Photographer Ryan Taylor recently worked with Red Bull to shoot a highlight story on Hilary Knight, one of Red Bull’s professional athletes and member of US Olympic Hockey team. With Knight going to the winter Olympics this February it was the perfect opportunity to showcase her journey to Gold.
Back in June 2017, I received an email from Taylor who I had met at a workshop the previous year. He was going to be in Boston for an assignment and was looking for assistants, a makeup artist, and a gear rental house. I quickly sent him back some recommendations but I knew Taylor's work and he had done some pretty impressive sports projects so I offered my services. He emailed back “we are shooting Olympic athlete Hilary Knight at the Bruins training ice rink for Red Bull.” Awesome. I had already started writing this article in my head.
For Taylor, the assignment started a little different. When Red Bull reached out to him with an idea to capture Knight with the color gold, possibly with glitter, he was a bit concerned. How would the glitter react with the ice rink? Would it read as glitter or even gold on camera? Would the physics behind a slap shot give the glitter the desired effect? “So immediately after getting off the phone with Red Bull I got in my car and drove to the nearest hobby store and picked up some gold glitter,” Taylor said. He was going to have to get dirty testing different kinds of glitter.
The first tests were kept pretty simple. Taylor needed to figure out the physics of the slap shot. Luckily he was an avid hockey player as a kid and knew how to hit a puck. So he went out into his backyard with the glitter, taped a pocket wizard to a hockey stick and started taking shots. Literally. “While the results weren’t breathtaking, they were enough for me to know that once I lit the gold up with my strobes it would really pop.” He told me but there were still some concerns. “I still wasn't convinced enough to risk shooting something with a professional athlete and not have it work.” More tests were needed.
“So I ran another test. This time I was able to get the help from a young aspiring photographer who just happened to have a killer slap shot.” Knowing that the actual shoot location was at an indoor rink Taylor and his stand-in model headed to a local outdoor rink during the evening so they could simulate the darkness they would have indoors. The goal was to test a few different lighting setups that he knew he wanted to use to see how they affected the glitter. With a few other photos on the shot list and not knowing how many glitter shots they would actually get with Knight, it was important to eliminate any guesswork. So Taylor took notes of each strobes power and distances to replicate for the actual shoot day.
Getting the right puck hit to maximize glitter spray wasn't easy either. During the test, a variety of different stick techniques was tried. They tried slap shots and wrist shots each done with varying amounts of glitter and types of glitter. After a little while, Taylor began to feel more confident in how the shoot was going to go. However, during this second test shoot, it quickly became apparent that they were going through glitter really quickly and would only be able to get a couple shots. With little time before his flight to Boston in a slight panic, Taylor ended up buying $100 worth of glitter from his local craft store getting him quite a few interesting looks from the checkout employees. “I laugh because after the shoot I ended up returning $95 of it, but it was worth having that piece of mind knowing that the shoot wouldn't end due to a lack of glitter.” A problem Taylor can't’ say he has ever had.
Confident in his preparations, a good crew of people and the team from Red Bull the day went pretty smoothly. Knowing that the glitter shot could result in Knight getting pretty messy it was saved for last. With the little time that we had the ice rink, Taylor quickly moved through his shot list getting everything that was needed. There was even time to experiment on a few bonus images.
With just about everything needed shot and Knight all warmed up and ready to go on the ice it was time for the glitter. Starting with the setup already practiced and shooting with a long 70-200mm lens everything was going great. We moved through several attempts quickly learning the best way to place the glitter. The images looked amazing. Taylor, Knight, and the Red Bull team were all excited with how great the concept was turning out. However, now that he knew the shot was in the bag Taylor had already started thinking of new angles he wanted to experiment with.
“I wanted to get in close and try something a bit different than what we had been seeing all day,” he said but this came with a few concerns that we quickly had to resolve with what we had lying around. There was a concern for Taylor's safety so close to Knight and shooting directly into her slap shot. There was also the glitter which had started to melt the ice and clump together in gold wet piles making keeping the camera clean impossible. We managed to find a thin piece of plywood tucked behind the stands that probably wouldn't stop a direct hit but might give a chance for cover if the shot went squirrely. I also remembered I had one of those plastic camera sleeves for emergency rain days in my camera bag. It was better than nothing but Taylor told me weeks later he was still finding glitter in his bags and on the camera.
Making the move closer and getting a wider shot was the right call. After the first attempt, everyone knew it was the shot we needed. It took a few tweaks to get everything right in one shot. A great glitter bomb, the puck in the shot, and Knight's helmet just right but after a couple of attempts, everything just clicked. By this time we had realized which type of glitter gave the best spray and reflected enough light. Unfortunately, we only had so much even though Taylor had bought a ton of glitter. So after each take the glitter had to be cleaned up and swept into piles. which worked out in our favor. During the second series of shots, we started scooping handfuls of the ice, water, and glitter mix to keep shooting.
With everything done there was one last shot before we could wrap. Red Bull wanted to get a portrait of Knight with glitter falling all around her. Kind of like a gold medal celebration shot. It was a quick and easy shot but at this point, my hands were frozen from holding handfuls of icy glitter and throwing it up in the air. With that done Red Bull was happy, Taylor was happy, Knight was covered in glitter, and I realized you should never hold wet icy glitter barehanded because it was now an impossible to remove paste.
The entire day was amazing. Everything and everyone came together to pull off some amazing images. I’m really glad I was able to be a part of this assignment which gave me the opportunity to then share it with all of you. So I’ll end this with some final thoughts from Taylor. “Overall, I was super stoked with the results of the shoot. It was really a fun shoot and by doing so much ahead of time it took a lot of the stress away that a lot of shoots can bring. We were able to move quick and fast but still get quality images, something that was necessary due to the limited amount of time with Hilary.”
Ryan Taylor is an action sports photographer and commercial cinematographer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally focusing on wakeboarding and snowboarding, He strives to create something new and unique every time he shoots. This often means implementing new lighting techniques as well as working with athletes to think of new creative ways to showcase their sports. This has led to projects involving a giant rail carved out of ice, snowboarding in a cornfield, BMX in an abandoned stadium, and sending wakeskaters through a field of cranberries.
All images used with permission of Ryan Taylor / Red Bull Content Pool