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How to: Photograph Stunning Sports and Fitness Images

Blake Cortes brings his cinematic style to life with the new Tamron SP 70-200mm VC G2 lens.

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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Blake Cortes

Blake Cortes has carved out a niche for himself in the sports and lifestyle photography arena thanks to his penchant for clean lighting, authentic models, and a cinematic style that hints at a deeper story behind each image. His Tamron lens arsenal includes the SP 24-70mm VC, the SP 45mm F/1.8 VC Prime—and now, the new SP 70-200mm VC G2 lens, Tamron's latest telephoto innovation featuring super-fast autofocus, an F/2.8 maximum aperture to allow for sharp photos in even less-than-ideal lighting situations, and improved Vibration Compensation (VC) image stabilization.

"The 70-200 G2 is incredible," Blake says. "The autofocus capability is especially helpful: I know when I'm zooming in and out to get the framing I want that the autofocus will always keep up. The superior image quality of the lens and the bokeh I can achieve help me craft photos that have that cinematic look I'm aiming for. I also really like the sleek build the engineers worked up this time around. The last version of the 70-200 blew me away, and this one's even better."

Blake has been putting his new lens through the paces. Read on as he explains how he recently used the 70-200 G2 to create his newest series of photo narratives.

I shot a small personal piece with some models I knew, along with an old VW bus owned by a friend—like one of those buses you would've seen in the '60s. We parked the van on the beach, and I had everyone pile inside. It was around 8 a.m. and the sun was starting to rise in the sky, making it so bright that I was actually praying for clouds. I didn't get those clouds, but I compensated by moving the models to the other side of the van. The way the sun was creeping through the windows and bouncing off the interior surfaces gave me the soft, natural light I was hoping for.

When I captured the photo of the model seen here, I wasn't even focusing on her: I was concentrating on a model in another seat. However, I'd taken a moment to check some of the photos out on the back of my camera, and I happened to look up and see this particular model staring off into the distance, down toward the water. She was moving her hair with her hand, and with the 70-200 G2, I was able to zoom in to frame her just the way I wanted and capture her expression. There was no posing involved—I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It turned out to be one of the best photos of that set.

© Blake Cortes
90mm, F/6.3, 1/200th sec., ISO 100

And there's that rusted-out VW van I mentioned earlier. The sun was still coming up and there were little pockets of clouds, with sunshine streaming through. Those clouds softened the light a bit for me—enough so the models were exposed properly while also ensuring the sky still had some color without being blown out. There was also enough light for me to incorporate the shadow from the one model's hair against the van, yet it wasn't so bright that she had to squint.

The models were getting ready to go into the water with their boards when I just started taking pictures. I wasn't providing any direction, although I did move around to check out the different angles I could capture. This one proved to be the best perspective, because I was able to capture both models, plus some sky and the van. The fast autofocus on the 70-200 G2 allowed me to capture that action without missing a thing.

© Blake Cortes
44mm, F/6.3, 1/1000th sec., ISO 100

I do CrossFit, and so I know a bunch of athletes from the CrossFit gyms near me. In this photo, which I shot outside one of the local gyms, my model was going to town with a 100-something-pound concrete ball, like the type they use in CrossFit and at Strongman competitions. She's so fit, she can do practically anything I ask her to do, including doing extreme movements with such a heavy weight. That's lucky for my photography, as I love to show motion.

Again, with the autofocus on that 70-200 G2 lens, I was able to capture that motion, instead of having her wrangle with poses while holding this heavy prop. I took this photo in mid-afternoon, when it's burning hot and sticky in Florida, but that time of day also meant dramatic overhead lighting that provided me with those strong shadows. I also liked how I was able to pick up on her muscles and contours, which highlight her athleticism.

© Blake Cortes
135mm, F/6.3, 1/800th sec., ISO 100

Here in Sanford, there's a huge park that often hosts local events and performances, and it features a concrete promenade that surrounds a stage. I always thought it would be cool to hold a photo shoot there so that I could incorporate the lines and curves of the concrete structures into my images.

The area where you see the runner here rises up about seven levels. The G2 helped me capture her as she jogged her way around the circle. Even though the heat was, again, stifling at this time of day, the midday sun ensured her shadow would appear, which I could use as another visual element to complement that C-curve.

© Blake Cortes
70mm, F/6.3, 1/1250th sec., ISO 100

I shot this in a park at sunset. I don't typically prefer to shoot at that time of day, because that lighting lends a warm tone that, while sometimes desirable, isn't what I'm usually looking for in my images. It wasn't overbearing, though—it was golden and clean and fit into my style perfectly.

My model was having fun while jumping on and off of these wooden structures at the park. The first couple of times, she wasn't sure if she could do it, but then when she made it, she beamed with excitement. I had her perform the same movement a few times, with a little more direction this time around so I could capture the lines of her body in that form, as well as her joyful expression. The 70-200 allowed me to zoom in and out until I found the best framing for her body in that unusual pose.

© Blake Cortes
70mm, F/6.3, 1/640th sec., ISO 100

To see more of Blake Cortes' work, go to www.blakecortes.com.

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