Lance Armstrong in 4 minutes flat

Lance Armstrong
The 3 light, rim light setup, with a small stripbank directly over the camera.

UPDATE 8/24/2012:  Lance Armstrong Portrait photographs available – contact us directly for information.

I recently had the opportunity to photograph seven time Tour de France champ and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas for an editorial client.

Lance was preparing for his Tour de France comeback, so he was only in Austin for one or two days in the time period that would make our deadline, so there was a very narrow window to schedule the shoot.

Celebrities have lots of demands on their time, and are often dealing with tons of requests for interviews, photo shoots, etc.  Lance preparing for the Tour was no exception.  On the day we were shooting him, he had a charity event scheduled, two or three television interviews, a live radio broadcast, and our shoot….all crammed between 7:30 and 9am, so that he could train the rest of the day.

3/4 length with the broad Hexoval 180 source.
3/4 length with the broad Hexoval 180 source.

Lance owns a really cool bike shop in downtown Austin called Mellow Johnny’s, and the shoot (as well as the other events) was scheduled for the bike shop location.  We scouted the shop the day before, and determined that the best location would be in the basement area of the shop, where we could essentially set up a studio shoot, away from the charity event crowd and his other interviews.  For the shots of Lance, we knew ahead of time, that we were only going to get a portrait of him in a Livestrong t-shirt.  He was not going to pose in a jersey and bike helmet, he wasn’t going to pose on a bike….it wasn’t going to happen, so, in a way, it simplified things.  The question then became, how many looks can we get out of a black t-shirt portrait in 4 minutes?

With limited time and no props, and no environment, I decided to try to get as many different looks as possible in the short time frame available.  If you try to move a celebrity around to multiple locations, or move lighting equipment during the shoot, you are wasting their time, and you risk the shoot being over even quicker.  The best way to photograph them and get multiple looks, is through careful planning, and essentially encircling them with all the lighting equipment you’re going to use.

I decided on three shots:  The first would be a double rimlit tight portrait, with a small stripbank over camera; the second shot would be a broad softbox source –a large Plume Hexoval 180 slightly from the side; the third shot, would be a dramatic profile, lit with a Plume Wafer 100 with a Lighttools 30 degree fabric grid, with a projection of a bike wheel centered behind his head.

Another broad lit hexoval portrait, with different toning.
Another broad lit hexoval portrait, with different toning.

We started with a grey seamless backdrop, because we knew in the limited space that we had, we could use it as a grey/tan backdrop, we could make it go black, or if necessary, the art director could make a clip path and turn the background white….it gave us a range of options.

We arrived early, near 5:30am and began our setup.  Each lighting setup was plugged in to a different set of power packs, so that we could switch between setups simply by turning power packs on and off.  This kept things organized and simple, and allowed us to get multiple looks without fumbling around, switching  heads, packs, stands, etc.

Andrew Loehman, the assistant on the shoot, actually hung a real bike wheel from a piece of fishing line, and held it at the proper distance between the background and the light to create the shadow of the wheel on the wall.  A custom Dynalite projection spot provided the light.  With more time, we could have created a custom bike wheel “cookie” for the spot, but with limited prep time, an actual wheel was used to provide the signature bike wheel shape.

Lance was in and out of our setup in about 4 minutes.  Other than turning his body 90 degrees for the profile shot, he never moved, and even with that limited amount of time, without changing his wardrobe, and without a bike, we were able to give the art director several looks to choose from for the story.

(All photos © 2009 Robert Seale.  All Rights Reserved. – please do not post, right- click, steal,  or otherwise use any of our photos without permission.  For licensing info, contact Robert Seale Photography through the “Contact Info” link on the right)

The last shot, a profile with a Wafer 100, Lighttools 30 degree grid, and projection spot.
The last shot, a profile with a Wafer 100, Lighttools 30 degree grid, and projection spot.

50 thoughts on “Lance Armstrong in 4 minutes flat”

  1. I used to be a huge cycling fan, that is till I had two kids. Then photography became my passion as it lets me spend time with them while having a creative outlet. Anyway, I love this post and the process seems a lot more sensitive of your subject’s time than say Anne Leibovitz’s approach. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice portraits. The last 3 are my favorite, but the harsh rim on the first is kind of overkill imo. I’d love to have seen them a stop or two lower, and diffused with something softer like stripbanks or even silver umbrellas (though I know that’d cause a lot of bounce). The harsh specularity kind of kills it for me.

    The bike wheel projection is great. With enough room, hanging it high so to get the blurry bit on the bottom, rather than in front of his face, would have been convenient, but I’m sure in a basement you have limited room.

  3. It’s amazing the variety you can get! Really, anyone that does portraits can benefit from learning to be efficient with set-ups. Celebrities have certain constraints on their time, but nobody wants to stand around for an hour while you move lights.

  4. I really like the first and last one, but I think that your mindset is the best part of the story. Most photographers would shiver when faced with only 4 minutes, and you turned out 4 different and usable shots. Thumbs up!

  5. Wonderful shots, Robert. Saw this post linked from Strobist today and I’m glad I came to check it out! Will definitely be stopping back for more great work.


  6. Very clever. That’s when a professional earns his fee. It’s not the four minutes you’re paying for, it’s the hours of thinking / planning plus the years of experience that pull it off.
    Well done.

  7. I’ve never seen Lance looking so tired…how early was it??
    A nice selection and if you hadn’t have said I’d have said they were 4 different shoots. It goes to show how much planning is involved and what can be done. Congrats.

  8. Actually I much prefer the ‘other’ shots to that first one. For some reason I keep feeling that it is a somewhat unnaturally ‘bleached’ out. And a large ‘tear drop’ has been created around his mouth which is a feature that should minimized and not heightened.
    Just my 2 cents of a reaction.

  9. Amazing! You’re a very very talented photographer – 4 so different setups and all so beautiful and creative. As I was scrolling down the page each was better than the previous.

    My favorite the #3 which whows him quite bony and muscular.

    Congrats from France!


  10. something about the eyes on the first shot bug me, but getting this many solid looks in such a short time is genius. I absolutely love the last shot you have here, the projected bike wheel one.

  11. Contrary to Ben Mathis and Wedding Ph. South France; in spite of the harsh lighting of the first shot I find it fascinating.

    It doesn’t follow the “rules” of flattering lighting for celebrity subjects; but it is great in the sense that it is STRONG and his personality is depicted in it.

    “…the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl…”

    Truly great work, thanks for sharing us the step by step of your setup; careful planning is the lesson learned here.

  12. I prefer the first shot as well. It has a strong dramatic feel that plays well with the identity of Lance Armstrong (as well as the message on his Tshirt).

  13. Like others I followed the post on Strobist. I absolutely love the first shot with the hard rim lights, it defines the shape of Lance’s face. Plus, I find the catch light very interesting. And 3 MORE shots, all in 4 minutes?! Well done!

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  15. Thanks Robert, for a great insight into making the most of very limited time with a subject. Your images are a testament to the planning and preparation, and experience, that went into this shoot rather than the four minutes actually shooting!

  16. Impressive Article , I considered it marvelous

    I look ahead to more interesting postings like this one. Does Your Blog have a subscription I can subscribe to for updates?

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