Arresting movement in action photography is a technical problem with a simple solution, but making sure those motions are being performed correctly is a serious non-technical challenge.
If you’re shooting sports and active lifestyle, chances are pretty good that other athletes are going to be looking at it. If something looks a little amiss, they’ll be the first ones to point it out and be like ‘yeah, that guy is not supposed to be doing that’ or ‘that specific movement looks kind of wonky or awkward.’
I think we had [Jermeel] do that probably about 4-5 times before we finally got the shot where all the body positions were perfect, his hand position was perfect, and he had that right expression on his face.
Michael Dorman is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle photographer who has “always been active in sports,” making him the perfect person for this line of work. For more than a decade, Michael has been collaborating with Herbalife, a company which sells dietary supplements and other personal care products. Because Herbalife is intimately familiar with Michael’s work, they tasked him with photographing athletes with a look and in settings quite different from their previous brand image.
Herbalife wanted to have something that looked different from all the other shoots they’ve done where it was either in a gym setting or in a very natural, pastoral setting. They wanted to do something that was a lot different than that and had more of a darker, moodier, grittier feel to it.
Peruse Herbalife’s Instagram page, and you’ll see the stark contrast between the company’s usual images and Michael’s work.
I love shooting in environments where there’s a lot of texture and a lot of rust or that molting that concrete has. Basically, anything that has a nice, textural quality to it. I think a lot of really urban areas and environments have that in abundance.
Michael’s close relationship with Herbalife grants him substantial creative freedom that is crucial to his work. In turn, the Angeleno uses that latitude to work in concert with the individuals he’s photographing.
I’ve worked with and seen other photographers that will be really specific in how they direct the talent, and sometimes there’s a need for that. But, for the most part, I’ve found that if you work with the talent you can come together and collaborate and make much more natural, spontaneous moments.
Michael appreciates the “professionalism, intensity, and focus” that athletes bring to a shoot. This mindset allows Michael to produce striking images like this:
[Joshua] has amazing core strength. It took us about three different shots to get the body geometry and mechanics perfect and he was holding each one of those poses for anywhere between 5-7 seconds. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you think about him holding that pose like that, that guy was like iron man, dude. And he wasn’t even gassed by it!
This picture of Joshua Shibata, along with the one of Jermeel Hewitt leaping over the staircase and another of Madison Glouner striking a yoga pose, became a favorite of Herbalife’s. All three images are quite different from one another. Here’s Madison backdropped by the City of Angels:
Originally, the yoga shots were supposed to be taken elsewhere, but Michael found this vista too compelling to pass up.
It was kind of hazy when we were shooting and I saw that the city had this muted tone to it and I thought that that would be a really great visual for yoga, which has this person practicing this moment of quiet inner peace and muting out all of the crazy day-to-day distractions that life brings.
Michael excels at action photography because it dovetails two of his greatest loves: cameras and sports. When he was around seven years old, Michael had a specific request for his father.
I asked my dad for my birthday present and I said, ‘I don’t care what you get me, all I want is a camera’ and he ended up getting that for me. Ever since then, the viewfinder became my window to the world and guided how I saw and interpreted and interacted with things.
When he wasn’t annoying his friends with constant picture-taking, Michael was “skateboarding or snowboarding or surfing or being active in one way or another.” These childhood hobbies have helped him carve out a successful career in the lifestyle and action photography space.
I think my own background in sports and being able to understand body mechanics and understand what goes into performing exact movements helps me with photography. I can speak [the athletes’] language and that helps on these projects. To this day, I live a very active lifestyle. I still skate; I still mountain bike often. My wife keeps telling me I’m probably getting too old for that.