Tennis, Anyone? (Model Portfolio Shoot)


This shoot was “personal work,” i.e. I did it for my own purposes rather than at the behest of a client. It was a quick shoot, zero budget, single theme, no wardrobe changes or big productions. But I knew how I wanted it to look in my head, and it turned out pretty close. I like when that happens! Happy accidents are great, but so are happy “on purposes”. Ok so I’ve got the concept, now to find a model, a location, wardrobe and a whole bunch of tennis balls…all for free.

[click “continue reading” below for more…]

The location was easy enough: tennis courts within walking distance of my house. This was going to be a guerrilla shoot. We’d take over the tennis court and hope that no one wanted to play tennis that morning. So I stalked the courts for a few weeks, driving by in the morning to figure out the best time and day. We’d just have to hope there’d be no one there that day (and we did get lucky in the end).

Tennis balls…I didn’t need new tennis balls, and had no budget for them. Used tennis balls seemed like something avid tennis players would just have lying around. My father in law came up with about twenty, but that wasn’t enough. So I put an ad in craigslist, asking for free tennis balls. Someone responded, suggesting I try the local tennis club. I went down to the tennis club and spoke to the tennis pro there. Turns out there is a waiting list for used tennis balls! Uh oh. Apparently trainers, students and even retirement communities need them (presumably for putting on the bottom of walkers?). This was going to be harder than I thought.

But then I put a plea out to my friends on facebook. Ron put me in touch with Jon (seriously), who was an avid tennis player AND had a big stash of balls for training purposes. Bingo!

Now I needed a model. I wanted someone local, as this was a risky venture in that the shoot might be canceled/postponed if the courts were occupied. I didn’t want hair and makeup, and I most certainly didn’t want a model traveling very far for shoot that MIGHT happen. Luckily for me, I found “K” on Model Mayhem (I don’t know if she wants her name floating around). She lives locally, is signed with a modeling agency that I’ve worked with before, and was perfect for the part.

The only problem was a tennis dress. She had a racket, but I needed a tennis dress as this was supposed to be more fashionable than it was athletic. Shorts and a t-shirt wouldn’t do for this. Somehow “K” managed to get one. If she bought it and then returned it, I don’t want to know about it! All I know is, she looked the part. More after…


The sky was pretty variable for the short time we were there. It started out with low cloud cover, and then the sun came out. That can really mess with a guy’s lighting! The sky you see in the lead shot is real, if perhaps a little ‘juiced’. I didn’t have to replace it, so luck was with us. You can see for the first two shots that the sun is over “K”‘s right shoulder, by the highlights on her hair and the shadows of the tennis balls. I had my trusty 43” shoot through umbrella camera right, with my Metz firing at full power. I also had an SB-28 in a Lumiquest SoftBox III at camera position, for fill. Pretty standard outdoor lighting for me. I did have two additional SB-28s in snoots set up initially as rim lights, and I think you can even see the effect of the camera-right rim light on the edge of her arm and calf (the very first image). But the sun had come out and a) I didn’t need a rim light for the camera-left side and b) I couldn’t get enough power to make it worthwhile for camera right.

My standard procedure now when establishing exposure and lighting is to first shoot a frame with just ambient, to make sure I’m getting the best exposure without blowing anything out. Then shooting a frame with just the fill light, to make sure I can see a difference but only a slight difference over the ambient. And then fire a frame with the main as well, to see how it’s looking.

More below…


For this image above, the main light is camera left and the fill is still at camera position, but behind me this time as I’m pretty close with the camera. By this time the sun was getting high in the sky. You can see that it’s lighting the very front of her hair. If we shot any longer, it would be creeping over the edge of her hair and hitting her nose…never a flattering look. Time to call it a day.

We did have an amusing moment near the end. I heard some chatter behind me, and looked over to see some kids from a summer camp (this was shot back in August) watching us. One girl said “wow, she could be a model!” I said “she IS a model!” Much oohing and aahing ensued. I think “K” got a little embarrassed by all the sudden attention, but we were just about done at that point. I caught them watching in the image below.

For the nerdy types reading this, those flares in the image are not from the sun (which is directly to my back), but are from the fill flash which is just below the frame. I didn’t have time to turn the strobes off when catching this snapshot.

As always, if you leave a (non-spam) comment on this blog post, I will donate a canned food item to the local food bank, Food SHARE.


Thanks to Marcia for suggesting I do something whacky with a lot of tennis balls, Ron for introducing me to Jon, Jon for supplying tennis balls, my local city for inadvertently letting me use their tennis courts, “K” for rockin’ the tennis fashion, and John for lending me the initial set of tennis balls. And apologies to Ralph Lauren if someone purchased and then returned one of your tennis dresses under suspicious circumstances.

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13 thoughts on “Tennis, Anyone? (Model Portfolio Shoot)

  1. Matt, I know nothing about tennis and so I’m not sure if most have x’s on them, but, I like it on the picture of the model sitting down. If it is tennis balls shaped like a heart around her, I can’t quite tell, it’s like xxxoxxoxo’s around her too!

  2. Yes that is a heart shape. I didn’t catch the x’s and o’s…nice! Thanks for your comment.

    (one canned food item donated to FoodShare.)

  3. Great shoot! I think you matched the lighting perfectly …and the model definitely looks the part. I really like the first one best, because of the sky. Very cool session.

  4. Thanks John, I appreciate your kind comments! Yeah that sky really makes it pop, I agree.

    (one canned food item donated to FoodShare)

  5. Nice work. It’s nice to know “ancient” technology can still produce images like these. Just curious, do you use a battery grip on your D200?

  6. Thanks for your comment, JSV. I have a Targus brand grip that I usually keep attached to my Fuji S5 Pro, which is the same body as the D200. I rarely switch it over to the D200, but I’m not sure why that is. I guess I’m lazy!

    one canned good donated to FoodShare.

  7. The insight you provide about your shoots is BOMB. Especially lighting wise. Invaluable info for those of us who are just starting to tinker with lighting/know nothing about it!

  8. Hi Matt, I think I’m in love with tennis now. What caught my eye is the modesty. Between the two of you, you’ve captured a beautiful truth. There is power in modesty. She doesn’t have to reveal a thing to make the shot speak. The wholsome beauty is all there. I wish more people understood that. I also love the back story. As an independent film maker who scraps up anything available to make a scene, this is right up my alley. I know this shoot is old history now (2009) but I’m glad to have come by it in 2016.

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