Bragging Rights: Indy Photographer Shoots New SI Cover
By now, the bearded cover boy of this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated should look awfully familiar. But so should the handiwork of the man behind the camera, Indianapolis’s John Bragg, who landed his first-ever SI cover with a whole lot of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck—and a little bit of lowercase luck.
A contract photographer operating a studio just south of downtown (johnbragg.com), Bragg has produced work for a host of publications including Indianapolis Monthly, for which he has shot some of the magazine’s keepsake covers (see: Exhibits A and B). But last week the 44-year-old got an opportunity to realize one of his lifelong goals when a former client Bragg hadn’t heard from in years connected him with the sports magazine, and, ultimately, Brad Smith, SI’s director of photography, who hired him to do Luck’s portrait.
For the shoot, Smith requested a tight photo, chest up. To make the image pop, Bragg decided to focus on the lighting. Assuming that Luck would show up sporting his famous neckbeard, Bragg prepped for the event by inviting his hirsute buddies into the studio for trial runs to see how the lighting would play on their whiskers. “Knowing that this was going to be for Sports Illustrated, I wanted to make sure everything was perfect,” he says. After playing around with the lighting for half a day, Bragg found what he liked and sent a sample Web gallery to Smith, who gave the go-ahead to the approach.
On the day of the shoot, which took place early last week, Bragg and his assistants spent two hours setting up the studio, even though they were given just 10 minutes with Luck. Bragg stuck to the plan he and Smith had agreed on, but during the final minutes he was allowed some creative freedom. Bragg knew both the pose and the composition had to be tight, so he threw a Hail Mary and experimented with different concepts (a black light and additional white lights), ideas that Smith had dismissed during the original negotiations. “I thought it would be dramatic and interesting,” says Bragg.
Smith never let on that the photo would grace the cover, although Bragg held out hope when he learned the gist of the accompanying story would be about how Luck was poised to be the NFL’s best quarterback by season’s end. And it turns out his last-minute scramble to add extra lighting was a winner, too: The image used for the cover came during the last shots of the session.
“It’s been pretty exciting,” says Bragg, who didn’t learn how the image was used until a friend posted the SI cover on Twitter. “I’ve never had a cover on a national magazine. Just to know that I was able to do something that can be seen by 3 million people [and more with the online audience]—it’s a big career milestone.”