On September 26, 2014, Tom Medvedich competed with various TV networks, radio stations and the press to find space to set up a makeshift studio to photograph Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James for the December 2014 cover of SLAM Magazine. Having never seen the frenzy that is a “media day,” Medvedich acclimated himself with the environment, making his first move to connect with his on-site PR contact. “He told me I could have five minutes [with James] and I half-jokingly said I needed ten, even though I knew five would be enough,” Medvedich told PDN via email. The two agreed on seven, but in reality, Medvedich ended up with a whopping five minutes to shoot a variety of images of King James for the magazine’s cover, feature story and Editor’s Letter.
When you have a limited amount of time, it’s a good idea to stick to simple compositions like shooting on seamless [Slides 1-5], and have your subject sit, stand and go through a series of poses. It’s also helpful to research your subject. James is 6’8″ so Medvedich had to be aware of the seamless height, and make sure he had enough room to move around. “We did a dry run with my assistant standing on an apple box and we had just enough room to make it with height and distance,” Medvedich said. He likes to use Profoto B4 packs on location, even if power outlets are available. “I learned the hard way shooting a SLAM cover in a gym with packs plugged into the wall…you don’t want to trip the circuit breaker when you only have a couple minutes to shoot.”
Another thing to keep in mind when shooting celebrities is their entourage. “No less than 50 people followed [James] with still cameras, video cameras, cell phones, etc,” Medvedich says. He lucked out by securing an area in the corner of the gym and hiding his set by another photographer’s set-up [Slide 4]. “We had LeBron, myself, my assistant, the SLAM writer, LeBron’s PR, and his handler.” Medvedich also had what he calls his “secret weapon,” Jim Ice. “Jim is a homie who works for the NBA and travels the world with LeBron and other all-star players. Having Jim on set was huge because he was a familiar face for LeBron and that added to [James] being comfortable.”
Before Medvedich was shooting celebrities, he assigned himself portrait shoots, experimenting with lighting techniques, building images for his portfolio. “I’m glad that I put in the work early on since it taught me how to do things in a guerrilla style with no permits and minimal gear. It also gave me the opportunity to fail and learn from trial and error at a point in my career where I could afford to experiment and make mistakes.”
Medvedich is always pushing himself to try new things. His portfolio includes portraits and a variety of still life images [Slides 5-10]. For more on Medvedich, visit his website or follow him on Instagram.