The Team

My son Alec’s passion for lacrosse is contagious. You can’t help getting excited when he talks about key players, the game, and what to look for when watching. His enthusiasm had me embark on a two year project of capturing the sport known as “The fastest game on two feet.”

First a little history. Alec’s high school didn’t have a lacrosse program. Lacrosse is fairly new in Florida. I teamed up with a few parents and we were able to raise enough funds, find a coach and raise awareness to create a team. The first year wasn’t easy to say the least. We used game day photos to promote the sport and raise awareness. It worked. By the second season, lacrosse gained traction. His team took second in their district earning respect from local teams and built many memories.

To honor this achievement, I wanted to give the graduating seniors a special gift; a 20″ x 10″ panoramic poster, with their fellow teammates. I knew getting them together on the same day would be next to impossible. Careful planning and a clear vision gave me several options.

This article is part 1 of a 3 part series on How I Got the Shot

Part 1: PLAN

Let’s begin with the planning phase and how the composite was envisioned that lead to how I got the shot.


Before I began shooting, I already knew how I wanted to compose the final image. My vision; five players stacked with one appearing to be the leader on a night time field with stadium lighting behind them. To stylize the shoot, I made sure players on the end held lacrosse sticks. This ensured viewers wouldn’t mistake the team for football players or another sports.

My first thought was to take the team to a field at night and complete the shot in camera. I felt this would be great for the main image, but I had a series to do. Besides, getting permission for a night time shoot and gathering the team together would have complicated the shoot. Not to mention the pain in transporting the lighting gear. I decided to make a composite image instead and individually photograph each team member in the studio on a dark background to match the final output. It seems like more work, but in the end I was able to multipurpose the images. This saved time when i needed to create individual posters of each player.

So far it sounds simple enough until I added a provision; the leader needs to be interchangeable. This meant I had to photograph each player as a leader and as a player holding a lacrosse stick. The stick needed to be photographed in their right and left hand. This gave me flexibility to place players anywhere in the image making each poster unique.

Explaining the Shoot Once

Before we began shooting, I pulled everyone together and explained exactly what I was looking for. I had them watch as I photographed and directed the first player. When I was certain I had the image I was looking for, we reviewed them and select the favorite. This only took a few seconds. I kept the first player up and snapped a few extra shots in different poses. The team was pumped. By seeing what the other players did before them made it more comfortable when it was their turn. Keeping everyone in the same room only works if you have the ability to command the set. Athletes tend to get out of control and clown around. Take charge but have fun. Along the way, I captured a few funny outtakes. This showed how the team could be intense in one frame, then totally lose it in the following frame. It definitely made the shoot memorable.

How to Get an Attitude Look

During the explaining phase, I asked who was the hardest team they played and why. Stories started to fly and nemesis were being named. I told the team to think about them when it’s your turn to be photographed. I egged them on by saying things like this is your field, your neighbor, they think they are going to walk in and take a win from you. Show them the “not in my house” attitude. Cocky but confident. Wait until they see your poster plastered all over the internet. When they see it, they will know you were thinking of them. When they were in front of the camera, I had them close their eyes with their head down. I simply said, show me attitude as you slowly rise your head and open your eyes. That slight motion ensured we didn’t get a posed look. How could they not have an attitude after that.


I used the same lighting set up for each player. This made the final image look as if they were photographed together. For this post processing style to work, harsh light was used. Although we shot in the studio, I chose to use speedlights over studio strobes. This ensured any location shoots would look consistent.

What Would I Try Differently?

It’s always important to learn from each shoot. Here are a few things I would want to try or improve on for the next shoot:

It’s debatable if I needed to photograph each player with a stick in their right and left hand. I could have photographed several sticks and added them in post. I mentioned this to Alec and he said no, lacrosse players are attached to their stick, not someone else’s. Makes sense. So instead, I could have just photographed a few defense players with longer poles and kept them on the ends. It would have saved a few extra minutes per player and editing.

Part two of Sport Portrait Composite | How I Got the Shot will focus on the technical aspect of photography and what settings were used.

Please leave comments below on this article and what you’d like to see in the future.  Let me know if you’d like me to cover any other aspects of this (or future) shoots.  Thanks for reading!

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Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Always great to know the story behind the picture, great post and more importantly the end result is excellent.

  2. This would be a great technique for reunions where the whole class can’t get there at the same time due to schedule, especially for the long term reunion of over twenty years.

  3. Very interesting article and great to see the planning behind the shot. Also like the tips you give along the way which again are not only interesting but informative. Thanks and look forward to the following posts.


  4. Ice Hockey! Shoot ice hockey please, youth preferably as it’s more difficult to get good shots.(imo)

    • Peter… I live in Florida but there is a Hockey league just outside of Melbourne near Orlando. I may take a trip over there and work on my hockey shooting skill just for you!

  5. […] Sport portrait composite: how I got the shot (part 1 of 3) #GroupPortrait […]

  6. We do ice hockey portraits but never on ice due to the cost per hour for the teams. We only do youth hockey and we have a lot of fun. It’s great when the players are from another Assoc then the one I coach for and it really relaxes the players when they know that you understand the sport they play. It would be good if we could add at least one photo. Take a look and let us know what you think.


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About Vanelli

After a successful career as a three-time, Triple Crown Karate champion, Robert Vanelli (Vanelli to his friends) turned his attention to teaching the visual arts. As an experienced educator, Vanelli has created several photography and digital workflow programs along with a special program for children. Currently he is teaching workshops, photographing for Inside Lacrosse Magazine, writing for Photofocus and creating tutorials for various plug-in companies and for the Vanelli and Friends series. .


Inspiration, Phoneography, Photography, Portrait, Sports


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