Tandem Lighting Setups Using SpeedCycler On A Recent SI Photo Shoot

Alexis Cuarezma is a portrait photographer with a specialty in photographing sports figures. Considering the fact he’s named after Alexis Arguello, a three-time world champion boxer from his native Nicaragua, and studied art, graphic design, and photography at California State University at East Bay, this shouldn’t be a big surprise.

Barely a decade into his career, Alexis Cuarezma is an alumnus of the Eddie Adams Workshop (Barnstorm XXIV), and counts the LA Times, the NY Times, Sports Illustrated, HBO, Ring Magazine, SEEN, Boxing News, Fighting Fit, and other publications among his current client roster.

Cuarezma has always been fascinated with light, and as a photographer, he aims to control it to the best of his abilities in the studio as well as on location. While he appreciates the qualities of available light, the images Alexis Cuarezma captures for his clients require more than a click of his heels and a Hail Mary shout-out – they have to be lit.

Alexis Cuarezma honed his photographic skills early on by photographing his kid brother and his little league teammates. In short time he began shooting boxers at their respective gyms, which lighting-wise are as dismal as it gets. In Alexis’ case, this was in his favor – he preferred to light the ring his own way.

Cuarezma’s dramatic lighting techniques ultimately came to the attention of Brad Smith, Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated, who he met at the Eddie Adams Workshop. It was through Brad that one of Alexis’s biggest dreams came true – an assignment from Sports Illustrated.

The ‘good news, bad news’ part of the story is that while Smith loved Alexis’s lighting style, the shot he needed of Stanford University’s Shayne Skov (since drafted as a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers!) was going to be silhouetted and had to be shot against a medium-gray background. Brad’s instructions were basically “You’re going to have to get a grey seamless. You know how to light well, keep it simple and have fun.” For Cuarezma the fun part of it would have been to shoot it his own way. And that’s where PocketWizard radio triggers came into play.

Alexis happened to be on the market for new radio transmitters. The ones he had been using were not reliable when he needed them most, and even when they did work, they were limited in what they could do. The features and user reviews of the PocketWizard MultiMAX caught his attention, most notably its SpeedCycler feature.

SpeedCycler makes it possible to shoot studio flash flat-out at up to 10 frames-per-second by syncing with multiple flash units that can be triggered in a rapid, alternating sequence.  This enables him to capture high-power strobe-lit action sequences far faster than he’d be able to shoot with a single light source.

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On the left is the lighting setup I drew out to figure out how many PocketWizard radios I would need and where to place them. On the right is how the drawing looked like in real life

 

But Cuarezma had a different take on the SpeedCycler feature. Rather than using the SpeedCycler feature to trigger identical lighting setups, Cuarezma’s idea was to light and capture the shot according to Smith’s direction – gray background and all, immediately followed by a second exposure that would trigger a second set of lights set up the way he saw the shot in his mind’s eye.

Cuarezma knew his time with Skov would be limited, and if he wanted to please his client – which he did, and please his own creative itch, which he also wanted to do, he would have to go beyond the framework of a conventional portrait shoot.

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Cuarezma’s Canon 1D Mk IV can capture up to 10 frames-per-second, or one exposure every 100 milliseconds. Theoretically, by incorporating a PocketWizard MultiMAX radio trigger and four PocketWizard Plus III’s into the equation, he could capture two separate exposures in 200 milliseconds – one exposure lit as per his instructions against the gray background immediately followed by a second exposure lit in a lighting style Alexis Cuarezma can proudly call his own.

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Two of the many ”ping-pong- lighting sequences Alexis Cuarezma shot in two frame-per-second bursts, each triggering it’s own lighting set-up. The bottom left shot is the one that ran across a double-page spread in Sports Illustrated. And yes, it’s not against a plain gray background – it’s the shot Alexis lit his own way.

 

After a series of false starts and a firmware update for his Plus III Transceivers, Alexis was set to go, and the accompanying images say it all.

As for the payoff, Sports IIlustrated was delighted with the results of Cuarezma’s first time out on assignment, and they ultimately ran one of his ‘renegade’ images across two pages. And in this business it really doesn’t get better than that.

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The image as it appeared in Sports Illustrated.

 

See how Alexis Cuarezma lit his Sports Illustrated spread using two entirely different lighting setups and PocketWizard’s SpeedCycler feature here.

To see more of Alexis Cuarezma’s work, check out his website.

All images, videos, and quotes in this post are used with permission and © Alexis Cuarezma all rights reserved; story is ©PocketWizard. Please respect and support photographers’ rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or repost elsewhere without written permission.

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