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Photographing the Sports Illustrated World Cup Issue: Trials & Tribulations {BTS}

By Hanssie on December 31st 2014

Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong, will and when you’re given the task of shooting three stories of the U.S. Soccer Team for Sports Illustrated in a very short amount of time, inevitably Murphy’s Law will come into play.


When Alexis Cuarezma was asked to photograph the cover of the USMNT issue of the publication, he tried not to get too excited. He had much work ahead of him. The magazine wanted 3 different looks:

  • Photograph Captain America/Clint Dempsey for the Cover – time with Clint for the cover 10-15 minutes
  • Meet Team USA, do portraits of the 23 man roster – about 1 minute with each player
  • Do a group portrait of all the German players that play for the USMNT – 10 minutes

Total time for the shoot: less than 50 minutes.



Alexis rented well over $100,000 worth of lighting gear which included Profoto B4 packs. He decided on using the Canon 1D X paired with the Canon 24-105mm F4.0L IS lens for the first set, a Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon 24-70mm 2.8L lens for the second set and a combination of both for the cover shot with Clint Dempsey.

With 3 sets and 20 lights to set up, Alexis and crew only had less than two hours to get everything up before the players got there at 9am. The day of the shoot, of course, the triggers for the light setups wouldn’t work, the players showed up a half hour early, a power pack blew and not all the players were cooperative.


Alexis was able to get all the shots needed for the cover and the subsequent 6 page spread in the SSI USMNT issue. Alexis explains the entire shoot, including the challenges and the extensive lighting setup in the behind the scenes video below.

Clint Dempsey & Team USA – Sports Illustrated World Cup Preview Issue

Here are a few more shots from the session. You can read about Alexis’ experience and see more photos on his blog here and on his Instagram here.

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    I’m sure some people would think that this infringes the “flag code”. ;0

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  2. Dean Reid

    Wow…twenty lights…impressive setup.

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  3. Maarten de Boer

    So much light, so much investments and such meh shots. I mean, sure they have been under an incredible time pressure but I would think using so much gear and setups slows things down. Why not use a simple setup and make something amazing?

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    • Stan Rogers

      No, using so much gear and three sets speeds things up an awful lot, since the set-up can all be done before the talent shows up (using stand-ins). And the shots are to a brief; you don’t get to play things by ear. And if the talent shows up on time and doesn’t have to leave earlier than they said the would, you should run right out and buy a lottery ticket immediately after the shoot; you’ll never have another day quite as lucky again. When you’re shooting what amounts to school pictures (one a minute, and make sure you have no blinkers) you don’t have time to make “amazing”, you need to play it safe. Remember, if you don’t get all of the shots, you’ll never work for SI again.

      You can’t bring hobby-level thinking to a pro job. And this isn’t a fashion shoot where you have all day to play or the opportunity to reschedule. Yes, you could do any of these shots, better, with fewer lights and more time — but time is the thing you don’t have, and you have to start with the assumption that your “50 minutes” is a wildly optimistic PR person’s forecast, so plan to do it in half an hour and be thankful if you have more time.

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    • Maarten de Boer

      All I’m saying is that I have seen wayyy better shots with a simple light setup than this. You don’t need more time… you need to use it efficiently and come up with a good shot. No one cares if you shot it using $100,000 worth of stuff

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    • Matthew Saville

      Maarten, I think anyone who has that big of a budget would know what they can and cannot expect to accomplish in a given amount of time. The shots may not look that exciting to you, but from a commercial photography perspective, they have a lot of different people to please. If they go off the rails and do something totally outside the box, 75% of the people using the photos will, well, find them extremely difficult to use. This is unfortunately how such high-end shoots go sometimes. They have to keep it simple in order to please everybody.

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    • Alexis Cuarezma

      Maarten, thanks for the comment & sorry for such a delay reply. I could slow down as much I wanted to, but that wouldn’t change my time w/ each athlete. I was still limited to about 1 minute per player.

      The amount of gear didn’t matter. All using less gear would do is shorten the setup time & breakdown time. Also, within that minute, I was required to take a close up shot, a 3/4 shot, and a full length portrait of each player. So it didn’t leave much room for extra.

      They wanted just 1 simple look lighting-wise actually. Just brightly lite w/ a grey background to cut them. But I also wanted to shoot some looks for myself within the short time frame. That’s why I ran multiple setups at once.

      Sorry the images weren’t up to your standards. I did the best I could under the given circumstances.


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    • Maarten de Boer

      Alright that’s a hell lot of work in a minute and don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t meant as an insult or bragging that I can do better (I can’t, trust me), I’m glad you replied!

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