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September 7, 2013 at 8:54 PM

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Behind the Lens: Making portraits of Russell Wilson

The clear choice for the cover of this year's Seahawks season preview special issue was quarterback Russell Wilson. All eyes are on him as the key element on what is already a very strong team.

Editors thought it was important to make the request to the Seahawks to photograph Wilson early, as we suspected there would be lots of outlets vying for his time. So, in mid-June, I was able to arrange the cover shoot at the team's headquarters in Renton, Wash.

In brainstorming sessions, we thought it was a good idea to go for a very tight portrait of Wilson's face for maximum impact on the page. Editors and designers thought it might be cool to take that tight portrait, split it in half, and make two different covers -- each showing only half of Wilson's face. Readers could collect both and form a big poster as a collector's item. This was a great idea and something that had not been done before, as far as I could remember at the newspaper.

My assignment was to make two different portraits: the tight face shot for the cover, as well as another portrait for the main spread that would run large inside to introduce the main story about the young quarterback.

On June 13th, I arrived about 3 hours before the scheduled portrait shoot with two photographer friends, David Ryder and Daniel Berman, as my assistants. We quickly went to work putting together two lighting setups -- one for each photo. They had to be relatively close to each other because I knew we didn't have a lot of time with Wilson.

The tight portrait was fairly simple, with a white background, but I knew my lighting and my technique had to be just right because of the sheer size of the photo when it is placed on the page. Any errors on my part would be greatly magnified.

For the other portrait, I wanted to make a photo that was more dynamic, and that took advantage of the dramatic clouds that were present that day.

Because we got the lights, camera settings and concept down quickly, the shoot went very smoothly once Wilson arrived at our location after practice. It was a great shoot to experience and all of the pre-planning and preparation really paid off in the end.


Seattle Times staff photographer John Lok makes the cover image of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Lighting setup consisted of one Profoto 7b head with a Profoto beauty dish on a boom in front of Wilson as key light, and 2 Profoto Acute heads, one on either side of Wilson about 4.5 feet away from him. The 7b head was powered by a Profoto Pro-7b pack, and the Acute heads were powered by a Profoto Acute 2R 2400 pack.


Two different covers were printed using the tight head shot of Wilson. Readers can collect both halves and piece it together to form one big poster. Design by Seattle Times sports designer Rich Boudet.


Lok makes the second portrait of Wilson in a lighting setup located about 20 yards from the first. The setup consisted of 2 Profoto 7b heads cross-lighting Wilson. Lok instructed him to repeat the motion of dropping back to pass several times. The 7b heads were powered by a Profoto Pro-7b battery pack.


A view of the dramatic clouds used in the second portrait. The clouds were always moving, and so Lok depended on Mother Nature to provide just the right backdrop.


Lok shows some of the shots to Wilson on a shooting break.


The final action portrait: Canon EOS-1DX, 16-35/L lens (set at 16mm), f/14 @ 1/250 sec, ISO 100