How I Made Instagram Images That Were Good Enough for Sports Illustrated
Posted on July 18, 2012
LEFT: Instagram of San Francisco Giants batter Melky Cabrera in the on deck circle during the game against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park on June 2, 2012 in San Francisco, California. RIGHT: Instagram of San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum sitting in the dugout before the game against the Oakland Athletics at the O.co Coliseum on June 22, 2012 in Oakland, California. (Photos by Brad Mangin)
The big news was leaked on Mashable last night that Sports Illustrated is publishing 18 of my baseball iPhone Instagrams spread out over three Leading Off double trucks (6 pages) in the magazine this week. This is an exciting development for a project that I started in February on the first day of spring training when I was on assignment for the magazine.
I purchased my iPhone 4s in December of 2011 and immediately fell in love with the special effects and social networking aspect of working with Instagram. Since I was not shooting much over the winter I was mostly posting pictures of my cats Mike and Willie. Once Spring Training began, I felt like I had an amazing blank canvas in front of me just begging to be shot with my iPhone. I was officially addicted to Instagram and wrote about it in a story about covering spring training over two decades for Wired.com.
By the time the regular season opened in April I felt like I was shooting baseball for the first time ever, through the lens of my iPhone and the square format of Instagram. I wrote a blog post for The Photo Brigade entitled “I Love My New Camera.” I wasn’t kidding! I started looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes from the moment I walked onto the fields in Oakland and San Francisco about three hours before each game. It was like I was a newborn photographer seeing things for the first time.
I was naturally drawn to the dugouts where I found many baseball-related pieces of equipment that made for good pictures. By the time the players came out and sat in the dugouts before the games I was ready to try and capture them getting ready. At first I felt pretty strange not using my Canon EOS-1 Mark IV and shooting with my iPhone instead. I eventually became more comfortable and started getting some pictures of the ball players that I liked.
Once the season got going in April, I talked to Nate Gordon, my baseball picture editor at Sports Illustrated, about trying to put together a photo essay with these pictures. He thought it was a cool idea and continually coached me on different things to look for. Once I had a good enough variety he told me he would pitch the story to the editors. Thanks to all of Nate’s hard work this is the week I have been dreaming of. I am so excited to show people the quality of pictures that can be made with a cell phone and some cool apps.
I shoot all of my pictures with the native camera in my phone. All editing and toning happens within the iPhone, too, using a few of my favorite iPhone apps. Once it looks good, I import the final image into Instagram. The final step in my workflow involves uploading the images to my PhotoShelter archive, which is where editors like Nate can easily view and download them for publication.
Some of my favorite apps include Dynamic Light, Snapseed, and Camera+. I really love Snapseed for converting images to black and white and for toning my images. Dynamic Light is my favorite app for making a sky look dramatic and for adding great color to images. Once I get the image into Instagram I usually apply the Lo-fi filter and border if I want high contrast and rich color, or rich black and white. If I want muted colors with an old-school look, or if I want to make a black and white image into sepia-toned I use the Earlybird filter and border.
The picture above of Astros player Chris Snyder is the newest image that will be published. I shot it on Sunday in San Francisco after I got a text message from Nate saying, “Get me one from today’s game.” I then crawled under the legs of my good friend and legendary television camera man David Benzer with my iPhone and shot this picture in the Astros dugout in the 5th inning.
This was a great example of using some fun apps to make the picture look good. The image in camera was backlit with flare and a little washed out. I ran it through Dynamic Light to punch it up. Then I went into Snapseed to darken it just a bit. By the time I applied the Lo-fi filer in Instagram I knew I had an image I liked.
After I sent the image Nate texted me again. “We’re shooting for three spreads here. But it’s early,” he said. Oh man. so much can change from Sunday afternoon till closing time on Monday. I went to bed Sunday night hoping like hell I would get lucky.
I got word on Monday that we were locked into having 18 images published across 6 pages in the front of the magazine. I was ecstatic. When Nate called with the good news he told me I owed him a beer. I think I owe him more than that! He worked so hard for me on this project. There is nothing like having a picture editor in your corner on a story like this.
I knew this was really official when I received an email from my old boss Neil Leifer titled “WOW!” “I just got my new SI this afternoon and I love your 6 page spread in “leading off”. Congratulations, the spread look really great,” Leifer said.
The iPad edition of the magazine comes out today and the hard copy of the magazine will start arriving in subscribers mailboxes today, tomorrow and Friday. Although I embrace all of this new technology, I can’t wait till I can hold the issue in my hands.