This is a follow-up article based on the article I wrote: “No Excuses! Making Photos No Matter What.” The article talks about what went through my mind when we were shooting. This article simply focuses on how I got the shot to create the sports grit look using a cross-light setup with continuous light.

The Technical Stuff

  • Placed the subject in the middle of two continuous lights set diagonally across from each other on a 45-degree angle
  • Used a black background to isolate the subject
  • Shot on a low angle with a 15-30mm lens at 30mm
  • Cameras settings: f/3.2 at 1/160 sec, ISO 1250
  • Metered in Camera
  • Collaborated with the subject on posing
  • Total shoot time: 11 minutes

What is Cross Lighting?

Cross Lighting is when you position the lights diagonally across from each other at a 45-degree angle with your subject centered between them. Lighting your subject from both sides adds a sense of depth to the image, while still producing natural-looking light. The key light — usually in front — is to light up the subject’s features and adds a catch light in their eyes.

The second light behind the subject will create an “edge” of light around them. This is traditionally called a “rim light” or a “separation light” since it helps to separate the subject from the background. For an outdoor shoot, you can use the sun as a light source, add a speedlight or studio strobe diagonally across from the sun and place your subject in the middle.

This is a reference shot. The back light was higher during the shoot.

Continuous Lights Pros and Cons

Continuous lights are great for a “What you see is what you get” style shoot. You simply set the lights up, adjust the power and use your camera’s metering system to determine exposure. You can even use aperture priority mode and let the camera decide the shutter speed for you.

When you are first learning about light, Westcott Solix LED Light is a great way to start — however, this ease of use comes with a few limitations. Normally, the power isn’t great causing you to use a higher ISO, resulting in a noisy or grainy image. Action photos such as Ray kicking or punching at full speed are very difficult to capture without unflattering motion blur. You can use continuous lights but to achieve the harsh style of the Sports Grit Look, speedlights or studio strobes are a better choice.

Black Backdrop

I love shooting on a black backdrop for sports portraits. It isolates the subject and draws the viewer’s attention to them. For this shoot, Ray had barn doors on his lights, making it easy to feather and direct the light from spilling onto the background. If he didn’t have barn doors, I would use tips from the article “How to Get a Pure Black Background.”

Not My Normal Lens

As I mentioned in my previous article, Ray handed me a Nikon D810 camera — the same camera I use, but this one had a different wide-angle lens attached. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 is my go-to portrait lens. It offers me the right amount of compression and is tack sharp. Instead, Ray had a wide-angle Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. A wide-angle isn’t usually good for portraits and the lens itself is on the soft side. To cut down on distortion, I shot from a low position and kept the camera straight and cropped in post. A quick fix with using structure in Luminar brought back clarity.

Pulling Emotion From the Subject

Having a Martial Arts background helped me in directing Ray during the shoot, but I also relied on him to collaborate on shots he wanted. Once we had the pose, we shot a few frames and I asked him to Ki — a form of energy commonly known as a loud, explosive yell. This changed his face and brought emotion to the image. We moved onto the next pose to keep the rhythm of the shoot moving. We finished in 11 minutes!

I used Luminar to add my Sports Grit Look to the image. You can download a free copy here. You can also create it yourself using Luminar, Camera Raw, Lightroom or any software that has structure or clarity, saturation and vibrance, contrast and vignette.

Behind-the-scenes photo credit: Ray Kusumi