I have been working in photojournalism for very nearly 20 years and I had never shot a magazine cover for any publication not done by the newspaper I worked for. That all changed when David Wassan, editor of the new publication, Friday Night Football Alabama contacted me to shoot two athletes for the premier edition of the magazine. Brooke Milam Johnson, a sports writer I have worked with for several years at The Decatur Daily, recommended me to Wassan so many thanks go out to her. The magazine just hit the news stands and can be found in Books A Million stores and news stands across Alabama.
My subjects were Stephen Rivers, younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who plays quarterback for Athens High School and Brent Calloway who plays linebacker and running back for Russellville High School. I was familiar with Stephen because I have covered him for three seasons. It was my first time meeting Brent. Stephen recently committed to play for LSU and Brent for Alabama so these are both blue chip recruits. (By the way, I also covered Philip Rivers when he played quarterback at Athens. Talk about getting old!)
My challenge was to produce photos of each athlete that could be used on the cover of the magazine. The photo shoots would be in different locations on different days and even at different times of the day. I wanted the lighting to match fairly closely so the designers wouldn’t have funky differences to deal with. I also needed to shoot very similar poses on both young men so the designers could work with similar images.
I photographed Stephen first and it was right in the middle of the day. When I called his coach to arrange the assignment I had visions of late evening, even dusk, dancing through my head. The coach asked could I be there during the middle of the morning because that was when Stephen was normally there to take part in out of season workouts and his jersey would be available. So much for dreams of great light. Likewise, I had to catch Brent right after a practice session but the light was somewhat better.
I set a Lumedyne with an Octobank as the main light and positioned it to camera left for both shoots. I used a second light as a kicker. This was necessary in Stephen’s case because of the need to completely overcome the daylight with strobes. The kicker was behind the subjects and to the camera right. I placed a third strobe on the ground pointed straight up to light the ball they were both holding. I had Stephen positioned so his right shoulder was further from the camera than his left and had him hold the football down by his side in his left hand. I reversed this set up to photograph Brent so the designers could get both guys on the page in the best possible way.
After getting my lighting set I varied my angles of view and lenses making sure to duplicate with Brent each angle I shot with Stephen. I began with a full length shot from low angle, moved to a more normal angle shot from about waist level. I then changed lenses and shot more of a 3/4 length portrait and then shot some tighter stuff. This gave several different perspectives and hopefully some options to the page designer.
After I got this shot out of the way I moved into a little bit of a fun mode. I moved Stephen into the tunnel and shot with a strong back light from the sun which cast a really hard shadow on the ground. I filled this with an SB800 shot direct with as tight a zoom spread as possible. I still had more spill than I wanted but I didn’t bring anything to make a snoot from. I went again from wide and low to extremely tight in a shot that was basically just shoulder pads and eyes with no fill light at all. This turned out to be my favorite shot of Stephen. It was just his eyes. The hard back light reflecting off his jersey and the walls of the tunnel was the only light.
On Brent’s shoot I did a variety of lighting effects and poses with the ball which pretty much amounted to my old standby lighting style of two lights crossed on the subject. Brent has a wonderfully intense look when he wants to and I was able to capitalize on this for some really nice tight work. It was not the same as Stephen’s set up but I didn’t think this would be used on the cover anyway so I wasn’t worried about duplication.
I then moved Brent into a kind of portable tunnel which was a metal frame covered with a white tarp style covering. I was hoping that I could do a nice lighting effect by placing a strobe behind him fired down the tunnel with a front light which ended up being a Lumedyne in an umbrella. I was very pleased with this shot even though it was not used in the magazine. The rear strobe did its work and the tunnel picked up a kind of ripple in the fabric creating a nice effect.
I really enjoyed working with both of these guys. Both of them present themselves very well and I look forward to covering them in their senior seasons this year and then in the SEC for a few years to come. Who knows, there may be another brother combination at quarterback in the NFL before too many years have gone by. I imagine Stephen will have to dodge a few blitzes from Brent over the next couple of seasons.
Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer.