DPP Home Profiles Mike Powell: Grace, Beauty…Action!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mike Powell: Grace, Beauty…Action!

Mike Powell’s sports photography goes far beyond the usual moment in time

Mike Powell’s Gear

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EOS-1DS Mark II, EOS 5D Mark II

Lenses: Canon EF 14mm ƒ/2.8L II USM, EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM, EF 50mm ƒ/1.2L USM, EF 85mm ƒ/1.2L II USM, EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L USM, EF 200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM, EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM, EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS USM

Medium-Format Gear: Hasselblad H1, Phase One
"That's over 60 rolls," says Powell. "Back in the day with film, I'd only be shooting when the light was good and work on a shot for only so long. It's harder to get images with film, but you also work longer and harder on digital now because you make pictures all the time. Then you have to manage and deal with all of them to see exactly where you are each day."

Powell reminisces, however, looking back to the time when he threw film rolls in a bag, waited until he returned home from an event or, if deadlines ensued, found a plane to fly out images from his location once a week to reach deadlines. "Those were the good old days," he quips.

On the film versus digital debate, Powell responds that he doesn't see any artistic difference between the two mediums, admitting, "If it's film or digital, it's still what your eye finds. But when you learn how to shoot sports from an era of manual focus and slow motordrives, you learn how to pick your moment. All my event coverage has helped one skill to become ingrained in me, and it's something that I use to this day: timing."

Exposure-wise, Powell focuses on the histogram for an exacting exposure. "I'll do TTL metering, examine the shot, shoot a frame with the histogram, then dial it from there," he explains. "The histogram is the key to everything; once I know all the information is there, I know I can screw with it later on. I was photographing black tennis players in black clothing at nighttime at the Australian Open. You have to make sure the exposure is right because it takes some juggling later. If some of the highlights are blown out, I use Lightroom sliders to bring it in a touch and make sure something is there for the printer."
All my event coverage has helped one skill to become ingrained in me,
and it’s something that I use to this day: timing.
When shooting at higher ISOs Powell has a few tricks up his sleeve to negate the noise present in the image, but he's still impressed with the quality and feel of the image before he nurses it.

"The noise is so low now, and 2000 ISO is astoundingly good," he says. "The noise has character. I layer grain into those images. I have different textures scanned, like the raw film grain scan of an Ilford HP5 negative because it looks great and covers all the noise up."

The next two years will see Powell complete his coffee-table books while he continues following sporting events around the globe. It's a constant trek, but if there's one thing he does look forward to, it's the Olympic Games. After so many years on the road, Powell still has a soft spot for the international event he has been covering since 1988.

"I've enjoyed all of the Olympic Games, both Summer and Winter, since then," Powell admits. "But it's hard to match the pure adrenaline rush you get on every day of the Games when it's new. I've been told it's a bit like shooting a war but without the bullets. I think about that, but let's just say I don't want to find out...."

To see more of Mike Powell's photography, visit www.mikepowellphoto.com.


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