Serena Williams for Delta Sky
Photographing a Tennis Superstar:
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted to the blog and it’s time to get back to it. For those who don’t know, I’ve recently relocated to Nashville, Tennessee from South Florida. While I still have a house and life long connection to Florida, the move has happened and I’m settled in just off Music Row in Nashville. Just before moving I received a call from Delta Sky Magazine about photographing tennis legend Serena Williams. With Serena back in the US Open Singles Finals I felt compelled to get the blog going again with a post about her. Here’s how it went down.
When contacted by Amy Ballinger from MSP Communications (the publishing company for Delta Sky) I was excited because I had worked for MSP previously on another project. This one was to capture behind the scenes images of Serena for the magazine as a video crew filmed a commercial to be aired during the US Open.
The goal was to get as much content of Serena in the production set up without having the crew visible. When I arrived at Ballenisles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens I had totally underestimated the scale of this production and realized I was a very very small part of this project. I introduced myself to as many folks on set and made sure to introduce myself to the clients (Delta’s creative team was on set) the Ad Agency (Wieden + Kennedy) and the Director, Angus Wall. I went the entire shoot not having a clue who Angus Wall was until I went home and Googled him to find out he had won two recent Oscars for Film Editing. Whoa!
Once I got settled in and started shooting I realized there really wasn’t a good spot for me to shoot from or an angle that didn’t include at least one crew member. This is going to be harder than I thought I soon realized. I just kept my focus on the task and shot between takes, during takes and crossed my fingers that something interesting would come out of it. I did have an idea to take a portrait of Serena with the grip and gear in the background and after about an hour I had a window of opportunity to snag a lit portrait. I talked to the client who introduced me to Serena’s agent and got the nod to try something between set ups.
Serena’s sister Venus showed up after a while and I have met her quite a few times and am at least familiar to her in a recognizable sense. We have mutual friends and commonality always helps break down barriers. I had photographed both Venus and Serena’s Fed Cup matches in Delray Beach several years ago but never anything produced. Having Venus show up I think put Serena a little more at ease considering this was a large and tiring production and the window opened up for me to grab a few lit shots.
I brought my trusty Elinchrom Ranger Quadra packs and heads with me and a large reflector to give me more focused light and extra “power” if I needed it. I had it all set up and ready to go when I go the nod. I promised Serena I only needed a half dozen shots and that’s exactly what I shot..no more. When working with celebrities and athletes who are also likely tired and truly don’t want to be on set being honest and brief makes things go much easier.
I saw the location I wanted and was mindful to incorporate the hot lights and grip gear from the production. I really wanted that in there as I felt it made it interesting and gave things a sense of place. I had no idea if the client would use this image (which they ultimately didn’t) but I had the clients blessing to give it a go anyway. I grabbed the one light, shot a test and fired off six frames of Serena. The photo at the beginning of the post is the final result. I like how it turned out and ended up grabbing some nice frames during the production so I was happy as was my editor and the client.
In all it was a challenging yet very rewarding shoot that couldn’t have gone any better. The production crew was very accommodating and I was able to introduce myself to one of my dream clients, Wieden + Kennedy whom I would love to collaborate with in the future.
I’m wishing Serena all the best of luck in the US Open Singles Finals and regardless of the outcome it was a true pleasure having a few minutes to photograph one of the greatest athletes ever.
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