DPP Home Profiles Scott Markewitz: Go Large Or Go Home!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Scott Markewitz: Go Large Or Go Home!

Scott Markewitz is one of the top outdoor sports photographers in the world. He takes a studio photographer’s approach to shaping light and applies it to action sports.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Slight motion blur to the background gives dynamic impact to this image of a rapidly moving cyclist.
Markewitz works to capitalize on Mother Nature even on her worst days, those occasions when ambient light wouldn't work for illuminating a subject, but works beautifully as a big, bold, dramatic backdrop. He adds studio strobe lighting to his subjects to up the drama and match the action with an equally bold lighting style. And he's not beholden to ambient light.

"A lot of times, the weather isn't perfect," he says, "but if we bring in some artificial lighting, we can make a really cool shot, like with the 'Superman' shot of Paul Basagoitia. He's a pro mountain biker with his own training track. We'd shot there all afternoon, and then the sun had gone down and these clouds rolled in, and I was like, wow, this is going to be awesome. And he was looking at me like I was crazy—'It's dark, I can barely see, what do you mean this is awesome?' I was like, no, believe me, this is going to be cool. So we set it up, and I think this was actually the first shot. I showed him on the camera and he was sold."

Markewitz has a career-long tradition of mixing strobes with ambient to add intensity and pop, but it's only thanks to some relatively recent technological innovations—and the marketplace's budding interest in an increasingly popular lighting style—that the photographer has been able to really push the limits.

"Even in my early days, I would do on-camera flash or some early battery-powered strobes," recalls Markewitz. "But that look wasn't as popular then. In the last decade or so, you've seen a lot more of it. There are a few big reasons for that. Mainly, not only has strobe equipment progressed and improved, but when the first PocketWizards came out, it just made the whole setup that much easier. Some of the early radio slaves were just not that good, and obviously if you're hardwired to your strobes, you're really limited. The PocketWizard was a huge breakthrough. And then with digital cameras, basically you've got the instant Polaroid, so it made shooting with strobes that much easier.

Freestyle mountain biking on Paul Basagoitia's private track in Minden, Nevada. Markewitz has been bringing studio gear to location shoots since before it was fashionable, and extra lighting gives him extra abilities.
"When I was shooting strobes on slide film," he continues, "we had to meter everything. You really had to know what it was going to look like before you shot it. You'd be metering and balancing all the light and figuring it all out in your head, and I got pretty good at that because I could understand what the light was doing. But now with digital cameras, it's almost a no-brainer. You just set up your lights, do a few test shots and, oh, it looks great."

Adds Markewitz, "I think some people just take battery-operated strobes out there, set them up, blow some light on the subject and create a pretty good look. Or you can take a much more studio approach to it, where you're really paying attention to what kind of shaping tools you're putting on, what direction the light is coming from, how much falloff you're getting here and there, all these different things. That's the way I try to approach it—using light as a shaping tool. It's not always easy, like that mountain biker way up in the air. You've got to imagine what the light is going to do 20 feet off the ground. You picture that in your mind and try to shape your lighting around it."

To shape light as if he were shooting in a studio, Markewitz relies on the same modifiers any studio photographer would. He's partial to grids, especially because he can isolate lights, minimize falloff and maximize control. Softboxes aren't easy outdoors, especially in wind, but he'll use them as needed. Shaped reflectors are a staple of his kit, and he uses cardboard to create narrow slits of light, or any other shape that will allow him to selectively place lights precisely throughout a scene. He concentrates on quality of light, not quantity.


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