Big Difference; Dave Black’s Ideas For Impact

Sports photojournalist Dave Black wants his photographs to attract and hold your attention. And he wants them to be as different from the next guy’s as possible; the next guy is, after all, the competition.

In search of the big differences that make for high impact photographs, Dave uses ideas as much as he uses technology. Here are four examples of his thinking about images from his recent book, The Way I See It…50 One Page Workshops.

Out Of The Gate
Shooting the 2006 Kentucky Derby for The Blood-Horse magazine, Dave was allowed to set up a remote camera on the starting gate, but he realized that just anywhere on the gate wasn’t the key to a striking photograph. While most photographers set their cameras close to the center, at gates nine and 10, Dave chose way on the inside, over gate one, so his 10.5mm fisheye lens would see a bit more of the horses and the Churchill Downs grandstands and the Derby crowd. “I wanted to include more of the venue and the entire scene,” he says, “not just the backs of the horses going away from me.”

All Photos © 2010, Dave Black, All Rights Reserved

Apparently the other photographers didn’t think of this, but, as Dave says, they sure thought of it the following year.

Swim Face
For this commercial shot Dave’s handling of flash made the big difference. “I’d always liked the way water makes patterns over the swimmers’ faces,” he says, “but when shot just with available light it’s not as spectacular.” So Dave set up his strobes in the catwalk 20 feet over the pool: two units over lane one, two over lane 10. The swimmer was in lane five, which meant that the strobes weren’t illuminating her, but rather lighting up the water, which in turn illuminated her. The final touch: Dave varied the power output of the strobes in order to create dramatic and interesting shadows.

“A lot of people feel that when you light a sporting event, the light has to be even,” Dave says, “and that would be true if you’re doing an editorial photograph or assignment—you want the light even so that…you’ve got the whole area covered. But that doesn’t create anything especially interesting. I’ve always thought of lighting a sporting event as lighting a portrait of a bunch of players. It’s just a portrait that’s moving within a larger scale, so why not light it the same way as a portrait photographer lights his subject?”

The goggles’ reflection of color is, Dave says, an example of calculated luck. “I’ve seen goggles do some really wild stuff when they’re under the water. This lighting setup, the position of the strobes, their power, and the camera position in the catwalk, all of it was done in the hope that something like this would happen in the goggles, and it did—but just for one frame.”

Dave had been photographing the ballerina for her portfolio for about a half hour when they decided to take a break. As she adjusted her shoes, Dave saw the possibility for a portrait and motioned his assistant, who was carrying a single wireless speedlight in a medium-sized softbox, into position about 6 feet from the dancer. When she looked up, Dave made the picture.

It’s a favorite image of Dave’s, and one that serves to remind him that even during break time it pays to stay alert.

Heroes Tribute
Arlington National Cemetery, July 4, 2006. Dave chose Section 68 because it would prominently feature the Washington Monument in his images. When the first burst of fireworks went off, Dave took off, running the path and light painting with a Brinkmann 2-million candlepower Q-Beam in each hand.

“Sometimes there were too many bursts and the picture would be a little washed out,” he says, “and some shots didn’t have enough.” Dave made about a dozen light paintings during the 30-minute fireworks show; eight had good combinations of fireworks’ light and light painting technique, and this one—a 25-second exposure—was just right.

“The exposure was sort of dictated by the city lights on the Washington Monument,” Dave says. “That was something I couldn’t change.”

Dave Black’s website,, features a selection of his photographs and imaging tutorials, plus information about his workshops and his book, The Way I See It…50 One Page Workshops.