Freelance photographer Shawn Hubbard is having a small problem on his current shoot. He's attempting to take photos of Melissa M. in front of a palm tree on a beach, except one of the branches won't stay in place and it tries to engulf the cheerleader. Hubbard decides the simplest solution is the best one: he asks someone to pull the branch out of the frame and hold it while he goes to work in capturing that perfect picture.
The results look great and Hubbard is ready to move on with the photo shoot for the 2008-2009 Baltimore Ravens Cheerleader Calendar, which took place this past May in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. This was the first cheerleader calendar produced by the Ravens in their history.
The calendar is set to be released this week, and everyone involved with the process is especially proud.
"The idea of a swimsuit calendar has always been in the back of my head ever since my first day at the Ravens. However, the key to our success has been patience," said Vice-President of Marketing Gabrielle Dow. In order to make the calendar a reality, Dow had to gain approval from team president Dick Cass, find appropriate corporate sponsoring, and ensure that the entire process was properly documented for fans on BaltimoreRavens.com.
And of course, a photographer was needed.
"Shawn is very professional and ahead of the game," Dow said of Hubbard. "He understands what we're looking for," referring to what sort of look and feel Dow wanted for the calendar itself. Hubbard has been taking photos for the Ravens since early 2007, covering everything from game action to fans to special events, and several other aspects of the game.
There was three months of preparation involved for the swimsuit shoot, including mass amounts of research of other teams' calendars and two test shoots that would ensure each girl would be photographed and presented in the best possible way.
Dow says she wanted the calendar to show "beauty at its best," to give the fans what they wanted to see. More importantly, however, Dow and Hubbard thought of the girls. Hubbard describes himself as a minimalist, whereby he doesn't want too much happening in any given shot. His goal for the calendar shoot was to make the photos about the girls themselves. For Hubbard, the background and setting were there to support the girls, not outshine them.
Hubbard's solution to dealing with the palm tree aptly sums up the trip as a whole, with everyone on site contributing to the shoots in one way or another—regardless of their responsibilities to begin with. Even Dow stepped up at one point, helping hold up a necessary lighting fixture. It also personifies Hubbard's approach to his work, with on-the-spot decisions rather than meticulous planning.
"I try not to prepare too much," he stated. "You have ideas in your head, but ultimately you need to just deal with things in the field."
The shoot was not without certain complications. During the very first shoot, there was some miscommunication with a manager of the hotel regarding a walkway the team had blocked off as it prepared equipment. On another shoot—near dawn—a large group of high school students randomly arrived on the beach where they were attempting to set up, forcing them to relocate.
Hubbard insists it's just a matter of staying focused, though. "You have to be flexible and think on your feet," he said.
Hubbard says he was able to establish a good relationship and rapport with the cheerleaders, largely because he had worked with them during the season. Some had modeled before, but for the girls with little experience, he was willing to spend a little more time with them to put them at ease and get the best quality shots.
Among those girls was Amanda G., who is going into her second year on the squad. The calendar was her first real photo shoot, and as excited as she was about the locale, she was surprised by the amount of hard work and early hours involved. She was grateful for Hubbard's cool demeanor throughout the process.
"He has a really good eye," said Amanda. "He's a hard worker and deserves all the credit." She went on to describe how relaxed he was and how comfortable he made all the girls feel while they were in front of the camera.
Hubbard's methods as a photographer were best put on display during the shoot on which he would capture his favorite shot of the calendar. Near the end of the trip, Hubbard was shooting Amanda again, after deciding something had been missing from her previous shoots. They were out on a local pier near sunrise, when Hubbard instinctively decided to shoot Amanda in the ocean. As he finished there, he realized the sun had risen to just the right angle to brilliantly illuminate the wooden railing on one side of the pier. He had Amanda pose one more time in that spot, and as he took the photos, he knew he had a great shot. The image would ultimately become the featured photo for July 2009.
Such spur-of-the-moment decisions are part of the business of making a swimsuit calendar. Dow spoke of how much energy and time goes into that small window of a shoot where all the factors come together, specifically the timing of light, which Hubbard understands tremendously.
Once the trip was over, Hubbard and Dow sat down together to decide which photos were used. Ultimately, regardless of what pose they were in, they picked the best photo of each girl to go in the calendar. Hubbard was heavily involved with the creative process from beginning to end.
The calendar girls will make appearances around Baltimore during Kickoff week in September, autographing copies of what is being regarded as a successful calendar. Dow is already preparing for next year's shoot, reaching a sponsorship agreement with 98 Rock, and is close to having a hotel booked for 2009. Dow and Hubbard are prepared to develop an even better product next season, and considering the success of the current calendar, Ravens fans can expect more beautiful photos of the cheerleading squad in the future.