This is one of my favorite shoots, not only because it turned out so well, but also because of the energy from the subject and the appreciation from the magazine. I happened to be in New York City meeting with then Sports Illustrated Director of Photography Brad Smith. Brad and I had worked together a long time before and we had always discussed doing something again. I asked him what he was working on and he was trying to arrange a cover with Will Smith; he was having a hard time agreeing on a photographer with the talent’s PR person. Since I had completed a successful cover with Will in the past, I asked him to put my name forward.
I got the shoot, which quickly became a large production shoot. Will wanted a studio big enough to drive in for security, and I needed to build two sets. The magazine needed a very specific cover image, and I always, even when short on time, love to deliver a second look, a second situation. This was going to be a tough day, as Will was between 2 or 3 interviews for television in other parts of the studio and we would have 2 hours total for everything that was needed. For a shoot like this, I always do a tech scout and equipment list in preparation for the shoot so I have to have a relatively tight idea of what I am going to do. This was for his role as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor behind the movie 'Concussion.’
The magazine wanted to run X-rays behind him on the cover, and I always like to aid in the compositing by matching the lighting. Here he would be wrapped in back light as if a light box were glowing behind him. That was the grey image, but I wanted to make an emotional connection for the viewer to understand how the character, Dr. Omalu, saved countless lives through his research and courage. To do this, the next set was set up with a white background, not fully lit and with a light added towards the camera in the back to flare the lens. God like, maybe? But when the subject breaks out dancing, you get that too!
You know the shoot was successful, when the Director of Photography of Sports Illustrated at the time sends you this email: “Great cover... Very happy with it, thanks for the awesome job. So, great working with you.”