readily available and a great reference to give your creative a boost.

Depending on the type of athlete, you’re going to want to make the decision of whether you want to photograph them in studio or on location somewhere. Due to the heat in my neck of the woods I prefer working with athletes in studio, but often times shooting at a field (or anywhere that’s appropriate for the athlete) really sells the feel of an image.

2. Use Props

Props are an important component in setting up a successful shoot. Often times the athletes you work with have several things they can bring with them to the shoot that will really help bring everything together in the final image. For example, if you’re photographing a boxer have them bring boxing gloves, wraps, a mouthpiece, or any other item that they would use in their line of sport. Not only does it look great but it also gives the athlete who is not used to being photographed a layer of comfort since they are around things that are familiar to them.

boxer-athlete-portraitPhoto Courtesy of Miguel Quiles, Featuring Black Seamless Paper

3. Breaking The Ice

I find that the most time consuming part of photographing athletes can be breaking the ice. If you neglect this process you’ll end up with photos that may be technically great but produce a final image that looks flat and uninteresting. Sports are exciting, and whether you see it or not the athletes you photograph have a passion doing whatever it is that they do that you must bring out during the shoot. It isn’t out of the ordinary to hear athletes in my shoots grunting, yelling, and trash talking just like they would if they were competing in their given sport! Expressions  like that are impossible to capture if you just ask them to “look excited”. You can easily begin this process by striking up a conversation about their sport, how long they’ve been doing it, who their favorite players are, etc etc. Get them to feel comfortable and give them the confidence that you’re going to make them look amazing and now all you have to worry about is the technical side which is much easier.

4. Studio Shooting

As I mentioned before I tend to do most of my athlete photo sessions in studio, so choosing the right backdrops is really important in creating a nice image. Personally I love the look of a black background for most athletes. It really gives a magazine quality feel to the final images and helps the viewers of the image focus on the subject. Using some creative lighting techniques you can even make it look like they are in a natural setting (like a ring or arena). White is also a great, all-purpose color to use. Go with whatever color you feel fits the final look you’re trying to achieve.

female-runner-portraitPhoto Courtesy of Miguel Quiles

Lighting your subject can be done in a variety of ways. You can go with a simple one-light setup to take some great looking portraits, or you can mix it up and add additional lights to create some effects that will really make them look cool! Below I’ll show you one of my favorite 3 light setups for photographing athletes in studio.

Sample Lighting Setup

Here is a behind the scenes shot of the setup I used to photograph this fitness athlete. I used 2 large softboxes about 3 feet away from the background and slightly behind the subject, and a large octabox slightly higher than the subject and to the right of the camera. This setup created some great highlights along the edges of the subject and the large octabox helped bring out the definition in his muscles. The final image using this setup can be seen in the photo below the setup shot.

swimsuit-model-portraitPhoto Courtesy of Miguel QuilesFeaturing Black Seamless Paper


Photo Courtesy of Miguel Quiles

Miguel Quiles

Miguel Quiles is a New Jersey-based commercial wedding and portrait photographer who’s been involved in the industry for over 15 years, starting off first as a salesman at a local camera store. Since then, Miguel has been refining his skills and pushing the limits of his creative abilities. As a self-taught photographer, Miguel hopes to share his experience and knowledge with new and upcoming photographers who wish to take their work to the next level. Miguel is a Sony Associate Artisan of Imagery, blogger and contributor for RangeFinder Magazine & SLR Lounge. You can also find Miguel teaching workshops and seminars at Adorama and Unique Photo in the NY/NJ area. Check out more of his work on his website.
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