MIC Q&A December 2023

UPAA Blog 2023-24 #10 1/12/24  (Text and photos by Chris Low)


Who are you?            

My name is Chris Low and I’m from Sherwood, a little suburb southwest of Portland, Oregon. I am the marketing photographer at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. I’ve been taking photos on and off since 1995-ish. Yeah, that’s right kids, way back in the 1900’s. It wasn’t until 2005 that I discovered digital photography and that I could make a career with it. At that moment my wife and I decided to sell everything and move across the country to attend photography school and start a new career path. From 2007 to 2018 I freelanced in the photography industry in Atlanta and Portland. In April ‘18 I started in the role I’m holding now. Outside of photography I’m a husband, a dad, a goober, a tattoo collector, I used to run ultramarathons, I LOVE coffee and I like to build with LEGO. 



How did you do that?

Sony a9

160mm on a 70-200mm f2.8

wide open at 2.8



This was not our first esports media day. Each previous esports media day has presented its own issues, as most sports do. In preparation for this we asked the coach to have them all show up, in uniform, play the same game so screens matched, and be available for us to direct them or move them at any moment. We asked that none of the players were to be playing any actual matches so that we can have their full attention. 

One of the things I had to do in this environment was make sure my shutter was slow enough to avoid the weird lighting things that happen when you are photographing screens, but fast enough to avoid motion blur. (Now maybe one of you reading this has a solution for me, or maybe Matt Cashore has a blog article about this.) I had to keep my shutter around 1/200 or slower to avoid screen refresh “banding”. Really, I have no idea what that is actually called.

On the fly: I used the long lens to compress all the foreground and background colors and focus my light right on this guy. I prepared him by talking to him at his station, then set my light and got into my position. I was pretty far away, and I needed him to be looking at the screen, he was wearing headphones and it was loud in there. In order to communicate we had to rely on timing, yelling, and waving of hands. I got the shot and moved on. The whole thing took less than 3 minutes. Here is the RAW file. You will notice it doesn’t match the final, more on that later.



What was this photo used for?         

Since this was for our athletics department, it’s up to them where they will play this image. It will likely be used online, on social accounts, and in print for camps or recruiting.



Was there inspiration for this shoot?  

My overall inspiration for our media days for all our sports, is to give our little D3 teams the D1 treatment. Big schools, I’m looking at you. We have been doing esports for 3 years now and when we started there wasn’t much good photography out there for esports. So, we just went in and lit what we could and did our best. We usually only get like an hour and half, so our inspiration is just to do what we can. We do our best to improve on last year and be more efficient.


What kind of help did you need?      

Asking the coach to have the team there, dressed and completely available for us was an enormous help. That was a HUGE hurdle for us last year when most of the players were playing league matches and we couldn’t talk to them, and of course they were all in the exact wrong place and we couldn’t move them. SO this year we coordinated with athletics and the coach to make sure that didn’t happen again. 

I did not get an assistant, which is par for the course for me, so I managed my photo needs alone. Thank god for medium roller stands and boom arms. It was just me and the two guys on our video team. We worked pretty independently of each other but toward the same goal. We share shots and help with direction for each other. There is usually someone from athletics that drops in to say hi and see how everything is going.



What were the technical difficulties to overcome?   

When we do our athletics media days, we try to do them in a way that both video and photo can use the same lighting and work at the same time. Media days are difficult, but Esports media day is especially difficult because it is so dark. We set up an Aputure constant light in a lantern modifier on a mini-boom arm on a medium roller stand. This way I could easily roll the light around where I needed it. We chose a constant light to eliminate flashes as to not mess with the video footage. As you can imagine, I was still moving my exposure triangle all over the place. But for the most part it settled around the settings for this image.

I always try to use a variety of lenses and focal lengths. My usual kit is one sony a9 with a 24-70, and one Sony a9 with the 70-200. I put a prism, CTO gel, CTB gel, and some clear plastic garbage in my pockets to be fetched out and smashed against the lens for some in camera ‘smooshy’ lighting tricks. I used the 6-point star filter this time also. These shoot-thru items, or “filters” give me extra little color boosts that I really like.



Here are a couple images that show our lights. I was using the lantern on the move, and the video team had a locked down parabolic with a grid for some interviews. You can also see the effects of the 6-point star filter in these.




Would you approach it differently if you had to do it again?

will have to do this again, and I think next time I will be adding more lights. The room is so dark and I really want more gridded lighting to create separation and to put more specific light puddles right where I want them. This means that I will try to make sure I can schedule an intern to be my assistant as well. One light on wheels is manageable alone, but that’s about it. There is also an LED screen that we used as a background for some portraits that I’d like to incorporate. We didn’t know about that screen until we got there and I think there is potential there.



Did anything stand out to you during the shoot? 

I found out that our esports team is actually really, really good and have already won a few championships in their leagues. They have blingy rings and all to prove it. 



Is there anything you’d like to add about this project? 

Here is where I want to address the final image. I mentioned earlier that I like to mash garbage or gels or prisms on my lens to get flares and color pops/smears/hits in camera. In this particular image I did not do that, I shot it “clean” and in the back of my head I thought it was a throw away image. It was not what I wanted and not good enough to push it until I got what I wanted. We are always doing that kind of mental math amirite? BUT, as I was making my selects I saw something in it and decided to try a technique I know but don’t really ever use. Remember this look, the streaky-bits-to-show-motion trick:

We tried this a few years back for a football billboard. So I decided to apply the same principle here. It only took two simple layers of color, a curves layer to make it a bit brighter and ba-da-boom. Now it has that in-camera feel of a prism (or a mirror or plexi chunk) held up to the lens. 



If you have any questions or have a photo and story that you think would make a great feature next month please contact David.Dick@cwu.edu