Evander Holyfield for CNN

Posted on January 9, 2013 in Editorial, Portraits

I don’t often receive assignments where I light the subject, yet I actually really enjoying lighting. Lighting a subject in a studio is so different from photographing a subject on location. Most of my assignments are portraits, and almost all of those are at the subject’s home or office. That means I have to be fast at noticing natural light, clean backgrounds, and storytelling elements that might add to the portrait. I often have to rely on what is already there. However, when a photographer shoots in a studio with lights, everything is in their control. Everything except maybe the subject. The photographer controls the light, the background, the mood, the pose. This activity uses a completely different part of my creative mind than the environmental portrait.

For this shoot with the five-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, the client wanted the images to be dark, so I went with the black backdrop and very directed lighting. Before the shoot day, I sent samples of other lit shoots and the editor selected what he wanted based on what I showed him. I used four lights for the majority of the shoot and I spent the hour before Mr. Holyfield arrived to come up with several different poses and a handful of different lighting arrangements.

Note: If you’re told you have an hour with a subject (like I was told for this shoot), assume you’ll have 10 to 15 minutes and that the person will be late (which is common and what happened for this particular shoot).

I could tell right away that this was work for Mr. Holyfield and that he’d done it a couple dozen times before. He did exactly what I asked him to do but hardly spoke at all.

I was very fortunate that Atlanta photographer David Walter Banks came along to help, brainstorm, make suggestions, and sit in for light tests for me. Being organized and ready before your subject arrives is very important, so having another helping hand and pair of eyes makes for a much smoother shoot.

I should also note that David beat me to the punch (pun intended) and asked Mr. Holyfield to take off his shirt for the shoot (the boxer arrived in a track jacket). That should make a good story for the grandkids.

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