Sometimes I get a big idea.  This one was all about creating a series across several athletes and sports. I wanted to photograph different sports using the same lighting and apply the same Lightroom presets. No, I wasn’t being lazy. I wanted to compose the images together and they would all have the same look and feel.

Great concept, but I found a few happy flaws.

What Worked (and Didn’t)

Lighting: First, the harsh style of light I chose worked great for most sports with uniforms that had texture. However, the light was a little too much for shiny uniforms like gymnastics.

Color: Desaturating the colors is a cool effect but for the Fencing Prince, vibrant colors looked better.

Sharpening: Male athletes with five o’clock shadows looked intense when I over-sharpened the image. However, I smoothed out the skin for female and children athletes before and after I over sharpened.

Aperture: I normally shot at f/4, but for some reason I shot f/2.8 for the Fencing Prince. It was a happy mistake. The open aperture gave me a softer look that worked for this image.

Technical Side and Light Ratios

Let’s review my approach to lighting:

  • I used the Rapid Box beauty dish as the main light at ¼ power.
  • I tweaked the Light to Subject distance to get a meter reading of f/2.8 at 1/100 sec.
  • I set the Stripbank to ⅛ power and positioned them at a 45 degree angle behind the subject.
  • Using egg crate grids, I focused the light as a rim around the subject until I had a meter reading of f/4.
  • The black background fell completely black by moving it away from the subject until I had a meter reading of f/1.4 at 1/100 sec.
  • I placed a silver reflector in front to bounced a little fill light under the Prince’s chin and to add a pleasing catch light to his eyes.
  • The lower settings of the speedlights conserved battery power.
  • The open aperture of f/2.8 gave me the soft depth of field I was looking for.
  • The 85mm f/1.4 lens is a great choice for full framed cameras.

To Get the Expression

For this shot, posing was critical. To get my subject’s expression, I asked him to act proud of his skills and accomplishments. I asked him to “look through the lens with an intense stare.” I told him to act as if he were about to compete and that he wanted his opponent to be scared.

He had no problem… I soon realized he wasn’t acting.

Processing the Images

Once the shoot was over, Images were imported into Adobe Lightroom.

  1. I quickly made my selects and moved them into a collection.
  2. I then applied a white balance and copied it to all images.
  3. Next I subjectively cropped for impact then started my edits.
  4. Since the image was shot with harsh light, I was able to apply a large amount of sharpening and clarity.
  5. I then desaturated the colors and increased the intensity and contrast of the blacks.
  6. To keep the image clean, I applied noise reduction to create a softer look on the face and bring out the whites of the eyes.
  7. A simple adjustment brush was applied to the iris of the eye to increase exposure, shadows and saturation.
  8. Once the image had the look we were going for, I made a preset and applied them to all selected images for consistency of the set.

The Fencing Prince Lightroom preset can be downloaded here.

What Would I Do Differently?

Overall, I’m very happy with the final image. However I always make mental notes for the next time I shoot.

  • For this shoot, I started to tether the camera to the computer until we had a glitch. I then switched to my Hoodman compact flash card. I should have tested tethering before the shoot.
  • I had the subject on an apple box to increase his height (I’m a bit taller and I was trying to save my back).I think I could have still shot at a slightly lower angle to get a more powerful look.
  • For a different look, I plan to tweak the post-processing.  By increasing the colors instead of desaturating.
  • To complete the storyline of a Fencing Prince, I would love to add a princess shot with the same light and Lightroom preset. For that, I would use a tripod and photograph the subjects on the same day and possibly together.

Please leave comments below on this article and what you’d like to see in the future.  Let me know if you’d like me to cover any other aspects of this (or future) shoots.  Thanks for reading!

Be sure to follow Vanelli for more photo and video updates!


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About Vanelli

After a successful career as a three time Triple Crown Karate champion, Robert Vanelli turned his attention to teaching. As an educator for over 30 years, Vanelli has created several photography and digital workflow program including a special program, Click for Kids. Borrowing concepts from the martial arts, Vanelli instilled values such as integrity, and goal setting using photography as a vehicle to motivate children. As the lead photographer for Exposure Photographic Art Studio, Vanelli has had the opportunity of capturing images of special VIP’s, including the President of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Toyota, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, CEO’s of companies such as Yahoo,the Oakland A’s and several martial arts legends.


Lighting, Photography, Portrait, Shooting, Sports, Your Focus


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