AIR Flair

Kick out the blahs

My assignment? To capture Michael Jai White, a martial artist and Hollywood actor, in mid flight for Muscle & Fitness magazine. This was back in 2006, and it wasn’t exactly an easy shot to bag, but I bet most Pop Photo readers could pull it off with equipment they already own. Here’s how:

1

Find an athlete. You need one who’s accomplished and fit enough to strike a clean pose repeatedly. Besides the perfect form, an accomplished athlete will minimize the chance of someone—or some thing, like your lights—getting hurt.

A skateboarder flying through the air, a soccer player mid-kick, or a football player leaping for a Hail Mary catch all work.

2

Don’t abuse your subject. Have the shot well planned, with composition, lighting, and exposure determined in advance. My time with Michael Jai White was 20 minutes max, because my team had worked out the kinks before he arrived. Shooting much longer will tire your subject and compromise form.

3

Find a suitable location. Look for plenty of space, controllable background light, and body-friendly mats or crash pads to absorb the athlete’s landings. For White, I had to use a gym near his home. It was fluorescently-lit with low ceilings that didn’t allow high kicks or a backdrop. Not good!

4

Bring the right lights.

To freeze an object in midair you need instantaneously firing strobes, with little or no ambient background light. Powerful shoe-mount flashes, such as Canon’s 580EX II Speedlites, will work because they offer short flash durations and, with the right accessories, wireless triggering. Longer flash durations (i.e., 1/800 sec or longer) can record motion blur.

5

Watch your timing.

Its everything, so practice with a stand-in to get it down. In this shoot, I took 24 frames, producing four or five keepers, with this one clearly the best—not a bad ratio.

6

Finesse it in postproduction.

There was no way to avoid the gym behind White, so I removed it later in Adobe Photoshop. This not only cleaned up the background, but enhanced subject modeling, too. A win-win situation.

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