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|| News Item: Posted 2012-01-01

A Tale of Two Covers
SI Staffer breaks down shoots

By Peter Read Miller, Sports Illustrated

Blake Griffin NBA Preview-December 5, 2011 Issue
Photo by Peter Read Miller, Sports Illustrated

Photo by Peter Read Miller, Sports Illustrated

Blake Griffin NBA Preview-December 5, 2011 Issue
When I heard that the NBA lockout had been settled I was happy for all my friends who shoot and assist at NBA games, but I didn't think it would have much of an impact on me. It was Saturday morning November 25, (Thanksgiving weekend) and I was looking forward to shooting the USC/UCLA football game that night, followed by a quiet Sunday catching up on my SI billing.

Things changed for me, however, at around 3:30 that afternoon as I was getting ready to leave for the game. My boss at Sports Illustrated, Steve Fine called me from New York and told me we needed to shoot Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers on Sunday at 4:00 in Manhattan Beach (my hometown) for a last minute NBA preview cover. "Great," I thought, "Now where are we going to shoot?"

To my knowledge, there are no photo studios in the area. Calls to three local hotels confirmed my fear that no one who had anything to do with meeting room or banquet room rentals was working on Thanksgiving weekend, although one hotel did offer their outside deck for $5000--a little high even for SI.

By now, I'm at the USC - UCLA football game, and my cell phone isn't working very well (in and out of service). Here I am the night before a cover shoot with no place to shoot. Add to that my need for hard-to-find wardrobe (Blake is 6'10") since NBA teams cannot provide players with team gear until the agreement is "officially" signed. And what's a photo of an NBA basketball player without an official NBA basketball. Blake didn't have one of those either. At this point, I am seriously considering shooting in my living room.

Among my frantic calls and texts that evening was one to Lisa K, my trainer. Lisa knows a lot of people in Manhattan Beach and I hoped she might have a contact at one of the hotels that could get me some shooting space.

As it turned out, Lisa's contact was out of town, but I had a thought as I dialed her number. The gym where we work out, Fit On Studios was basically a doublewide storefront with open beamed ceilings and a large room where they held spinning classes.

A quick check online revealed the gym did not have scheduled spin classes on Sunday afternoon. So, at 6:45 Sunday morning I was at the gym speaking with Michael, the owner. Fortunately, Michael was more than accommodating. Aside from moving about 50 spinning bikes, we were set for a location. Now to the issues of wardrobe and the ball, at this point my lovely and talented stylist Kallie is on the case.

Of course, since the NBA lockout, stores were not stocking much NBA gear and almost nothing to fit a guy as tall as Blake. Fortunately, somehow Blake was able to come up with a very cool red Clippers hoodie. Maybe someone left it on his doorstep?

Now all we need is a ball. Simple! Just pop over to our local Big 5 Sporting Goods- except that Big Five had a Black Friday half price sale on NBA balls and no store in the South Bay had one. After scores of phone calls, Kallie found another sporting goods chain that had the ball.

The rest was easy.

My assistants and I showed up at Fit On at around 1:00, moved the bikes, dropped our background, and set up the lights. Because of the tight schedule and the fact that we only had Blake for 20 minutes, I shot a series of test poses with my assistant Shawn Cullen. We then emailed those to New York where our NBA photo editor Marguerite Schopp Lucarelli and art director Chris Hercik were able to select the poses they liked and even dummy up a cover.

Blake surprised us all by showing up about 10 minutes early. Kallie did a little grooming on him, we shot stills for about 15 minutes and video for the last 5 and he was on his way. Blake was great to work with and a very good sport about 15 minutes of continuous smiling.

Just a little over 24 hours from call to completed cover. Even with a football game and a little sleep thrown in.

Tim Tebow - December 19, 2011 Issue
Photo by Peter Read Miller, Sports Illustrated

Photo by Peter Read Miller, Sports Illustrated

Tim Tebow - December 19, 2011 Issue
Originally I had requested the Giants at Cowboys NFL game for Sunday December 11. I'd just watched the Giants last second loss to the Green Bay Packers, and I thought that this traditional rivalry would be especially good. Plus, I really like shooting in Cowboy Stadium and I'd have a chance to see some of my Texas friends. The word from our office in New York however was "go to Denver for the Bears at Broncos," for a possible cover on Tim Tebow and his amazing run of last-second wins.

The other game being covered was Oakland at Green Bay for a story on "The Pack's" unbeaten season. Either way the cover was to be a gatefold meaning the inside flap folded out to accommodate a double page advertisement on the inside of the cover. To this end, all the photographers (Al Tielemans was with me in Denver while John Biever and Damian Strohmeyer were in GB) had strict instructions to only shoot horizontal with the main action on the left hand side of the frame facing left-to-right-to draw the reader's eye into the magazine. Oh, and cover the entire football game too.

I am sure that anyone who watched this game will agree with me that for 59 minutes and about 30 seconds it was one of the most boring NFL contests ever played, and the Broncos were losing to boot.

Meanwhile I'm watching the score of the Green Bay game as the Packers are killing the Raiders. All thoughts of a cover have left my head.

Then of course, the Bears' running back runs out of bounds giving the Broncos just enough time for Tebow to drive them into field goal range. They tie the game up at the end of regulation and go on to win in Overtime, aided by a miraculous fumble by the same Bear player who ran out of bounds in regulation. Divine intervention? Who knows, but it sure was exciting.

Nevertheless, when I left the game to head for the airport I had no thought that the game was worthy of the cover. In a "can't see the forest because of the trees" moment I totally underestimated how Tim Tebow and the Broncos had captured the country's imagination. Fortunately, the folks back at SI did see it. Unfortunately, Tebow being left handed meant that he usually rolled out right-to-left- not what we needed for the gatefold.

Fortunately, I was in the right spot in the back of the endzone to shoot him throwing the one and only TD scored in the game and I was then able to zoom wide enough with my 70-200 f2.8 to shoot the receiver making the catch in the next frame.

So the front cover shows Tebow throwing the touchdown pass with the receiver catching the same pass on the fold out flap. Not exactly what we set out to get, but all in all I think it worked pretty well.

(Peter will be teaching his tenth annual Sports Photography Workshop in Denver, CO April 9-15, 2012. Information on the workshop is available on Peter's website A direct link to registration is: This year's sponsors include: Canon, Think Tank, Western Digital, Dynalite and Hoodman USA. Additional speakers will include Steve Fine, director of photography, Sports Illustrated.)

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