Last year, I decided to pursue a fun portrait series of Luchador fighters from the Chikara Pro Wrestling League, located on the East Coast of the US. I've always been fascinated with this style of fighting and entertainment. These big colorful characters take the ring to pummel each other to the great delight of their dedicated fans. Some may call it "fake" or a performance, but I can tell you first hand that I saw blood drawn during a match on more than one occasion. These fighters are dedicated to their craft and I wanted nothing more than to capture them on camera.
The world of the Luchador fighter is a secretive one. Protecting the identity of masked fighters is equally as important as the fight itself. Gaining access to a Luchador fighting league to do portraits was not an easy process. It took countless phone calls and emails and asking friends through social media to help make an introduction. After a couple of weeks, my friend and comic book artist, Carl Sciacchitano, reached out and made an introduction to Mike at the Chikara Pro Wrestling League.
I carefully planned out a strategy with Mike. He wanted to ensure that I didn't present his fighters in a bad light, nor did he like the idea of a gritty gym portrait, which I initially pitched. He preferred something bold and colorful, much like his fighters. After consideration, I pitched a concept that we both would agree upon, which was doing shots in front of a large red curtain like one would see on a stage.
Contrary to what one might think, it is not cheap or easy to rent a big red fabric backdrop. I had to do a lot of phone calls and web searches to find the right color and texture. Eventually I found a HUGE national company that ONLY rents backdrops and backdrop stands for events and stage productions (Drape Kings).
I brought the big red fabric backdrop to their gym and spent the afternoon taking photos. Space was very tight in the back of the warehouse and I had to be careful to avoid light spill. Lighting was accomplished with a beauty dish overhead, an Alien Bees ring flash I laid on the ground for fill light (you can see in the specular highlights in the eyes of the portrait below. I used two strip lights / narrow soft boxes to use as edge lights on the subjects to separate them from the background.
Photos were taken with the Phase One IQ160 digital medium format. The image above is a perfect representation of what a medium format can accomplish. From that lovely depth of field from the large sensor, to the incredible details in the highlights and shadows. I did ensure to dodge and sharpen his eyes, which I think draws in the viewer. I also love how the rich red in the background offers a lovely color contrast to the subjects. I did also add a slight warm color cast in post production using Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4.
You can see more of my photography on my website: www.SondersPhotography.com
I also spent a day with these fighters during a match last year using nothing but my iPad 3. It was part of a mobile photography app ad campaign. You can read the post HERE and watch the video below: