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For Simone Biles Cover, Photographer Focused on 'Confidence' and 'Command'

Kate Powers details her half-hour session with the Olympic gymnast.

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simone-biles-cover

At first, Kate Powers thought she was being pranked. The accomplished photographer answered a call from an unknown number asking her to do a Simone Biles cover shoot in Houston.

It took her a minute to realize that, yes, the caller, Sports Illustrated’s director of photography, Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli, was serious.

“I don’t shoot a lot of athletes,” Powers says. “It was sort of out of left field. … But I was really excited to get that call.”

Powers, who photographed for SI Swimsuit last year, says she has followed Biles’s career “in awe of what she’s been able to accomplish and continue to accomplish,” but left her half-hour portrait session with an even deeper appreciation of the most decorated U.S. gymnast.

“I think one of the things that’s most impressive about her is that confidence,” Powers says. “You get that from her from the minute she walks in the room. She doesn’t have a lot of handlers. She feels like she’s in control of her own image.”

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That confidence was helpful for Powers, as Biles effortlessly moved through various poses and portrait ideas with “astonishing perfection,” Powers says. But the images that tended to stand out most to Powers were those that captured Biles’s strength through her eyes.

“Almost every picture I see of her,” Powers says, “she’s flying through the air. And we shot her like that. We got those moments. But she’s an incredibly thoughtful woman. She’s clearly so focused on her career and her sense of self and how she can affect other young women in the world of gymnastics. I think you get that sense of determination and confidence through her eyes, through her face. While we’re often focusing on the way her body moves and how high and fast she flies through the air, she’s such an inspiring woman. It was such an easy thing to capture because it’s so true to who she is.”

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For SI’s cover story, Biles told senior writer Stephanie Apstein that she found her voice over the past year, standing up for a number of causes.

“For her at 24 to have such a command of not only her sport but herself, it’s really impressive and inspiring to see,” Powers says.

During the shoot, Powers was hoping to capture both the sense of the athleticism for which Biles has been awarded four Olympic golds and that inner strength that so many find inspiring. In one image in particular, her calm, focused face contrasts with the chalk jumping off her clapping hands, illustrating those two ideas in a single moment.

“We had to do that at the end because the chalk gets everywhere,” Powers says. “I think I had about 45 seconds left with her before she had to move on. So you get three chances with that. Of course, she’s such a pro that she nailed it each time. I love that image. It’s really beautiful.”

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Powers says she’s able to capture that shot and images like it because of how she approaches her shoots.

“For all the women that I photograph, I want them to feel safe and collaborative,” she says. “They can trust me. That gives the women I photograph the freedom to relax and enjoy it. I think you get the best pictures out of any subject when it’s not forced, when it’s a natural engagement.”

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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. If you missed last week’s edition on using robotics to photograph the Olympics, you can find it here.

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