Cover Girl

Next week at ESPN HoopGurlz we are launching a three-day series of featurettes on the players we considered for the No. 1 ranking in the 2011 class. We will unveil our choice on Thursday. The candidates are (spoiler alert) Cierra Burdick of Matthews, N.C.; Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of Anaheim, Calif., and Elizabeth Williams of Virginia Beach, Va.

Kaleena is one of my subjects, so while I was in Orange County last month, I stopped by her place to shoot a portrait. Since we’ve already run so many different shots of her, I wanted something different. This is what I came up with:

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis

I believe I do a decent job at action and environmental portraits and want to get better at doing more-formal sitdown shots. That requires mastering the lighting and other variables that help bring out the subject’s personality. This is going to be a tale of how I bumbled into what I feel is a pretty good shot.

My vision for Kaleena, because of the nature of the series, was some kind of “in the spotlight” kind of shot. I got to her place before she returned from her daily workout, so her stepfather, Kairi Ali, showed me her room. It definitely was a girl’s room, but also clearly a girl who loved hoops. I knew I wanted to shoot the portrait there. I also knew Kaleena would be a good sport about it, and I could experiment. When I did a photo shoot at the Nike National Skills Academy last year, she practically ran it, and some of the results are priceless.

Since I was traveling, I brought one body (my Nikon D3), one lens (my favorite, the 85 mm f1.4), one flash (Nikon SB900), one light stand and some Honl Photo accessories. I decided to shoot with a speed grid on my flash, which narrows the beam of light via honeycomb cells. Kaleena’s friend and Mater Dei teammate, Mya Olivier, was over, so I photographed them both, using a 1/4 grid, which produces a wider beam than the 1/8 version.

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Mya Olivier
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Mya Olivier

Now, a seasoned photographer reading this knows I’m getting myself into trouble here. One, a “spotlight” effect, and, two, showing the environment of the subject don’t exactly go hand and hand. Plus shooting in a bedroom can introduce a lot of things that could distract from the subject and make composition tricky. All true, but how does one learn but from making mistakes?

So, yeah, if I’d stopped with the shot below, I’d have been in trouble. The picture shows Kaleena for how I envision her — happy and confident. She grabbed the basketball pillow by instinct and it makes a good secondary item. But, though interesting, the stuff on her walls distracts from her.

(By the way, I’m using the smaller grid, plus using a gobo, which acts like a barndoor, helping one to contain the light).

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis

So software to the rescue! I first exaggerated several settings in Aperture, which allowed me to more easily apply a paint-brush finish to the photo. Then I essentially cut Kaleena out of the photo, which retained the nice, orange side light that matched her pillow, and I put her against a black background. I’m not sure how well the texture shows up on the Web, but it is a nice effect on a print — or if it appeared larger in print.

Final Product: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
Final Product: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis

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