How a Professional Advertising Photographer Lights Athletes

How a Professional Advertising Photographer Lights Athletes

Advertising photographer, historical Fstoppers contributor and good friend of mine Blair Bunting today published a blog detailing exactly how he achieves his iconic images, specifically his popular football portraits. Blair has become known in advertising circles for his excellent use of rim light and kickers, and now you too can get this iconic look.

Blair explains how he came up with the lighting, and what he says might surprise you. No, he didn't look to other photographs for reference, or even conventional styles. He thought about how the human brain works and went from there. 

The first place that I went to develop my approach towards lighting theory was not a photo book, but rather my psychology courses in college. It was a common theme that as humans we feel comfortable when we know what is around or in front of us...

The eye finds discomfort and intimidation in the unknown, and the unknown is where the light is not. The approach to making a subject intimidating should not be a mass of lights cranked to 11, but a single focus of direction where one light dominates and the remaining support the fear. 

 As an example, Blair points to a portrait he did for ASU a few years ago:

Notice that the powers of the support lights never go above the singular direction of the key, if we broke that rule, the eye would become comfortable.


When he uses this kind of lighting theory, the results are pretty fantastic. Here are some shots from his campaign for ASU football this year:

Blair has supplied some unretouched files from his shoots on his blog, so take a look at what these look like before post production is added.

All images used with permission.

[Via Blair Bunting]

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8 lights....not for your budding amateurs :). awesome article though. Thanks Blair for the insight.

Yeah, and although there is probably some sophisticated subtlety created by this lighting, unless you were going to blow it up incredibly large, there are ways to get the same feel with fewer lights.

But still... it really is amazing work, and I'll bet they are going to blow at least a couple up to stadium banner size.

Jason Ranalli's picture

It's a great refined lighting setup. I've done similar things with three but yeah...not quite as refined as this is.

I'm confused by this one quote though: "And the lighting scheme: (notice that the powers of the support lights never go above the singular direction of the key, if we broke that rule, the eye would become comfortable)".

I'm not following what the single direction of the key is....the two strip lights directly opposite each other seem to be the most powerful and are equal. It is everything outside those two that seem to be "supporting".

Jaron Schneider's picture

Yeah his key lights are the two strongest, while the others are lower and serve as supporting light. I guess "single" to him meant identical on both sides of the face in this case.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Yeah...I'm guessing that is exactly what he meant. My mistake was assuming there is only one key light on a single subject.

Justin Haugen's picture

I'm a U of A Wildcat (the sworn enemy of the Sun Devil) and I would love to be shooting the Wildcat sports portraits in this fashion. Some day I'll land that gig, because I'm sick of seeing Blair KILL it for the Scum Devils! It literally makes me sick their annual photography is so good.

Jaron Schneider's picture

hahaha I think there was a compliment in there somewhere.

Justin Haugen's picture

Mostly hate for the Sun Devils lol. I live an hour and half drive, south in Tucson and it's a huge rivalry. It's one of my goals to land this type of work with our Wildcats athletics someday. Gotta perfect my 30 light setup first....

Christian Berens's picture

Blair is such a badass! His in depth thought and simply amazing photos make him on of my favorites! his automotive photography peaked my interest in his work at first but wow his portraits are amazing!!!!!

Jorge Femat's picture

And here is a BTS and for a couple of seconds the lights setup