How Sports Illustrated Creates An Edgy Cover Photograph

I have to thank Tyler Kaufman for turning me onto this next video. Sports photographer Peter Read Miller recently shot some of the top NCAA college football players for the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. There really isn't any super informative information in this video but it's still great to see how the top photographers in the world pull off cover material for magazines like Sports Illustrated. From the video, it appears that these shots are lit with only 3 light sources: One large parabolic reflector as a key, one smaller parabolic reflector as a kicker, and a spot gridded flash head for a rear rim light. If you've ever shot in this style you know that small hard rim/kicker lights can really edge out your subject. Scroll down and look at the super high res final image you can see how the larger side light makes the highlights broad but still harsh. It's easy to think that a barebulb speedlight to the side of your subject is sufficient for a rim light but adding that one extra modifier can really make a huge difference in your final result. Update: Some Readers can't get past the photoshop work on this composite. Read the comments below and let us know what you think.

Click for high res:

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its a shame that the photographer took into account the realistic lighting of a stadium when he lit this shot, but the retoucher showed no effort in throwing the shadows correctly to really make the final product believable

Patrick Hall's picture

Eh, I'm not sure stadium lighting ever really looks like this.  I think we WANT it to look like this but everytime the camera zooms straight on to the QB about to hike the ball, the lighting looks pretty flat and boring even in a big stadium.  I agree they could have made the field they are shopped into look a bit more dynamic but I bet 99% of SI's readers won't even tell. 

Patrick Hall's picture

Here is what it normally looks like on the field.

Patrick Hall's picture

Here is what it normally looks like on the field

Andrew Richardson's picture

Stadium lighting is garbage. As someone who shoots NFL, MLS, MLB, and NCAA believe me, stadium light is something your rarely if ever want to recreate.

Jeff Calbom's picture

Actually it's the feet that are the hardest to make look real. Looks like they spared every expense there as it doesn't appear that there was any attempt to make that look the least bit natural much less real. 

Yianni M's picture

That's the first thing I noticed. The guy on the right looks like he's sunk in to the grass. That's some terrible PP there for such a high end shot. :/

Shawn Chamberlin's picture

I agree, the feet are the hardest at times because you have to make the cleets look like they're sinking into the turf, which isn't easy.  the shadows make it look like the photographer used a ringflash to shoot this.

Kevin Patrick Robbins's picture

If you actually watch the video, you'll notice the turf is in the actual shot, so their feet aren't being Photoshopped into a fake turf.

Golgo Thirteen's picture

Both the mini para or a strip bank would have worked but the results look fine. The should have shot this ON the field though. The composite background they selected was terrible or their composite was. If you look at the highres you can see that on the right side of the field where they masked in the players, the ground is very blurry, yet on the left side of the image, it is in focus near the feet. How this got printed and approved I have no clue.

Many might say, "big deal." But the problem is that this is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and they have the budget and the man power to do things correctly. Either this economy is so bad companies like SI have interns that just learned composites, or they simply don't care too much about their once celebrated and highly respected covers.

PS. Their skin looks stupid. Its like they have Rosacea. But MAYBE the art director likes pepperoni skin people.

Nam Phan's picture

Actually, Sports Illustrated don't really have the budget as to what they had 10-15 years ago. I used to work for Time Inc and the magazine industry is making it's last stand.

Sander van der Veen's picture

This really looks sad, poor photoshop work on the feets. They should've go to a real stadium and shoot it there. Can't believe this got approved, sad...

Ghislain Leduc's picture

I'd say for 97.9% of the readers of IS won't notice those little glitch so it's a good shot. But what about the behind the scene? Were we supposed to learned something? :) It doesn't say much no? :)

Patrick Hall's picture

Well if you are a seasoned photographer then no there isn't much to take from this. But some of our readers have never setup a lighting scheme like this before so I'm sure it's helpful to them.

Filip Gomułkiewicz's picture

Terrible PP. Look at their feets! Nothing to learn from this.

Jon Dize/DIZEMAN's picture

Well, if we don't learn anything, we can learn this. THERE IS NEVER AN "S" ON THE END OF FEET. Feet itself is PLURAL. Lol!  and No Filip... you're not the only one with FEETS. And yes... it matters.

Garth Vg's picture

I dissagree, there is something to learn from this video.  Equipment manufacturers are way to flip'n proud of thier gear.  I followed the link to the parabolic reflectors and Profoto is asking $4200.00 for a 6' umbrella.  Broncolor up to $11,000.  That out line.  I own a <a href=" rel="nofollow">Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella</a> and paid $100.  This thing rock!  It's built well and the light it provides is awesome.

Really sad job on the feet. Did anyone notice this? (attached photo) Or is it just me?

Viktor Sloth's picture

Oh! Terrible lightning over all tbh... Especially the second guy from right to left! I don't hope this photo is so red on print! :-))

Shannon Wimberly's picture

okay... timely post btw... I have a shoot this tuesday with the SIU Salukis Basketball team, where they want a shot similar to this one.... how would you suggest I light it. 3 groups.... left, middle, right... then composite them..... and if so, tell me the best way to do it with speedlights.  Thanks.

Shannon Wimberly's picture

...rim light is obviously missing from this image, and it looks to me that a ring light was used... I am thinking two speedlights at 45 behind and a softbox camera right up high?

FotoMaximo's picture

This is a JOKE, right?

SI must really be hurting...

Check out the attached annotated image.

Hell, there are aspiring retouches on Model Mayhem who only charge $20 per full image retouch that can do a WAY better job.

Jon Dize/DIZEMAN's picture

Pretty bad indeed. Should have avoided the fake grass in the studio and just cloned from the grass in the background image in post if needed, at least it would match. Yeah and shadows are horrible also... wrong direction, wrong transparency, wrong edge feather, the shadows should match the light that created them. Perhaps there was a deadline that did not allow a lot of thinking? lol!

Patrick Hall's picture

Maybe we should have a contest to see who can create a better cover for SI with their own photoshopping skills

Shawn Chamberlin's picture

if you can get ahold of the photos out of camera, that'd be awesome.  i mean, i'm definitely aspiring to be a retoucher, but zoom in and look at the face of andrew luck, they didn't even heal his acne or anything, really goes to show that SI has no budget these days.

Jon Dize/DIZEMAN's picture

I spoke with a VP at Chevrolet back in 1982 and he told me the most successful ad Chevrolet ever ran was a full page of WHITE with the small half inch by 1 inch rectangle that said USA-1 in the center of the page. Nothing said about the company, the cars, just USA-1. Perhaps Sports Illustrated should run a FULL BLEED WHITE cover with nothing on it except the words, "ALABAMA... It's Time!"

corkie's picture

Where in the heck can you buy a small parabolic reflector like that. I checked B&amp;H and they only have giant $4000.00 ones

Garth Vg's picture

<a href=" rel="nofollow">Westcott 7' Parabolic Umbrella</a>

Jason van der Merwe's picture

Heh, not the most informative. I'm going to school with Andrew Luck though! I'll be able to get into games as a photographer, so maybe i'll try to get some actual stadium lighting shots of him and see how it compares.

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