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|| News Item: Posted 2010-10-03

Sports Shooter Cool Gig
Turning the concept of 'Friday Night Lights' into photos

By Will Vragovic, The St. Petersburg Times

Every year the Times does a high school football preview tab for the counties in our coverage area: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando.
Photo by Will Vragovic, The St. Petersburg Times

Photo by Will Vragovic, The St. Petersburg Times

Anclote High School wide reciever Dondre Daley, photographed at Mitchell High School for the North Suncoast Football Tab.

Each year the extremely talented folks that I'm lucky enough to call colleagues tackle the project with gusto, and it's always great to see what everyone comes up with.

This year the Pasco and Hernando Tabs were combined into one North Suncoast tab. Each school was assigned it's own concept that fell under a larger theme that would carry through the tab. The three photographers in the two counties were going to share the load of getting kids from all 18 schools photographed.

I was assigned to shoot Nature Coast Technical High School, with the concept of Friday Night Lights. The plan was to have a couple of standout athletes from the team there to have portraits and a group shot, and when I arrived, there were eight players in full uniform ready to go.

One of the players in particular, Ja'Juan Story, I knew I had to spend some extra time on. Story had already committed to the University of Florida, so I knew he was a contender for a possible cover shot. I was happy with what I came up with, but really didn't expect the reaction I got back at the office.

Preps reporter Izzy Gould put it this way in his Behind the Scenes story that published in the tab:

"I stared at the shot on my computer, Story wearing a white uniform appropriately stitched with the No. 1 on his jersey. I knew I was staring at the top player in our coverage area, one of the best in the state - and clearly the cover image.
Not only did we know before taking any other shots Vragovic had perfectly captured the cover, he also managed to wreck the original theme of our preview (thanks, Will)."

Izzy worked quickly with his editor, Traci Johnson, to make some changes and approached me with the idea of taking shooting all the whole tab, in keeping with the style of the cover shot of Story.

To be perfectly honest, I was apprehensive about the idea. Portraits and lighting have never been one of my strong suits, though in the last year I've really been trying to improve my skills in that area. I've been reading everything I can online and studying the work of folks, many of who are members here, who have their proverbial stuff together. With Izzy on board to be at the shoots and help with lights and idea generation, we made arrangements to shoot the remaining 17 schools in three groups.

The first shoot was at Land O Lakes High School. Izzy and I met for pizza beforehand and hashed out some ideas for each of players we would photograph that night. More from Izzy's Behind the Scenes story:

"Our bellies full and our minds spinning with ideas, we set up flashes and began firing. The shoot could not have gone any smoother. We walked away with an incredible portrait of Gators quarterback Stevie Weatherford being doused with a bucket of water by teammates Will Irwin and Spencer Michelson. Vragovic got the shot on the third try after taking a lapful of water and almost drowning his personal camera.
Photo by Will Vragovic, The St. Petersburg Times

Photo by Will Vragovic, The St. Petersburg Times

Hernando running back Alvin Delaine, photographed at Hernando High School for the North Suncoast Football Tab.

We left the shoot full of energy, excited to knock out the final two shoots."

At our second shoot at Hernando High the standout portraits were a diving catch photo of Pasco's Jamie Byrd, and a stroboscopic capture of Hernando's Alvin Delaine. Izzy ran the route for a test frame, knocking some of the dust from his high school football skills.

The third and final shoot at Mitchell High School was the most challenging. We were running low on ideas and about halfway through, the skies opened up with an angry thunderstorm. With monsoon rains, thunder and lightning, I was ready to bag it and reschedule. I was glad Izzy convinced me, with the aid of a weather radar map on his fancy iPhone, to wait it out.

The rain worked to our advantage. In the grass beyond the sideline, runoff from the field gave us enough water to make the portrait of Anclote's Dondre Daley, one of my favorites from the project.

Photos for the Tab complete, we headed down the road to Chili's for refreshment, celebration, and to check out the photos on my laptop. We had a great time working together, and felt confident in our final product. A huge thank you goes to everyone involved in the football tab this year.

Some technical notes on the photos:
Everything was shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a variety of lenses, 16-35 2.8, 70-200 2.8, 50 1.4 for the most part. Lighting was provided by one or two 580EX strobes triggered by Pocket Wizards.

Izzy Gould left the Times shortly after the tab published. He now covers University of Alabama football for the Mobile Press-Register. As happy as this photographer is for him, Gould's talent, energy, and camaraderie will definitely be missed at the Times.

Will Vgragovic is a staff photographer with the St. Petersburg Times. You can see his work on his member page:

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