Mike Tittel: The Swimmer

The Image

Mike Tittel

Salt Lake City, UT USA

Time / Date:
March 17, 2009

The Technical

Camera Body: Nikon D300
Lens: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8mm VR
Other: 2 Nikon SB-800 flashes used off camera with 2ft soft boxes – one on each side and slightly behind the swimmer. Both flashes were triggered with Pocket Wizard transceivers.

Camera Settings:

Shutter Speed: 1/250s
Aperture: f/3.3
ISO: 400
Focal Length: 170mm

The Story


I built my career shooting adventure sports in a very photojournalistic style. No lights, minimal equipment, non-professional talent, etc.. About 7 years into my career my vision and shooting style started to shift. I remember a specific pivotal moment while on assignment covering one of the toughest adventure races on the planet. I was standing high on a ridge in an unexplored mountain range in remote Patagonia (Southern Chile) and I remember thinking to myself I’ve been here and done this. Not literally of course but shooting in the same style and in the same way I had since the beginning of my career. Honestly I was bored and knew things had to change creatively for me. At the time I honestly couldn’t have lit my way out of a dark room so upon my return I decided to start teaching myself lighting and branching into more mainstream sports. This shot is a result of those early efforts and still holds a place in my portfolio today.

The Scene: 

My goal for this shoot was to create a couple of images unlike anything else in my portfolio at the time. For the location I chose a local high school with a grungy inner city looking pool to add character to the scene. My vision was to create something dark and moody that caught the viewers attention.


This image was created long before the days of my fancy Broncolor strobes using small (relatively inexpensive) off camera speed lights—a great reminder of my own personal philosophy that vision always trumps gear and to not be afraid to try something new.

Making the Shot:

Since there were a ton of distracting elements in the scene I decided to shutout off all of the overhead lights in the pool area so I could easily overpower the ambient light with the limited power of my Nikon SB-800s. I laid down at the far end of the pool and shot with a long lens just above water level to create additional depth in the final image. I also had the swimmer hold still for several minutes prior to taking the shot so the water would be as calm as possible allowing me to capture some of her reflection.

Editing & Processing:

In addition to making global adjustments in Lightroom (color, contrast, clarity, etc.) I also removed some distracting highlights from the foreground in Photoshop.

Looking Back:

In the end this image exceeded my expectations. It stands well on it’s own and captures the essence of what my work is about.


Don’t be afraid to push yourself to failure. I believe it’s in our mistakes that we learn the most.


My inspiration comes from traveling to new places, staying active and personal life experiences.



About the Photographer

Salt Lake City, Utah based advertising and commercial photographer Mike Tittel specializes in sports, fitness, adventure and active lifestyle images shot on location worldwide.

Website: www.miketittel.com
Blog: blog.miketittel.com
Instagram: @miketittel
Facebook: /miketittelphotography
Twitter: @miketittel

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