Impossible Hockey Portraits Taken From Below the Ice

Impossible Hockey Portraits Taken From Below the Ice

When an idea goes beyond what is possible, sometimes you need to create your own reality. Learn how the photographer for and NHL team got below the ice for a fresh perspective and created some very cool portraits.

Being the team photographer for the San Jose Sharks, Brandon Magnus is always looking for different ways to showcase the team's athletes. He knew shooting on plexiglass could offer a unique point of view while also showcasing the arena in the background. Magnus was partially inspired by one of his old mentors, Donald Miralle, who took a photo of a baseball player from below.

Finding your way in the creative world means being able to pick and choose techniques that can help you achieve a vision. If you worry too much about being the first or only one to try something, such as shooting through plexiglass from below, you may limit your own possibilities. Don't be afraid to take something and give it your own spice.

At this point, it may sound like the idea was simple enough to execute. This would be far from the case. Once Magnus got his plan approved, it took a ton of help from his coworkers to really make it happen.

Building the Platform

The cost of the required plexiglass was over $4,000. Magnus and his team had to coordinate with the SAP Center building operations to ensure they could build a sturdy and safe platform to hold the players and create the window from below.

The safety of the Sharks was the top priority as a large part of being the team photographers' duties involve making sure to not injure the on-ice talent. Luckily, building the platform was not the first rodeo for the crew since they are used to constructing stages for the numerous concerts that perform in the area. All Magnus had to do was provide the dimensions of his inch and a half thick plexiglass sheet. The see-through make-believe ice was nine by six and a half feet and after everything was set up there was a seven by five feet window.

While it would be nice to think all of this could be practiced and perfected, like a lot of things, that simply was not the case. There were too many people involved and lots of infrastructure making a dry run unrealistic.  

The Shoot

The selection of the players was handled by the public relations department. The gentlemen booked for the gig were Timo Meier, Thomas Hertl, and Erik Karlsson. Before the portraits were taken, Magnus shared a mood board with actual celebrations captured at the hockey games. This helped the players with ideas on how to pose and made them more comfortable doing something that comes naturally.

The visuals on the scoreboard were not left to chance and were specifically designed to complement the shoot. The lighting was adjusted in the area to be just right for what Magnus wanted.

One of the immediate challenges was the reflections showing up on the plexiglass from below. Everything had to be blacked out, including Magnus who dressed in all black clothing.

Another unforeseen challenge that needed to be tackled was communication. Since a bunch of thick black cloth and plexiglass do a pretty good job of muffling sound, they needed to use a walkie talkie device to talk with both the players and the folks controlling the video feed on the scoreboard. These worked better than nothing but struggled at times.

Magnus ended up lying on his back for most of the shoot. This may sound comfortable, but remember the real ice was underneath him. As we can all understand though, in the heat of the moment this photographer felt no cold. His heart was full of excitement after seeing the results of his far-reaching idea unfold on the back of his camera.

Months of planning, tons of prepping, and about four hours of setup for the platform and lighting the day of had all been well worth it. The actual shoot lasted about 20 minutes which was described as an eternity. Apparently, sometimes athlete shoots can last barely a minute leaving you very little margin for error.

The Results

The scene was illuminated with a four-light setup. One key light, two massive reflectors with grids down the ice to help separate the player from the background, and one constant light on the player to help with focusing. The shots were all taken with a 24-70mm lens, at 1/100th of a second on f/11 with an ISO of 1000.

Magnus noted that the plexiglass turned out fairly smudge prone and required constant wiping. It was also rather fragile and quickly became visibly scratched from the players' ice skates. I personally think it adds to the skated-upon ice look and is possibly just as Bob Ross would have put it, a happy accident.

Being the team photographer is an awesome job, but like anything, it can seem repetitive after a number of games. Projects like this are a great way to keep the creative juices flowing and really hit the refresh button. The images turned out great and the whole shoot was one of the most fun yet challenging projects he has ever worked on. Sometimes the experience is the true reward. Magnus graciously credits the San Jose Sharks organization for making the shoot possible and supporting his creativity.

What do you think, isn't this a great perspective? What else could be interesting if photographed from below? Would you believe horses?

All images used with permission by Brandon Magnus. You can also check out his work on Instagram.

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8 Comments

August Miller's picture

These photos are great, but just to show that we can continue to recycle great ideas here are a couple of similar photo shoots in years past. This one is from 2011. http://www.robgalbraith.com/content_page83e5.html?cid=7-11412-11420 And this link is a photo of Ted Williams taken through a glass floor in 1968 https://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/news-photo/portrait-of-boston-red-sox-...

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Love the Ted Williams one. Thanks for sharing!

Jim Bolen's picture

That Williams shot is great!

Michael Hickey's picture

Well executed but not at all original.

Lee Christiansen's picture

One of the first things I learnt many years ago at college was that "nothing is original."

Well, maybe almost nothing...

So when we see portraits of someone sitting on a chair - we've seen people sitting on chairs, when we see images of amazing makeup - we've seen amazing makeup, those fantastic landscapes - well I've seen wide pics of mountains before...

If we're looking for truly original, our viewing experience is going to be very very limited.

The trick is to find ways of expressing our photographic ambitions with methods that allow that expression - and alas I'm guessing 99.9% of these have been done before. I know my work has been done in some way or other by photographers before me, and I'm fine with that... they were my inspiration.

If we're going to set "not original" as a metric for critique, then perhaps we should require those critiques to show examples of truly original works as a balancing argument.

For me, I don't worry about whether an image is original. I rarely see them. I just look at an image to see if I like it and if it has been well done.

This one meets those criteria and has also overcome many technical aspects I'm sure many of us may have overlooked. Images I'd be happy to have in my portfolio.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Well said, Lee. The "nothing is original" concept has always stuck with me too.

Jenny Rich's picture

I adore the pictures like that: the idea is cool and the result looks stunning, as if you are the one who looks at the players from below. Original or not, these photos look great. Not so many things are really original, after all. And I liked "behind the stage" shots, they explain the magic and you see that it's really simple.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Glad you liked. I agree it is a great point of view. Thanks for commenting.