People focus on the creativity involved in our profession, and justifiably so. The great thing about being a professional photographer is that not only are we encouraged to think outside the box, but also we pretty much live outside the box. But what many people forget is that creativity isn’t worth much if your location gets axed or your model fails to show up. When it comes down to it, poor logistics will destroy a shoot far quicker than anything else. Preparation and planning are the keys to pulling off any big photoshoot. Even when everything goes wrong, if you have a plan, things will work out.
In December the BYU Alumni Magazine approached us and wanted to collaborate on a feature of Jimmer Fredette, BYU’s senior guard who was shaping up to have a great season. The article would focus more on Jimmer’s past, so they wanted to get some portraits of him on blacktop court in a little more relaxed environment. The article was planned for the spring issue of the Magazine, so we had plenty of time to wait for the weather to improve. Nobody wants to see a Jimmersicle.
Then on January 11, Jimmer went crazy and scored 47 points on a road game against the University of Utah. He made a half-court shot at the end of the first half and coolly walked off the court as if he just made a routine lay up in practice. Jimmermania was born. Instantly he became a superstar getting constant props on Sportscenter and was interviewed on every major sports show known to man. Jimmer became a noun, an adjective and an expletive all rolled into one. With his newfound popularity and it’s accompanying plethora of media commitments we were told that we could only get 15 minutes with him, so we had to make them count. Of course the Magazine was worried about this small window, they wanted to get a cover and several inside photos for the article and they didn’t think we could get it all done in this time frame.
We run into this situation quite often, but whether you are shooting a celebrity or a bowl of soup, preparation is the key to making it work. We needed an outdoor playground with decent looking hoops and lots of space, all within a few miles of the University. I started scouting locations on Google Maps and Google Earth so that I could get a sense of what was next to the playgrounds, what would make up their backgrounds. I found five possible locations that looked promising, so I jumped in the van and ran off to scout them. We spent several hours evaluating and photographing each location, trying to find a place that met all our needs. After showing these rough location shots to A.J. Rich, who is a graphic designer for the Magazine, we chose an elementary school just across the street from the University. It was perfect for what we wanted to do, it had lots of hoops, great lines and it was on a hill so one side was completely open. We decided to meet A.J. there a few days before the shoot and do some test shots at the same time of day in which we were scheduled to shoot Jimmer. The goal was to find 3 or 4 setups that would allow us to get several different looks.
I wanted to plan out the shoot in a way so that would allow Jimmer to stand in one spot for a few photos and then take a few steps to another spot where we could create a completely different photo. Having A.J. there made all the difference, we figured out what his top 4 shots would be and then devised how we fit all 4 into the allotted time. After an hour or so we felt like we were comfortable with the results and ready to take care of business. As we drove away from the park I felt like I had prepared for every detail and I couldn’t wait for the shoot.
Then things got complicated. Our shoot was postponed twice because of other media commitments Jimmer had to fulfill. When we finally got to the day of the shoot it was raining like crazy, but with the shoot scheduled for the late afternoon we were confident that the weather would cooperate. Well, at least the weatherman was confident, I was worried.
Then I got the call at lunch, Jimmer needed to do the shoot two hours earlier than planned. Could I make it work?
This led to two problems, first of all was that the location was an elementary school and the kids would still be in school and out on the playground until after we needed to begin. Our favorite location was out of commission, and we had an hour before the shoot.
The second problem was that it was still raining. We scrambled for a backup location to do the shoot outside, and then a backup to the backup location in case the rain didn’t quit and we had to move it indoors. We secured a church gymnasium close by in case we had to go inside, but we hoped that would be a last resort. A.J. sent me a location he had seen in south Provo that might work for our basketball court. I threw all my students in the van with our gear and took off to check it out. It turns out that is was a small park with an older court that worked ok. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was available. On the plus side there was an awesome mural painted on the side of a building that lined the edge of the court. The shoot was scheduled to start in 30 minutes and I had just gotten my first look at the location.
It all came down to a question of weather, or more accurately, whether or not it would cooperate with us. I really wanted to stay outside with the shoot because it gave us a lot more freedom to come up with some unique images. The park had a little roofed off pavilion area that we could use in case of a downpour. Time was of the essence and we needed to make a decision, so I decided to take a chance and go for it. I texted Jimmer the address while my students started to pull stuff out of the van and set up for the shoot. This is where all the preparation paid off. Because we had already decided what shots the Magazine wanted, all we had to do was figure out how to do adapt our plan to work in this new location.
I ended up with four spots for Jimmer to stand in, and in each spot I planned to shoot both vertical and horizontal to give A.J. lots of design options. One advantage of this location was the mural painted on the wall, it was different and I really liked being able to use the wall as a background. We went with one light, an Elinchrom Ranger in an Octabank, so that we could just follow Jimmer with that light from spot to spot. The rain slowed down and we did some test shots that looked promising, but the light kept on changing every few minutes. My main body was a 1D Mark IV with a 24-70mm lens, plus I also had another Mark IV with a 70-200mm for some of the tight shots. I also decided to use a 85mm 1.2 on my 5D Mark II in order to get some available light shots providing it was still overcast when Jimmer arrived.
Each of my three students had specific duties during the shoot, Ryan was manning the Ranger and Octa, Kylea had the bounce board for fill and Alison was running the BTS video camera. I also had Kylea take care of the clock. The plan was to start the clock when Jimmer was ready for the first shot and she would give me updates every few minutes so I could keep on track and get all the shots in our allotted time. My goal was to do the whole thing in 10 or so minutes, but I had the leeway to go to 15 if I needed to. The rain was on and off during our prep, but when Jimmer pulled up we had a nice break in the weather.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Jimmer for his entire college career. He doesn’t have the ego or the attitude that seem to take over superstar athletes; he is just a really nice guy. We’ve done several shoots together so he knew exactly what to expect. Earlier in the day he posed for a photo shoot with Sports Illustrated for their regional cover, so I’m sure the last thing he wanted to do was one more shoot. Jimmer was also really tired and sore from a game the night before, but he is a professional and was ready to jump into it. I promised him that we would be done in 15 minutes and unsurprisingly he was excited to hear that.
The shoot itself went like clockwork; we just followed the plan and moved through the four spots relatively quickly. I had an Eye-Fi card in my camera transmitting low-res jpgs to my iPad via Shuttersnitch so that A.J. could see the results and let me know when we got the shot that he needed so that we could advance to the next spot. Jimmer was great at taking direction and that helped move things along. As I got my last pose of Jimmer leaning against the fence, the rain started up again, which told me that it was time to wrap it up. I thanked Jimmer for his time and he took off.
When we looked at the time, we ended up taking 13 minutes and creating almost 300 images for the Magazine to choose from. When you consider all the challenges that we faced, it is a small miracle that we got the results that we needed. When you have a good plan and you work with great people, it is easy to roll with the punches and make great pictures.
UPDATE: BYU Magazine has published the Spring issue, check out the online version at magazine.byu.edu
Jaren Wilkey is the Manager of BYU’s University Photography Office. He lives in Orem, Utah with his wife Kara and their three children. You can see more of his work at photo.byu.edu and jarenwilkey.com