Tim Snow: Capturing Athlete Portraits in B&W

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People either love or hate Crossfit. To some it is the greatest workout ever, while others believe that Crossfit is an organized cult sipping away on protein shakes. We cannot disregard that Crossfit is one of the most popular forms of exercise as of late. Crossfit gyms are opening in almost every neighborhood and each one has their own mini-community within it. And really, any form of exercise, anything that gets you off the couch, is positive.

My neighbor, Catherine, is a Crossfit devotee. A mother of two young kids, she has dedicated herself to becoming the best possible athlete she can be. And it has paid off as of late, as she has been on the winner's podium in competition. Training at home or in the club at least 5 days per week, she fits her workouts in around her family time. She is a true inspiration, and shows that if you set your mind and heart to something, you will find a way to get it done.

As I do with all of my shoots, I conducted some research beforehand to see what others are shooting, and to see what I liked and disliked. In this case, I really disliked what I saw! Most images featured models who had spent hours in a makeup chair and extremely complicated lighting setups with the talent lifting 5lb dumbbells. The models looked too perfect and too polished. The retouching was also over the top. We're in gyms here folks, not on the runway!

I decided right off the bat that I wanted my images to have grit. I wanted contrast. I wanted to capture B&W environmental portraits of a true athlete in her domain. I'm a fan of moving quickly and simply with just one light as often as I can. For this shoot I kept my gear relatively simple, using either a Canon 5D Mark III or Canon 1DX with the Canon 35mm f/2IS, 50mm f1.4 or 135mm f/2. The strobe I used was an Alien Bees 320 B400 and my modifiers were the Photoflex OctoDome: Medium (5ft) and the Photoflex OctoDome nxt: Extra Small.

The smaller sized OctoDome was essential to focus my light where I wanted it without spilling onto the surroundings, helping me keep the high contrast look I was after.

It was important to me to show Catherine actually using the equipment. I wanted to be able to light her from head to toe, so while she was lifting I swapped the OctoDome nxt: Extra Small for the OctoDome: Medium to get a bit more spread.

For our final setup we wanted a more traditional portrait. Again using the OctoDome: Medium I was able to give Catherine some soft but contrasty light. Pulling the soft box a bit closer gave me just the look I was after.

Here are a few other shots from our short set. We were in and out in under 2 hours, showing that it does not take days to make some wonderful photographs!

Tim Snow is a Montreal-based photojournalist and photography educator. Not one to be worked into a corner, he enjoys shooting a wide spectrum of assignments for editorial and commercial clients, as well as private commissions. From the street corner buskers to a world renowned musicians on stage in front of 25,000 people, Tim treats those he photographs with equal respect and compassion. See more of his work at his website.

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