How to Approach an Athlete Portrait Session in a Studio

Corey Rich is known for taking on big challenges when it comes to portraiture. He photographs high performance athletes under all sorts of extreme conditions. Whether he’s on a steep mountain slope or in a studio, he knows what it takes to create portraits that his subjects love.

In this episode of his tutorial series, Rich shows us his portrait making process as he photographs golfer Andia Winslow:

Rich doesn’t take any shortcuts in his work. His lighting setups are detailed. He clearly diagramed his setup for the featured shoot taken in a New York City studio. To achieve a high contrast, locker room look, he used side lighting that he refers to as a hybrid wraparound light. Using multiple Profoto packs–one in the back and one on each side of his set–gave him full control of each individual light. Based around a seamless black backdrop, Rich set up a medium Chimera strip lights on either side of the model, and a rim light was aimed at the back of her hair. A medium Chimera softbox was suspended directly above the athlete. Finally, Rich used a 6′ x 6′ silver reflector in front of the model and tipped it toward her at about 45 degrees.

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Corey Rich’s lighting diagram for a pro athlete portrait

With his lighting and set in place, Corey Rich can focus on the most important aspect of portraiture, which is capturing just the right moment to make his subject look her best. He started by sending his model in for hair and makeup. Rich’s wife is an expert at getting makeup just right for athletes, so they look great but also as if they’re mid-workout during their shoot.

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Rich focuses on making his model look her best.

One of the keys to Rich’s success is his dedication to getting just the right shot. He takes as many pictures as he needs to in order to pick out just the right image, where all of the important elements come together. The perfect image gracefully combines gesture, wardrobe, pose and expression into one fitting moment.

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Unedited portrait of Andia Winslow

But there’s still plenty of important work to do once the shoot is over. Rich’s post-production in Photoshop takes a good photograph to a great one. He first smoothed out his subject’s skin to give it a flatter look. Next, he dodged and burned the photograph to get the exact exposure levels he was after. Then he manipulated the background to perfection to darken the black and bring his model out. Next, he touched up Winslow’s hair. And, finally, he adjusted the tone of the image by desaturating, increasing contrast, sharpening, and using the high pass filter.

The final step in Rich’s photo making process is showing the image to the model. The subject’s reaction is a true test of the quality of an image. In this case, he received an email from Andia Winslow expressing her satisfaction.

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The final image

Corey Rich’s technique for creating photographs that make his subjects happy is not easy. He puts in his best effort at all stages of the process to ensure that each model loves his or her picture.

“That’s the reward for being a photographer–when you make the person that you shoot happy.”

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2 responses to “How to Approach an Athlete Portrait Session in a Studio”

  1. Hatem Kotb says:

    That was pretty decent :)
    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Linda says:

    So you are using 6 lights plus the reflector in this set-up correct? What if I don’t have 6 lights — actually I only have 3 — and two strip softboxes. Any suggestions? thanks

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