Last month I finished a project for Hearst Creative Solutions (that’s Men’s Health, Runner’s World and Women’s Health to the layman) for Speedo. It took the shape of the now fairly familiar format of giving a select bunch of people top level coaching, testing and kit so as to improve their swimming and fitness. I’ve done similar shoots for Asics, New Balance, and Optimum Nutrition amongst others, as it proves to be quite a good way of getting people involved, as well as showcasing just what people can achieve when they’re given access to elite level coaching, facilities and equipment.
From my side the shoot(s) were set across 5 days – 1 day at Bath University for preliminary fitness testing, 3 separate days at Speedo HQ in North London for coaching with Dan Bullock in their pool, then a final day back at Bath to see if there had been improvements.
The list of shots I was required to get was predictably large, and also pretty varied. We needed reportage shots of all 4 swimmers being put through their paces in the lab in Bath, reportage shots of them swimming, reportage shots of them being coached, “Hero” shots of them swimming which can be used as holding shots and web banners, as well as simple before and after shots to show how much they’ve all improved and got “swimfit
There was also the added complication of having to shoot video on the middle of the 3 pool days. Nothing too complicated, just some pieces to camera, some action shots, and some underwater footage. For the other 4 days I was just doing stills, and those nice folk at Fight Gravity Films were handling the video side of things. Having worked with them before I knew there would be no problems with us stepping on each other’s toes, or eating up each other’s time allocation, but it should be said that there is a LOT of potential for conflict here if you don’t liaise with the video crew before and during the shoot to make sure you both get what you need.
Hearst were keen to make the reportage look as good as possible, rather than just snap shots of people running on treadmills or splashing through the water. To this end I shot into the light quite a bit – either one of my own flashguns tucked away in a corner, or one of the video crew’s tungsten lights. I also made every effort to try and catch “peak action” – not too difficult with some of the fitness tests in Bath which pushed people to their limits and produced some genuinely strained expressions.
There was also a small element of “engineering” situations, particularly in the pool. What usually happens on shoots like these is that I’m concentrating on something else – or even shooting something else, then I spot something interesting happening elsewhere, and have to race over there and ask people to repeat what they were just doing.
On the subject of “racing over there” Speedo are quite tight about Health and Safety around the pool area, and to be honest, by the time I’ve plonked 4 flash heads down, and the video crew have added 3 1.2kw HMI’s to the mix as well, plus all the cables, you don’t “race” anywhere – you walk carefully around the edge of the pool, particularly when carrying camera kit. I am a notoriously clumsy sod when I’m shooting, but I’m happy to say everything survived
Shooting swimmers has always been a bit of a challenge in my experience, as the action above the surface is a bit mundane and repetitive. The views around the swimmers don’t change much, focus tracking can be all sorts of fun, and lighting them can also present a bit of a challenge if they’re half way across the pool. So, although I shot a fair few shots of “live” swimming action, as much as possible we would take each swimmer away to a corner and stage the action so we could control and light things better.
Those of you who’ve been stalking (following) me recently will know that for several of the last “hero” shots, I bought an underwater housing and shot the swimmers from under the surface. There’s an in depth video here if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, but to sum up:
You need a lot of light to penetrate into the water
Unless you want direct flash (I don’t) you can’t use flashes in the water, so you’ll have to position them outside the pool, and find a way to trigger them.
Radio signals don’t work well through water, you’ll need to rig your trigger as near the surface as possible.
Lots of flash power means slower recycling, which means you’ll almost certainly only get one shot for each pass they make. You’ll need to explain to people that they’ll have to do the same action over, and over, and over again.
People, and plastic camera housings, float. Get some sort of ballast belt to hold you down once you’re in the water.
With a housing like this, it’s very hard indeed to adjust the controls once you’ve loaded the camera in.
Overall, a great project to work on, and despite the wide ranging demands of shots, there was enough time, and enough chances to get some memorable and impressive stuff, rather than being always painted into a corner by time constraints!