BTS: Fashion Photoshoot With Olympic Gold Medalist McKayla Maroney

Kevin Jairaj, wedding and sports photographer based in Dallas, is usually shooting for USA Today Sports Images or for different unknown couples. Recently Kevin was hired by one of the most famous girls in the world to shoot her new set of images, for her own portfolio. Her name is McKayla Maroney, and she has more Olympic Gold medals than you. Check out the BTS video, and the final results.

McKayla was part of the 'Fierce Five', the USA gymnastic team for the 2012 London Olympics. She won the gold medal in the team competition, and also a silver in the vault. Other than winning Olympic medals, Maroney will always be remembered for her meme ‘McKayla is not impressed‘. In fact, even President Obama asked her to do the famous pose with him.

Kevin found the time to talk with us and add some details on how the shoot came about, and also give some very useful tips on how to get access to known people, and how to make them remember you for when they need a photographer.

FS: How did you get this gig, shooting with McKayla Maroney?
KJ: USA TODAY hired me in May of last year to photograph 10 athletes to be featured in the paper before the 2012 Olympic games. Mckayla was one of the 10, so I got to know her and her mom during that photoshoot.
I knew USA TODAY would need a standard clean-looking photo, so I shot them all on gray backdrop - but I also wanted to do something a little different, so I also set up a sparkling backdrop and shot the athletes with a ring-light. Everyone, including Mckayla , really liked the way it came out.

After coming back from the Olympics with the gold medal, Mckayla wanted to get into acting and needed some new headshots and new photos, because she really didn't have any [that are not Gymnastics-related]. Few weeks ago Mckayla was in town for an autograph signing, so we arranged to shoot the day after, before she had to go back to LA.

FS: When shooting on media days, or other sporting events packed with many other photographers, its hard making that personal connection with the athletes and make them remember you. How do you manage to make that connection?
KJ: Many times when I shoot athletes I try to stay in touch with them on Twitter - and it makes them think about you when in need of a photographer. For example, I was hired to photograph the weddings of few different athletes I shot in the past for the newspaper.


FS: Can you tell us a little bit about the photoshoot - the idea behind it and the different setups?
KJ: We shot for about 3 hours or so - both in my studio and also outside. We did a total of 5 looks, with 4 outfits. For the outdoor session we drove to a little field not too far away from the studio, and I used my 400mm lens because I wanted to blur the background. It was an overcast day, so i didn't use any reflectors - just natural lights.
We didn't want them to look like she’s a little girl, we wanted to make her look more like a grown-up actress, and I’m happy with how it came out.


I used a product called Cam Ranger to transfer the photos to the iPad as they were taken and gave it to her mom and the makeup artist, so they were able to see the photos I take in real time. It added for the whole experience.

Other than the equipment I already mentioned, I used Profoto D1 AIR units and Larson softboxes for lighting, and shot it with Canon 1Dx.


FS: How was it working with her?
KJ: She was awesome, she is the sweetest girl and her attitude is great. We got along very well, and its not like she’s a diva or anything like that. She’s genuinely a nice person.
I wanted to make it more of a collaborative-team approach - with her, her mom and the makeup artist. I had my own ideas for the shoot, but I wanted to get her feedback on what she liked to do. For me all my shoots is really important to get the person buy-in. Also, its really important to let the person know what are your ideas and what exactly you’re doing, because if you don't let them know what the heck the idea is, and make them part of the process, they won't feel close to it. But when you explain your idea, they feel part of the creative process.


FS: Any tips for photographers who are interested to know how to get the access to shoot top-notch athletes?
KJ: A lot of people ask me how i get all those gigs with the different athletes, and I think a lot of it is just the way you approach the shoot. Its very important to have a good connection with your subject. A lot of the die-hard photojournalists don't have any interaction with their subject - that’s what makes them great photojournalists. I come from a different world. I come from where I have to have interaction with the subject. Someone once told me: “If they like the photographer, they like the photography”, and to me that is so important because its so true. I want them to like me, to be part of the process and to get a lot out of it. Once they have the connection, they remember you. I have several athletes that follow me on Twitter and remember me because of the good experience they had, and they will comment on things I post, even generic stuff, and you never know what it leads to down the road. Some might need new headshots, some might get married and things like that - so its good to make them remember you.

FS: What was the reaction to the new photos out there in the internet world?
KJ: I can say that after posting the photos on my blog, several athletes contacted me to try and set up similar shoots with me. That's a good sign.

FS: And Mckayla, was she impressed?
KJ: She was impressed. I have several photos to prove it.


To see more of Kevin’s work, check out his website and his blog. Also make sure to follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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overshopped for me... especially the portraits!

Ett Venter's picture

Agreed. Her skin looks terrible in the close up colour portrait. Waaaaaay too much photoshop. I think it's a fantastic photo, but her skin was ruined in post :(

Remember *SHE* selected Kevin for his style, was familiar with his work
and liked him as a person- he had earned her trust. Photographers that
criticize others work without accountability on the WWW will never be
truly successful like Kevin. Ever.

Rebecca's picture

That may be true but to an extent we have to say enough is enough with the photoshop. I mean some of these photos don't even look like her at points. They end up looking like an starter photographers work. When is it considered over photoshoped? When do we say there should be a healthy respect between photo and altered work? It comes down to partly style but to be quite honest it's not longer a photo as much as it starts to be a painting because of how much you take out. It becomes more like a digital art piece because then it lacks some realistic aspects to the individual. This is like looking at the fashion magazines and being sicken by wannabe un-natural Barbie faces and figures to be more appealing.

Just because a customer picks a photographer doesn't mean they were sold a great products. It's like going to a electronic store and expecting to get the best laptop or tv only to find out it breaks outside of its warranty What if he was one of the few that had time for her? What if he offered? You don't know. Even a bad photographer can buy a client out from under you if they know how to sell or have the right price tag.

I don't mind color manipulation but Richard Avedon made models flawless with out all the high tech equipment. It's really about how you utilize your lighting. Kevin even tried to photoshop her laugh lines which makes it un-natural. Also the measure of success if different for each person. I person don't want to ever be as famous as that guy because I am very scared of large groups of people and it makes me nervous. I do well in them but personally my success would be more in line with Sally Mann or Jim Marshell, maybe even a Steve McCurry. Why because I feel they are more like ever lasting than that of someone who can photoshop a medalist. I rather see Robert Knight's photos of Jimmy Hendricks lighting the guitar on fire. Successful might not measure in dollars but I will certainly remember the first time I saw Jim Marshell's photo of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera from the jail house concert. Depends on how you want to be remembered.

I don't think these posts were particularly negative. They were more of a critique than an outright complaint. One even found positive things to say.

I hate the negativity that sometimes shows on this blog, but I think this was an appropriate (and respectful) criticism of technique, not a personal attack.

Great cartoon portraits!!! :D

José Tomás Tocino's picture

Wow, the skin retouching is so awful. It looks like he has applied gaussian blur and that's it.
Well, at the end of the day he's a sport photographer, not a portrait photographer.

Man I really hoped these would be better. Either he needs to practice more on retouching or he needs to hire a new retoucher because they really are hurting his quality and reputation. He had a great opportunity to shoot some higher profile images and I think he did not accomplish that. These images turned out looking like typical senior portraits with very heavy retouching. If you view his site there are more images of the same nature.

I hope he gets a little more experience in retouching and creativity. I'm sure he is a very nice man though.

cool and useful post! thanks

Any L.A. acting agent would laugh at these photos. Her fame may get her places, but these pictures are horrible for acting headshots.

Noam Galai's picture

As always, no respect in the comments. If you think your work is better, and should be featured on Fstoppers, feel free to go to my website's contact page and send me an email with examples of your work.

I respect the guy is a professional, but please don't tell me you think the processing on her skin looks even remotely good! I'm an amateur and for once I can safely say, my work is better.

OhBoy I believe what Noam said above was... "If you think your work is better, and should be featured on Fstoppers, feel free to go to my website's contact page and send me an email with examples of your work." If you truly feel the way you do, then shoot him an email. Let's get you featured on Fstoppers. The invite was opened to everyone.

Me wanting my work on fstoppers is irrelevant. I can submit 500 photographers randomly from the dregs of Flickr that have better composition and processing...but their subjects aren't McKayla. Also, you don't have to be a baker to know when the cake tastes like shit. Why would I want my work featured by someone who can't recognize the overdone post processing in those pictures? He's getting butthurt not about respect, but about criticism, which is childish. We get it- The name McKayla Maroney will get hits...

If he'd submitted his portfolio that's on his website, like you're saying you want....would you have featured him in an article?

Zach Sutton's picture

Well, if you don't think that the work they're featuring on the website is valuable, then why do you come here to criticize it?

Personally, I agree, some of the photos have been retouched too much, but its a matter of preference. In terms of the interview, he provided some really great tips on how to work to getting the ability to work with celebrities like McKayla. I've read this piece a couple times now, and found it to be very useful to my photography career, and with what clients I hope to someday be working with...

I didn't come here to criticize the work. I came to criticize the writer for saying people are having "no respect"....the author basically pulled a "you think your better than post your work" -- which is a silly argument against people criticizing.

Zach Sutton's picture

And he wasn't directing his comment to you.

The comments on this site sometimes get completely out of hand. It seems like people are bashing others work for the sole purpose of bashing it. It comes down to the old saying "If you don't have anything nice to say...don't say anything at all".

There certainly is a difference between constructive criticism and straight up bashing other people's work.

And on that note, I'd like to mention that I just read that a couple of these photos were picked up by Adidas for their upcoming ad campaign. So between working with USA Today and now's safe to say the photographer is doing something right.

"If you don't have anything nice to say...don't say anything at all". so criticism isn't "nice" anymore?

Really? On the the internet? when it comes to professional photography? That's silly. People weren't being rude. They were criticizing it constructively.

The author tried to convey the article was about his talent, not the buzzwords for SEO due to her being an Olympian. You're going to get some criticism when your photos look like that. Do you think the photos are good? Do you think there is anything at all wrong with the post processing?

Let's all put on our big boy pants. If you're putting something on the internet, expect criticism.

Rebecca's picture

I think what OhBoy is getting at is like I mentioned below. Look at how much Vogue is getting yelled at over airbrushing Lady Obama in her recent spread in the magazine. He might get Adidas because she is a celebrity. Here is the problem... People are getting tired of Post Processing. Look at Dove's argument about the whole thing. Dove made a beauty campaign about how much we alter our photographs to the point they are no longer the model and the message it sends to younger girls. The industry is still trying to get away with something that most people now-a-days are sick over. This isn't the greek era where we are trying make every person look like the Gods and Goddesses.

I comes into play with society changing what we we saying photographs don't have to be realistic. They can look fake? The point in being a photographer even with the age of technology is to capture the essence of the model. If she has that big of a self esteem issue for an Olympic model I don't know If I like that message she is sending young impressionable women.

Why do you think W and part of Vogue are starting to go back to real photos with tweaks on the edits, ie color temp, adding darks, and so on. Gap teeth, for example, I hate it with a passion but I won't deny the photos look good. The Sartorialist is a highly looked at for his fashion photos on the street fashion. How about stunning Richard Avedon? Annie Leibovitz? They are masters in their craft and Annie's are edited but stunning where you are more about the image than the technique.

Noam, the photos themselves are fine. Everything follows all the old basic "rules of photography" or whatever. Windblown hair? got it. Tender close up? yep. Low depth of field in a field? youbetcha. The photoshopping on the skin is over the top in my opinion, but if he likes it and his client likes it, then again... whatever, to each their own.

But, let's not pretend this article is about his "talent' as your comment seems to imply by challenging people to submit their work. This is about shooting a popular athlete, a famous person, what it was like, and how another photographer might go about getting into this. You dangled a celebrity carrot in front of a bunch of photographers and got defensive when they were critical.

Granted, internet comments always tend to have an extra bitter emotional edge to them, if you promote someone's work among peers, you should expect some commentary, positive and negative.

Best is not to get all defensive, but to expect it and comment back maturely or ignore it.

Noam Galai's picture

Didnt mean to sound defensive. Its not my work or anything related to me. BUT - there is a difference between criticizing, and being mean. You can say what you like or dont like about the pics, but making fun of someones work, or really murdering him (in words) for it... that's what i hate. People work hard, give you great tips... and people just slam them. Just because...

I agree that internet comments can be super inflammatory. Figure people just want to be heard and the more inflammatory they are, the more likely to get noticed? It's a theory. Unfortunately, it's par for the course for internet these days.

I find niche blogs & forums are especially bad. Read any tech blog, go hang out on a cycling or music forum, it's full of trolls, "experts", and opinionated assholes.


I do have issues with the amount of photoshopping he did on the photos, but not from an artistic point-of-view. They're his photos, he can do what he wants. I don't know if it was his call or her publicist or McKayla herself or all of them, but what I do take issue with is the idea that she needed to be "fixed" this much.

On the grander scale, we have taken photoshopping so far to the point that posed photos of celebrities are not remotely real anymore! That we need to "improve" them to this weird level of some BS idea of perfection...smaller waist, no wrinkles, no freckles, bigger boobs, perfect ass, bluer eyes when, like in McKayla's case, she's perfect just the way she is.

It's one thing to take out a zit or fix a lighting flaw, shit happens, but it's gotten to the point where you wonder why they even bother shooting them anymore. Just make a cgi representation of them and put them on a magazine cover. At this point... it's probably easier.

This is the distraction his photos created from what is an otherwise interesting interview about getting to shoot high profile people.

Don't confuse respect and critisism.

The face is so photoshoped, England wound't allow it to be seen in public...

A bit too sensitive...

The retouching on these are egregious... she would never pass for a standard model and yet the images were smoothed to an inch of life in an attempt to "modelize" her. Not an ounce of texture to be seen anywhere. The first image which was shot with a super tele lens was a no brainer...yet that was smoothed like crazy too. The B&W image is doesn't show the retouching work (errors) as much.

My question is "what was wrong with her images without the retouching"?

He took an attractive person and turned her into a cartoon.

Sorry, but I don't think one's work should be better than others' before the person is allowed to critique it. If that was the case, movie critics would need to hold an Oscar for directing before they could critique another movie.

If you put your work up on the internet, and allow for comments, be prepared for good and bad. Some will be constructive, others not. If you can't stomach it, don't share it on an open forum. Simple as that.

Rebecca's picture

I agree if that was true then Steven Spielberg would not be where he was today. He made shitty home movies like Lucas did from his garage and eventually became two high end top industry leaders. There is also a difference between harsh criticism and childish. No offense to Noamgalai, but even Annie Leibovitz doesn't over process everything on her images and when she dose it's not to the point its almost unrealistic. There is retouching on her comercial work but you still see tonality and depth that doesn't detract from the message.

Or maybe Annie Leibovitz has a better retoucher ..... :-)

Michael Comeau's picture

Wow. What a chilidish response to what seems like very reasonable criticism.

this is me making my "McKayla's not impressed" face :{ ha! lol. the shot quality
doesn't bother me but she is way too processed in the portrait and her posing
is really tacky through out. She is not a professional model, i get it, but still, less would have probably been more in this case. Some of the shots have potential and could have been
really beautiful but it looks like she wasn't coached through the pose.

Feel free to check out my retouching and or photography work at I'm not scared and would love to
be featured on FS.

Bro your stuff is awesome!! You should definitely be featured on Fstoppers. *Bookmarked your page*