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By Martha Blanchfield

ALL PHOTOs COPYRIGHT © steve boyle

steve boyle


Steve Boyle has worked a variety of roles in the photo industry—photo researcher, lighting tech, assistant photo editor. He’s also been a ticket broker, a pizza delivery specialist and a mini-golf supervisor. And it looks like one item that’s been on his to-do list for a while was just recently checked off: run a marathon. Steve’s photography genre of choice is sports—action, editorial, documentary projects and portraiture. So if he’s not running that marathon, he’s definitely rubbing elbows with those who do. Although still somewhat new to the professional photo circuit, Boyle is growing a tidy list of cover credits, plus ample inside-the-issue material. Steve Boyle represents the fresh face on the block, the rising star. Boyle came into the game in 2004, pacing his career with an initial sprint as an assistant for Sports Illustrated. He’s photographed the Kentucky Derby and the New York Marathon. Runner’s World magazine likes his style, as does Gatorade’s public relations person. And a five-year history with client ESPN RISE Magazine keeps his work hitting 12 covers, plus even more inside spreads, every year. How does this talent consistently produce great cover material? “Finding common ground with my subject definitely heads things in the right direction,” he shares. Boyle, an athlete himself who enjoys mountain biking, rafting, softball, soccer and marathon running, can relate on both physical and emotive levels. Years of play on the field gives him a kinetic edge, and his laid-back style makes it easy for clients to relate to him. “Most sports magazines, especially ones catering to the

high school and even college audiences, don’t have big photography budgets that mass audience publications often have. For them, sports imagery needs to be as true to life as possible, so what’s most valued are the abilities to cleanly get action shots, and, if portraiture is assigned, to find and capture the personality.”

Rising to ESPN

Boyle has been working for ESPN RISE since 2005. RISE is a regional publication that covers high school sports in 25 U.S. cities. This trade magazine offers the latest school sports information including scores, stats, rankings, polls and athlete profiles. “One of the sessions I really enjoyed photographing for the issue happened last fall with high school senior Kyrie Irving and junior Michael Gilchrist of St. Patrick High School/Academy in Elizabeth, New Jersey.” In high school basketball, Irving is ranked sixth in the nation for the class of 2010, while Gilchrist is the number one recruit in the nation for the class of 2011. “As it happens the duo are best friends who do everything together—hang out, play ball and they’ve even co-starred in their school’s annual play High School Musical, so interaction and play between the two was great.” To envision a cover look, Boyle starts by kicking around concepts with his editor, and he generally takes time to dig around and learn the personality of his athletes. For this duo, it was known that Irving wants to study journalism at Duke. “The editor asked me to catch them in a photo series that spoofs the athlete interview

scenario—both of them hammed it up with a microphone and a series of questions,” he adds. “As I do with every photo shoot, I asked them to be ‘game ready’ for their athletic uniform shots, but also asked that they bring refined street clothing for the interview part.” During the pair’s Q & A session, Boyle fired off frames with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II paired with portable Dynalites. The set was clean and spare with black Duvateen stretched behind them with a few chairs grabbed from the school auditorium. Boyle captured 120 images, but it was the last horizontal shot that the editor cropped to vertical and placed on the cover. “My assignment was to grab a two-page spread, but the expressions and play between the two were so great that the image made the cover.” Boyle also secured an opening spread and inside placement that appeared alongside the guys’ Q & A in the New Jersey edition of the December issue.

Cover Material

For RISE cover material, Boyle knows he has to keep the look focused on the athlete. He uses sharp and brilliant contrasts. “Sports is a reality subject, so I can’t have things trumped-up. My chief objectives are to capture the sport and the personality. By and large there’s not much in the way of complex props or sets—most images are positioned within a natural environment or against a non-distracting white, black or stark background. Any photo retouch work is pretty basic, maybe a bit of color correcting, some skin doctoring, making sure anything in the background is not

rial limitations. For example, the sessions themselves need to be pretty streamlined and focused.” He’ll photograph after school for about two to two-and-a-half-hours on campus with a three-light setup and generally one assistant. “I enjoy photographing athletes—especially high school and college age because they’re so much easier to work with. That ease allows me to get the job done quickly. Plus, I really like the work. These guys just don’t get as much attention as the pros.”

On the Fly

distracting. I may sharpen edges or bump up contrast. And of course cropping can increase impact.” Boyle says that to land a cover image with RISE he knows he has to produce a technically solid photo with strong emotional appeal. He can’t be retouching a lot or adding gimmicks. “Each client has a specific look or feel that works for their magazine and their audience. I think consistency has allowed me to develop a deep portfolio of images and cover material with this particular publication.” He adds, “Since RISE is a smaller distribution magazine that only spotlights regional high school athletes, I’m aware that I need to work within certain edito-

Boyle totes a notebook wherever he goes to record ideas and make notes. He’s constantly developing ideas in his mind. “I make a game plan before every shoot, but keep my vision and attitude fluid in case I’ve got to change something midstream. I have to keep in mind there’s minimal support staff, budget for props and time for most shoots.” But he admits to being able to wrangle a small budget now and then to build a prop that improves the look and adds novelty. When prepping to photograph Pennsylvania state boys tennis champion Benji Kendall (pgs. 42–43), Boyle built a 4 x 4-foot backdrop using plywood and 300 tennis balls—affixing equally spaced nails across the board then pushing 300 balls into place. That prop was a success; the magazine ran 12 expressive photos of Kendall. Little did readers know that

those 12 images were acquired in bursts and shot outdoors as snow fell. “While I was working on the court getting prepped, Kendall was sitting inside a warm car a few feet away. Once he hopped out I had him quickly move around the court, up to the net and then over to the backdrop.” Aside from a warm car nearby, Boyle’s learned to travel with a few other tools. He prattles off necessities, including a Leatherman knife, power inverter (to charge camera batteries and laptop), a tall ladder, plus an apple box (used at times as stool and riser for either subject or photographer). He keeps light grids in cookie tins and has plenty of A-clamps and gaffer’s tape in a gear bag.

Instant Replay

Boyle the athlete knows an assignment may require him to hike up a mountain, keep up with a runner, dip into a pool or even gain entrance into a pass-only venue. He admits to sneaking into spots to obtain images, or finding creative ways to secure credentials. But for the most part his stream of assignments has been steady and on the up and up. “Just as in other photography circles, a person has to keep networking and getting out there. Most of my assignments have come through referrals.” Such was the case for a fantastic gig landed with Gatorade Replay—a sponsor company and project

he’s angling to do again if the program re-ignites. In 2008, Gatorade sent 1993 football rivals Easton High and Phillipsburg High to the field to settle a score that had ended in a tie 15 years prior. The competition and lead up were part of a documentary showcasing one of the greatest high school rivalries in the nation: blue-collar towns from either side of the Delaware River that had been facing off for 102 years straight. “It was 85 degrees on match day, but the turf registered 120 degrees! Working that event was fantastic. It gave me national attention and allowed me to tap my documentary photo skills. Not only did I shoot from the sidelines on game day, but was invited to cover training and lead-up events,” smiles Boyle. “I likely wouldn’t have landed that work had I not stayed in touch with a public relations person from an earlier gig.” Just one year prior Boyle had photographed a top high school athlete who went on to become a Gatorade Athlete of the Year. As it happens, the PR person working on the Gatorade Athlete of the Year campaign later shifted to work on the Gatorade Replay project. “She remembered me and called when they needed someone to cover the Replay 2008 match up.” Covering a documentary assignment,

such as the Replay event, genuinely shifts importance onto capturing the person and their emotions in competition—and in anticipation of competition. “I photograph athletes, not models. Their expressions and body language instantly and truthfully convey what’s happening. I may only have a split second to catch that,” he asserts, “so I place myself as a start-to-finish photographer looking to grab images at every inch of the game.” To achieve this, Boyle may employ strobes to freeze mid-air moments and fast flash that syncs to speeds of 1/200 of a second. He nabs leaps and bound and still poses.

What’s next for Boyle? Laughing, he says he’s not sure; his calendar’s open. But that’s not unusual. In his industry most assignments come within a few days of a start date. “You get used to it,” he says. But no matter the publication, a catchy cover image needs to serve as a hook to inspire readers and a purchase. “A good photographer knows what’s needed and can consistently deliver.” View more of Boyle’s work at www.steve Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade Photo Shoots ( and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant.

On the Rise  

April profile Steve Boyle Rangefinder magazine

On the Rise  

April profile Steve Boyle Rangefinder magazine