BL Spotlight with Sports Portraiture Photographer Alexis Cuarezma

Sports and fitness photographer Alexis Cuarezma has been on a roll these past few years after landing high-profile clients such as Sports Illustrated, HBO Sports, and Nike, while also creating inspired personal projects. His unique style has taken years to formulate and we were lucky to have him share a sneak peek into how he chooses what gear to shoot with depending on the project.


BL Spotlight
In Alexis Cuarezma’s Words:

For every shoot, I make a detailed plan to execute the vision of my clients while also creating work that is in my style. I weigh the time I have with the subject, whether or not the location is flexible, and the clients’ vision against what I’d like to shoot and whether or not I will have an assistant.


The situation will dictate the gear I use. When shooting portraits, I like to stay engaged with my subject and will generally opt for all zoom lenses. It’s my preference not to change lenses, which can break the connection with my subject, and zooms allow for a more approachable feeling than carrying around multiple camera bodies with prime lenses. People can become impatient in front the camera and I like how a zoom lens lets me quickly change focal lengths in seconds.


Since I like how efficient zoom lenses are, to keep my images sharp I always light my images and shoot around f/11-16. That enables me to have a large depth of field to ensure that my subject is in focus and eliminate all ambient light, allowing me to sculpt my preferred lighting. Also, when you shoot around f/11-16, there’s not much difference between the image quality of a zoom vs. prime lens, at which point a prime lens can become more of burden than an asset.


I shoot all my work using full frame cameras, such as the Canon 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, 5Ds, and 1D X. My absolute favorite lens used for all my magazine covers is Canon’s 24-105mm f/4.0 L for its wide zoom range and ability to focus as close as 1.5′ away at the telephoto length. I like to stay close to my subject so I can quietly talk with them for a more intimate session.

Additional zoom lenses I use are:

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For lighting, I normally use about 3 strobes. I love the portability of the Profoto B1 500W/s Air TTL for my outside location shoots, but if I can plug in, I like using the Profoto D1 500W/s Air for its modeling lamps to preview how light will fall. In addition, I will have 3 spare batteries, 1 medium or large soft box, 1 SunBounce reflector, 1 grid set, and CTO/CTS gels.


If I know I won’t have time to set up lights and must use available light, I turn to primes. They allow in a great deal more ambient light and are still sharp wide open. Also beneficial is a camera with a fast and accurate autofocus system that can lock in a shallow depth of field with a clean, high ISO, such as the Canon 1D X.


My Ambient-Lighting-Only Camera Setup:

Canon 1D X

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L

Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II

Canon 135mm f/2.0 L


Lastly, in situations where I know I’ll be working with a model or with a client where we need to nail a specific image, I like using a manual focus camera with prime lenses on a tripod:

Hasselbald H4X + Phase One IQ280

Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2

Hasselblad 35mm

Hasselblad 50mm

Hasselblad 80mm


My best advice to anyone who has an interest in breaking into sports portraiture or any type of photography would be to not let the gear dictate your vision, let your vision dictate the gear. There are many ways to create a dynamic image without breaking the bank. Check out more about how I got started in the industry, with portrait photography tips, on my BLSpotlight Video.

Cortigiano is a food, lifestyle, and event photographer with a contemporary aesthetic. She received an undergraduate degree in photography at Drexel University and has gone on to work as a freelance photographer and teaching artist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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BorrowLenses is an online camera gear rental service that started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. We offer a wide selection of camera gear ranging from camera bodies, lenses, lighting and accessories. We make it easy to rent gear by shipping your order straight to you.