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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Previous comments

This is a joke, right?

Can't believe anyone would publish an image like that, let alone SI!

Wow, suddenly I felt like a real professional photographer :P
Haven't started out yet, as I want to be sure I'm up to par before charging for my work, but know I feel confident enough to call SI up and give them an offer they can't refuse. ;)

Guys, it's Sports Illustrated... most of their readers probably don't even know how to use the internets.

Must be an intern that did the work....

But indeed, they need to hire someone in fStoppers to get things right.

Wayne Leone's picture

The biggest surprise is not that the PP is poor (which it is) but that it got past the SI Art Director/Editor. That's the scary bit.

Dave Persaud's picture

I understand if this was a high end
fashion shoot then more PP is to be expected but it's just a bunch of guys on
the field, for SI.. Who cares?! Most people that buy SI don’t buy it because of
the cover art anyway, they buy it because of the articles and analysis of
sports. I see a lot of people here feel that they could do better and
my advise to them would be just go out and do it! Lets see your work posted
here on FS!

Haters gonna hate. 

I think the problem comes from the fact that the background image is focused on the background...and the foreground is out of focus, while the player's feet are in focus and it makes the job more noticeable. I think they should've chosen a better field photo to put the players onto.

yea! first photgrapher here with no MAC :D go IBM go!

Not a big fan of this type of composite image. To me it looks fake and over produced. I'd be much more excited to see an image that was created on the spot.

Pitiful photo through and through. Don't even know where to start. Fortunately, everyone on here has posted what i agree with. Author, you seriously call this "edgy"??

Have to agree, generally, with the PS comments. Just contrast this with the cover of Nat Geo featuring James Cameron (
That's how it's done.

Yet SI didn't hire any of you...hmmmmmm