Ricky Kluge Adds Dynamic (and Wet) Sports & Fitness Images to his Portfolio

Sep 11, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Expanding your portfolio in any walk of life can be a challenge, but especially so in photography. Versatility is the name of the game these days, which puts the onus on each and every one of us to employ a diverse, marketable skillset.

For Chicago’s Ricky Kluge (pronounced KLOO-gee), the opportunity to try something new and widen his artistic scope came in the form of a personal project titled “We Are Water.”

This guy's just tryna get a workout in, but Ricky's malevolence knows no bounds

I’ve always enjoyed freezing fast motion in studio, and I thought that creating something with water and athletes could be visually interesting. I have done projects involving compositing in the past, so I knew the basis of how this would go. After doing the test shoot and seeing that it was possible, I just went for it and learned more along the way.

Kenneth Hill, the gentleman pictured above, was the first subject Ricky and his crew shot for this project. The results of that session brought a number of interested athletes into the fold.

Our producer, Christy Schmid, helped find athletes by posting on Instagram about the shoot. Our first shot with Kenneth was the image we used to market the photoshoot idea, and because of that people took the time to come out. Ken was our first athlete who agreed to do the shoot before seeing any type of image yet, so his skills and efforts are insanely appreciated.

What makes this project unique, of course, is the use of water, which Ricky believes opens up the work to many different outlets and makes the images more marketable.

This amount water could feed a family of four for SIX MONTHS

I thought that water, people, and athletes could tell many different stories, from waterproof clothing, to an athletic drink, or maybe just a visually interesting image to go with a sports brand.

As for incorporating the water into the shots, that proved to be a tall task. Ricky and his crew tackled the challenge by shooting a mix of water-only images to add in post-production as well as actually photographing the athletes getting splashed.

Some water was added in post, but some of the coolest frames involved the actual splashing with the athlete.

It’s a challenging concept, and there are many elements that need to be dialed in for the outcome to be correct. My assistants Madeline Telford and Taylor Darcy were a huge help with creating the water effect, and I couldn’t have done it without them!

This is the face of a person who, in this very moment, is questioning everything about her life

The shoot took the better part of a work week to complete, and each athlete was shot over and over again until Ricky felt satisfied with the final results.

It was about an hour of actual photographing for each person, give or take, and it was a total of three shoot days all together. Maybe around 50 frames for each person.

Taken just before this woman starting charging at Ricky and the Water Wasters (new band name, don't take it it's mine)

All of the images were about the same [level of] difficulty [to get]. 

As you can imagine, it’s somewhat difficult to maintain a concentrated expression inherent to a sports shoot while being splashed with cold water.

It was nearly impossible for the athletes to keep a straight face when getting splashed with water! But these are talented people who can keep the same body positions.

This guy was about to sign for Barcelona, but that dream is dead now

Ricky’s sports-infused upbringing coupled with a dash of legwork allowed him to create images which feature athletes moving naturally and striking authentic poses.

I did play basketball, baseball, and football when I was younger, so I was quite athletic and aware of how many different sports worked. I nonetheless did some online research just to see how different natural movements looked with some athletes. I also unintentionally found some stock imagery that did look extra staged. Knowing how someone should naturally move while playing a sport is helpful in making a realistic and natural portrait.

As you can see, they splashed this lady with extra water. Pure evil.


Producer: Christy Schmid
Wardrobe Stylist: Madeline Telford
Hair and Makeup: Taylor Darcy


CrossFit: Kenneth Hill
Basketball: Gideon Patrick
Golf: Kathryn Minor
Tennis: Ana Chernova
Soccer: Kevin Rayo
Dancing: Nia M. Parker

Check out more of Ricky's work at rickykluge.com.

Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!