How I Shot My College Football Team Portraits in a Tiny Office

How I Shot My College Football Team Portraits in a Tiny Office

In this behind the scenes article, see how I set up my studio in the athletics office of my school and shot a series of intense portraits of my college football team. 

A few months ago, the football team at Florida Atlantic University (my college) was ranked at the top of their division and was in the running for the Conference USA Bowl game. In effort to spread awareness of the team, I was approached by my college athletics marketing department, who asked me if I could capture 10 portraits of their top seniors to use as a marketing campaign for their social media platforms.

The brief was: in four hours, create 10 black and white portraits of our seniors against a white background. It had to be something simple and consistent. 

The project was a perfect fit for me, and I was honored to do it. That night, I began doing the planning and pre-production. I knew I needed to shoot everything in uniformity and planned the gear I was bringing accordingly. I brought a setup that could be efficient and produce the same results consistently. I also kept in mind portability. 

The Equipment 

Canon 5D Mark III

Rokinon 50mm f/1.4

Canon 135mm f/2L

RoveLight Flashpoint 600B 

Canon 600EX II-RT Speedlight

Lastolite Collapsible Reversible Background 

Avenger Turtle Base C-Stand Grip Arm Kit 

5-in-1 Reflector 

Elinchrom 39'' Octabox 

The Lighting

To keep the results repeatable, once my lighting was set up, I couldn't significantly change it. My setup had to be versatile and account for everyone who stepped in front of my camera. 

To start, I wanted to account for lighting my background and my subject at the same time. To accomplish this, I placed my key light 45 degrees camera right and put it two feet away from the subject. I also feathered the light so one side of the face was in shadow. The placement of the key light helped me not only light my subject, but also put some light on the background. When you have very limited space and resources, you have to make the most of whatever equipment you have. Additionally, to throw a hint more light and fill throughout the scene, I kept the ambient fluorescent lights on. Since I was shooting in black and white, the color cast from the ambient fill didn't have any effect on the final shots.

Lastly, to make the players separate from the background, I placed my speed light 45 degrees behind the subject and a little below eye level. This gave me a nice even kick on the side of the face. The light was also placed on the shadow side of the face. If the shadows were too dark, I placed a reflector to bounce a little more light into the scene. 

The Final Results

To get these expressions, I asked everybody the same question: "What would winning the championship feel like?" Since this was the last game they were ever going to play for their college, I set out to capture those intense emotions that come with four years of blood, sweat, and tears. 

Spoiler alert: They ended up winning and earning the Conference USA Championship. 

1/160 s, f/8, ISO 400
Monochrome mode

1/160 s, f/8, ISO 400
Monochrome mode

1/160 s, f/8, ISO 400
Monochrome mode

1/160 s, f/8, ISO 400
Monochrome mode

1/160 s, f/8, ISO 400
Monochrome mode

1/160 s, f/8, ISO 400
Monochrome mode

Do you have any questions or comments on this shoot? Leave your thoughts below!

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25 Comments

Jeena Paradies's picture

Very emotional pictures and cool poses. The only thing I wonder is why they are not consistently in the center of the picture, some of them aren't. And then cropping the elbows feels a bit weird, but the look in their faces draws me in much more so that those other things don't really bother me that much.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Hi! Thanks for the comment! I really just did each by the feel of the composition. No one photographs from the same angle either. So while some of them are a little bit off, like you said the emotions really draws you in. That's what I was going for. Additionally I only had Aroind 15 minutes with each player. So didn't have too much time to really think about my compositions. It was mainly focused on breaking the ice and getting killer expressions.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Article officially bookmarked. Great results!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Appreciate the kind words! Glad you got something out of it :)

Tony Clark's picture

Well done, it looks like they were shot with TriX.

Ed Sanford's picture

I was going to say the same thing. They all have a rawness that emulates b&w film, Tri-X in particular. I like the entire product because my sense is that these players were not going to give a lot of time.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Glad you like it! Yeah I didn't have much time at all! It was pretty rushed! So I had to be really cautious of time. Expression and connection with the subject was the most important. It was challenging connecting to a sports player, as I am a scrawny artsy kid so it was quite an interesting shoot

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for the kind words Tony! From the beginning I knew I wanted that grungy look, since they were football players. I felt that asthetic went with their vibes and dirty uniforms. Was a combination of adding grain in post on top of shooting at f8. Also shot in monochrome. Thanks again for noticing

Bruce Allen's picture

Was there any thought process at shooting 400 iso?

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Hi! Yes there was. From the beginning I knew i was going to emulate this kind of grungy film look. So it all starts in camera. I shot with a higher ISO because in photoshop I overplayed a high pass layer, which accentuated that grain. Additionally it was to bump up my ambient exposure as I was shooting at f8. I wanted the background as white as possible. Hope this helps

Bruce Allen's picture

Thats really cool i am going to try that! Thanks for spilling the beans lol. Your talented my friend.Ill try out the high pass layer as well. Interesting way of adding grain...

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks again for the kind words! One of my favorite ways! Only drawback to shooting with higher ISO is risking a little less of a sharp images. In my work though i don't like it too tack sharp. I feel the grain adds a level of real ness to it.

oliver ahrndt's picture

Hey Ely,
you listed the 600ex and you can see it in the bhts picture that u use it as a hair light but did it trigger?

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

It worked quite sporadically. Some fired some didn't. Even if it did fire it was meant to be a super subtle kick.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

Very nice portraits! Well done!
I like how you used the black and white conversion to your advantage as well.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Hi! Thanks for the kind words! I actually shot monochrome in Camera :) so I could see all my tones as I was shooting

Kirk Darling's picture

Great production with great results.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks! Appreciate the kind words! You don't need much space or equipment to get great results. :)

George Pahountis's picture

Great job here ! How did you pull this with such an outdated gear ;)
Seriously good work

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for the kind words my friend! Ha ha! Gear is gear. Couldn't have done it without the players. ;)

Now we're talking. Bring back more of this!!!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Will do! Got lots more behind he scenes content coming your way! Anything in particular that you want to see more of? Lighting breakdowns? Post processing ?

Great turorial for a keen hobbyist to learn from. Can we “see more” post processing tutorials. Please and thanks.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

ThAnks for the feedback! Actually working on one right now! How to fake blur!

Noah Stephens's picture

Love the texture here.