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Why gimmicks are unnecessary in athlete portraiture

Buckle up.

I'm about to express a potentially unpopular opinion.

Here it is:

I'm just not down with special effects, goofy arrangements, or hokey graphics in athlete portraiture.

Whew. There, I said it.

A youth soccer goalkeeper holds a ball  in front of the net.
Let's talk about why I don't use special effects or gimmicks in athlete portraits.

We see it all the time in the world of "sportraits." Fog machines, softballs or other equipment on fire, backgrounds with wicked lightning, and so on.

Today, I want to share with you some of the reasons why we avoid those gimmicks at Creative Sports Photography and why I feel it works best for what we do for you.

Now, I want to stipulate something and be very clear.

If you are into those kinds of sportraits, the kind with fog in the background or your volleyball on fire, that's perfectly okay. And I would encourage you to find a photographer who can do that for you.

Also, if you're a photographer who enjoys those kinds of special effects, awesome. I applaud you. This post is not meant to say your style is wrong. It's your style. Keep it.

I'm just a different kind of athlete portrait photographer.

Let's dive into why I avoid gimmicks and why what Creative Sports Photography does works for you.

Safety is paramount

This simply goes as the most important part of any photo session. Your safety and the safety of my team is at the top of the priority list.

I'm just not comfortable working with something that undermines that.

A girl pitcher delivers a baseball with a blue sky background.

Yeah, I know, maybe I could learn some pyrotechnics that would allow you to hit a baseball on fire, but to me, the risk isn't worth it.

And I don't think it's necessary. More on that in a bit.

Portraits that reflect how you play

When I approach an athlete portrait session, creativity flows out of representing you exactly as you are, how you see yourself, and the sport you love to play.

You don't play sports with fog machines or when your equipment is on fire. You don't play when there's lightning in the sky. You don't play with special effects flashing all over the place.

I was trained as a true-to-life photographer. It's a core part of my DNA. It's my super power, along with dramatic off-camera, on-location lighting.

In the years I've been doing this, never once have I had someone say to me - "This picture's okay, but you know what would make it great? If the tennis ball was on FIRE!" Or "Could you PhotoShop an exploding volcano with a tornado and some jet fighters behind the player?"

It's never happened. You don't need it.

I aim to make players, parents, everyone who views your athlete portraits say "Wow!" I can do that without special effects.

I love knowing your portrait is going to have a Wow Factor just as it is.

I am at heart an environmental portrait photographer

I recently worked with a high school basketball player from southern New Jersey.

His team played in an old-school gymnasium. I mean, pullout wooden bleachers old. I coulda sworn the whole place looked straight out of an 80s sports movie.

I freakin' loved it.

How could I possibly put a fog machine in that place, when playing in that gym or watching a game in that gym has so much atmosphere. It has so much character.

And honestly, that's how I feel about every place I photograph.

I'm at heart what's known as an environmental portrait photographer. That means I am inspired to create portraits of you in your natural setting, whether that's the local pool or your high school football stadium or some backwoods softball field with rickety fences.

Great portrait photography is about solving puzzles. And I love solving the puzzle of how to photograph you as you stand or play in your home field, stadium, court, or pool.

I get goosebumps just thinking about it. That's why I don't use fog machines. Where you play is special, and I want that to show.

You're not an 80s metal hair band

I've seen these images of youth players (for some reason, it's often baseball) standing holding a bat or glove. And the photographer has super imposed their portrait over the most vicious lightning strikes this side of Percy Jackson.


You're not a cheesy metal hair band on tour in 1985.

I mean, if you were, awesome. I got plenty of that stuff in my vinyl record collection at home.

But I just find special effect backgrounds unnecessary and, honestly, fake looking and off-putting.

Plus a lot of the time, the color tone of the player portrait doesn't match the background, which makes it look even more fake.

One of the better skills you should look for in a photographer is how they handle the backgrounds of their portraits. It's a special kind of attention to detail that matters A LOT.

I try to make athlete portraits that don't need special effects in the background.

You are the focus

This, to me, gets to the heart of it. And if you remember one thing from this post, it's this.

You are the main focus, the marquee, the main character of the athlete portrait.

When someone looks at your portrait, I want their eyes and their attention to go to you.

It's a prime reason, BTW, for why I use creative on-location lighting.

Let's talk basic ways our eyes work. When we look at an image, our eyes immediately go to the brightest part of any image.

A great photographer is someone who knows this and designs their photographic style around the idea.

If your photo has gimmicks like a softball all in flames, where then will someone's attention go when they look at the photo?

What will they think most about? You? Or the flaming softball?

I want them focused on you, the main character in the story of the image. To me, that shows the ultimate respect for you, the person in front of the camera.

If this sounds like the right photographic style fit for you, let's talk about how athlete portrait sessions can help you get the attention of coaches and recruiters at the next level. Reach out at to get started.


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