USA Today Basketball Stars

Girls varsity basketball team member Linnae Harper poses outside Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago. Harper, a 5 foot 7 inch senior who plays the point guard position, is set to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall.

When I received my requests to shoot portraits of members of the USA Today All-USA High School Basketball Team, I was given little more than each player’s contact information and a deadline date. With everything up to me (including scheduling the shoots themselves) and no specific look to follow, the creative wheels in my brain started turning on how I could make each portrait unique and polished without necessitating a grip truck in the process.

While looking up the location to Whitney Young High School on Google Street View, I realized that the Sears Tower (technically the Willis Tower, but it will always be the Sears Tower to me) was directly down the street. I decided to take Linnae Harper outdoors and use that as my backdrop, creating an iconic hometown look for this Chicago player. Linnae is lit here with two Elinchrom Style 600 monolights, one up front as my key, and one over her right shoulder as a back light.

I wanted to compress the background against Linnae, making the Sears Tower dominant, and also, making Linnae appear larger than it. This would have probably worked better had the Sears Tower been tack sharp along with her, but with 1.3 miles separating my subject from the background, and an aperture already at f16 @ 200mm, I’m not sure how much sharper the tower would have gotten had I stopped down all the way. Even then, shooting at f22 might have left me with not enough fire power from my strobes.

Linnae was as cooperative as photo subjects come. Here, she’s positioned atop an apple box and my strobe case to get her above the tree line and lamp posts that cluttered my view of the Sears Tower. While I couldn’t totally eliminate these distractions, having Linnae higher up helped me out quite a bit with cleaning up my background. I also set up my shot in the shadow of an overhead bridge that connects two of the Whitney Young school buildings, allowing me to control the light to a greater degree using my strobes.

On a previous outing to Whitney Young, I photographed varsity basketball team member Jahlil Okafor. Okafor, a 6 foot 10 inch junior who plays the center position, is poised to become one of the top basketball recruits for college teams in the country. The gym at Whitney Young is rather architecturally bland, so I used a ladder to incorporate the most graphically interesting thing (the floor) as my background. This image was lit with three Vivitar 285HV flashes: One in a softbox up front as my key, a back light off the subject’s left shoulder, and a unit gelled orange off the subject’s right side pointing at the floor.

I grabbed a head shot as well using the same three lights, this time using the gym’s bleacher handrails as a “cookie” to create some texture.

After researching Simeon Career Academy’s gym prior to my shoot with varsity basketball standout Jabari Parker (and finding the same typicality that I encountered at Whitney Young), I decided to take Parker to an outdoor basketball court just across the street from the school. I hoped the light and gritty textures would give me some more interesting visual elements in my frame.

I used an Elinchrom Style 600 inside a 5′ Octabank to light Parker from his left side, allowing the sun to fill in as a back light of sorts. While overcast conditions would have been preferable, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. Still, I was pleased enough with the results.

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Portraits, Sports by Guy Rhodes on May 20th, 2013.

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