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In the Artist Spotlight series, we discuss with a wide variety of image makers the methods of their work and how they use the best image making tools available from broncolor.
Every creative professional is often faced with unique challenges – be it subject matter, environment, or technical. Photographer James Michelfelder gets thrown quite the curveball, combining professional athletes, freezing motion, and creating the feeling of natural light – even if completely artificial.
Like many teenagers, James was heavily into the world of skateboarding. Combined with a love of photography, this expanded into photographing other sports for commercial and editorial. In 2013, he James was recognized in PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers. Today, his client list includes a formidable roster of top global sports + fitness brands and publications.
In his current position as Global Director of Photography for Under Armour, James is integral in creating the visual rhetoric for the brand’s advertising and displays. In collaboration with the entire creative team, James and his first assistant, Nik Jung, look at how to communicate the season’s message using light.
“Every six months, we come up with a whole new lighting look and feel. One season, it may be soft and wrapping light. Another season is more like sunlight,” remarked Nik.
On the creative aspect of the light, James expands, “We throw around the word cinematic a lot. Taking some cues from motion and what the DP’s for our big TV spots are doing. There’s a lot of forethought, but it’s always, how can we make this look beautiful and not forced?”
The brunt of his work includes the look of natural light but shaped and formed to compliment the products. “It is advertising, so we have to make the product look good. We almost never use purely natural light, but incorporate it to highlight what we’re trying to sell,” adds James.
From the conception stage, James and Nik begin to experiment with certain tools and scenarios that can then be communicated to the company’s various production teams.
“Most often, this includes working off a base light, usually a Para, and experimenting… We’ve been using the 177 as our key, and what’s awesome is that it can be modified a ton of ways. The way it spots, floods, with diffusion…. it’s just so versatile.”
Alongside the Para, a typical equipment list for James also includes Octas, umbrellas, and P50 Narrow Reflectors.
James noted, “The P50’s work great for a bounced light. The beam throw, and even with a grid, you can really contain the light. That and through a window they give the feeling of natural light. It’s like a 4K (HMI) but strobe.”
In his latest work, James has been shooting motion sequences for Under Armour to use online. Shooting a sequence requires quick recycle without sacrificing power output – a natural use of the Scoro 3200S power pack. He remarked, “these strobes let you go up to 14 frames per second or more. We’re shooting with a Canon 1DX MKII and it’s keeping up.”
For all the exciting work, famous athletes, and international attention – James remains humble about the hard work that goes into making the images. “Everything is a shared effort for the entire creative team. There are a lot of people who make it happen, and I’m thankful for all of them.”
We’re equally as thankful to James and Nik for the insight on what goes on with their work! Are you lighting something cool? Contact us to tell your story too!
James Michelfelder is a New York-based sports and fitness photographer, who’s work encompasses a worldwide collection of brands and publications. Currently, he is Global Director of Photography for Under Armour. You can see more of his work online at jamesmichelfelder.com and follow him on Instagram.