Profoto: In the Moment, Pt. II

Profoto: In the Moment, Pt. II

May 1, 2012 By Joe Morahan

The following interview originally appeared on the Profoto Blog. Be sure to catch up on Part One!

Joe Morahan: In the Moment, Part II


Cave | ©Joe Morahan

Yesterday, we published the first part of our interview with sports photographer Joe Morahan, in which he explained why he prefers set shots to live action images. He also shared his thoughts on what he believes are the most crucial factors for creating a striking sports image.

In this second part, Joe gives more detailed explanations of how he created the images that featured in this article.


“This is one of my most favorite shots. It is a composite of two images: one of the cave with the beam of light, and the other of a girl hanging from the cliff.”

“I went on a trip with some friends to the Slot Canyons, in Page, Arizona. The cave has very smooth walls that were created over hundreds of thousands of years of flash floods, where the rushing water sculpted all these beautiful structures. The sand at the base of these structures is very fine, like a baking-flour type consistency. It’s so soft that when you step on it there is a ‘popping’ sound and scattering of dust from around your shoe.”

“These canyons rise several hundred feet and at precise times, depending on the time of the year, the sunlight streaks across the Slot Canyons, producing laser like beams of light. These beams of light last for only a few moments each day and then disappear. The phenomenon leads to crowds of people waiting in the cave for the exact moment these spectacular rays of light appear. It’s quite a scene. The wonderful beams of light are both created and aided by tossing the fine dust from the canyon floor into the air. The sunlight refracts the dust in such a startling manner.”

“So after obtaining this shot in Slot Canyon, I decided it would be interesting to get a shot of a person hanging from the cliff walls. I hired a model and went to Red Rocks, Colorado, where there are an abundance of rocks on mountainous terrain that we could climb and stage something remarkable.”

“I set up my Profoto lighting with a standard Zoom Reflector. I closed my eyes to try and recall the original photo, with its lighting and the positioning of its rock walls. I then mimicked the lighting, which was direct daylight, and placed the rock–climber model in front of the beam of light, which required the light to be emanating from directly behind her. I quickly set the light while the model was hanging there – long enough for her to flex her lithe muscles, as if she’d endured quite a climb. I took the shot and she hopped off the rock. Finally, I merged the two images in Photoshop.”

Waterfall | ©Joe Morahan


“This one is also a composite image. This shot is quite simple with two components. One is the waterfall shot, the second a woman in a yoga pose. The waterfall was shot with available light at Mooney Falls, Near Havasu Falls, which is a 12-mile hike from the nearest town. Mooney Falls is down river from Havasu, but to reach the water, you first have to climb down a 150 foot cliff without ropes. With only some occasional rebar for hand and footholds, and the rocks slippery from mist, saving my life seem more important than trekking my Profoto gear, no matter how much I longed for it to be with me.”

“Once safely beneath the falls, I set up my camera and got my plate shot. When I returned to Denver, I placed my woman in a yoga position at a field near my house. I used two light sources: the sun and my Profoto light.”

“This particular image deviates from my normal style in that I used a softbox to soften up the lighting. This was necessary to match the original waterfall shot. I had taken the original waterfall shot first thing in the morning, before direct sunlight hit the waterfall. I had to make sure that the lighting patterns matched so that the image looked real to the viewer. I used a Softbox 4×6´ on a c-stand, and hung it over the woman’s head, so that one side would be slightly darker than the other side. You can see that in her arms, one is slightly darker than the other. This helped give a touch of direction to the lighting.”

Basketball Player | ©Joe Morahan

Basketball player

“This may appear counter intuitive, but this shot has the least amount of compositing of all the images shown here. I brought a ladder on this shoot, setting up the camera directly under the rim, along the backboard. This way I was able to capture the exact frame! The basketball net and rim were old, rusty and broken, and it appeared exactly as you see it. The only Photoshoping tasks in this image were to give it the sepia tone, adding texture to the sky and cleaning up the court.”

“The original shot looked just like what you see here as far as the frame goes. I used only one light in this shot, other than the sun. From the rim’s point of view, the sun was to the left, and the Profoto flash was to its right. I used a Zoom Reflector in this image, keeping the lighting harsh, ‘contrasty’ and edgy. This photo shoot was a great example of why it’s so important for me to use Profoto lighting. This image was taken with a 17-40mm lens set at a focal length of 17mm. As you can see, a great deal of the court is visible, so I had to put my light relatively far away. As is my usual technique, I under exposed the background a stop or two at an exposure of f/13 at 1/250 of a second. That forced me to pump in a lot of light from a far distance – enough to make my subject pop. The Profoto lighting kit did the trick, as it always does.”

Joe Morahan