Game-Day Portraits

US Womens Open 2013 Saturday 1199

I do not pretend to be a perfect portrait photographer. My brother, Dave Shank, is much more of an expert than I am in portrait work. Sure, I learned a lot, especially from my brother, and I can definitely hold my own in this specific style of photography. I am still learning about the nuances of portrait photography. It isn’t even that I don’t like portraits, it’s just that I prefer to shoot the action of sports.

US Womens Open 2013 Saturday 0160

I notice, however, that even during an action-packed game, there are opportunities that arise to capture what I call Game-Day Portraits. These are closeup portraits, hopefully portraying the emotions of the athletes along the sidelines, near the bench, or standing stationary on the field.

US Womens Open 2013 Saturday 1204

I am a sports photographer but even I recognize that there is more to shoot than just the action. Sometimes, a fan or athlete watching the game or celebrating makes for a perfect photograph! We just need to keep our eyes open and be willing to keep shooting after the action subsides. One thing I notice at some games is the interaction and conversations with fellow photographers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I talk as much or more than most. However, during a game, I try to keep this to a minimum. My job is not to just snap one or two photos and then say I captured the game. No, I much prefer to capture as many highlights of each game as possible. So, I do not have the luxury of engaging in long conversations during the game. This has to wait for another time, and believe me, I make up for it after a game and throughout the week. During a game, however, I will have my game-face on and pay attention to everything I can see in front of, beside, and even behind me. The more attention we pay to the moment, the more chance we have of capturing the moment!

US Womens Open 2013 Saturday 1206

Bull Elk Portrait

I just love photographing the elk here in Pennsylvania. No matter how many times I get out in a given year, I still cannot wait to head to the mountains of Elk County to do it all over again. One would think that after so many years of photographing the elk there wouldn’t be any more shots to get. Nothing could be further from the truth! First of all, there are always new elk making their impressions on the scene. Secondly, elk are as unpredictable as any other wildlife species, so I sometimes see things I’ve never photographed before and these are now on my list. The possibilities are just endless!

My favorite photographs are typically the action shots. Photographs of two bulls locking antlers, elk crossing the creek, or two cows boxing  are just a few of these types of action shots. My second favorite photograph of the elk are what I call portraits. They depict the elk in their natural habitat and show a pose of the elk. I try to get a highlight or catch-light in the eye closest to the camera and try my best to portray the elk as best as possible.

Here is one such elk portrait in today’s post. Do you think I captured a decent portrait of this bull elk?

New Nikon Lens Ordered

I just ordered a new Nikon lens; it is the 50mm f/1.4 and I cannot wait to receive it!

I have heard a lot of good things about this lens. The best feature of this lens is the ability to make photographs in available light. The fast f/1.4 aperture allows available light to create an image where no other lens will work. I cannot wait to try this lens out! I plan on using it for some wedding applications, portraits, and stock subjects. The reviews tout the usefulness as well as the versatility of this lens.

I know from firsthand experience that Nikon makes great glass. I never have to worry if my equipment is good enough. Nikon flat out makes excellent glass and I won’t buy anything else. I realize there are plenty of other lens manufacturers out there, but I am a devoted Nikon fan and will not apologize for this. Nikon is my preferred choice. I know that Canon and Olympus make excellent products, too, but I will stick with Nikon because I believe no one can beat their product line for what I am doing in my photography.

I expect to receive delivery of my new 50mm f/1.4 mm lens fairly soon and I am getting impatient already!

Portrait Lighting

Getting your flash off the camera makes a huge difference. It is even better to diffuse the light.

I use a Lastolite Soft Box and have enjoyed very nice results. Even with just one off-camera flash the difference is incredible. Learn how to set up the light to create a variety of looks with your subject. Experiment by taking some photos, move the off-camera flash, and take some more photos.

David Ziser communicates this very well in his new book, “Captured by the Light.” I just received my copy yesterday and after just reading the way to change the studio lighting is most excellent! I am sure I will enjoy this book and learn a lot in the process. Oh, and don’t worry if you are not a wedding photographer–this book will still apply to some of your photography nevertheless.

Portrait lighting is intimidating to some photographers but it doesn’t need to be this way. With just a few simple tips and suggestions you can use portrait lighting to make awesome photos. Give it a try!

Think about Depth of Field

Depth of Field is an important concept for photographers. How much of your photograph is going to be in focus? Is it a landscape scene where you want the viewer to see pretty much everything in focus, or is a portrait where you only want the subject to be in focus?

Depth of Field will determine how much of a photograph is in focus and which parts of the photograph will be out of focus. Here is a quick way to illustrate this in a visual way. Find a long fence or a series of many parking meters. Angle your camera to catch us much of the fence or parking meters as possible. Ideally you will have your camera on a tripod to keep each shot the same. Now, close the aperture way down to something like 22 or even 32 if you can and focus about half-way into the scene. Take the photograph. Now take a second shot with your aperture somewhere in the middle range like f/8 or f/11. Finally take a third shot with the aperture fully opened.

When you get back to your computer compare the three photographs. The depth of field should be the greatest in the first shot. That is, you should see more of the fence or parking meters in focus. In the third photo you should see the least depth of focus–just a small part of the fence or a parking meter or two in clear focus. Do you see the differences?

Now, this concept needs to be applied in the photographs you are creating with your camera in all different situations. Let’s say that you are shooting a baseball game. You only care about the player at the plate and the baseball, not the dugout or the fans in the background. So you will use a shallow depth of field by opening up your aperture as wide as possible. Be careful though, because if the baseball and the player are not fairly close together, only one will be in clear focus. Many sports photographers shoot at f/4 or even f/5.6 to try to get the best of both worlds–shallow depth of field, but not too shallow.

Let’s consider another scenario. Say you are on vacation and see this beautiful sunset that lights up the valley all the way up to an incredible mountain. The sun is behind  you but the light is long and amazing. Your goal in this photo is to capture as much of the beautiful scenery as possible. This is where a deep depth of field can really help to keep as much of the scene in focus as possible. So you close down the aperture to f/22 or even more to capture this photograph.

Get the idea? Depth of field exists in every photograph to some degree. The goal is to get the proper depth of field for what you are trying to achieve. Practice and experiment with depth of field. You’ll be very glad you did when the photograph of a lifetime presents itself to you!

Portraits & Headshots

If you had predicted that I would some day be photographing portraits and headshots I would not have ever believed you. Funny how our children bring us into things we never even dreamed of doing!

Our daughter, Lydia, is very much into musicals, singing, acting, dancing, and performing. She sings in our church, performs in many community plays and musicals and does the same in her school. Just as our son, James, gives me opportunities to photograph baseball games, Lydia gives me the privilege of photographing plays and musicals. Moreover, she sometimes needs a headshot for an audition and enjoys sitting in as my model as I learn how to do this more effectively.

Headshots and portraits were never high up on my list of photographic interests until Lydia started with all of this. Now I am finding the challenge to be invigorating and rewarding! I am learning more and more how to make better portraits and headshots these days!

Team & Player Photos

Today I had the opportunity to photograph the Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy 13u baseball team. We gathered early in the morning before their first game of the day. I photographed the individual player portraits first. This is always fun for me. Some players smile just fine and make their mothers happy when the photos are delivered. Others are much more difficult and prefer not to smile at all. One of my favorite tactics is to say something that will get the teammates joking around with the player in front of the camera. This works many times and I have to be sure to always have my finger on the shutter release to capture the candid moment.

The team portrait was the next and last task of this photo op. I always try to arrange the players and coaches in a pleasing order making sure that everyone’s face is visible. The other difficulties are making sure all the players are looking at the camera and no one is blinking.

Once back home, I then upload the photos to my computer and then get busy preparing the photographs for the final output. Families typically order packages so I have to edit, crop, and assemble the appropriate package for each player. One of my favorite final outputs is the memory mate, which features a player photo and a team photo in an attractive border.

Take a look at the team and player photos and let me know what you think of them?

You did not specify a PayPal email address in the settings
You did not specify a currency code in the settings
You did not specify a currency symbol in the settings
You did not specify a return url in the settings
You did not specify a price in the shortcode

Team Portraits

I enjoy photographing many different subjects but sports is one of my favorites. Action photos present a great challenge to capture the exact moment of a play, hopefully with the ball in the frame and perhaps some dust flying.

Player and team portraits help the memories of a special season stay alive and are important for every team and player. Moms especially like to have these keepsakes each season. 8″ x 10″ prints, memory mates incorporating an individual portrait and a team photo together, magnets, and trading cards are available for players and their families.

Capturing the initial photograph is a very important and often overlooked part of the process. A good start requires a quality photograph from the get go. Proper exposure, precise focus, appropriate white balance, and composition are all components of a good starting point.

I then like to use Photoshop to create a frame around which the photograph is placed. Some creative text can also spruce up an otherwise static photo. Take a look at this example and let me know what you think. Is this a good way to remember a special season?

LVBA Team 15u 2009 Team Web

Player Portraits

I had the privilege of photographing the Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy’s 15U Team today. Bright & early at 8:30 am were on the field to do the team and player portraits. The guys did a great job cooperating for the team portraits and then had some fun using a bat in a variety of poses for their player portraits. Some put the bat across the back of their neck and rested their wrists over top each end of the bat. Others held the bat and posed in a batting stance. It was fun to see the creativity the players had with one bat when they stepped in front of the camera.

At 3:00 pm I attended their second game of the day to photograph some action shots. The game was full of action, too. We kept dodging rain drops and eventually the rain suspended the game, but not before I had the chance to capture some great action photos. The sky was obviously overcast, which provide great light for photographs. It is amazing to me how the bright colors appear so vividly on days like this. The player uniforms were stunning and brightened up an otherwise dreary day.

Go Stars!


Shadows help to provide a sense of dimension in a photograph. The long shadows at the end of the day or the shadows created by side-lighting can create a stunning photograph. Try to add some side lighting to your photographs and see what you think.

Rembrandt used shadows when he was painting his masterpieces. In fact, studio photographers still use “Rembrandt lighting” today. The distinguishing feature of Rembrandt light is that the shadow of the subject’s nose connects with the shadow cast on the side of the face. The master artist knew that lighting was crucial to a scene or subject and he is remembered for how he painted specific shadows into his portraits.

Shadows are like vegetables—they are an important part of our diet, but not everyone likes them. Shadows can create a breath-taking photograph that otherwise would be flat. Photographs are only two-dimensional so utilizing anything that will help create the sense of depth can be useful.

Shadows obviously change with the time of day and the direction of the sunlight. This is why fill light is so important, even on bright sunny days. Harsh shadows from a hat brim can be nasty and distracting to a photograph. Fill light can help brighten the shadows.

There was an old saying years ago, “Only the shadow knows.” Well, maybe, but as a photographer you better begin to understand at least a little bit about shadows and when they can be useful. Sometimes a photograph can be made spectacular with the creative use of a shadow. Give it a try!