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|| News Item: Posted 2009-04-02

Working With Your Subject To Make A Portrait Something Special
David Eulitt shares how to slow down and make your portraits perfect.

By David Eulitt, Kansas City Star

Photo by David Eulitt / Kansas City Star

Photo by David Eulitt / Kansas City Star

Kansas City Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.
Please shoot portrait tomorrow of Kansas City Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who is approaching several all-time MLS records in career saves. The Wizards have their 2009 season opener on Saturday night in Kansas City.

I read this email and think: Nice! I love shooting portraits, really just as much as action...if I'm lucky enough to find an athlete that's cool and not irritated by the thought of posing for a picture for the newspaper. I've waited four hours for a guy to get done watching tape in the film room, I've had a player not say a word to me and I've had players refuse my idea before I even got the sentence out of my mouth. The more famous they are, the more backup plans I have and a separate strobe setup just in case.

While I'm doing stuff around my house that night I read the email, I think about what approaches I can take with Hartman. Usually, I start with what I DON'T want to do, scratching off the clich├ęs right off the bat, then trying to refine my approach, without being hokey or predictable.

I knew I didn't want him standing or diving in the net, because I'm guessing he has done that picture over and over again in his 12 years in the MLS. I thought since he protects the net...I'd drape a loose soccer goal net completely over him and put some nice edge lighting on him. Graphic and a little pensive, two of my favorite qualities in a portrait.

I track down the equipment manager and he kindly tosses me a new soccer net and I'm feeling pretty good about how it is going to come together. Hartman comes up after practice, I introduce myself, (he seems like a cool easygoing guy...) little chitchat, then I pitch my soccer net idea to him and he's a go for it.

Right when I get the net over Hartman's head, I immediately see I'm in for problems. The net is rigid nylon, so it isn't sitting right on his face. The net holes are a little small, so I'm going to need to cut part of the net...which the nice equipment guy isn't going to like...or ever let me borrow gear again. I shoot a few test shots, knowing really it wasn't happening, half-delaying as I chat with Hartman, going through all these alternate scenarios in my mind to quickly rescue this portrait from the embarrassing bin.

I had told Hartman at the start that a cool portrait was going to get better play in the section and I didn't want to do the old "standing in the net shot." Maybe he sees the look on my face, but just as my nervousness is growing, he offers..."what if I climb up ON TOP of the goal...would that work?"

Photo by David Eulitt / Kansas City Star

Photo by David Eulitt / Kansas City Star

Eulitt's very first test shot frame of goalie Kevin Hartman, where he knew things were not going so well here...
Still pushing switches on my strobe pack, I'm thinking..."Oh hell yessssss, dude!" But what I actually said was "Yeah, let's give that a try."

Now, the thought didn't even cross my mind to ask him that, as this guy is a pro athlete, the week of the season opener. I don't know if it's dangerous or not, but it might very well be. He's obviously done it before, otherwise he wouldn't have volunteered, right??

Hartman scurries up the side of the net and sits on the corner, which can work out if I shoot from the inside. I move my strobe up to light him up while making the clouds darker with a 1/250 shutter speed. The only problem is...his face is too small in the frame.

After shooting 15 frames, I ask him, "Can you lie face down on the net?" He said, sure, if someone stands on the back of the goal so it doesn't flip over.

(I'm thinking, that would be bad...making news instead of photographing it. "Starting goalie crushed in photo shoot").

The Star's soccer reporter was there with me and stood on the back of the goal frame. I tossed up a soccer ball so he'd have something to hold on to with his right hand. I adjusted my grid light. Another 15 frames or so, I'm done, ready to hug him for the fantastic cooperation and buy his jersey at the next Wizards game.

I shoot some portraits of Kansas City Chiefs players every season for the paper, but I'm tied to the stadium location, usually in a practice jersey instead of a game jersey and five minutes of shooting time (or less), usually with players that would rather be having a colonoscopy than meeting up with a newspaper photographer. I always think about how I might get more time if I was shooting an ESPN Mag cover, but I do my best with the time I get, and honestly, happy to get the chance to shoot any portrait.

My favorite portraits, however, have come from cooperative subjects that are enthusiastic collaborators on making an interesting photo. Sometimes they like the cameras themselves or maybe they have never had a nice portrait taken in their career. It is a great tool to show the preview image on the back of the camera after the first frame and hear the subject go..."yeah, nice" After that, you can slow down and make it perfect.

Shooting portraits is a blend of confidence in your idea, lighting, composition, personality, showing up early, testing and having more than one idea. Luckily, Kevin Hartman "saved the game" on the last one.

(David Eulitt is a staff photographer with the Kansas City Star. You can view his work on his member page: and at his personal webstie:

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