44 Photo Tips From The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (Part 2 of 5)




I assume you’ve already read my semi-rant that kicked off this series. Now it’s time to take a look at some images from the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and figure out what makes these pictures special.

Do you have a fresh copy of the 2012 issue in front of you?

If so, cool.

If not, less cool. But not the end of the world.

Let’s get started:


Pages 6-7

It’s doubtful that you or I are going to find ourselves in a location like the one seen here anytime soon. Obviously, a great deal of the drama that this shot contains is due to the waterfall setting.

However, there’s still a valuable lesson we can take from this shot: When the vast majority of an image contains relatively similar colors, all it takes is a splash of a very different color to steal the show.

In this shot, the color of the model’s skin and swimsuit naturally draw the viewer’s eyes. In spite of how small she is in relation to the entire frame, there’s no doubt that she’s the prime subject of the shot.

In contrast, if the model had been forced to compete against a very colorful background, she would have had a much more difficult time establishing her role as the main subject of the shot.

It’s also important to note how the model’s pose delivers a sense of drama and brings the viewer’s eyes toward her. The extremely arched back, along with the position of her hands behind her head, create a silhouette that is hard to ignore. In other words, it’s a much more effective pose than would have been obtained if the photographer had simply directed the model to, “go stand over there in the water.”

It’s important to know that this technique of drawing a viewer’s eyes to the main subject by using contrasting colors or textures is equally effective in all styles of photography (whether the picture includes people or not).


Page 11

This shot is a good example of the importance of shooting outdoor glamour images primarily very early or very late in the day.

Among photographers, there is a term for these times of day: “The Magic Hours”. One Magic Hour occurs near sunrise, the other one occurs around sunset.

At these two times of day, the sun is very low in the sky and delivers an even and soft light that is ideal for photographing people.

However, don’t be fooled by the word “hour” in Magic Hour. In reality, you’ll often only have a shooting window of a few minutes when the light is ideal.

At these times of day the sun produces an extremely warm, slightly orange light. This color adds a healthy glow to a model’s skin. Because of this, it’s a great time for shooting pictures that feature a lot of skin, such as swimsuit or nude images.

Since you’ll often only have a few minutes when the sun is producing the exact light you desire, shooting during The Magic Hours requires concentration and preparation.

Because of this, every aspect of the shot – from the camera position to the model’s position, and everything in between – must be set up and ready to go in order to take full advantage when the light is just right.

You can be sure that this shot was taken very close to sunrise or sunset due to the catchlights in the model’s eyes that reflect a low sun position, the long shadows being cast, and the golden glow of her skin.

There’s another thing to learn from this picture. Take a look at the model’s smile. Do you see the space between her top teeth and her bottom lip? In the “real world”,  people rarely smile in this way. It just isn’t natural. However, in photographs of smiling models, the space between the top teeth and the lower lip add a great deal of energy and make the the shot far more dynamic.

It may seem strange, but it’s true. Trust me. It can make a huge difference in the energy that comes across in a shot.

Before the shoot, it’s a good idea to explain to your model what you want to accomplish. When the time comes for this kind of look, simply use a phrase such as, “Big smile, without the teeth touching” to remind her of what you’re going for.


Page 37

The shot seen here is a good counter-argument to the type of lighting we discussed with the previous image (page 11).

This picture proves that there are exceptions to every rule and guideline. Specifically, this shot demonstrates that it’s also possible to get great outdoor glamour shots during the middle of the day (not just during “The Magic Hours”).

However, it’ll often require an overcast day such as the one seen here. Overcast days can deliver very soft and flattering light (it’s as if the sky becomes a giant soft-box).

Make sure you don’t underestimate the value of the sky being overcast. It’s still true that shooting at midday in bright sunlight will usually produce very unflattering shadows on the model.

Though these unwanted shadows can often be dealt with by the proper use of various lighting accessories, it’s much simpler to shoot very early in the day, very late in the day, on overcast days, or in the shade.

In this particular picture, the softness of her pose (legs tucked underneath, relaxed hands), coupled with her gentle expression and her soft and sheer top perfectly complement the feel of the lighting and the picture’s composition. Taken together, these factors create a very gentle and attractive image.


Page 38

I can’t say for sure, but I would bet that every Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (since the first one in 1964) has had at least one picture featuring sand sticking to a model’s skin.

Sand on skin is a definite cliche when it comes to shooting at the beach. However, just because it’s a cliche, doesn’t mean it should be avoided. Some cliches are cliches for good reason. This is one of them.

The rough texture of the sand against the smooth skin of the model provides an interesting photographic contrast.

How the sand looks on skin will depend on a few variables: Is the sand wet or dry? Is the model wet or dry? Is the sand light and fluffy or a bit clumpy?

Thus, you’ll have to do a bit of experimentation to get the look you want.

As far as the lighting in this shot, it’s a very good example of manipulating light for specific purposes.

The very hard and contrasty shadows that appear on the model’s body are good evidence that the shot was taken in midday. This picture is a also a good example of how hard shadows can often be used for dramatic effect.

In this case, the hard shadows that appear on the body of the model serve to accentuate her curves and give the photograph a very dramatic overall vibe.

However, a closer examination reveals that these hard shadows don’t appear on her face (for example, there are no (unattractive) shadows under her eyes or nose). This was accomplished by using some sort of light manipulation device in order to keep the harsh sun off her face but allow it to hit her body.

The reason for this is simple: Faces tend to not look so good when engulfed in harsh shadows.

Of course, when I say this, I’m referring to the faces of young swimsuit models that are supposed to be as “pretty” as possible. In contrast, deep and hard shadows might be exactly what’s needed is you’re attempting to convey a “tough-guy” look (think Robert De Niro).


Page 44

This shot is a virtual treasure chest of techniques you should be familiar with:

-Even though the model is lying down, the photographer shot the picture eye-to-eye by getting down to her level. This simple move gives an interesting and personal perspective to the shot. Photographers often get a bit lazy and don’t give enough thought to their shooting angles and how these angles can have a dramatic effect on how an image turns out.

-A wide aperture setting on the lens was used. This enables the model’s face (especially her eyes) to be in sharp focus while the remainder of the shot’s focus drops of quickly. By using selective focus in this way, you can easily put added emphasis on a specific area of a photo. In this particular case, the emphasis is on the face and eyes of the model.

-The model’s upper arms are “pulled in” close together to accentuate and emphasize the breasts.

-The slight tilt of the model’s head (down and to her right) gives her face an attractive angle. This slight tilt also adds a bit of mystery to the shot that wouldn’t have been present had her face been straight on to the camera.

-It’s often difficult for models to attain attractive and graceful hand positions. The shot seen here is a good example of a very good hand position. Additionally, using her left hand to gently tug at a piece of hair adds a softness to the shot (note the subtle curve of the fingers on her left hand).

-Even though her body is in soft focus and not the main subject of the shot; her feet are still extended and her toes are pointed. This foot position is nearly always the most attractive way to photograph women’s feet (no matter what style of photography is being done).


Page 50

Rule Number 1:  

You can’t go wrong with a cheetah.














All photos courtesy of Sports Illustrated

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  5. Leonard Braddock says:

    Are there any modern lighting methods that even come close to duplicating “magic hour”? Considering the costs involved with a quality photo shoot (even for a major corp. like SI) it seems risky to have only a few minute window to get the shot. What if a rainstorm moves in or some other disturbance? Thanks for the great posts!

    • In my opinion, there’s really no way to artificially mimic the light of The Magic Hour. You’re correct about the risk involved in only having a short window in order to get the shot. But it’s a risk worth taking.

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