Portraits of Olympic preparation
Park City, Utah
By Lucas Jackson
It’s that time of year again. All around us the leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp, and while most of us are enjoying one of the nicest times of the year around the world, thousands of world class athletes are entering the final phases of their training to compete in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
This past week I was assigned for the second time in as many years to take portraits of more than a hundred members of the U.S. Olympic team before they finish their training and head to the Olympics. These media weeks organized by the U.S. Olympic Committee are an amazing opportunity for media outlets from all over the country to sit down, interview and photograph our athletes with little disruption to their training schedules or personal lives before one of the biggest events of their athletic careers. For the photographers it is a whirlwind three days where we spend anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes trying to capture a portrait of every athlete who attends.
In 2012 at the summer Olympic media summit in Dallas, Texas I thought of a series I wanted to work on during my last day photographing. Luckily, I able to expand upon that idea this trip. In Dallas I began asking the athletes to stretch as they would before a competition or training session, to think or visualize as their would prior to performing. Instantly I noticed their faces changed and the look of focus that got them to this point took over their expression. At this point I asked the athletes to ignore me for a few minutes so that I could photograph moments that to each athlete was as routine as sleeping and eating, but to me were honest moments that I was not directing.
It was this concept I decided to work with going into this year’s portrait session. I decided that for the entire summit I would ask each athlete to imagine that they were minutes from competing in their sport and to try and enter the mental head space that they do just before they go out onto the ice or hurdle themselves down the mountain. For a number of athletes I asked them to put their gear on in the same order they would for a competition and then to envision a run or going out on the ice. By doing this I was able to capture personal routines and small rituals that manage to capture a tiny slice of the focus that these athletes have demonstrated to get to this point. For me, these portraits achieve a level of honesty that can be difficult to capture and it is exciting to have done so successfully.
With this idea in place I also knew that in order to highlight their physique or their equipment I needed a relatively simple setup. It started with a grey seamless backdrop shoehorned into a small curtained off space in a room with six other photographers and their respective mini-studios. I then set up one Profoto Acute2R 2400 pack with two heads and medium strip softboxes on each side of the studio at a relatively low setting to highlight the athletes profile and add depth to the images.
For my main light and one light that would hit the backdrop providing a vignette I used two Profoto D1 lights. I used one wireless remote attached to a sync cord to fire the 2400 pack that I could turn off or on and the D1s are capable of being individually controlled by the remote on my camera. The main light was in a beauty dish that my assistant Ashley Haguewood would hold and move wherever it was needed. This setup allowed me to react to the athletes without having to pause or take them out of their own imagination while giving me a number of lighting options.
For some of the more posed and traditional portraits I had a large U.S. flag given to me by my brother when I arrived in Afghanistan for my first embed that I would pull across the backdrop. This helped to give the posed portraits an easily identifiable graphic element.
Lastly I only used a single Canon 5D MKIII and an older 24-70mm f2.8 for every one of these. The simple setup was nice as I had less on my mind and could concentrate on capturing the moments.
Overall it was a great time meeting all these amazing people and I wish them the best of luck as they head off to the Sochi games to give their best efforts in the name of their home country.