womens american football

Women's American Football portraits

12th July 2016


Finding niche markets as a portrait photographer can often be difficult. Sometimes it helps to have friends who play minority sports who make suggestion like, Come and photograph my team. It also helps if you are interested in the sport, in this case American Football.

When you are trying to put forward a case for people to part with their hard earnt money to pay for your services, you have to show them exactly what you can do. I was able to take a handful of photographs of the Yorkshire Rams in a twenty minute session before the start of one of their games. You can see the photographs on the American Football gallery.

When you only have twenty minutes you are very limited time to work with. So, I wanted to expand the portfolio and show people what else could be done. After being rained off the week before, the conditions the following Tuesday were pretty much perfect for a shoot with a number of women from the Leeds Beckett Uni. American Football team.

I have also looked for photographs and videos to inspire me. Even after doing that, I always like to put my own personal touches to my shoots whilst drawing upon the influences, ideas and knowledge gained from others. What can I say, I am a creative person!

womens american football portrait

1. The first proper photograph. I love the halo around back of Beth's head.

The shoot

We started about eight o'clock in the evening. My first job was to check-out the location and where the sun was. I had a plan in my head. I wanted to shoot the players with the sun behind their heads to give them a halo effect. You can an example of this in photograph 1.

womens american football portrait

2. One with the helmet. You can see how quickly the sky was changed from minute to minute. Beth is lit by a single narrow strip box.

The aims of these shots was to demonstrate what could be done at this time of day and outside. The lighting set-up is very simple utilising the ambient light as much as possible. If I had not used any extra lighting the background would be completely or mostly washed out. This way there are balanced.

womens american football portrait

3. Tracy one of the offensive line. During post processing the clouds were worked on otherwise they would be washed out and the sky devoid of detail.

womens american football portrait

4. Emma on the defence (line backer). Nothing too complicated for these type of shots. The aim of this style of photograph was to capture the uniform of the sport and make the girls look feminine and, if at all possible, gorgeous at the same time (well I gave it my best go in some cases).

Once everyone had been photographed in this style, the sun had set sufficiently enough to try something more akin to what I did in the locker room with the a few of the lads from the Yorkshire Rams.

womens american football portrait

5. Gaby a running back who can also play as a tight end. A purple gel was used to colour the edge of the 'smoke'. At least she was not pulling her 'concentration' face.

From a previous shoot, I knew working with 'smoke' can present its own set of challenges. We had to watch where the wind was blowing. For starters it could of blown over one of my light stands. The girls took turns holding it just in case. The powder can also be blown in the wrong direction.

womens american football portrait

6. Yeah, it does not always go to plan. This shot has not been processed apart from a little cropping. Gaby is in there somewhere. Beth received a lot of stick because she was throwing the powder.

womens american football portrait

7. Then again, it can work just right and come out looking like this. The smoke is just thin enough over the face. A little sharpening in post processing was required to ensure the eyes were clear enough. My favourite shot from the evening and a challenge to reproduce. Sunshine's response was, Oh sh**. I better look good like that., when I sent her a preview of this photograph.

womens american football portrait

8. This is another shot, but without any smoke. It is good, but the powder does add a huge dimension to final shot.

For the final photographs a smoke pellet was lit to provide the effect. It was amusing watching Emma and Beth struggling to light it with a few helpful suggestions from Gaby along the way. Emma was holding it when it started producing smoke. She let go of it with a startled scream and dropped it into the ceramic dish I brought along so you did not have to hold pellet once it was lit. The antics and banter of the girls did make me laugh throughout the session. Emma was also trying to catch Pokemon. She caught one afterwards in a pizza restaurant.

Kayleigh and Lil almost wiped out my camera when it was attached to my tripod and I was setting up the next shot.

Post processing

The initial processing was performed using Lightroom to adjust the exposure and a bit of cropping. Graduated filters were applied to sky so the detail in the clouds could be seen. Photoshop was used to brighten the eyes, increase the highlights, darken some of the shadows and slightly smooth the skin. The details of the face and hair were sharpened too.

In the park scene shots there were a number of people enjoying the evening. They were removed from the photographs. The clouds were darkened and lightened to bring out their details and stop them from being a solid blanket and lifeless.

Because of the complexity of some of the shots, it did take me a lot longer than usual to complete the post processing. I also adjusted the colour of the smoke as it needed to be more purple to match the team's colours. It was more a dark pink/magenta (see photo 6).

womens american football portrait

9. Kayleigh about to block. She is the team's centre. This idea was suggested by the girls.

womens american football portrait

10. When you have some decent shots in the bag it is time to mess around a bit. Instead of the usual team photograph we came up with this. I placed them and they did the rest. This is what is known as a special team.

Technical details

A full-frame camera with one lens throughout the session. A 24-70mm f/2.8 lens was used throughout. The camera was set to manual with a shutter speed of 1/125s, ISO 200 and f-stop adjusted as required. In some shot where there was movement, the shutter speed was changed to 1/200th s.

The flash guns were also in manual mode. A coloured gel was used to change the colour of the smoke and powder. A three light set-up was used for the latter part of this shoot.

Talcum powder was used for most of the smoke shots with a smoke pellet used for the final few.

womens american football portrait

11. Gaby and Lil - the hand-off to the running back. Great eye contact and protecting the ball, Gaby.

womens american football portrait

12. Kayleigh and Tracey face-off. Next time I will reduce the power of the light to the right of the shot so Kayleigh's face is not over exposed. I would have done it at the time, but we were pushed for time.

womens american football portrait

13. The D-Fence - Line backers Emma and Beth back-to-back. Next time I will have to bring some steps along for a bit of elevation so you can see Beth's eyes. The pads and the helmet make it impossible to look down if you are looking over your shoulder.

Conclusions and thanks

For my second test shoot, I was really pleased with the results. A few lessons learnt when it comes to the nuances of American football. I still have a few more lighting set-ups and poses (Lil refused to do the Cam Newton Superman pose) to showcase, but everything in time.

My thanks to Sunshine (who has been thanked by being supplied with 5 kg of peanut M&Ms) for introducing me to her team and Lil for organising this. Also to Lil, Emma, Tracy, Kayleigh, Beth and Gaby for availing themselves. A special mention for Beth's friend who spent most of the two hour shoot sat on a bench in the park a bit a way from us. Perhaps we were too embarrassing?

I am not sure what the women were expecting. Lil said it exceeded hers in terms of what she thought I was going to do. I do love blowing people's ideas apart when it comes to showing what can be done photography wise. Girls, let me know what you thought of the experience and the end results in the comment box below.

They did spend much of their time being rude to one another. It is pretty typical of men, but I have been told this is what they are like when they are together. It did make me laugh. Any foul up was pounced upon and no quarter given. They waved at a passing police patrol van and some men in a car Pokemon hunting. It all adds to overall experience for the those being photographed and the photographer.

womens american football portrait

14. An offensive line shot with Gaby filling in. Next time I will bring a large brush to dust down the players before each shot. The smoke came from a pellet. I wish I had brought my 150cm octobox for this shot and that I had an extra flashgun for the top left-hand corner.

There are more photographs from this shoot in the American football gallery.

Your thoughts


Please leave any thoughts, comments, questions or just say, "Hi!" (not literally) below. I really do appreciate feedback. E.g. What is your favourite photograph and why? What did you think of the shoot?

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