📸 Through The Lens | Water Reflections

Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas Athletics staff photographer Jeff Jacobsen shares his memories of what he saw “Through the Lens” from his 23-year career with the Jayhawks.

This photograph of the 2016-17 swimming & diving seniors for their annual poster is an example of how things can work out just as planned and even exceed hopes. The idea for this photograph stems from a large American flag hung from the 5-meter diving platform inside Robinson Natatorium the year before. I could see the Stars and Stripes reflecting on the pool water’s surface thanks to window light. With the lights turned off and using strobes, I knew those reflections were perfect for my poster idea.

I wanted an ominous image, yet one that would not take away from the beauty of the group. I had to convince the seniors this wouldn’t be a poster with lots of makeup and coiffed hair as I detailed my plans. With cold pool water, body temperatures drop quickly. There was little time to attempt more than one plan.

Good photographs are built on trust. No matter whether a person is a wedding photographer, a journalist, one taking portraits of people young to old, or me trying to combine all parts of those aspects in my KU work, a bond has to be built. What many editors or clients don’t understand anymore is that the magic of a photograph can only come from a relationship based on an appreciation of what the subjects want and what a caring photographer can create. I want my subjects and their coaches to be happy and proud.

In this case, there was one other key factor, my assistant. My wife, Laura, was helping me on the appointed night. I surely did not want to disappoint her. Laura is swimming & diving’s academic advisor. She loves working with the team and cares about them deeply. I joke with her that her full-time job often gets in the way of her non-paying job as an outstanding photographer and assistant. This time she was both. I was not about to let her down.

A strobe with a large softbox was lifted as high as possible behind the flag to reflect the red, white and blue onto the water’s surface. Two strobes, with small shoot-through umbrellas, were set to cast just enough light onto the faces while maintaining a moody, menacing look. With their hair slicked back, and with just a bit of initial skepticism, they lowered heads to their nose line. All the while, the group bobbed in the water as picture after picture was made quickly. I kept promising them they looked great, but here is where Laura helped so much. Her assurance that the photographs looked great and that they would love the poster image helped immensely.

When they stroked over to the pool’s edge to view the images, the looks of joy on their faces made me very grateful to work with such wondrous women. They loved their facial reflections in the water and the piercing look in their eyes.

The top award for a swimming & diving poster went to these swimmers and divers at the 2017 CoSIDA convention for sports information directors. I could not have been more pleased.