Signature artist of the month

December 2016

Sports Photographer
Pali Rao

British photographer Pali Rao captures the excitement of sports with his amazing action shots. By using real athletes and cutting-edge technology he creates images that have a truly cinematic quality. Read on to learn more about December’s Signature Artist of the Month.


Pali Rao aims to create imagery that could be a still-frame from a superhero blockbuster.
The tension builds as the stadium sits in silence, all eyes on the track.

As the gun blasts, the runners explode off their starting blocks and a wave of electricity pulses through the crowd. It’s this captivating, thrilling experience of watching sports that iStock by Getty Images photographer Pali Rao so brilliantly embodies in his powerful images.

Using moody, cinematic lighting, the Cambridge, UK-based photographer creates imagery that could be mistaken for a still-frame from a superhero blockbuster.

“What appeals to me is the drama of sports and the excitement that surrounds it,” said Pali, who surprisingly doesn’t consider himself a big sports fan. “Every move an athlete makes is incredibly dynamic. They can do amazing things and are very heroic, so it makes sense to me to portray them in that way.”

Ironically not the biggest sports fan, Rao appreciates the movement of the athletes and the drama around the sport.

"I feel like I can really express myself visually– it just comes very naturally to me. I think that’s my inherent mode, it's the way my brain wants to communicate."

Letting the athletes loose, with minimal direction, gives the images an authentic and natural look.
Pali uses real athletes in his shoots to ensure his images are as authentic as possible.

“I work with sports models so they tend to be professional or semi-professional athletes as well as models. They know exactly what to do in front of the camera and they know their sport intimately, so I try not to get in the way too much when I shoot. I give the athletes rough direction, but often they do stuff that I didn’t plan for— and it looks amazing,” Pali said. “I usually have an idea of what I want to do visually, but I ask them to stop me if something wouldn’t happen in an actual game; I’d rather go with what’s real than the initial vision I have in my head. Because of this, it’s usually a surprise to me how the photo turns out, which I like. If it was like paint by numbers and I knew where everything was going to go it would be very boring. I just go with it and see how it evolves.”

The use of CGI technology can elevate an image to give it a more modern feel.
Technology also plays a major role in the creation of his images.

Pali shoots the athletes in a studio, and then uses Photoshop to artificially create the backgrounds, piecing together elements from several different photos. Recently, he has also learned to utilize CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) to bring his ideas to life.

“There are some ideas that I know I can’t realistically capture with my camera, but with CGI, I can actually create things using a computer that I would never be able to shoot in real life,” he said. “Technology is evolving faster and faster; I think we live in amazing times and we’re heading in a really exciting direction. New advancements in photography, like 360˚ imagery and virtual reality provide more opportunities to make things in inventive ways.”

With these advancements in technology, the possibilities of what Pali can create are endless.

“It’s my ultimate dream to get to the point where we can shorten the distance between closing your eyes and imagining a picture in your head and then actually turning that idea into reality,” he said. “Because of these new technologies, this is becoming more and more possible. My only limitation now is my own imagination.”


“We shot this image in December, but the actual shoot took place in a warm studio! The model, Catherine, was great as she has sponsorship with a sports clothing company and was able to provide the clothing and props. She also is a great skier, so she knew how to move to make things look realistic and like she was actual skiing, even though she was still. The pose in the final image is a composite of two separate photographs. I then added her into the final background which was created from lots of separate images to create the look of a ski resort.”

A good image can work anywhere
With such high-quality photography in the iStock Signature collection, it's easy to make your images fit your needs. It doesn't matter what industry your business is in, when you find a good image it can work almost anywhere.