DPP Home Profiles Jared McMillen: Energy & Emotion

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jared McMillen: Energy & Emotion

The sports portraiture of Jared McMillen

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Indy racer Danica Patrick.
Who they are, he says, is complex. Professional athletes tend to be very image savvy these days. A photo shoot with a professional basketball or football player can be a lot like a celebrity shoot with an actor or musical icon, involving handlers and publicists and egos galore. For the most part, though, McMillen says the challenge helps make the job interesting.

“Many athletes are like actors,” he says, “in a way that they always have to be on—both on and off the field. Many of them like to be portrayed in a certain kind of light that they think closely represents who they are, which sometimes is pretty funny. But often I gain their trust in a very short amount of time, and they will do pretty much anything I ask of them. Of course, I’ve been denied requests, too. They often start out very theatrical and often mellow out once we talk over ideas for the shoot. Certain athletes are very determined in how they want to be shot. We’ve had athletes really try to direct the shoot, making things challenging when they only give you 15 minutes. In the end, if they see us as comfortable, then they will be relaxed and let us do our thing, making our lives and their lives a lot easier.”

Riding the dunes in Death Valley National Park, California.
Remaining calm and making life easy is key when your assignment involves managing expectations and egos—especially if, as the photographer, you have a particular shooting agenda in mind. When McMillen wants to get “the shot,” he relies on interpersonal skills as much as photographic ones to make it happen.

NBA player Kevin Durant.
“Nonprofessionals are excited and eager to do anything to make the picture,” he explains. “They’re often open to anything we toss at them. Professionals are a little more reserved; they know the images we create will reflect closely on them and who they are as people. When shooting professionals, we start off slow and work our way into the mood we want, talking to them along the way with our ideas. If we were to start off a shoot right away with a really harsh style or pose, the pro will be drawn back and reserved. But if we slowly work into our ideas and concepts, they’re then much more open. Throughout the entire shooting process, we share images with our subjects, showing them what we’re trying to achieve. This often helps them understand the direction we’re heading. Most of the time, they just see a paper backdrop behind them; once they see the images all lit up, they often instantly get excited and start to relax and really open up.”

Seinfeld legend John O’Hurley is an avid golfer, photographed at the Wynn Las Vegas
Opening up and letting the guard down is almost a requirement for a good portrait, even if it’s only for a fraction of a second. It’s why McMillen works so consciously to put his subjects at ease and create the kind of experience they can embrace.

“One of the biggest things we have always worked really hard on,” he says, “is making regular people feel like celebrities and making athletes and celebrities feel like regular people. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. The bottom line is people are people, no matter what they do or where they come from.

“We’ve always felt like shooting someone should be an experience,” he continues, “not for me as the photographer, but for the subject. I don’t just want someone to sit in front of me and let me take a meaningless picture. I want them to sit in front of me and open up so I can create a story in a picture.”

To create that story, McMillen will utilize whatever technical leverage he can. Sometimes that means shooting in situ, but more often than not, it means compositing athletes shot in a studio (or a makeshift studio set up on location) with a separate background image that creates the overall effect he has envisioned. Not only is this a great way to make the most of minimal shooting time with busy subjects, it’s a helpful way to seize control from an overly helpful athlete or handler.


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