My daughter Shannon has been swimming for quite a while now and I have been photographing her and her teammates for just as long! A number of years back I started to shoot team and individual portraits for SEAS and that led to doing the same for other teams. I got a questions from one of the parents at Irondequoit the other night about how I make the images look so good…
Lighting for a large group in a dark pool area can be a nightmare in itself! The ambient lighting varies from straight fluorescent (green) to tungsten (yellow) to mercury vapor (bluish white) to natural. To make things worse, it’s almost always a mixture! Add to that the reflected light of the water and the tile deck and the bleachers. Oof…
I use a Photovision Calibration Target to take some of the guess work out of the team portrait. After determining where the team will be positioned for the group photo, I set up a few studio strobes to provide enough light to keep my shutter speed respectable at f8 or so. Then I shoot an image of the Calibration Target with the correct camera settings and lighting. The target has three areas – white, gray, and black. When I import all the team portrait images into Adobe Lightroom, I can use the image of the target to automatically white balance all the images together! This does a pretty good job for the most part but I almost always warm the image up just a touch. Most people look better with a slight tan!
In some cases, like when I’m shooting in the SUNY Brockport pool, I will also adjust the colors. The pool water there is decidedly green, and not a pleasant green, especially with the yellow overhead lights! I will take the green and aqua color sliders in Lightroom and push them both towards making the greens more blue. I also decrease the saturation for both colors slightly. Of course you have to watch out for the colors in swimsuits also! If I need to I composite two images in Photoshop to correct this.
Here’s the before and after pictures for the SUNY Brockport Men and Women’s Swim Team:
It’s a subtle difference but definitely noticeable and worth taking the time to do.
Individual portraits are a different story. The studio strobe is much closer to your subject and dominates the lighting altogether. I set a custom white balance on the camera or just shoot one shot of the Calibration Target with the lighting setup and correct later in Lightroom. The trick is to allow some ambient light to come through while still maintaining the correct white balance on your subject so they don’t look like little martians! I do this by slowing my shutter speed until the background looks good to me. If you skip this step then you may as well have taken the pictures in front of a black background!
There is a lot more to think about… ISO, aperture, lens choice, pose, etc, but I think you get the idea! Have questions? Go ahead and ask and I’ll try to get to all of them!