Athlete Portraits

Creating Dramatic Athlete Portraits

Creating Dramatic Athlete Portraits with Matt Hernandez

It’s rare that someone figures out what they are going to do for a living in middle school, but I did. Ever since I used to design Nike shoes in history class instead of paying attention to my teacher, I loved two things: art and sports. Luckily, I actually had some natural talent in one of those areas… and it wasn’t athletics. So, I picked the next best thing to playing, in my opinion anyway, and decided I wanted to be a graphic artist in the sports industry. After 7 years of doing that professionally, I moved back to my home town with hopes of starting my own business. At the time, I had no idea it would develop into a photography business and not the graphic design I thought it would be. It all started on a whim when I bought a Nikon D90 and took some action shots at a 7th grade football game. I fell in love with Athlete Portraits immediately and here I am 10 years later still doing it! I love photography and will accept a job to take photos of just about anything (other than weddings!), but if you follow my work you can see my true passion still lies with photographing Athlete Portraits.

My love for sports gave me an advantage over shooting other types of photography because I was familiar with how athletes move and the nuances of different sports. I tend to carry myself in a somewhat serious manner, although it’s really unintentional, which is similar to an athlete’s demeanor around game time. I think this helps convey to my clients how I want them to perform during their shoot. It can be fun to show an athlete’s personality if they are a happy-go-lucky type of person, but more often than not, I gravitate to a more serious look with my athletes for a couple of reasons. One, it lends itself to my dramatic lighting style which tends to mimic stadium lighting. Two, I like to portray intensity in my images that lends itself to serious completion. When people hire me, they do it for a reason. 100% of the time it’s for that dark, dramatic, serious style I love using for my athletes. Here are some of the main tips I recommend if you ever want to try and shoot in a similar style.

If you follow my work, you can see I do a lot of work with high school seniors. One thing to keep in mind is that if you work with clients around this age, they have likely not been in front of a professional camera much. First and foremost, you need to make them feel comfortable from the beginning. Since I am shooting sports then that’s usually what I talk to them about. Whether they are getting ready to start their season or just finished, I keep the conversation about them and their goals or what they accomplished that year. That being said, you also don’t want to talk TOO much and get in the way of shooting, so it is good to learn to do both at the same time. Because you aren’t working with a professional model, keep in mind the quicker the shoot is over, the better. Letting it drag on will cause them to lose interest and zone out. With this in mind, I always try to use a minimum of two angles with each setup.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the March 2021 magazine.