You have probably already heard that the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place in London. To celebrate this event, the British Olympic Association asked photographer and fellow countryman Richard Booth to photograph all of the athletes. These portraits would then be collected in a lush coffee table book entitled Power and Movement – Portraits of Britain’s Paralympic Athletes.
“The initial plan was to shoot both the Olympic and Paralympic athletes,” says Richard. “But as it turned out, the logistics of shooting all the Olympic athletes would be horrendous. The publisher just didn’t have the budget for it. We then decided to focus on the Paralympics. This turned out to be brilliant. The Paralympics are such a positive thing. There’s no talk about drugs or cheating or any of that. It’s all about them – about real, struggling athletes. And that was what we wanted to portray in the book.”
Did the client have any specific requirements?
“The specific requirement, which was absolutely brilliant, was: do what you want to do.”
That’s nice. What about you? Did you have any specific ideas on what you wanted to achieve?
“Yes, I did. First of all, I wanted to experiment with slow shutter speeds, tungsten lights and high-speed flashes. I basically wanted to use the tungsten lights to get a sense of movement, and the flashes to get pin sharp details. My personal belief is that if you have too much movement, people just don’t understand it. It might look good as a piece of art on a wall, but if you put it in a book like this, people will just ignore it. There has to be some focus and detail. That’s where the flashes enter the picture.
“I also wanted to use a lot of open heads and quite hard light. I didn’t want to use softboxes or umbrellas or anything like that, because I wanted a clear focus on the main light. If you take a closer look at the images, you’ll notice that even though there might be five or even more lights in some images, there’s always a strong emphasis on the main light. And the main light was always the flash.
“Finally, it was important to me that all of the images were in sort of the same style. I wanted the reader to be able to read the book in its entirety as well as just dip in and out of it. This is not an easy thing to achieve when you’re shooting 180 images, depicting everything from swimmers and fencers to horses and rowboats. Part of the solution was to shoot all of the images in this toned black-and-white style with a certain cinematic feel to them. I mean, they’re all full color images, but they’re very toned.”
It did not take long for Richard to become aware that he would need quite a lot of equipment to realize these ideas. Neither did it take long to recognize that renting all this equipment might not be the best solution.
“I had always rented my Profoto equipment, and but since this was such a big project, stretching over several months, the cost of buying was actually the same as renting. But that’s all good. I now own a couple of Pro-B3s with heads and a bunch of Light Shaping Tools. It’s all fantastic stuff. The light quality is second to none, and the units themselves … well, they just work. It didn’t matter what we did. We were indoors in swimming halls with lots of condensation, we were outdoors in the mud, it was rainy, it was snowy, it was very cold and very hot – as long as we looked after the equipment, it just kept working.”
How did the athletes react to being photographed with all this equipment around them?
“That’s actually quite interesting,” says Richard. “When you put all the lights up, it becomes a film set, and the subjects, they become like actors. I mean, it’s hardly your standard headshot for your passport. So it moves away from just being a photograph of them. It’s more about character, about trying to capture the feel and energy of their passion. And they really picked up on that. Half of the time they’d say: how much more time do you need? And we’d say: sorry, we’re finished.”
Written by Fredrik Franzén
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