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|| News Item: Posted 2011-10-14

Sports Shooter Academy VIII Report
By Michael Lopez, Brooks Institute

Photo by Michael Lopez

Photo by Michael Lopez

Vanessa Vanderpluym, also known as Mental Skate, poses for a portrait in the parking lot at the Crown Plaza in Irvine, California.
A few months ago I was sitting at Olive Garden with my family when I received an email alert on my cell phone. It was from the Sports Shooter Academy: “Congratulations” was the first thing to jump at me and I almost screamed for joy to my amazement.

Spin forward to April…From day one this is a total immersion into hardcore learning. I had some knowledge on different areas from school, but what made this such a learning environment is the fact that I went with a open mind and came in with the attitude that I do not know anything.

Here are just a few of my most memorable experiences and things I learned:

Shawn Cullen, Matt Brown and Jordan Murph conducted a class that was filled with helpful information, gear for us to look at and, most of all, gave us insight into why use remote cameras. I learned how to properly set up a Friction Arm (NOT a Magic Arm). Never put the arm totally extended to better support the rig, have each arm as close as possible and it is always about safety. Do not be the guy that has a camera blocking another camera or one that falls on someone and possibly injuring them. I learned the proper cables to use for Pocket Wizards and the equipment needed., such as floor plates, ballheads, Friction Arms, Super Clamps, safety cables and to always tape my focus so it won’t shift. Also when pre-focusing, always have a plan, never just set up without an idea of what you want to capture. The remote is just icing on the cake and do not expect to make great images, its just a extra body that gives you the opportunity of capture a second or different angle on a play.

Portrait Lighting
Robert Hanashiro is amazing. I learned that when using multiple speedlights I don’t have to invest in more expensive and powerful studio gear. By ganging up multiple hotshoe strobes and reducing their output I can still have power and recycle time. The first thing to buy is a 5-in-1 collapsible reflector that can be used as a lighting source, a simple diffuser or a Gobo (go-between, something to block stray light). You can also make reflectors out of Foamcore or a gold and silver Space Blanket. I also saw how to light backgrounds and subjects: If I have a good strong key light and power down my rim light to give separation from the background to my model. I saw how a beauty dish really fills in the face and how a beautiful catch light helps show a subject’s eyes and really make them pop. It was amazing to learn how to bring up the shutter speed on the flash to control the background in outdoor situations. That will really help make my portraits pop. I also saw how to light backgrounds and subjects: If I have a good strong key light and power down my rim light to give separation from the background to my model. I saw how a beauty dish really fills in the face and how a beautiful catch light helps show a subject’s eyes and really make them pop.

Wally Skalij, with Rafael Delgado, was really helpful in helping me see in a whole new way. A boxing gym, like the La Habra Boxing Club where the workshop holds many sessions, is a great place to find character and interesting subjects. They taught me how to compose, use foregrounds and how to make a storytelling image. Their tips on using available light and getting a low angle to make an athlete look like a hero and using harsh lights really can sometimes make the athlete portraits stand out.

This is where Wally and Shawn helped us set up our remotes, learn about exposure and where to place a camera behind the goal so it won’t get destroyed. I was lying down when Wally measured the net where my camera was and he said it was in a very dangerous spot where it could get damaged. He pulled the net back to measure the distance of the net to the camera and then advised me how far back to put my setup. A really cool tip! After standing up so I could pre-set my focus on the camera and tape
Photo by Michael Lopez

Photo by Michael Lopez

David Fisher (#1) performs a quarter back sneak to score a touch down in overtime in their loss against Santa Ana College at the Santa Ana Bowl in Santa Ana, California. Final nail biting score was 52-45 in double overtime.
down the focus ring so my camera wouldn’t move, we tested the camera to check the exposure. After that he showed us the best locations to cover a soccer game and since the field was crowned and I was lying down, it was cool to see how the image changes from getting as low as possible to kneeling and standing. Also the prior experience with shooting at the boxing ring came to play when Cal State Fullerton scored one of its four goals, helped me get beautiful shots of jubilation from the electrifying crowd.

The final day was the most incredible day! After three days of the workshop – having our work critiqued nightly, learning to use long glass, medium glass, and short glass, working with remotes, watching out for one another – having the entire class at the Santa Ana v. Palomar College football game was a good ending. Everyone thought it was the best football game they had ever been to. I really appreciate all of the time and energy Rod Mar from the Seattle Seahawks, Matt Brown, Wally Skalij from the LA Times, Michael Corrado from Nikon, Shawn Cullen, Jordan Murph, Susanica Tam, Myung Chun also from the LA Times and, of course, the Big Kahuna himself Robert Hanashiro from USA TODAY gave us.

Their advice, tough critiques and insight into photography will stay with me for a very, very long time. Very, very long time.

This was so important because this was the most epic game of football I have ever seen and it went in to double overtime. There were 50 photographers standing side by side, working together and we all shot some amazing photographs.

All those days of tutoring and editing, came to fruition. We were lying down, standing up, kneeling and running. Thanks to Matt’s sideline coaching we learned first-hand about not just shooting football but covering football. We got advice on where to go on the field on a particular play, location of the ball and the down … and most important; Be patient and wait for the play.

Seeing the emotion of the workshop staff was really motivating and was the final lesson I learned; Do what you love and love what you do.

Michael Lopez is a student at Brooks Institute. You can view samples of Michael’s work on his Sports Shooter member page: and at his personal website:

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