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Why CSP uses studio lighting for on-location athlete portraits

Updated: May 18, 2022

You may have noticed (and thank you if you did) that the athlete portraits Creative Sports Photography provides look unique compared to others in and around Lancaster.

That's no accident. It's something clients take pride in.

Those rich blue skies or dramatic indoor backdrops and flattering light on the faces.

Girls field hockey player at sunset
Autumn Rhodes | Field Hockey | Hempfield

It's part of CSP's promise to clients, to provide them with the kind of images they might see professional athletes get.

And it's important for athletes to know how we achieve that bold, dynamic look so you know what to expect from your portrait experience with CSP.

The effort, the equipment, the creativity provides a huge payoff for clients.

Why use off-camera flashes for athlete portraits

My creative vision for athlete clients involves two components.

First, I want the most flattering, pleasing light I can control, and second, I want to create portraits of athletes in the environments where they compete.

Could I use nothing but natural light? Or the light inside a gym, pool, or ice rink?

Girls softball player sitting against a fence.
Macy Zohn | Softball | Penn Manor

Sure. But if I relied on that, lighting the portraits would be outside of our control.

Sometimes the sun can be harsh, sometimes it might not shine at all, other times it's beaming in a direction that's not helpful.

And what happens at dusk when it slips behind the horizon?

By adding off-camera lights - I use some of the best in the industry, FJ400s from Ohi0-based F.J. Westcott Co. - then I can control light, making it the most flattering for the athletes.

I use a variety of light modifiers to achieve this, and with those modifiers, I can be prepared for any kind of condition the sun or indoor location throws at us.

Here's the key. Using off-camera lights allows us to not only put the most flattering light on you, it also allows the camera to capture those rich, dark blue skies or the dramatic backdrops of a basketball court, ice rink, or competitive swimming pool.

These are the places where the most seminal moments of your athletic career have happened. They are an intricate part of the portrait.

If I didn't have the off-camera lights, then the special details or dramatic effect you see in CSP's portfolio just couldn't be achieved.

Yes, it takes more effort as a photographer to place the lights correctly and to get their settings perfect.

But you know what? That effort is totally worth it if you end up with a gallery of images you absolutely love and no one else has anything like it.

Another benefit for the client experience

I learned this kind of lighting from one of the industry's masters, Ken Sklute, who teaches photography all around the country.

Probably the single most important advice he ever gave me (and just about every student of his) is this -- Control what you see.

In other words, a photographer should take his or her time, see the image before clicking the shutter button, control the key elements of light and shadow to achieve that image.

Young boy football player
Jay Groft | Football | Manheim Township

And that comes from having off-camera lighting on hand. Remember, with those FJ400 lights, the photographer controls the light instead of the sun or the indoor lights (which are often less-than flattering).

It takes a few moments to get them placed correctly. That's wonderful for athlete clients because it means the pace is slower, a much more relaxed atmosphere, one that maximizes the location where we're shooting.

By having lighting tools in the kit and on-location, we can take our time to create the best portraits we can make.

Sometimes the sun shines. Sometimes it doesn't. Arena lighting can sometimes be an odd color or uneven. For CSP and our clients, we can work with any kind of condition thanks to off-camera lights.

By taking our time, by using off-camera lighting, we maximize the number of images you're going to want to keep and show off to the world.

I'd rather make 50 high quality images instead of 1,000 mediocre ones with a few keepers here and there.

Youth soccer player kneeling in the grass during sunset.
Liam Pidgeon | Soccer | Hempfield

If you have any questions about this or would like to sign up for a portrait session with Creative Sports Photography, reach out by email ( or by phone (717-669-2026).

And to join our email list, where we make announcements about special portrait rates along with other news, fill out the form below so you don't miss out:


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