En route to Texas for the 2016 Ironman Austin 70.3, triathlete Matt Hanson reached out to Houston-based photographer Payton Ruddock to set up a promotional shoot for his website and publicity efforts.
Matt and Payton have worked together numerous times over the last few years, but for this particular project, Payton wanted to take a new approach to photographing a triathlete.
Having completed an Ironman himself, Payton knew that there is so much more to an Ironman athlete than just the environment they’re in during the race.
The race is so long – 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling, and running – that it can overwhelm people mentally […] I wanted to translate that focus on the details into a series of images that told the story.
His goal for this shoot was to capture the mental intensity and discipline required to complete an Ironman. Before the shoot, Payton and Matt were in constant communication about how to achieve this vision and set up a game plan.
I stripped away the background, color, and noise and really focused on the task and conveying the mental aspects of concentrating on breathing, stride, body position, and continually moving forward. That project became The Essence of an Ironman.
Once they agreed on the concept for the project, they worked on scouting the locations for the shoot. Since they wanted to remove the environmental background, they needed to shoot in a studio or a controlled environment.
They used Payton’s home studio for the cycling shots but needed to find a space with a treadmill that was large enough for Payton to set up a softbox and a beauty dish behind Matt for the right lighting. Luckily, the Ironman community in The Woodlands, Texas was very supportive and supplied them with some pool time and a treadmill. They were also able to call in a few favors from friends to get access to workout spaces.
The biggest challenge they faced was maintaining consistency with the swimming images. They had Payton shoot underwater in a pool, with Matt swimming over top of him. This allowed the natural skylight to reflect off the bottom of the pool and create comparable lighting.
Since they were mostly in a studio, Payton could photograph tethered, giving Matt the opportunity to see the images as they were taken. Matt proved to be very collaborative and patient, especially considering he raced the next day! Overall, they had a great time shooting this project and pushing each other out of their comfort zones.
The best part was his reaction to being sprayed in the face with a misting bottle repeatedly when we were creating the swimming portraits. He’d always say he wasn’t going to jump because he knew he had his goggles on, but it happened every time and we couldn’t shoot anything serious for another minute or two until we stopped laughing at it.
The reaction to the images has been overwhelmingly positive. Their story was featured by one of Matt’s sponsors, On Running and has been shared on various blogs and social media outlets. Since the photos were released, the duo was hired by another one of Matt’s sponsors to create images for him for a big campaign this Fall.
Matt went on to win the Ironman Texas North American Championship in April 2017 and took home the title of fastest Ironman race time by an American.
See more of Payton at ruddockvisuals.com!