How Photographer’s Wild Ideas Become Great Photos

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How award winning creative sports photographer Joe Morahan dreams up amazing image ideas, to challenge his own photographic skills

PHOTOGRILL: Tell us about this photo, how did the idea come together?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I needed an image involving a football player, but something striking, not another vanilla shot of a diving catch, or a crunching tackle. I wanted to produce a powerful image but one with a different slant, an unusual perspective. But how to achieve a shot unlike the thousands seen each week? I envisioned a combination of action, yet posed, controlled-lighting shot. The twist was the point of view, through another player’s eyes. I have never actually played football, but as I closed my eyes, this is what I think it would look like from one player to another.

PHOTOGRILL: How did you physically make this shot?

PHOTOGRAPHER: The type of shooting I love most is compositing images together. Sometimes I shoot up to 7 different images for one picture, but this one was a bit different. It was one single image, though it did need heavy post-production to complete the image. After shooting composites for years now, I have found the one key trick to make them work, the lighting. In each photo the lighting has to match, to make the image “feel real”. If I use specular lighting for my background (which is the case most of the time, because the sun is lighting my background) I need to make sure that when I photograph the model, or any other elements, that I match the ratio and the lighting type with the background.

I needed to make sure of a few key points so that the image came out the same as I pictured it in my mind. The football mask had to be in the shot. So I went to a sports store, and bought a facemask for $15. The model had all the other gear needed. I set up on a tripod, and got my angle. Grass on the bottom 1/3 of the frame, the top 2/3 was all sky. The football player was to dive through the sky part of the image. It helps to be extremely low, so that when the player dives, it looks like he’s flying through the air.

There was one small complication with the shoot. I thought I would be able to use a c-stand to hold the mask right in front of the camera, but it did not work out so well. The mask kept moving, and not staying in the right position, so I held it by hand right in front of the lens. It did slightly move throughout the shoot, but I was able to capture the image I was hoping for. Also holding it by hand give me the freedom to move it closer to the lens, or further from the lens depending on the shot, and how big the player was in the frame. Once everything is set up, I take many photos. I was submitting these to a stock agency, so the more the better.

PHOTOGRILL: What did you do in post-production?

PHOTOGRAPHER: This wasn’t a full composite, I did not shoot totally separate photographs to put together. However it did take a lot of tricks to put it together. The original location did not work out, so I had to use a back-up location, next to the ocean at Seal Beach, California. There were palm trees, boats, and a dock in the background which was not part of my plan. So I made sure that the football player was diving through the sky, and that the mask was level with the horizon line. Then I dropped down the sky in photoshop using the pen tool to cut the objects out. The pen tool helps make super tight, accurate cuts.

PHOTOGRILL: Tell us about your photography in general.

PHOTOGRAPHER: I am in a transition period at this point of my career. I graduated Brooks Institute of Photography in December 2005. I gained contracts with Getty Images, Jupiter Images, World Sport Images, and NewSport Photo. I was submitting images to these agencies on a regular basis and they were selling them to clients throughout the world. I am always shooting for my portfolio, to grow as an artist and as a photographer. So many of the images I submitted were self-assigned and personal projects. But lately I have been moving over to the advertising industry. I have a lot of projects in the mix, including playing around with directing which I have found to be extremely rewarding.

Creating images to submit for stock agencies gave me freedom to create photographs on my own. My main goal was to create something different from the get-go, and hope it would stick out from the crowd. After all, stock agencies are a crowd of images right? Maybe tens of thousands of football images, creating something different is hard, but with the right pre-production it can be done.

PHOTOGRILL: How do you conceptualise your ideas?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I don’t really have a single method of conceiving the ideas. I hate to admit this, but sometimes while sitting at dinner with friends they pop in my head, and I cannot stop thinking of them. They flood my head all the time, and I often get distracted from life by these ideas. Some are great, and others, not so great. I always have a book that I carry around and do simple sketches of ideas and make notes. I often look through my book and revisit old ideas, mould and shape them into better projects.

I always have the ‘big shot’ planned out in my mind. I never have to remember what the big shot is because I’ve been thinking about it for months. It’s the smaller shots that I need to make sure that I have written down so that I don’t forget a small detail shot. My main goal is very simple, when someone looks at one of my images I want them to think “wow, that’s beautiful” even if it’s only for 2 seconds. I love this world we live in, I think its quite beautiful and I want others to think that as well.

PHOTOGRILL: How do you go about lighting different elements of the photo?

PHOTOGRAPHER: I do a couple of small tricks to help me get the lighting I want for a shot. I make sure I am at a sync speed, & get my background image. I find the proper exposure & then close down by a few stops, so that my background is slightly under exposed. Then I bring the model in and get the lighting the way I want it. Like most of my photography, this shot has two lights, the sun, and one flash. The sun was the rim light, and I used an off camera flash as my key light.

As I said before lighting is key. Using different types of lighting across the photo makes it look a bit off to the viewer. Another mistake I have made in the past, was to have differences in perspective. My background shot was taken from maybe waist or shoulder high, and I photographed a runner to drop in from low to the ground. The angles did not match up, and the mismatch looked bad. Especially when I shot with a wide-angle lens which intensifies distortion.

PHOTOGRILL: Can you tell us about your career?

PHOTOGRAPHER: At Brooks Institute I majored in Industrial and scientific photography, which people always find a bit odd. However I am a numbers guy, and Brooks did not have a major for sports photography. So I figured that the extreme high-speed photography education would eventually comeback around while shooting sports in a commercial atmosphere.

I make these photos because I have too. I will never stop making images, or creating works of art, it just runs in my blood. I loved playing sports while growing up, and when I walked onto a soccer field, basketball court, I would forget about everything in life, money problems, emails, school work. This very peaceful feeling would take over for the following 90 minutes. I try to create this peaceful feeling while photographing sports.

PHOTOGRILL: What equipment do you use and what’s important in choosing equipment for you?

PHOTOGRAPHER: This is a funny question, because many of the photographers I know are complete gear junkies. I am not. Of course I know my way around almost anything, but I can’t keep up with all the new cameras coming out every few months. I would prefer to spend time thinking creatively.

My gear has to be perfect, I depend on it for my living. I use Canon cameras, mostly the Mark III 1DS. I use Canon lenses, for almost everything, but I sometimes use Ziess Lenses. For Compact Flash Cards I only use Hoodman RAW cards. I use Pocket Wizards to sync my flash, so I have less cables and cords. I only use Profoto lighting. Like I said earlier I usually under expose my background by a stop or two and therefore my flash has to over power the sun, and profoto has very powerful lighting. And for carrying all this around, I use Lowepro backpacks. And like other photographers I still bring hundreds of little pieces of equipment that I may need to every shoot.

Find more of Joe’s photography at Joe’s Website

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2 Responses to “How Photographer’s Wild Ideas Become Great Photos”

  1. bboy says:

    i like what u say….

  2. Check out this cool about article about my sports photography: Thanks @photogrill #photographyhowto

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