It’s a sports photographer’s dream – being invited to photograph hall-of-famers and legendary players and coaches for Sports Illustrated. At a ceremony honoring Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, no less. Ryan Gibson got to live that dream out when he got a call from the baseball photo editor of SI who he had kept in touch with after pitching him a different assignment years ago.
Ryan was tasked with photographing a number of portraits at the ceremony, but had little time to prepare.
The ceremony was taking place during the Braves opening night at Turner Field in Atlanta. I got the call about the assignment the day before so there was virtually zero time to prepare. I didn’t even really know who I was supposed to photograph.
Being unsure of what to expect, Ryan packed up his gear (and his assistant) into his car for the shoot. It wasn’t until they arrived that Ryan learned he would not be able to bring his assistant or most of his gear into the luxury suite (where everyone was gathered). Equipped with just his camera bag and a single light on a monopod, he was given a list of portraits that SI wanted him to get, and with the help of a media relations person who stood in as an assistant, he set up shop in a corner that offered a leather chair against a plain wall. He was also instructed to be as unobtrusive as possible.
One by one we went down the list and pulled them over for a portrait. I don’t think I got more than two minutes with any one of them. They were all very easygoing and great to work with.
The photo editor had also requested that Ryan incorporate some sort of baseball element to set them apart from a standard portrait. With the circumstances, he thought the most logical choice was a simple one – a baseball. In order to keep them from looking cliché, Ryan simply handed the ball to each person, without giving any direction.
Most of the subjects were former baseball players and I think handing them a baseball instantly loosened them up and made them feel kind of at home. Every one of the pitchers instantly formed a pitch grip around the baseball when I handed it to them.
The final images show how at ease everyone was, and the reaction has been very positive so far. The most important critic agrees as well. “My mom LOVES them!”
While it was an extremely challenging shoot with lots of obstacles to overcome, it was also a learning experience.
It’s good to be prepared for anything. As much as I like to have a plan going in to a photo shoot, winging it can yield some great results. As stressful as the experience was, I really loved this shoot!
I am a HUGE fan of the game of baseball and especially of my hometown Braves. It was a tremendous honor just to be in the same room as these Braves legends. It was a surreal experience that I’ll never forget… I got to keep the baseball that they all held in their portraits!
To see more of Ryan’s work, check out his website.