Field hockey team that was composited from 26 individual photos of the individual athletes

Luke Photography has been working with the booster clubs at the local high school do create unique and interesting team and individual portraits of the high school athletes. Sports are really a big part of Fairport High School's environment, and they really were interested in something different than the tried-and-true standard athletic photos that most teams get.

Lighting set up:
Overhead beauty dish, two gridded soft boxes
left and right behind the subject, and an umbrella
on the background

After arranging for use of the school's cafeteria, I set up my mobile studio using a four light setup and grey paper background.  The main light on the subject is an overhead strobe in a 24 inch beauty dish, which gives off a soft but edgy light that I love for athletic portraits. There are two strobes placed diagonally behind the subject that are outfitted with medium-sized gridded soft boxes. These lights provide nice separation light behind the subject, and are usually placed to match the digital that I plan on putting behind the subjects. Finally, there is a strobe that is bounced out of an umbrella that lights up the background.

The Fairport Modified girls' softball team ready
for their Hollywood close-up.

Raw image

The raw image out of the camera looks like this. A quick pass of retouching is usually done on the face, if there are any blemishes or shadows that can easily be taken care of.

Background stripped out

I usually Topaz Remask, a Photoshop plug-in, to strip out the subject from the background.  Each player can be done in 8-10 seconds.

New background image inserted behind subject

A new digital background is placed behind the subject. I create many of my own urban backgrounds (e.g parking garages, industrial buildings, etc.), but these stadium backgrounds were purchased from StreetscapeBackgrounds.

Raw image

To create the composited team  portrait, I photograph each player facing directly towards the camera, then at a 45-degree angle to the right, then to the left. Using Adobe Lightroom to filter through the images, I pick the best image of each player, trying to get equal numbers of "lefts" and "rights", and several facing directly at the camera.

Background stripped out

Using Topaz Remask, the subject is stripped out of the background.

Using Adobe Photoshop, each player is placed into the image, row-by-row to create a pleasing arrangement.  There are multiple blank layers that are added above and below each player's layer on which I brush in shadows, which would occur naturally if the team was actually photographed all together. These shadows make all the difference in the image, and although time consuming, turns this from a run-of-the-mill fake image into one where most of the parents can't believe the athletes were not all photographed together. 

When complete, there are often 45-50 layers in the Photoshop file: one for each player, at least one shadow layer per player, and several other shadow layers where their feet are touching the ground. In the photo above, several players were wearing flip flops or were in stocking feet, so the team name banner covers up the bare feet of the front row players that could not be hidden in the back row.

Everyone is still smiling when they're done.

The JV hockey team shown below was one of the first teams that I created this way.  The individual player's photos again were close ups of their faces in front of a really nice rink background.  When the hockey parents show the team photos around, I soon had baseball, field hockey, softball, football, boy's lacrosse and girl's volleyball teams on board.  

Many people ask me why I photograph team portraits this way, because it is much more a time investment than just lining a team up and photographing them all together.  First and foremost, it allows me to get great, consistent light on each and every player's face.  This is not always easy to do in a large group.  The accent lights that appear on each player's face helps define it and delineate it from the players behind them.  There is no way this accent light would get onto the player's faces at the center of the group if they were all photographed together simultaneously.  The second reason is that it looks different. Being different gets you noticed.  Executing this different vision on a consistent basis keeps you moving forward, onward and upward.

One of the first team composites that I created.
Once other teams caught wind of this , they were lining up to take part