High Impact Track & Field: A Personal Project

One of the things that hardest to do, and yet most rewarding, is taking time between commercial shoots to explore a personal project. And amid all the business of running a photography studio, it’s not something that happens often enough.

That’s why I was so excited to tackle this dramatic track & field shoot. We had a few days between commercial shoots in Southern California and decided to use the time for some creative exploration at the University of California Irvine track.  We met up with my friend, Lauren, who is a heptathlete. Hepta as in Latin for seven—meaning that this incredibly talented woman trains for and competes in all seven of these events: 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m sprint, long jump, javelin throw and 800m run. Impressive, right?

My vision for the shoot was to capture high impact images exploding with action. I decided to shoot some during the daytime and others at night, with the common visual thread being dramatic lighting to stop the action at its most intense moment.

To pull off this result, we needed a technical set-up that would allow us a camera with a fast shutter speed sync, and a lighting system with a short flash duration. Macgroup, who oversees the distribution of Mamiya and Profoto kindly provided us everything we needed for the ideal set-up. The Mamiya DM56 medium format camera boasted 56 megapixels and a lightening fast flash sync with its leaf shutter lenses. And, the Profoto Pro 8A strobes performed so well that we promptly scrapped our old system and have been only using Profoto strobes ever since.

Our small team comprised of my longtime digital tech, an assistant and me, arrived on the UC Irvine campus with a van full of equipment, where we met up with Lauren and a few of her track & field buddies. These fantastic models, plus the great weather allowed us to shoot for one morning and two full evenings. To showcase the full breadth of Lauren’s athleticism, we shot six different events: high jump, long jump, sprinting, javelin, hurdles and middle distance running.

We were so pleased with the results of the lighting that we decided to spend one more evening photographing athletes, this time tennis players at the Racquet Club Irvine.

It was so freeing to be able to shoot without any parameters or client constraints. And, the images from this shoot remain some of my favorites ever. Squeezing in photographic playtime can be hard with a busy schedule, but it’s so important to create opportunities to experiment with equipment, lighting and my own style, and I know that personal projects always further my commercial work.