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.

Noam Galai's picture

Noam Galai is a Senior Fstoppers Staff Writer and NYC Celebrity / Entertainment photographer. Noam's work appears on publications such as Time Magazine, New York Times, People Magazine, Vogue and Us Weekly on a daily basis.

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Previous comments

Am I the only one "not impressed" with these?

Good interview.
Very interesting choice of equipment. 400mm to blur the background? 400mm will not blur the background more then 200mm or 85mm. Perspective compression is all you get from longer focal lengths. If the link to 400mm f5.6 is correct, that gives you even more DoF than let's say 200/2.8

I'm pretty sure he forgot that she's 17....

he's using a cannon camera

That's an old topic in debates. I don't care if it's way too photoshoped..the important thing here is She trust the artist because of his style.

There's rare, medium and well done. At the end of the day it's all meat. Cook to taste.

A bit off topic, but does anyone know what the song in the video is? I really like it, but can't figure out who it is. Even Shazam is confused.

Photoshopping aside, more than anything else these images are just a little boring...?

It's very easy to sit in front of a computer and criticize someone's work, however there seems to be nothing original about this shoot. From the flat lighting, the standard "fan"shot, the hands by the face, hands on hips... a fashion photographer can blast out this kind of thing in ten minutes. It's a real shame because she's obviously a very talented individual and this chap's a very good wedding photographer.