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Trae Young, Luka Dončić and the SI Cover From Two Shoots

After careful planning, photos taken in Atlanta and Dallas came together in one portrait.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram and visit SI.com/photos. If you missed last week’s edition on the return of minor league baseball, you can find it here.

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At first glance, it looks like Trae Young and Luka Dončić are standing side by side in the same gym. Even though the guards play for separate teams—the Hawks and Mavericks, respectively—it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they would be photographed under the same basketball hoop.

But for November’s NBA Preview cover of SI, that wasn’t the case.

Through elite skill, perfect timing and a dash of luck, veteran photographers Kevin D. Liles and Greg Nelson captured two different photos nearly simultaneously, despite being almost 800 miles apart and in different time zones.

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Both photographs were shot during the teams’ media days. Liles was in Atlanta while Nelson was in Texas. Since the composite needed to include nearly identical pictures, extensive planning took place beforehand to address a myriad of potential problems the duo could face, like the nets, the lighting or even the six-inch height difference.

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Liles says it was Nelson’s idea to buy a rim and mount it to a stand. Then, they had to match the width of the net, stretching it out so it looked used.

Matching the player height was a little trickier, especially given the time constraints with the media days.

“Their faces have to be the same size,” Liles says. “You have to think about what lens you use on your camera because the longer lens, the more it compresses things. There's a lot of things that we had to sort through and to make sure that we were really close. You don’t have to be exact, but close enough to where it can look like the same picture because if you zoom in, for example, too far, using a longer focal length and the guy looks bigger in the picture than the other guy, it's not going to work.”

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Liles used a Sony A7r4, “​​which is just a great portrait camera,” a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and battery powered lights, which allowed him not to worry about the logistics that are connected to traditional lights.

“It really frees you up and makes the shoot for me a lot easier to manage when you don't have cords and stuff everywhere,” Liles says.

On one big soft box, a key light coming from the right illuminated the left side of Young’s face and another sat on the left. Liles stood on a 12-foot ladder throughout the five-minute shoot, snapping photos of just the net, just Young and the two together so the designers had different options when piecing the composite together. Luckily, Liles was able to set up earlier and snap a test image so Nelson could match his set up in Texas.

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“The final picture that has Trae in it that’s on the cover was not shot through a net,” Liles says. “That's a picture I took of just Trae standing there without the net, and then they used another net, I guess the net Greg shot through in Texas, to frame the picture.”

Have questions, comments, or feedback about Sports Illustrated's newsletters? Send a note to josh.rosenblat@si.com.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram and visit SI.com/photos. If you missed last week’s edition on the return of minor league baseball, you can find it here.

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