Creating an Alternative Sports Portrait

January 28, 2014

Compositing a sports style portrait:

Today I have been shooting a sports portrait. Because my model is female I've also been thinking how to pose her and still keep her looking great. My initial thoughts when this shoot first came to me was all these crazy action shot's. Yeah they'd be great if I owned a huge studio and had lots of crash mat's etc. In reality I don't. I think it's really important to keep within the realism of your work. What's really achievable and goals you know you can hit.

I've had some crazy ones come to me in the past like "Hey it'd be cool if my band was playing on a giant meteorite that was on fire was falling into a big city! Can you do that?!?"'m not Industrial Light & Magic haha. Although I've gotta admit it's a pretty sick idea! Maybe one day huh? Hope so.

Anyway I'm getting carried away with myself.

When doing composite portraits it's best to have a few shot's planned ahead of your shoot. For this particular session I chose to do 3 different photo's. Only 3 you say? Yes these are composites and they take a while to edit lol. They're not like normal photo shoot's where you can fire off shot after shot and everything like the background is already captured for you. I love doing them though so I'm not complaining!


My original setup was going to be a 32" octobox overhead with 2 shoot through umbrella's from the sides for rim. Decided once I started shooting to just go with 2 bare strobes with a gobo on each so not to get flare on my lens. (Man I wish my new softbox turned up in time for this shoot!)

This is what the lighting setup gave me straight out of the camera. Setting's were: ISO 100, 1/200th sec, f/7.1

Shadow's were a little hard but I can live with that for now.


Next challenge after getting a series of shot's I liked and I felt I could work with was getting the background shots. I'm not going to talk too much about how I make these but more on the thought process.

I feel a lot of people just choose somewhere run down or abandoned they can get to, create a HDR, stick the subject in it and put a glow behind them. For me this is not good enough. I many times have we seen something like a boxer stood in an abandoned warehouse with all his training gear on? To me that just doesn't make sense! It's not a realistic situation. Stick him in the locker room, gym, boxing ring!

Anyway I'm going to put the model onto an outside tennis court background. Luckily there's one about 50 feet from my house! A lot of the time composite backgrounds are shot in HDR. Now I'll usually shoot for HDR when doing them but lately have found myself not using anything other than the default exposure. Just a personal preference and maybe something for you to think about for your own work. Why be a sheep and follow everyone else right? Don't be afraid to try something out. Just because it's not what everyone else is doing doesn't make it wrong/rubbish. Have your own style. It'll separate you from the crowd and make people notice......providing what you're doing is good haha.


The editing process was the same as any other composite photo. Although I did go an extra step with skin retouching, smoothing, dodging and burning. I wanted a slightly overdone look to it. I usually try to work as non-destructively as I can. Sometimes you can't help merging a layer here and there. So if that's what you have to do in your work, make sure you're 100% certain before you do. There's no going back! The tennis racquet was the hardest part to cut out. Well....not hard, just really time consuming. I did it using channels. I found the channel that had the most contrast between the mesh and background, duplicate it and then used dodge and burn to make a selection which you can then use to mask out the background from the mesh. 

Behind The Scenes:

Here's what the final piece looks like.

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