Portraits of The Plungers


At the 2020 Polar Bear Plunge on January 1, I wanted to do something I had been thinking about for a few years: Portraits of the plungers.


I tried to do this – somewhat – a few years ago, but my skill level as a lot less, and I just didn’t have the equipment to do what I wanted to do.

But, this year I was inspired. See, before Gary Chapman and I took off on my last business trip to Puerto Rico and Ireland back in December, I had an idea of what I wanted him to do: In addition to the corporate photography that was our goal, I wanted him to do stark B&W portraits of the employees in the locations we’d be visiting. Figured my team could use them as some point.

So, that’s what he did. He brought along a large circular white, collapsible background and a single light (Profoto, I think) and he shot a number of portraits on white for me.


Flying back from Ireland, I started to think that I could do the same thing at the Polar Bear Plunge. Many of those plunging often dressed up, and that would give the portraits some character. Doing these portraits – “on white” – could be fun. And different.



But even if they weren’t dressed up, it would still be a neat way to capture the people and personalities associated with the day.


John, one of the Sons of Ireland

So, prior to setting up in Convention Hall, I did some test shoots in my garage with my white background my Neewer Vision 4 monolight and a shoot-thru umbrella. I tried both my Canon 70D and my Fuji X100T and decided to use the Fuji. Just liked the color files I was getting better, plus just a little smaller and less demanding.

When I got to Convention Hall in Asbury Park early on January 1, I looked for the best spot to set up my white back. Found a good spot for it and set up.

white background set up

X marks the spot. I always put an x down when I shoot portraits. Too close and there would have been more of a shadow.

So, I set up my little studio in the same place where The Who, Led Zepplin, The Doors and Bruce Springsteen and so many others have played. Now, I wanted to use the collapsible background that I have, but, on my test run, I ran into an issue setting it up securely. Story for another time.

Instead, I used a 5×7 background, textured on one side, white on the other, to achieve my white background. I knew I’d be often shooting more than one person, sometimes teams, but that was the widest I had. I’d have to made due. I just positioned people in tight.



If I had more room or inclination, I probably could have lit this more. Using a two or three light setup probably would have saved me time in post. But I knew a few things going in: 1) The floor would get crowded. The more lights set up, the more I’d have to worry about something getting knocked over. 2) Need to keep safety in mind. Didn’t need people drinking beer/kids tripping over things 3) And especially when I went out to shoot the actual plunge: I knew I’d have to break down a bit. Which is what I did – took the light down but left the background up. It was out of the way anyway.

Overall, though, I think i worked pretty well. I shot all the images in color (so I had them) and then converted to black & white and extended the background in Photoshop, if I had to.



The woman on the right is the one that I first worked with in 2008 to shoot my first plunge!

In all, I did about 50 portraits over the course of the day. And, putting the together in a mosaic rounded out my vision.


Here’s a short video.

So, in a year where I want to shoot more portraits, this was a pretty nice start. I even snuck in one of me!


Let me know what you think in the comments below!

© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2020

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