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Photographer Greg Heisler and the story behind an ESPN cover photo

By dpreview staff on Mar 18, 2013 at 18:43 GMT

In a 'Master Series' video posted by lighting maker Profoto USA, celebrated photographer Greg Heisler shares a behind the scenes tale of how he created a unique on-location portrait of then-NBA star Alonzo Mourning for an ESPN Magazine cover. While he had to shoot this tricky lighting setup in the hallway of an NBA arena, the work began far in advance. Heisler and his assistants first created the scene in the controlled environment of his Manhattan studio. After getting the lighting the way he wanted, Heisler reassembled the setup on-site using the same equipment and measurements from his studio.

In explaining a tricky four-light setup that even most other pros would struggle to pull off, Heisler breaks down his lighting diagram for a shot that he conceived, 'just because I think it looks cool'. You can read lighting guru David Hobby's thought about this shot on his Strobist blog.

Comments

Total comments: 31
boydgarth1234
By boydgarth1234 (Mar 21, 2013)

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0 upvotes
alexdpx
By alexdpx (Mar 20, 2013)

It's an AMAZING PICTURE, that's what it's all about. Basic lighting setup, that I also agree. I would have made the same lighting setup. But I would never have thought of gelling all 4 lights in different colors.

0 upvotes
Scorpius1
By Scorpius1 (Mar 19, 2013)

One of my favourite articles of recent time's..striking shot..relatively simple lighting set up that achieve's a great result..

0 upvotes
mcshan
By mcshan (Mar 19, 2013)

I love his Arafat photo. I have also enjoyed his work for a long time. Greg Heisler also tells a good story. That said, this ESPN cover shot is just okay for me. Edward Hopper was a great talent and I admire his body of work without loving every single painting he did. I look forward to Heisler's work for many years to come. I admire his work ethic.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
1 upvote
HarrieD7000
By HarrieD7000 (Mar 19, 2013)

Mr. Heisler, great picture, cool shot. Thanks for sharing your secrets.
It takes more than just equipment to produce pictures like this. You've got that. I see, how important planning a shot can be.

0 upvotes
Heywoodphoto
By Heywoodphoto (Mar 19, 2013)

Timmbits is absolutely bang on. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Heisler and he is a very classy fellow and a wonderful teacher. I don't think he'd ever say that "most other pros would struggle" to pull it off. That's just an unfortunate description to an otherwise valuable lesson.
Regardless of how you may feel about the final image don't miss the point of the video which describes how Heisler very intentionally plans his shoots and pre-visualizes the end result.
Also, don't forget this portrait was taken well over ten years ago. Heisler pioneered a lot of the techniques pros take for granted today.

1 upvote
Timmbits
By Timmbits (Mar 19, 2013)

After reading some of the comments...
let us not confuse the photographer, who is not pretentious, with the published comments "that even most other pros would struggle to pull off", which is what is really being criticized here. (an amateurish attempt on sensationalism to draw attention)

1 upvote
Timmbits
By Timmbits (Mar 19, 2013)

pretty cool

0 upvotes
Kodachrome200
By Kodachrome200 (Mar 19, 2013)

greg is just about my favorite photographer. brilliant shot

0 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Mar 19, 2013)

Cool shot. Doesn't matter that others could replicate the shot (though I doubt it's as easy as it looks) as much as his conception of the shot, and working that idea through to a cover-worthy shot. That's what makes him a high-level pro, that he can deliver, and on time. He had one opportunity to get the shot and delivered.

0 upvotes
dmanthree
By dmanthree (Mar 18, 2013)

Lighting aside, I just don't care for the shot.

1 upvote
JosephRGlodek
By JosephRGlodek (Mar 18, 2013)

Um, not that difficult. Stage lighting designers do this daily, and some of it must even be able to make it on camera.

1 upvote
mmitch
By mmitch (Mar 18, 2013)

Pretty lame demo, Really? That is about as basic light set up that I have ever seen. Nothing ground breaking that hasn't been done before. What a waist to shoot it on 8x10! ESPN just waisted allot of money.

1 upvote
Amnon G
By Amnon G (Mar 18, 2013)

I think that more often than not the trick is not to use the most elaborate setup or equipment you can afford/borrow/carry, but the opposite - to get essence beyond the technique.
That's why most SLR photos are bad, while an iPhone in the right hands takes amazing photos.
I think it's bold and very imaginative - unorthodox purposefully colorful, "wrong" white balance to create a unique look. Would it improve if he added 10 more lights? Not necessarily. And I'm sure he had whatever equipment he deemed necessary.

2 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (Mar 19, 2013)

"waste", "wasted", even if he had been shooting from the waist. ;-p

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (Mar 18, 2013)

It would be a better picture if he'd photographed Dirk Nowitzki :-)

2 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (Mar 19, 2013)

would have been a better picture if he had done me...
but I was busy that day. ;-p

0 upvotes
Kim Letkeman
By Kim Letkeman (Mar 18, 2013)

Very nice to see a master's take on lighting. The dismissive comments from the self-styled cognoscenti are a real hoot too .... :-)

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 50 seconds after posting
4 upvotes
SergioSpain
By SergioSpain (Mar 18, 2013)

so you're actually saying that a four-light setup is beyond the skill level of most professional studio photographers??

1 upvote
Ionian
By Ionian (Mar 23, 2013)

Dude...this is DPR. THere are no professional studio photographers here.

1 upvote
lancet
By lancet (Mar 18, 2013)

Great idea. Great execution. And his body of work shows that he is capable of producing high quality work at a regular basis.
That's why ESPN hired him and not the commenters bellow.

3 upvotes
mmitch
By mmitch (Mar 18, 2013)

Shooting Athletes and Celebrities isn't that challenging or groundbreaking and his lighting and composition is pretty boring.

0 upvotes
Timmbits
By Timmbits (Mar 19, 2013)

it does show his experience.
he had the vision, the instinct to execute it, he planned for it, and when it came time to do it, all was quick and efficient with the desired result. no fiddling around. perhaps not ground-breaking, but correctly planned and executed, with a happy customer.

1 upvote
lancet
By lancet (Mar 21, 2013)

@mmitch

If you ever saw the video on how he shot Rudy Giuliani, you would probably never say that about his lighting technique. Or you would, because you never did such things.
Taking a Nikon or Canon dslr and going out shooting portraits is much easier than shooting 8x10 film with a view camera and complete artificial light setup (and no WB correction in post or such) and doing it without mistake in a timely manner.
If you could do it, you would be shooting it, and not him.

0 upvotes
CeleryBeats
By CeleryBeats (Mar 18, 2013)

Love it. It's never about "easy" to do or not. It's about who makes a good, great or awesome shot with the available tools and technology.

4 upvotes
SergioSpain
By SergioSpain (Mar 18, 2013)

Original shot but I doubt that most pro photographers would struggle to pull it off. The hard part is thinking about it, but the actual set up sounds to me like something pretty much any studio pro should be able to do.

1 upvote
alexdpx
By alexdpx (Mar 20, 2013)

. . . and that's the beauty and genius of it all, isn't it? Simple, yet no one else ever thought of doing it, but Heisler.

0 upvotes
Paul Guba
By Paul Guba (Mar 18, 2013)

Guy has got skills and a portfolio to back it up, been at it a long time. He is a dapper dresser to boot.

0 upvotes
maxnimo
By maxnimo (Mar 18, 2013)

Oh, please, gimme a break. That's a very simple shot to pull off.

2 upvotes
Joe Josephs
By Joe Josephs (Mar 18, 2013)

The photograph is blue, your reaction is green - with envy and jealousy.

11 upvotes
Vibrio
By Vibrio (Mar 18, 2013)

WB is off lol

2 upvotes
Total comments: 31