Aaron Anderson uses both simple and sophisticated lighting setups, and his Tamron 35mm and 85mm primes, to highlight the strength and grace of his subjects.
When Aaron Anderson is commissioned to photograph professional athletes, what’s paramount to his process is showing a side of them that perhaps hasn’t been shown before. That’s especially the case with female athletes, who boast a mix of power, determination, and femininity—all facets Aaron strives to depict in his photos. “These athletes are often tired of putting on a polo shirt and having their picture taken against a white background while they stand there and smile,” he says. “It doesn’t really show the world how they feel about themselves, how they feel when they’re competing, or the strength it takes to train the way they do.”
For a recent behind-the-scenes video and photo shoot with Team USA skeleton racer Veronica Day (@veriosa on Instagram), as well as a session with model Grace Peters, Aaron put two Tamron prime lenses through their paces: the SP 35mm F/1.8 VC and SP 85mm F/1.8 VC. “We used the 35mm as our main lens while shooting the video with Veronica and during the photo session with Grace,” he says. “It has such a cool cinematic vibe to it, even before I set the lighting up; then, once the lighting came together, that lens proved even more awesome. The 85mm was our main lens for much of the up-close work with Veronica, and it proved to be a stellar portrait lens.”
For his shoots with Veronica, Aaron wanted to emphasize the athleticism needed to do what she does: heading down a skeleton course of rock-hard ice on her stomach, face-first, at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. “Being a skeleton pilot isn’t really in the limelight that much, but these athletes are in incredible shape,” he says. “I wanted Veronica’s photos to show off how ripped she is and how hard she’s been working.”
85mm, F/8, 1/250th sec., ISO 100
That’s why for his first photo of Veronica, Aaron decided to bring together the red, white, and blue flair of her racing suit with a darker, almost superhero feel. “I wanted to focus on that moment when an athlete is getting ready, showing how she might be feeling during her prep time,” he explains.
Aaron’s lighting setup was designed to concentrate on the features that would draw that feeling out. “I wanted to show her distinct jawline and strong neck, for example,” he says. “We filled the room with haze and had light coming from behind her on the left from a snoot with a grid and blue gel on it. The light coming in from the right I actually put in during post-production, because I felt I needed it for balance.”
85mm, F/8, 1/250th sec., ISO 100
35mm, F/6.3, 1 sec., ISO 100
For his session with model Grace Peters, Aaron knew he wanted to do a shoot that showed her playing basketball as soon as he saw a photo of her on Instagram shooting hoops. “Grace does a lot of fashion work, but she’s also really fit and seemed like she’d be perfect for the sports-themed shoot I had in mind,” he says. “The concept we storyboarded was that she was an athlete training to be a basketball star, in a remote location she had all to herself.”
35mm, F/7.1, 1/100th sec., ISO 100
Aaron rearranged the benches that were already in the locker room and filled the room with haze, using three lights to set the scene. “There’s a large 53-inch Octobox off to camera right, which offers some nice, soft fill,” he says. “Then we had a 7-inch reflector shooting up into the ceiling to make it appear as if light was coming from the top. We also used that snoot again for a soft beam of light on Grace to bring focus back to where it should be in the scene.”
35mm, F/4.5, 1/320th sec., ISO 125
35mm, F/5, 1/250th sec., ISO 125
To see more of Aaron Anderson’s work, go to www.aaronandersonphoto.com.