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Vision vs. reality: Artistic liberties in an action portrait

OK, you know what? I’ve kept this secret for too long. This pic does not entirely reflect the reality of the moment it was made. Here’s why I’ve decided to use some artistic liberties to realize my vision.

It all began last year

I did a really cool photoshoot last summer with Kévin. Kévin is a beach volleyball athlete who’s currently training for the 2019 World Police & Fire Games that will be held in Chengdu, China. We met for the first time a just couple of months before. Once I discovered his story, I asked him if we could take action shots together when the snow would’ve melted … (remember, I’m from Quebec City up in the great white north).

The image in my mind

Fast forward to the warm beach volleyball court … I was quite excited to see him block, spike and dig in the golden sand. As a former indoor and outdoor volleyball player myself, I know I was in for a treat with the level of his performance. The scene became even more perfect when the sun came down by the end of the afternoon.

Right by the start, I knew I wanted this exact shot (the one you see on the cover). With the guy diggin’ the ball, making the surrounding sand go everywhere while I was lying straight in front of him with my camera. I was really low on the ground. I asked him to do the drill several times — and because he was such an excellent athlete, he did everything perfectly every time. It still took multiple shots before I got this one. It had the perfect movement timing (the sand and the athlete’s body), expression and light combination, which was EXACTLY what I was looking for … but there was something major missing …

I was great getting the action but …

DAMN IT, THERE WAS NO BALL IN MY SHOT! Ask a football, soccer or a baseball photographer: If you can’t see the ball, that’s not a shot. It was so close but so far at the same time! If I would’ve been a photojournalist, I might have cried. But because I am an artist, I opened Photoshop to add a little touch of magic of my own. I borrowed a “flying ball” from a previous image and I pasted it into this one.

Let’s face it, you probably would never have noticed it if I haven’t confessed to taking an artistic liberty. I have the right to do it and so do you. Sometimes we’ve got great pictures but there’s a little something missing that would make it perfect. A little dust, a little clone stamp tool, a little texture, a flying volleyball … as photographers (the non-photojournalist ones ;) ) we have the freedom to play and have fun with our compositions. Our passion is to create the result we want the world to see. Which leads me to the last point …

Final step: Editing

Pretty much everyone who reads my articles knows by now that I do not only love taking photographs, I equally love editing them. Once all the elements of my image are in place (the big and the tiny ones), I switch into high gear and open my favorite editing software. Although I love to explore different looks, I often tend to stick with the one I like to call my “signature look” — which includes adding structure, desaturation and a slight vignette most of the time.

In this case, I wanted to make the sand pop so I’ve added details and structure not only in Aurora but also in Luminar filters. Like a double boost to emphasize the effect. I also brought out the blue in the court leading line: I loved how it caught the eye.

Artistic liberty is not photojournalism

This photo is my vision. It is in no way a depiction of an actual sporting event. I’m not a photojournalist bound by the requirements of reporting events as they happen. I am an artist. It is my expression of an ideal moment that Kèvin makes on the court. I turned a “not good enough” image into a “very good one” by adding a tiny but crucial element. And I had fun while doing it! I saved my picture just like Kévin saved the ball!

The moral of this story: If things don’t turn out exactly as you wish, don’t be afraid to take control of a situation. And don’t trash your good-but-not-great picture because sometimes, all they really need is a little bit of (post-production) love.

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