I've always considered Time Magazine to be a pretty high quality publication. Getting your photograph featured on the cover would be a lifetime accomplishment for most photographers. That's why the current cover with Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey is particularly shocking.
This cover is so bad that I have found myself feeling a bit conflicted about it. On one hand it's sad. I feel sad for Palmer, who, at 22 years old, has created a product that will one day change the world and was fortunate enough to make the cover of one of the most coveted magazines in the world only to have it become a massive joke. I feel sad for the photography industry that a magazine as legitimate as Time cares so little about photography that it would allow this to be published. But at the same time I feel inspired. If this image can make the cover of Time magazine, anything is possible. I never considered myself good enough to shoot for Time magazine but now I can say with 100% confidence that I am overqualified to shoot for Time Magazine.
How bad is this cover? Let me count the ways.
First of all, who is responsible for this concept? "We're going to have the founder of a billion dollar industry wearing his product barefoot, jumping, or floating, or sitting (I have no idea) and then we are going to Photoshop him on the most terrible image of the beach that we can find. We aren't going to match the lighting and we aren't going to add anything like a shadow that would make this look even the slightest bit real." Although the concept itself isn't good, it did have potential. What if he was flying at the camera instead of doing a fairy jump? The Matrix certainly made it look cool.
Where do I even begin? This has to be the most awkward pose to ever hit the cover of any magazine. If you were TRYING to look as uncoordinated as possible you would not have been able to recreate a pose like this. I'm honestly not sure if he is jumping or about to sit down or trying to balance on his middle toe. This pose is so bad I would be embarrassed for this to be one of the outtakes from one of my shoots. I would have never let anyone see it, much less send it to the magazine and allow it to be published.
What styling? Palmer looks like he showed up planning on being professionally dressed, only to find that he was suppose to dress himself. In every day life, jeans and a polo are totally acceptable, it's just not appropriate for the cover of one of the world's biggest magazines. That pose combined with those clothes are enough to ruin any image but there is so much more to cover.
If you were going to shoot the cover of Time Magazine, I imagine you would go all out on lighting. You would prepare for the shoot by planning out a complex lighting setup so that when your subject arrived, you would create an ultra unique image in only a few minutes. This cover appears to be shot with 2 lights; one high and from the left, one low and to the right. This isn't exactly 45/45 lighting but it's pretty freaking close. It reminds me of the lighting used in 1990's corporate chain photo studios. The size of the lighting and direction of the lighting in now way is realistic when it comes to compositing in that background, but I don't think that was even a consideration.
Check out the amount of thought that should go into lighting a Time Magazine cover.
Where did they find that shot of the beach? Is this even a photograph or is it a painting? I can't tell from these low res images online. Why does the sand look like smooth brown paper? That background plate is so bad I'm not sure it can be salvaged but luckily, you could go to any stock website ever and have an almost unlimited supply of beach images to choose from. Almost any snapshot of the beach would be better.
The Post Production
The post production on this image is so bad that I won't even joke that an "intern did it." An intern would have added a shadow. An intern would have given the image a "look." This finished cover looks like someone was given a 2 minute lesson on how to cut something out in Photoshop and then given total control of preparing the next Time Magazine cover.
Every aspect of this image is so bad that that someone working with the photographer or the magazine should have said "wait, we can't actually use this." Surprisingly nobody seemed to speak up and now we are left with one of the most embarrassing magazine covers of all time. The internet has responded with it's own edits to the cover image.
Luckily, Palmer has a great sense of humor. Check out his current Facebook profile which was posted on Reddit a few hours ago. Check out Palmer's Facebook page where all of his friends are uploading tons of these hilarious pictures.
The moral of the story is that no matter how bad at photography we all are, any one of us are capable of shooting the next cover of Time Magazine.