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|| News Item: Posted 2009-03-10

Sports Shooter Cool Gig
It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's Dwight Howard!

By Preston Mack

Photo by Preston Mack

Photo by Preston Mack
We have a chance to shoot a portrait of Dwight Howard next week. Going to try for the Clark Kent turning into Superman.

When I got that email from my friend Sean at USA TODAY, I was stoked. I don't watch that much NBA, but I do remember Dwight Howard soaring to the basket with a Superman shirt and cape on... and winning the Slam Dunk Contest last year. I knew I wanted to shoot this.

When you shoot professional athletes, you really need to have all the details worked out. Their time is limited, and since they have their picture made so often, you may only get a few quality minutes to get your image. You need to know exactly what you want. Sean and I both looked over old Superman images, and tried to pick the ones that would translate best to a photo. My first move was to get a new Superman shirt. I know of a few local places that have shirts, but I wanted a nice one, with a sewn in "S" logo. Unfortunately, all the Internet costume shops I called could not find a deluxe Superman shirt large enough to fit the 6'11'' 275 pound Howard. I had to settle for a screened "S" logo on a 3XL shirt.

Of course, I wanted to find a phone booth for him to change in. I looked all around downtown during my scout day, but no luck. A few of the locations I looked at included the Church Street Station in downtown Orlando. I like the train, and maybe we could've worked it in, but I felt it may be too busy. We finally settled on an alley on Orange Avenue, in Downtown Orlando. It was really the only alley we could shoot in and it was an area fairly easy to control. I made sure to speak to the two owners of the adjacent bars, and they were more than happy to let us shoot Dwight there.

The plan was pretty simple. I would have my assistant, Jorge, set up early in the alley with the 2 portable Profoto packs. I would go to the Magic practice facility and escort Dwight back to the location.

We planned the lighting scheme on the scout trip, so Jorge knew how to prepare the site.

A cold front blew into town and the weather wound up being much colder than I expected. With the wind-chill factor, it was below 45 degrees. Jorge bundled up and waited for my call.

The original plan was to meet up with Dwight at 1:30pm, and bring him to the location. However, his meeting at practice ran late, and we weren't able to leave till 3:30pm. I kept calling Jorge throughout the delay, making sure he didn't freeze out there. He really wasn't able to go inside since all the lighting gear was with him. When we finally left the practice facility, I called Jorge again, and told him to position the lights.

Once we arrived, it was a pretty simple set up. A main light, with a 5' Octobank shot with the Profoto 7B at 1/2 power. The rim light was a Profoto 600B with a softbox set at 1/4 power. The alley was in full shade, so no scrim was needed. I wanted Dwight to do the classic Clark Kent pose, but I varied the look by shooting both high and low angle shots with a 6 foot ladder I brought. One of the problems I had was since we were shooting at 4pm, not 2pm like we had planned, the sun was in a different position and the alley was no longer lit. If I had a bigger budget, it would've been possible to light the entire alley, but it would've required 2 more Profoto 7B packs. The alley got a little dark in the back, but that was the compromise I had to make.

Photo by Preston Mack

Photo by Preston Mack

The alley where the shoot took place.
Since it was so cold, I broke up the shots into three different "takes". I would try one idea, then have Dwight warm up and come out again after I reset the lights. I think the entire shoot was probably 15 minutes, including his warming breaks. Dwight was probably one of the nicest guys I have ever shot. His only "issue" is that he likes to have fun, so he doesn't like to do serious poses too much. I want to try and get a full range of facial expressions, so the editors have a choice. I knew the shoot was over once Dwight started to get cold. The last thing I want is him to get sick on my shoot...

On a related note.... there was a thread on about lights. It is true that a good shooter can make a good photo with any lighting tool, however, not all photo shoots are the same.

If you were shooting a portrait of a CEO or pro athlete, you need a power pack that can recycle fast and delivers consistent output. Obviously, the faster the recycle time, the more images you can make. I used to use Elinchrome Rangers and it was a great light but it was slow. About 6 seconds to recycle at full power. After using Profoto and getting used to the speed (1.6 second recycle at full power), I can never go back!

About four years ago I shot NASCAR CEO Brain France at Daytona. He was supposed to stay for 10 minutes but after 30 seconds he walked off and said he was done. I was using an Elinchrome Ranger at the time and was only able to get 5 frames before he walked off. If I had used a Profoto 7b I would have had 30 frames. I was still able to get a nice portfolio quality portrait, but I wish I could've given the editor more frames to pick from. I bought the Profoto 7B shortly after the shoot... :

(Preston Mack is a freelance photographer based in Central Florida. You can view his work on his member page: and at his personal website:

Related Links:
Preston's member page

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