Photographing a Legend with a Legend - Tom Watson for Sports Illustrated with the Zeiss Otus 85mm

I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Golf but when the picture Editor of Sports Illustrated called to see if I was interested in shooting a portrait of Golf Legend Tom Watson at St Andrews in Scotland I leapt at the chance.

It is one thing to take an assignment like this on but when you are commissioned by one of the biggest names in the magazine World to shoot a high profile portrait which will accompany an article where he will be announcing his retirement from the Masters you do feel the pressure.

Particularly when it might be a cover shot too.

You want to do a stunning job but you know in all probability you will not have a great amount of time.

Celebrity shoots are a challenge, with speed often being the order of the day for a shoot.

I researched Tom Watson, 2015 marked the 40th anniversary of his first open title at Carnoustie.

I was given a remarkable amount of freedom on the shoot by Sports Illustrated and slowly and idea started to form.

I wanted to shoot a portrait which conveyed the man and his experience in the golfing world.

I resolved to make my main shot a tight face shot but I wanted to give it some extra ‘bite’ and a real dreamy’ look.

I opted to shoot the portrait on my Canon 6D, (a very underrated camera!) with the simply brilliant Zeiss Otus 85mm F1.4 a lens which really takes portraiture to a whole new level in terms of sharpness, contrast and lack of distortion.

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Please don't take my word for it - pop along to your nearest Zeiss dealership and try it out for yourself, it really is THAT good.

The Otus 85mm was going to give me the ‘bite’ I was looking for but how to give it that ‘dreamy’ look.

I tested a little in the back garden and I resolved to shoot the portrait wide open at F1.4 but I wanted to light it too.

This would mean diving deep into the dark pit of Neutral Density land.

In my experience the variable NDs I have used might be adequate in some situations, but they don’t come close to the quality of Lee filters (used in a holder)

I worked out I would probably need around 4 or 6 stops of Lee ND.

There was one very big drawback to this plan of mine though.

You cannot actually see through the viewfinder one you slide the filters in position you cannot see anything at all.

I would love to be able to give you some clever little workaround but I certainly did not find one and it came down to a bit of practice before the shoot and a little luck.

I planned the portrait to be lit head on(actually ever so slightly off to camera right) and slightly above Tom angled down at 45 degrees with a Elinchrom Ranger AS head in a small Chimera soft box.

With two Elinchrom Ranger AS heads in Chimera extra small soft boxes shooting one over each shoulder.

I can't remember what output I had the heads on but it was quite low I think.

Though I aimed to shoot Tom at F1.4 I ended up stoping down slightly to F2.0 - it still gives a beautifully dreamy look while getting more than just his eyes in focus.

I exposed the shot at 1/200sec at F2.0 on my Canon 6D at 200iso with the Zeiss Otus F1.4 ZE

So what was he like?

A total gentleman who was kind, patient and interested in how I was shooting him

I get the feeling he has more than a passing interest in photography - indeed he commented on the Zeiss Otus lens.

I don't suppose he has had much time to do much photography with his busy schedule but I have a suspicion he may well do now.