Want your sports photos to stand out from the crowd? Use a strobe
How to get these shots
Garrett Ellwood's body of work speaks for itself. He's a seasoned sports photographer and, according to his website, has been the official team photographer for the Charlotte Hornets, Carolina Panthers, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids. Since 1995, he's photographed 19 NBA Finals. So he's got some experience.
While Ellwood's more 'standard' action shots are well executed, images like the one above spark a lot of interest and attention because they're different. Ellwood is still capturing a moment, a play in the game, but the result is evidence of greater pre-visualization and planning. Oh, and triggers, and very powerful strobes.
For those who aren't sports shooters or who aren't well-versed in using flash, here's a quick breakdown of his (likely) setup.
The first thing you'd need for this sort of stuff is permission, and given Ellwood's experience, he's sure to have it. Next, you'll need radio triggers; PocketWizard's are the industry standard, and cost a pretty penny, but they're reliable and have great range. You'll then need to mount your strobe pretty high up in the rafters, and because of the distance from your subjects, it'd better be powerful.
We can also tell from these images that it's likely a bare bulb (evident in the first image from the very hard shadows, the second image appears to have players more 'filled in' from light reflecting off the court). It looks to be in a cone-shaped reflector of some sort, or behind a grid - we can see this from the pronounced falloff midway up the court. Ellwood could have underexposed the background in two ways; first, he could have used a very narrow aperture, or he could have used high-speed sync, or a combination of the two. From there, just pump up the flash power to your desired level, and fire away.
The result is a decidedly different and dramatic look. The moral of the story? You don't have to keep the strobes relegated to staged portraiture or studio shots - experiment with how your particular setup allows you to balance with ambient lighting scenarios, and have fun!
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