Infrared Portraits of NFL Players Bring Their Tattoos to Life

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

Professional sports photographer Carlos Gonzalez has been shooting player portraits for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings for many years for The Star Tribune’s annual season preview. Most years, alongside traditional portraits, Gonzalez tries a second camera setup for something experimental and different.

This time, Gonzalez wanted to accentuate the tattoos that many Vikings players have. For players with darker complexions, seeing all the intricate body art can sometimes be challenging. To ensure the tattoos would be easy to see, Gonzalez wanted to use an infrared camera.

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. has many tattoos for his six-year-old son, Malakai. “The portrait on my hand is probably the best tattoo I have. That right arm sleeve is probably my favorite,” Murphy Jr. tells Goessling. | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

“I’ve had the idea of shooting tattoos in infrared for a long time. I thought it would be fun to do at a tattoo convention. Infrared separates the ink from the skin to really help show the artwork,” Gonzalez tells PetaPixel over email.

“I’ve noticed many athletes have ink and thought now would be a good time to try the IR setup on tattoos.”

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Jalen “Speedy” Nailor, 24-year-old receiver for the Vikings, sports an intricate chest tattoo. | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

“From children’s birth dates to Bible verses, from family memorials to artist’s renderings of their journeys to the NFL, many Vikings players wear their stories on their skin,” writes Ben Goessling in “Vike Ink” for The Star Tribune.

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Running back Alexander Mattison has made a name for himself in the NFL after being drafted 102nd in 2019. The back looks poised to have his best season ever this year. | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

Goessling’s excellent article features stories from various Vikings players about their tattoos and what the ink represents. For many players, their body art reflects essential parts of their journey to the NFL.

Capturing the meticulously crafted ink requires a thoughtful and novel photographic approach.

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Safety Jay Ward | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

“I rented a Canon 5D Mark IV camera that was converted to IR. I needed to get a portrait that would be used for player profiles first, then try to also fit in the second IR shot,” Gonzalez says, explaining that working with a second camera adds to the frantic pace of portrait day.

“I only get a few minutes with each player, so I had to work fast. In a perfect scenario with ample time, I would love to try many more shots and angles, but had to make do. It is critical to be respectful of people’s time. In this instance, players were squeezing photos between practices and meetings. Sometimes there would be a bottleneck, and I’d have a few guys standing around waiting to go at my station. Everyone was great to work with, but I always try to be mindful that my shoot isn’t the only thing they have going that day.”

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Clockwise from the top left: Tay Gowan, C.J. Coldon Jr., Joejuan Williams, and Jaquelin Roy | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

When shooting regular portraits, Gonzalez would see if players had visible ink or ask if they had tattoos. If they did, he explained what he was doing with his rented IR camera. It was easy to get players on board after capturing a proof image and showing it to players on his laptop in black and white.

“As you know, tattoos are a personal expression of art on people, and they each have stories behind them. All the players that participated were great and happy to show off their ink,” says Gonzalez.

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Harrison Philips’ tattoo shows his religious background and passion for football. | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

After capturing many photos of players and their tattoos, Gonzalez showed the images to Ben Goessling, who then spoke to many players to get the stories behind their ink.

The story was published earlier this week, and Gonzalez has already heard positive feedback from many of the players.

As a photojournalist, Carlos Gonzalez covers various stories and situations. Even so, frequently covering sports and doing portraits can feel a bit “monotonous,” so he likes to try new ideas to add some spice to his workflow.

Carlos Gonzalez Vike Ink
Tight end Josh Oliver will make his Vikings debut this weekend in week 1 of the NFL season after playing the last two seasons for the Baltimore Ravens. | Credit: Carlos Gonzalez

More of Gonzalez’s photos and the full details behind some of the Vikings’ players’ tattoos are available on The Star Tribune. Not all of Gonzalez’s infrared portraits made it into the article, so there are more images on his website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photos by Carlos Gonzalez