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Feature: Robert Seale on photographing Evan Longoria for Sports Illustrated  
Sunday, April 3, 2011 | by Robert Seale
This article is by Houston-based photographer Robert Seale, who is, in our estimation, one of the best sports portrait shooters working today. Recently, Seale was hired by Sports Illustrated magazine to make a picture for its April 4, 2011 issue and, like so much of what Seale does, the strong photo he produced was the combination of a good idea, extensive preparation and, in this instance, a willingness to photograph straight up from beneath a 400lb sheet of Plexiglas. To see more of Seale's work, visit his website. To read more about how he prepares for and lights assignments, visit his blog. Here is his account of how the photo came together.

I recently photographed Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays in mid-swing through Plexiglas for Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue. I photographed a similar shot of Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon years ago, and I've wanted to update that portrait for quite some time (it’s so old, he was actually wearing LA Gear shoes!).

The cool photo editor at Sports Illustrated (SI) remembered my Hakeem Olajuwon photo and asked me to produce a similar shot of Longoria. Just to prove that there are very few new ideas in this world, he sent me an awesome John Zimmerman photo of Ted Williams from the 1950s taken from below his feet through a glass floor!

Airborne: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III + EF 24-105mm f/4L IS at 35mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/13 (Photo by Robert Seale)

The Longoria portrait was part of a series on baseball players who are the best in the league at hitting a certain pitch: best curveball hitter, best fastball hitter, etc. The essay was parceled out to several different photographers since some of the players were in Arizona and some were at spring training in Florida.

It took several days of pre-production phone calls to source our 1.25 inch thick, 5ft x 8ft sheet of optically clear Plexiglas. We finally found a piece in Ft. Lauderdale and had it trucked in for the shoot. It wasn’t cheap.

Cy Cyr, a great SI assistant from Orlando who I’ve worked with many times over the years, helped out by picking up our additional rental gear and then accompanying me to the Rays' spring training location in Port Charlotte. Armando Solares and Chip Litherland, both great photographers from Sarasota, agreed to help out as well. A 400lb, 5ft x 8ft sheet of Plexiglas is incredibly heavy and difficult to move, so we needed all that extra muscle to assemble the set.

When I did the Hakeem picture, we placed the Plexiglas on a set of wooden boxes that were only 2-3 feet off the ground. This limited our lens choice to a super-wide, and it really was not enough room to work properly.

Under Foot: Hakeem Olajuwon (Photo by Robert Seale)

This time, I decided to erect a platform of heavy-duty construction scaffolding, which gave us an elevation of five feet. At that distance, I was able to use a variety of lenses.

Once the scaffolding was delivered and assembled, we unloaded the glass (which took 6 people), secured everything, and strapped it to the scaffolding. Ground stakes with cargo tie-downs and a ton of sandbags made the whole set very safe and secure. The last thing I needed was to injure the Rays' star player!

The biggest issue with shooting a photo like this is unwanted reflections. We covered the inside of the scaffolding, ground and back of the set with black drape, essentially creating a “black box” for me to shoot from. For lighting, we used a Plume Wafer HexOval 140 (the medium one) as our main light, positioning it just above the Plexiglas, but a little lower than usual to illuminate Evan under his hat. We then added a medium strip bank with a 40 degree grid, from below the glass, right behind my head. This light gave us some fill, and illuminated the soles of Longoria’s shoes. We used two lights from behind the set with regular reflectors to outline Longoria and his bat, and separate him from the background. All of the lights used were Profoto Pro-7bs.

Once we had everything set, we peeled the protective adhesive paper off the Plexiglas, shot some tests (in socks!), and did our final preparations before Longoria arrived. The time of day was not ideal: we were shooting at 3:30pm, rather than 5pm, so the sun was still a problem. Although we had chosen our location carefully based on recon from the iPad app LightTrac (which shows the sun's path on a Google map satellite photo), we still had some sunlight to deal with.

Sunrise, Sunset: LightTrac for iPad

We erected an 8ft x 8ft on Matthews hi-rollers to block the sunlight, although we did toy with the prospect of putting Cy in a tractor bucket with a large golf umbrella, due to the heavy winds in the area. Armando and Chip did a great job of keeping the 8×8 from blowing away during the shoot.

We had about 30 minutes for the shoot, and Longoria was great during the whole thing. He even got into it at the end and started making some great faces, screaming while pretending to knock the cover off the ball.

Behind the scenes

Check out the cool time lapse video that Cy shot for us which chronicles the entire shoot from start to finish:

Start to Finish: Timelapse of the Evan Longoria photo shoot (Video by Cy Cyr)

And, yes, of course – we had to shoot some pictures of ourselves as well!

On Set: Robert Seale photographs Evan Longoria (Photo by Chip Litherland)

Smushed: Cy Cyr, Armando Solares, Chip Litherland and Robert Seale after the shoot

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