It’s not every day you get to be part of a historic event like the one I had the honor to document this past weekend for Sports Illustrated. I got a call from my good friend Brad Smith, Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated asking me to stop by his office to discuss an ambitious project they were working on for the one year anniversary cover of the Boston Marathon bombing. On top of being involved in this over-the-top production, I was able to meet and work with a legendary portrait photographer who was hired to take the cover photo, Gregory Heisler. He’s shot over 70 covers for TIME Magazine, among many more publications. He’s also recently put out his first book, 50 Portraits, which showcase some of his most memorable portraits from the past few decades.
The idea was to photograph the mayor of Boston, along with thousands of Bostonians, wearing Boston sports colors and outfits, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the site of the tragic bombings one year prior. I know the whole Sports Illustrated team worked very hard to make such an event take place, especially the effort of Brad Smith should be commended. He personally made multiple trips to Boston to convince the mayor to shut down a busy city block for the morning and dealt with all the bureaucratic red tape. In addition, safety was a concern, so there was a noticeable police presence along with bomb-sniffing dogs. Safety was paramount.
The press release went out during the week prior to all Bostonians to show up at the finish line starting at 7AM for the 8AM arrival of the mayor. To our surprise there were already people lined up before 6AM when we arrived! I was tasked with making a time-lapse of the scene and documenting the entire process from a behind-the-scenes point of view.
The whole experience truly felt like a sporting event, as if the marathon was actually happening around us. The amazing thing was that we, the Sports Illustrated team, WERE the event! There was an estimated 3,000 Bostonians who showed up and packed tightly into the single city block. Everyone from survivors, first responders, organizers, firefighters, police officers, EMS, residents, their pets, and even the Boston RedSox World Series Trophy showed up for the shoot!
Gregory took the amazing cover photo while in a massive lift about 10 feet above the front of the crowd using a super-sharp Canon 17mm tilt/shift lens on a Canon 5D Mark III body. One of the things I love the most about Gregory’s work is how he uses light so subtly so that it feels like natural light. The entire street was in open shade, but he used a few strobes with an amber gel to subtly throw warm light across parts of the crowd making it seem like beautiful morning sunlight.
One trait of a talented photographer, beyond technical and creative ability, is how they interact with their subjects. It’s something that makes the best of the best stand out. Gregory got up in the lift and addressed the crowd of 3,000+ with a megaphone telling them how honored and excited he was to be given the privilege of photographing all the beautiful people. He made jokes and immediately lightened the mood causing laughter and cheer. It’s these sorts of traits that I will take with me in my own work and it’s something Gregory and I talk about in our recent podcast.
After about 10 minutes of actual shooting, it was all over and everyone dispersed back into the city. The group of people who showed up couldn’t have been better. There were zero incidents and after the shoot was complete we were amazed to see the streets completely clear of trash…almost unimaginable!
Thank you to Brad Smith and all of the Sports Illustrated team for allowing me to be part of this epic photo shoot. And thanks to the people of Boston for the inspiration showing your amazing resilience. This shoot will truly go in the record books!