Shawn Hubbard’s Imagery of NFL MVP Lamar Jackson On Madden 21

Sep 10, 2020
Photographer Spotlight

COVID-19 restrictions have mostly hindered photographers more than helped them, but there are still instances where opportunities have arisen because of the lockdown. One such example comes via Shawn Hubbard, a Baltimore-based photographer who has worked with the Ravens since 2007.

Over the years, Shawn has gone from shooting team-led youth initiatives and community events to capturing imagery of players and coaches during practices and on Sundays. As such, he’s culled a vast array of photographs of Lamar Jackson, the Ravens’ electrifying quarterback, the NFL’s reigning MVP, and the Madden 21 cover athlete.

I was first made aware that Lamar was being considered for the cover of Madden 21 back in March. The Ravens’ Senior VP of Digital Media — my main point of contact with the team — reached out to let me know that EA Sports was unable to execute their traditional, annual photo shoot with the cover athlete this year due to restrictions induced by COVID-19. So, EA asked the Ravens if they’d be interested in sharing their archive of imagery of Lamar in consideration for the cover art.

Shawn Hubbard EA Sports Madden Cover Lamar Jackson spin ball

Although I’m not staff, I’ve been an official team photographer for the Ravens going on 14 seasons and they’ve granted me amazing access to the team. Needless to say, I have arguably the most extensive library of images of Lamar over his first two seasons of his professional career.

A veteran freelancer, Shawn is used to the process of working with clients to get his work published. Thus, the team let him run point as it related to delivering his best work to EA Sports and Cinco, the design agency that produces the cover itself.

Because of my experience working and negotiating with brands, the Ravens let me take the lead on the process from the start. It began with a Zoom meeting with folks from EA and Cinco. They shared their creative deck with me containing some inspiration imagery and layout concepts which, surprisingly, were largely made up of my images they had found on the web.

Shawn Hubbard EA Sports Madden Cover Lamar Jackson trip

They unveiled what was explained to me as a shift in concept and design for this year’s cover. Traditionally the cover was comprised of a single, highly produced image. However, according to Cinco, even before being faced with the fact that they wouldn’t be able to have a photo shoot with Lamar, they conceived of a cover design that showcased multiple images highlighting Lamar’s personality. 

Post-meeting, Shawn sent Cinco pretty much every shot he’d created of Lamar from the previous two years. The wide swath featured images of Lamar during games, practices, and quiet moments in between them. As we’ll soon learn, Shawn didn’t come to the Ravens with an extensive action sports photography background, so his work was always going to lean more toward intimate as opposed to high-flying. Though the Madden packaging traditionally has an action shot of whichever athlete graces the cover, the fact that EA and Cinco wanted something different played right into Shawn’s hands.

My primary focus and passion for the last 14 years has been creating intimate, emotional, storytelling images of players. Although photographing on-field action is a major part of what I document, I try to dig deeper than that with a more behind-the-scenes approach to telling the story of the team and its athletes.

Shawn Hubbard EA Sports Madden Cover Lamar Jackson getting ready

I think that’s why my images stood out to EA/Cinco in comparison to more standard, game action moments.

How Shawn got involved with the Ravens is a great story in itself, one that speaks to how someone can work their way up an organizational food chain and put themselves in a position for this unique opportunity. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t even photographed college sports before he came on board with a professional team.

I had mostly been photographing youth sports leagues, which is where I essentially taught myself how to capture sports action. One Saturday, I was photographing a youth football tournament at the Ravens’ stadium when I ran into a friend from college who worked for the team. We got to talking and he mentioned that the Ravens frequently had youth events and, although they had a 'team photographer,' who documented the players and games, they had a need for photographers to capture their youth initiatives. I made some prints of photos that I had captured that day and mailed them to him. They were very well received within the marketing department, and they began to hire me for some offseason youth events. That led to documenting training camp that year, then games, then everything.

Though Shawn has certainly improved as an action sports photographer, he still finds himself creating images that focus more on emotion than physicality. Couple that with the fact that he’s earned some in-depth access to the players, and you’ve got a recipe for eye-catching shots. It doesn’t hurt that the subject this time around, a 23-year-old MVP, also happens to be a humble, easy to root for individual.

My first few years were basically spent just learning how to be a sports photographer. As I began focusing more on emotion, my style emerged and stood out from what other photographers were doing.

Shawn Hubbard EA Sports Madden Cover Lamar Jackson black and white

As my access grew, I began to make even more intimate pictures. Sports action is great, but I’ve always been more drawn to the emotion behind the athletes than their accomplishments on the field. I live for those moments.

Credits:

Design Agency: Cinco

Check out more of Shawn's work at shawnhubbardphoto.com.

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