It’s always fun to photograph athletes, and martial artists are great subjects. Not only are they usually very interesting looking, they tend to be very serious about their sport, but not too serious about themselves. This makes for an enjoyable shoot.
I recently photographed UFC fighter Rafaello Oliveira and some of the local MMA competitors that he trains. To create a dramatic look for the photos, I used a single keylight almost directly over the subject’s head, combined with double backlights.
I used almost completely bare bulbs for this. I did put a layer of “tough spun” diffusion on the keylight to keep it from being too uncontrollable, but I wanted the lights to be as hard as possible, so I did not soften them in any way.
The overhead keylight casts shadows that emphasize muscle and bone structure, at the expense of seeing detail in the eyes. It’s not the kind of lighting you’d want for a fashion model, but for someone who is supposed to look tough, it works well.
The double backlights evoke a sense of drama and theatricality, as we would normally only see that much backlighting on a stage or performance venue.
Finally, when processing the images in Adobe Lightroom, I turned the “Clarity” slider up a bit, to emphasize local contrast, and to give the image a bit of a gritty look. This is the exact opposite of the “Vaseline on the lens” look that is associated with glamour shots.
I processed the images for both b&w and color usage. This kind of dramatic light translates well into black and white, although I personally prefer color for this type of subject matter, because it gives the image of sense of immediacy.