DPP Home Profiles Howard Schatz: At The Fights, In The Studio

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Howard Schatz: At The Fights, In The Studio

Howard Schatz’s 19th book is an in-depth exploration of the forms, shapes and textures of all things boxing, and the images are exceptional

This Article Features Photo Zoom

At The Fights, published by Sports Illustrated, with an introduction by broadcaster Jim Lampley.
"I always see the body as sculpture," Schatz explains, "biological sculpture. There are all sorts of study of the body here, every part of the upper torso especially. There's a picture in the book of a boxer's back. It's sideways in the book, a double-page spread, bent over, tattooed, muscular. I remember making that image. I've shot a thousand backs, but I saw differently that moment, and I lit it differently, and I worked in postproduction to multi-tone it differently, and I felt it really is iconic sculpture."

Many images in At The Fights are sure to become iconic, but even if they didn't, even if the book had never seen the light of day, Schatz still would consider the endeavor a resounding success. After all, he succeeded at the one thing he sets out to do day after day: He delighted himself.

"It's not work," he says. "I'm addicted to amazing myself. I'm addicted to the high that comes from making images that surprise me. I can't always do it, it's sometimes elusive and evanescent and difficult, but I keep yearning and working and striving for that high, for that feeling."

You can see more of Howard Schatz's work and order At The Fights at www.howardschatz.com.

Lighting The Boxer's Body

When it comes to lighting the human body, no photographer has more experience than Howard Schatz. It's clear that the peculiar challenge of illuminating the human form is really no particular challenge for him. Whether he's discussing the creation of soft beauty light—as he used in projects such as With Child, Rare Creatures and Waterdance—or explaining the edgier, more dramatic lighting seen so often in At The Fights and projects like Athlete and Nude Body Nude, Schatz speaks about lighting with an offhanded nonchalance, as if every photographer has the same second-nature lighting skills he possesses.

Schatz boils his lighting down to a simple decision: What do you want to show, and what do you want to hide? Put light where you want to see details, put shadow where you don't. Simple, right?

Because he uses different sources with different modifiers in different ways for almost every shot, there's simply no formula for "Schatz Lighting." But what's consistent is an understanding that light need not be complex to create dramatic, refined effects.

With At The Fights, Schatz's particular challenge was to define the muscle tone of a boxer's body. To do this, he sometimes used harder light sources to create the shadows and highlights that define shape and texture. At other times, he relied on backlighting to simply rim-light a subject and define his shape dramatically. But just as often as anything, Schatz used the same soft source he might use for beauty, but positioned much, much differently.

To create soft beauty light, the photographer may use a large softbox from a frontal position very close to the camera. This minimizes shadows and texture—an ideal way to make skin appear smooth and supple. But with the same light positioned at least 90 degrees from the camera, not only does the raking light create shadows that emphasize muscle definition, but the more dramatic light position makes it easier for the photographer to illuminate only what he wants the viewer to see—perhaps that's a tensed muscle or maybe a bead of water tracing its path along skin.

Water is a very useful tool for photographing boxers. Sometimes Schatz used powder, other times paint, and occasionally, even salt. But mostly, he added water—splashed, poured, sprayed and doused—because it's the most straightforward way to communicate energy in a still photograph. And its glisten makes skin practically glow.

"The first thing that happens," Schatz explains, "when a boxer comes in from three minutes of fighting and sits down in the chair is they throw water on him. When you do ringside photography, you learn right away that the best pictures are the first 30 seconds of a round because they still have water on them. So when they get hit, it sprays the water everywhere—on your camera, on the ref, everywhere. And the last two-and-a-half minutes of a round you don't see the water, so the best pictures are the first 30 seconds. Water is just an ingredient that's part of the sport.

"But water also allowed me to show explosion," he continues. "The idea in boxing is a vicious blow to the jaw—an explosive, clear, unobstructed, unexpected punch to the face. And by exploding water, I felt that it was a metaphor for a knockout."

To light up that water, Schatz frequently employed backlight to illuminate sprays of water against a dark background. Black flags help to create the edges that will set water droplets off against a light background, and sharpening, dodging and burning, and other postproduction effects are deliberately employed to highlight texture from water droplets—whether they're exploding in motion or creating the shiny skin that helps define the muscular human form. See? Simple.


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