Alexander Ovechkin vs. PocketWizard

Some of us are old enough to remember the days when hockey players were not required to wear mouth guards and helmets. There were a lot of toothless guys on the ice who had no problems suiting up again and again to do battle with wooden sticks. Bones were broken, noses bloodied, and equipment got seriously abused.

That said, it’s nice to see PocketWizard gear can take any damage the NHL can dish out. Check out this segment from a Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals game, as posted on YouTube by the NHL. Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals not only scores on Marc-Andre Fleury, but takes out the net cam, remotely fired with a PocketWizard MultiMAX.

Watch carefully, and you’ll see a technician remount the PocketWizard back on the camera. If anyone knows who the photographer is, give a shout. We’d love to credit him, as we do with all shooters who use PocketWizards.

Enjoy, sports fans!

Grant Gunderson, Fast and Fluid

With a degree in Plastic and Composite Engineering, Grant Gunderson is no stranger to fluid dynamics, torque, and tensile strengths. One can’t help but wonder if this training has helped nudge him in the area of photography he now makes a living in: high speed flash skiing photography.

K.C. Deane skiing at Sugar Bowl resort, Donner Pass. ©Grant Gunderson

As a young adult, Gunderson shot photos of friends skiing and snowboarding. After graduation, a hobby became a passionate profession he’s been engaged in for over a decade. An avid skier himself, Gunderson is well-acquainted with the physics of the sport, and accordingly knows what to expect as an athlete comes blasting down a mountain into view of his lenses. “I think that’s part of it,” he agrees. “The biggest portion of shooting something like skiing, or if you were shooting mountain biking, or any action sport, is if you’re not an avid participant, you really don’t know what’s going to create an image that’s really going to speak to people into those sports. I think you have to be a participant in order to document it properly.”

Beyond the physics, fully understanding all aspects of his subject matter is also critical to Gunderson’s holistic approach to capturing the world of skiers. In this way, he knows what the audience of publications he sells to want. “Skiing is a fairly small niche and I think if you’re going to succeed in ski photos you’ve got to be able to create images that speak to the culture of skiing, and not just create a unique photo,” he explains.

Zack Giffin sking at Mt. Shasta. ©Grant Gunderson

In the winters, he travels from his base in Washington State to anywhere in North America to capture downhill action. His main areas of concentration are Western Canada and the Western United States, but every major hot spot for skiing in both nations are also regularly visited. This year, he also traveled as far as Iceland and Norway for photo shoots. In the summer, he heads to South America to take advantage of winter skiing in the Southern Hemisphere.

Unlike many other sports, skiing and snowboarding present the interesting challenge of the terrain. Not only is he required to hike into mountain terrain with all his photographic gear, but there is the unyielding issue of snow and it’s preservation before a shot is set-up and executed. “If it’s a really unique location I’ve been to a lot, I’ll have an idea of how I want lighting that’s unique from what I’ve done in the past,” he explains. “Since we spend so much time traveling, we kind of have to let the location speak for itself. We’ll pull up to a location, and before we do anything, I have to have a pretty good idea of where the light’s going to go and what the skiers are going to do. Once you put a track in a shot, or once they ski through the snow, it’s done. You can’t do it over again. You have to get it right the first time.”

Adam skiing powder at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. ©Grant Gunderson

Getting to his locations is no small feat, either. “Everything we do is on our backs, so it’s a little bit of physical labor. Luckily, the athletes and the media I work with seem to be more than willing to carry some flash packs. They’re not exactly light,” he says, laughing.

Gunderson shoots a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV prototype. He avoids Photoshop and uses Lightroom to process his images. “I learned how to shoot on slides with Canon,” he says. Shooting digitally and only using Lightroom “keeps it kind of pure,” he explains.

Cody Barnhill skiing at Sugarl Bowl resort, Donner Pass. ©Grant Gunderson

To help freeze an athlete flying off a cliff, Gunderson relies on HyperSync technology from PocketWizard. “The HyperSync is whole new game‑changer,” he declares. “It’s the best. That’s the single most important technological advancement I’ve seen in the last decade.” An off-camera flash enthusiast for at least the last five years, he is very in tune with the latest gear developments which help him achieve his signature style.

Gunderson feels his saturation is one of the primary elements in his style. “I think the key to that is having proper off‑camera flash,” he says. “It gives that 3D look to it, where it doesn’t look too flat. Being on Mount Baker, we have the world record for snowfall, and we tend to get more snow than any place else, so sunny days are kind of a rarity for us, so flash is definitely key.”

Zack Giffin skiing at Mt. Baker, WA. ©Grant Gunderson

Often incorporating two Elinchrom Ranger packs, Gunderson explains his set-up. “I’ll use the PocketWizard FlexTT5 on a camera. Then I’ll use either two Plus II’s or two of the MultiMAX’s for each flash. I’ve done as much as seven flashes for a shot. But, with skiing, unless you’re starting to use a lot of color gels, you can usually get by with two or three main flashes, if you have enough power.”

Along with worrying about ruining virgin snow before a shot is captured, Gunderson says water interfering with his equipment is one of his biggest problems. “I’m probably using this gear in the harshest conditions you can find,” he says. “That’s one thing really cool about the PocketWizards is you can use them in an environment like this, then take them to the studio and they work just fine. It’s rarity you find a product that works that well in snow.”

K.C. Deane skiing at White Water during the Cold Smoke Festival. ©Grant Gunderson

Gunderson does do some studio work, but for him, skiing is all about the action. “Skiing is more about the actual sport itself,” he says. “Sometimes it’s about the athlete, but I think it’s more of a way to provide an escape for the average viewer who wants to go skiing. For me it’s definitely a lot more about the action than it is the portraits.”

Also utilizing the lifestyle of the ski culture for his product photography, Gunderson keeps that work out of the studio as much as possible. “I don’t do as much of the actual straight product photography most people are used to,” he explains. “When we do the product photography, it’s more to show the product in the environment it’s used in. We’ll try to incorporate a form of lifestyle portrait shot, instead of just showing a strict product on top of a table. You shoot these outdoors in the snow, you’ve got to make the product look good and you have to make sure the equipment you’re using is actually performing.”

Shooting in these environments is not without risk to both humans and camera equipment. Gunderson reports a few rare incidents of people getting hurt in minor avalanches and gear getting swept away. “We try to be as safe as possible and not put ourselves in danger,” he says. “You’re on the mountains and if you don’t respect the mountains, they’re definitely going to fight you back. Any time you let your guard down something is going to happen.”

Zack Giffin skiing at Mt. Baker, WA. ©Grant Gunderson

With clients knowing they can trust Gunderson and his team, he enjoys a great deal of creative freedom. “We never really have an actual, physical shot list of, ‘You need to shoot this exact same push in the mountain, exactly like this,'” he says. “It’s always up to us how we want to make a living portrait of the place. We do a little bit of scouting beforehand, especially if we’re creating a more of a really unique and dramatic shot. Most of the time, we will go to the location and either hike around, or take snowmobiles out, or get the helicopter out until we find what we think will look best and just make it work on the spot.”

Gunderson explains how the below shot came to be, which utilized PocketWizard-triggered flashes. “That was shot at Alton, Utah, two years ago, for a ski magazine cover. They came up with an entirely new format for the magazine, so they wanted a really dramatic cover shot. That ended up being the first two‑page spread they ever used for a cover. It’s a combination of flash exposure combined with the very long exposure for the night. I think one thing that’s important to note is a lot of the stuff that looks like it’s been shot in the middle of the night was shot, not in full view, but in the late afternoon or early morning with filtering the bright out using the PocketWizard and very strong studio flashes, to be able make it look more night than it actually is. Using the PocketWizard now gives you a hell of a lot more creative control than what you used to be able to do.”

Bryce Phillips skiing powder at night under star trails in the Alta backcountry. ©Grant Gunderson

Reporting on his almost total use of HyperSync, Gunderson says, “The cool thing about hyper sync too, is you can use an extremely fast shutter speed to get rid of some of the ambient exposure, but you can create a much sharper image than you can with just a flash alone. When you use HyperSync, you’re using a very fast shutter speed, like a thousandth of a second. You’re just catching the absolute peak of the flash duration, so it’s the crispest image you can possibly come up with. That’s really exciting for me. You don’t have to do any sharpening. It used to be when you used flash, you would have to do a lot of sharpening.”

At the speeds his skiing subjects come flying at him down the side of a mountain, Gunderson is able to freeze the moment, including flying powder. “Normally, I get a lot of motion play even using these extremely fast strobes, but with HyperSync, the motion play is one hundred percent gone,” he says. “I’m pretty excited about PocketWizard’s HyperSync mode.”

Cody Barnhill skiing at Sugar Bowl Resort, Donner Pass. ©Grant Gunderson

The timing of strobes is not the only clock Gunderson is up against. “It’s always about how much gear we have to lug in, but the thing we worry about with skiing is acting fast,” he says. “We want to minimize the amount of time we’re in an environment, or possibly exposed to avalanche conditions and things like that. More importantly, if we are shooting in a ski resort, we’re not closing off trails to people. People are always free to ski when you’re shooting. So, if want to get a shot and make it look clean, we have to get there and set up really quick to get the shot before someone else comes and skis through it, without realizing what we are doing.” The general rule he follows is “the further you walk, the less people you’re going to find.”

Gunderson uses a Sekonic L-408 light meter to get readings on ambient light. “The problem is I can’t get the meter out there where the skiers are, where you need the flash exposure. We’ll meter the ambient, but we have to make an estimate as to what the flash is going to do.”

Adam skiing at White Water during the Cold Smoke Festival. ©Grant Gunderson

Not only has his gear changed the range of creativity Gunderson is able to pull off, it has also increased the range of images he gets on the critical first pass of any skier flying past him. “We only get one chance each time we shoot the photo, so we depend on our equipment to work every time, exactly how we hope it’s going to do. It’s awfully frustrating when stuff doesn’t go right, but the game is the game. There would probably be a lot more people doing it if it was easier. Without the flash, the motor drive can do ten frames per second—enough to do a sequence—but I definitely fire off a burst at the key point of it: make sure I’ve got the grab and make sure they’re in perfect position. When we started working the flash stuff, before the TT5, we didn’t know what exposure. The flash goes off, that’s it, you’re done, game over. But now with the TT5, that thing is really cool. The shutter speed is so fast, the shutter speed alone can start action, where we can get the first prime stuff with the flash. Then we can definitely get two or three other shots to go with it that are non‑flash. So we kind of get two or three shots for the same amount of work. That is pretty exciting to me: two or three really distinctive shots each time, whereas before it was just one. It has definitely increased productivity for us.”

Dana Flahr throwing a very large lawn dart front flip over the Mt. Baker Road gap at dusk while filming for TGR. ©Grant Gunderson

As Gunderson’s career marches on, he remains fluid in both his adaptation of new photographic technology, and his creativity. Although we have limited space here to represent his work, the larger body of his photos show a surprising range of composition within the narrow range of skiers caught in midair. With his engineering background, it’s no surprise he understands controlled environments and the science behind high speed flash photography. What is surprising is his adept handling of the chaos ensuing when an athlete breaks from the trees a few yards away from him at a high rate of speed. Lucky for ski fans around the world, Gunderson is prepared and knows what to do.

Grant Gunderson Photography
Grant Gunderson Blog
The Ski Journal
Grant Gunderson on Facebook

Written by Ron Egatz

Keith Pytlinski Shoots into the Sun

Keith Pytlinski of M5 Photography shared a dramatic shot on his blog recently. Using PocketWizard Plus II units, he got this exciting image shooting into the sun, uphill, with a lot of frozen action, including flying dust. We love the lens flare and energy behind the entire shot.

Visit his blog and breakdown of the set-up, which also includes details on digging berms and a voice-activated tripod! Nice job, Keith!

Check out other posts about Keith’s work: 1, 2, 3.

M5 Photography
M5 Photography blog

Chris O’Connell Stops Time

Chris O’Connell first appeared on our radar when he set out to accomplish the first 500 shutter speed remotely-synched flash sequence in action sports, complete with HDR morph shot in RAW. This is the story of how he got there.

©Chris O'Connell

Virginia is not the first geographic location you think of when extreme skiing comes to mind. That’s where Chris O’Connell grew up and began talking photos at the age of 12 or 13, when his father gave him his Mamiya Sekor. O’Connell began shooting his friends skateboarding and riding bikes. “A lot of action stuff. I mean, that’s my roots,” he says.

Unaware he could make a living as a full-time photographer, O’Connell went to business school and moved to Colorado after graduation. His first job was at The Vail Daily. He also shot freelance. At that time, the area was the virtual epicenter of the snowboarding world. Ice climbing, rock climbing, and kayaking were not far behind. O’Connell shot them all, and then some.

Time in business school paid off for O’Connell. “I focused on the business end of things a lot. It made magazine editors feel comfortable when I started doing submissions and then I’d write little articles. I would package my slides very professionally. I think that gave me a boost over some of my peers at the time,” he says.

He became Senior Photographer at Snowboarder Magazine in the late 1990s, and began shooting many snowboard and ski events for editorial avenues around the world. “I had a few Senior Photographer gigs for different magazines throughout the world, and the commercial stuff came next,” O’Connell recalls. Corporations like Oakley, Nike, and Burton began hiring him for commercial work. He eventually left Colorado for the Tahoe area in Northern California. A few years later, he made a radical shift to Orange County, “to be away from the mountains but still closer to the action sports hub of the world, Costa Mesa,” he says.

His new home base is also home to many surf and skate companies, as well as snow gear brands and optical companies. Hurley, Billabong, Quiksilver, and Volcom all have headquarters there. “It’s a great place for an action sports shooter and catalogue guy like myself to be based, because I’m right here. A good percentage of my clients are within ten miles of me,” says O’Connell. He also cites his proximity to Samy’s Camera, Los Angeles rental houses, and the five hour drive to the Sierra Nevada mountains as further reasons for his location. Those mountains have “some of the most epic light and consistent weather patterns of any mountains I’ve been in the world,” he says. “Tons of snow, and there’s always a high pressure system behind it. Then we go grey a lot, so there’s really good opportunities to shoot around here as well.”

©Chris O'Connell

Exclusively a digital photorapher, O’Connell relies on digital gear to get it right the first time. “When you have a guy jumping off a 50 foot cliff and it’s super dangerous, you don’t really get two takes. When I get controlled environments, that’s when I can really excel. That’s why the catalog and commercial stuff is so easy for me because I’m so used to only getting one shot at a photo,” he explains.

Last September, inspired by his friend Chase Jarvis shooting in New Zealand, O’Connell got the competitive idea to one-up him. Jarvis shot 20 pops per flash at 250 shutter speed tethered. O’Connell’s mind quickly had gears turning. “I want to be able to do this and shoot it wireless. I can’t really speculate on why he did it tethered. When I started looking into the PocketWizard FlexTT5, I got the idea I could really push this to the next level and shoot RAW files with the wireless sync,” he says. “With action photography, one f-stop is everything, so that’s really what I wanted to do. I started researching it a lot before we shot it, but Chase was the inspiration, for sure.”

O’Connell’s big challenge finally happened on June Mountain in the Eastern Sierras of California, which provided a special jump for the complex morphing shot.

©Chris O'Connell

Pulling off such a technical challenge made O’Connell do a lot of homework, including investigating a multitude of manufacturers who might be able to execute this photographic feat. “I used PocketWizard Plus receivers, because I think they have better range and are a little bit more stable in colder weather than the MultiMAXs and even the Mini,” he says. “They’re my workhorses. If I’m going to be far away from a shot, I still go to those, even though I’m on the transmitting mode. The TT5 allowed me to shoot at 1/500. I’ve never been able to do that with the PocketWizard Plus. That usually maxes right around 1/320. I used the Broncolor, the Scoro A4 and A2S packs. Those packs are really quite incredible. They’re expensive, but the control you have over the flash duration and having a digital readout on the pack was integral in being able to make sure I was shooting it at a fast enough flash duration. When this shoot came down to it, it was all about magic hour. Things have to be functioning right, and I can’t have room for error. It gets cold at night in the snow, and it’s hard to change things around, so I think that was really integral, as was the TT5. I used Honda generators, the EU series. They’re quiet so I can hear when riders are dropping, and they’re just not obnoxious to use on a shoot; they’re clean and quiet.”

The cameras which helped him pull all this together were Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. “I shot Zeiss lenses. I’m sort of a lens geek, and I’m just finding that a lot of the Canon wides don’t do it for me. The 14mm is just pretty sharp all the way across, but when you get a rider or anyone, for that matter, up into the corners in some of the other Canons, they fail. I think the Zeiss are super expensive and they’re heavy. For a guy like me who has to hike around the mountains, your pack starts getting really heavy when you’re throwing a bunch of Zeiss in there, but the crispness of the lens all the way across is truly unmatched. You give up the autofocus, but I can deal with that. I don’t shoot a hell of a lot of autofocus anyway. That was one reason I chose to shoot the Zeiss. I was really happy with the results.”

©Chris O'Connell

O’Connell discovered a tip and would like to share it with our readers. “I see a lot of snow sports photographers all around the world have some misfire trouble. They just set their flash pack on the ground, have the head six feet off the ground, but not the PocketWizard. I set up a separate light stand, ran a long extension cord for my sync and got that thing eight feet off the ground. That dramatically increased my reliability on the syncing. The ground is bad enough as it is for the radio waves, but the water and snow I guess just really throw it off. I never really knew that in years and years of misfires. I always figured because it’s too far away or I was around the corner too much. But it’s really something that could dramatically reduce the amount of misfires is to get that thing. Buy a long extension cord for your sync and get it off the ground. Bring it up eight feet. That does help.”

O’Connell’s next challenge? To stop even smaller increments of time. “Basically this whole process has left me with the desire to learn more and push it more on how fast it could sync and what else I can do,” he says. “If I could shoot a sequence at 1/1,000 sec., I’d be elated. Maybe that’s my next project.”

Chris O’Connell Photography
Chris O’Connell blog
Chris O’Connell on Vimeo

Written by Ron Egatz

Keith Pytlinski’s Night Project

Shooter Keith Pytlinski recently posted a detailed story about the making of a shot he had been thinking about for awhile before executing it. Wanting a mountain bike rider in a night shot with long exposure-stars visible, a friend helped reframe his original idea and came up with the great image below.

©Keith Pytlinski

Keith used PocketWizard Plus II’s to get the rider in the foreground. Thanks for the informative post and great image, Keith!

Read more about other times we’ve bumped into Keith here and here.

Laura Barisonzi’s Difficult Locations and Extreme Conditions

“I’ve never really been a big studio shooter,” says photographer Laura Barisonzi. “Long before I was into photography, I was into being outside and hiking. I really like being on location and the challenge of changing light.” This makes perfect sense for a photographer using the tagline “Difficult Locations and Extreme Conditions.”

©Laura Barisonzi

Barisonzi left Wisconsin to study painting at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Majoring in Foreign Languages, travel was essential to her education. While traveling, she began to photograph in earnest, and upon graduation, began assisting professional shooters.

With her work appearing in such publications as Cigar Aficionado, Forbes, GQ, Newsweek and Outside Magazine, she’s proven her ability to capture not only sports, but corporate leaders, book reviewers, rock bands, and other clients in need of portraiture. Regardless of subject, her colors are consistently rich without being blown out, rarely falling victim to trendy overexposure looks.

©Laura Barisonzi

Thinking differently on her personal projects is one of the standout qualities of this young photographer. Having shot for Yoga Journal and done other yoga assignments, she wanted to breakout the ancient practice from elegant studios and pristine beaches to something a-typical. In “Yogasana,” Barisonzi had accomplished yoginis and yogis perform their practice in outdoor locations never normally associated with the peacefulness we find in yoga. “I wanted to show yoga in a stressful environment,” she says. “I also like to use real practitioners and not models, who can typically only do a few basic poses. That sort of defeats the purpose for me. I do this on ad campaigns, too.”

Her “Free Running” series shot in New Mexico features two athletes performing their moves in some well-composed shots against backgrounds of adobe beige and blue sky. “I wanted it to be visually stunning and not have the setting interfere with the action,” she recalls. The completely stopped motion and carefully controlled shadows show viewers Barisonzi knows what she’s doing.

©Laura Barisonzi

In “Winter Surfing,” she captures a different set of athletes attempting to surf while there’s snow on the beaches of Maine and New Hampshire. Carrying surfboards in thigh-deep snow and paddling out to catch waves as wind blows stinging, nearly-vaporized water into your face is not for the weak-spirited. “That was definitely pretty terrible,” she laughs, recalling the weather.

Barisonzi’s corporate and editorial portraiture is at least as strong as her personal projects. “I always try to shoot portraiture in an interesting location, if I can,” she says. Examples are pediatrician David Kaelber on a kiddie swing next to one of his supposed patients, to musician Greg Lato at the counter of an old-fashioned diner. “I try to make the people stop posing. That’s a real struggle with editorial work. The people are usually very conscious of posing. They have a lot of expectations of what you’re trying to portray. If you can get them to forget all that, then something good can happen.”

©Laura Barisonzi

“I’m really into lighting. I’ll frequently have it all set up, and then look at it, and change everything. I’m very picky. It makes my assistants crazy,” Barisonzi says. “My goal is to make it look like it could be natural lighting, even if it’s not. I’m not a lover of ring flash or raw flash effects. I use a lot of big reflectors and grids. I’m into controlling every single light as much as possible. I like things to be warm.”

Always emulating the sun and eschewing cold studio lighting, Barisonzi feels passionately about advice she was given when she began her career. “There’s so much pressure to specialize. People say you need a recognizable look. Early on I was told I’m too all over the place, and that I need to concentrate on one style,” she says. Barisonzi rejected this advice. “If you shoot just one thing or style, you might have limited success for a short time. I believe if you’re going to have a full career, you should have a big repertoire of abilities and skills.” This has suited her well, as she regularly shoots lifestyle and sports portraits for a wide variety of clients.

©Laura Barisonzi

Preferring to get most of her signature saturation and lighting effects in-camera, she uses Photoshop and Lightroom for a minimum of processing. Barisonzi is more particular about the hardware she uses. Owner of an Induro monopod, she only uses it “for shooting over my head, in the air, or at weird angles,” she explains.

Profoto is her choice of packs and heads. “I like to rent the Pro-8a, depending on the location. Sometimes I’ll get Pro-B2 generators,” she says. “They always do a great job for me.”

©Laura Barisonzi

Barisonzi’s choice of camera body is a Nikon D3, and triggers her strobes with the PocketWizard MultiMAX and Plus II units. “I use both Plus II’s and/or MultiMAXes on every shoot I do,” she says. “PocketWizards are indispensable for me. I also have played with the MultiMAXes to get creative approaches to capturing motion, such as my shot of the guy pitching. That effect is all in-camera with MultiMAX.”

©Laura Barisonzi

In the future, Barisonzi plans continuing the growth of her client base, staying diverse, yet having the quality her portraits are known for as being the element which pulls it all together. Seeing how easy she makes her results look, this shouldn’t be difficult or extreme at all.

©Laura Barisonzi

Laura Barisonzi Photography

Laura Barisonzi blog

Laura Barisonzi on Twitter

Laura Barisonzi on Vimeo

Preston Mack, the Athletic Shooter

It takes an exacting attention to detail to keep clients such as ESPN, TIME, Reader’s Digest, BusinessWeek, Disney, Marriott, and General Motors coming back. Professional sports photographer Preston Mack has perfected his methodology, enabling him to shoot subjects he’s drawn to.

©Preston Mack

Originally from New Jersey, Mack left his hometown of Piscataway to attend the University of Miami as an Architecture major. He played baseball for two years while there, and began assisting two photographers during his third and fourth years of a five-year program. During his last year he also pursued a Photography minor.

“The mentoring you get as an assistant is the only way to learn, I think,” says Mack. “You can only learn so much in the classroom. After you learn what an f-stop is, you need to apply it in the real world.” After graduating in 1994, he went to The Los Angeles Times for a summer photo internship. When that was done, he did another internship at The Palm Beach Post, before a full-time job came up at The Sun Sentinel in 1995, where he stayed for five years, shooting every day.

©Preston Mack

“I wanted to shoot sports and portraits. That’s my focus,” says Mack. “The only way I could do that all the time was to leave the newspaper. I didn’t like shooting news, or other things you have to do.” Leaving in December of 2000, and went out to shoot sports on his own, full-time.

Mack considers his time spent at the paper critical. It was during that latter-1990s period when he took part in the transition from film to digital technology. “I was able to use all of the new digital cameras, like the Canon EOS DCS 3, which cost $15,000 at the time. I couldn’t have afforded to buy one of those on my own back then, but being a staff photographer, you got to play with the new digital tools, and learn how to utilize the technology.”

Being a full-time freelance photographer for over ten years proved the right move. “It was the best decision I ever made,” Mack explains. “A lot of photographers hang on to their jobs because they’re scared, or not trusting their abilities to get work. You can’t sit around and punch a time card. Leaving is the best thing if you want to take better pictures.”

©Preston Mack

Mack’s subjects of choice are directly linked to who he is. “When I first started, I was assisting for Sports Illustrated photographers in Miami. There’s so much going on in terms of sports in Florida. Sports are a huge part of my life. When I wasn’t playing sports, I was watching them. It was a typical guy-thing. I just loved sports, and understood them. Once I learned how to take photos, applying that to sports was easy.”

Crediting his knowledge of sports and his understanding of athletes with helping in his success as a photographer, Mack likes the bond he’s able to create with his subjects. “I’m able to relate to athletes,” he says. “Being almost 40 years old, I can still play a little. I think that helps a lot when I’m trying to connect with them for a portrait shoot.”

©Preston Mack

When asked his preference in which type of sport he enjoys shooting most, his answer is clear. “Football is the best,” he quickly says. “You can’t beat professional or college football for shooting. It’s designed for great photos because every play is 100% full-effort, and it’s over in five seconds. It has the most amazing emotion and atheletic effort. It’s incomparable. I love baseball, but baseball is the thinking man’s game. Not a lot of great photos are all the time. It’s a great sport, but for pictures, football rises to the top.”

Ironically, Mack isn’t a football player, and makes no illusion about being able to read plays the way he deeply understands the subtleties of baseball. At one photoshoot, the catcher didn’t show up. Mack put down his cameras, picked up a catcher’s mitt, and caught for none other than Roger Clemens. It doesn’t take much sports knowledge to imagine few people can catch a Major League pitcher. “That surprised him,” Mack reports. “Because of that, he respected me. That kind of stuff matters when you’re dealing with athletes.”

©Preston Mack

Corporate work is also part of Mack’s photographic services. He cites Disney as his favorite corporate client. As with football, there’s a reason for this. “They’re an amazing company to work for because their resources are almost unlimited. If you have a good idea and they need to get something done, almost anything is possible. I love working with them because they have the mentality of getting the best picture possible. The resources they provide are second to none.”

Mack was assigned to photograph Roy Edward Disney, son and nephew of the original founders of the Walt Disney Company, at MGM Studios. With the sun rising down Hollywood Boulevard, creating difficult shadows. The Disney machine sprang into action and a 30-foot by 30-foot silk was erected to block the sun. “Not many other companies will do that for a still photo production,” Mack says.

©Preston Mack

Now in Orlando, like most other Florida photographers, Mack is location-based. He writes his excellent blog, from there, and travels widely for clients. His blog has become a resource for photographers, as he breaks down his process and gear used on shoots, including details such as appleboxes and sandbags.

With his methodology so meticulously documented, it’s no surprise Mack is very concerned with his gear. “I know many photographers rent a lot of their gear, but I’m against renting,” he says. “I like to have my own gear because I can trust it. I don’t know the person who rented a Profoto Pro-7b before me took care of the battery, or they dropped it or got sand in it. I know my gear is available when I need it, and I know it’s going to work. It’s in tip-top shape. I take care of it.”

©Preston Mack

The well-cared for gear includes a Profoto 7B generator, a Profoto AcuteB 600 generator, a Profoto Acute2 1200 generator, a Profoto Acute2 600 generator, five various Profoto heads, four speed rings, two white domes, two small softboxes, one Octabank , one Profoto medium softbox, and four grid reflectors. A former Canon owner, Mack switched two years ago and now shoots a Nikon D3, a D700, and two D300 bodies. His lenses are a Nikon 20mm, 50mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and a 300mm f/2.8. He also has a Sekonic meter.

Mack is as passionate about his gear as he is about sports. “One thing I demand from my gear is reliability. It has to work. I can’t worry about it,” he says. “Whether it’s lights or PocketWizards or whatever, nothing is sacred. If I have any type of doubt, I can’t use it. If it starts acting up, I’ll switch brands. There’s too many other things I need to worry about. They’re paying me to concentrate on being creative, not to make sure a strobe fires.”

©Preston Mack

Triggering his lights with PocketWizards, Mack has stories about the old days. “I own two PocketWizard transmitters, two transceivers, and six receivers. The receivers are a mix of the Plus II and the Classic. I used to use these other optical slaves. They were never consistent, and wouldn’t fire all the time. It was very frustrating, and I had to hardwire all my lights. If you try to do that for a portrait in the middle of a grassy field, it’s difficult to run zip lines around and hardwire everything. PocketWizards are a blessing. Now everything just works for me. When you deal with high-pressure portraits and athlete celebrities, everything has to work and work reliably.”

Not lacking in examples, Mack was kind enough to share one with us. “I took 58 photos in 20 seconds when I was shooting a portrait of Tiger Woods about two years ago,” he recalls. “That’s 58 pictures they could pick from. If any of the PocketWizards didn’t work, I wouldn’t have one or more of those photos. Everything worked. All four Profoto lights fired and every reciever synched up the lights perfectly, and that’s what a professional needs: consistency when it’s crunch time. I never had a problem.”

©Preston Mack

Although Mack worked on the bleeding edge of digital technology in the 1990s, he doesn’t want to be a computer operator, spending hours retouching his work in Photoshop. “I believe you need to get almost everything in-camera in order to be a true photographer,” he adds. “A well-lit portrait is timeless. I see a lot of over-computerized work now. Photographs seem to lose their soul when you do that much digital work to them.” Mack uses Aperture to do RAW conversions, Photo Mechanic for digital editing and captioning, and Photoshop for cropping and minor toning.

Mack is not about to get typecast as someone who only shoots sports. He loves the excitement of shooting sports, but very much enjoys the intimacy of getting to know his subjects when shooting portraits. He is now accepting more advertising photography jobs. Adventures by Disney and Disney Cruise Lines are recent clients he’s doing such work for. His love of lit portraits, artistic eye, and professional execution ensure his future as a shooter in-demand both on and off the field.

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