Don't mess up my abs: NFL Draft portrait shoot with DJ Hayden

UH cornerback DJ Hayden, the 12th pick in the NFL draft.

I recently photographed DJ Hayden, a cornerback from the University of Houston, who surprised many by being selected number 12 by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of Thursday night’s 2013 NFL Draft.  Hayden survived a freak injury: a November 2012 collision with a teammate in practice that ruptured his inferior vena cava, which is fatal 95% of the time, and normally only seen in serious car injuries.  Medical personnel rushed him to the hospital and saved his life, but his stock in the draft dropped with the uncertainty about his condition, with many pundits not even picking him in the first round.

I photographed DJ for a story leading up to the draft in Sports Illustrated, and of course we wanted to make a telling picture that spoke to the seriousness of his injury.  Normally, we might have scrubbed the shoot due to the rain and dreary weather, but we decided to press on, as the moody sky sort of went with the tone of the story.  DJ posed shirtless, baring a scar that went completely down the center of his abdomen. ( His last words to doctors before they split him open to repair his torn vein were, “Ok, just don’t mess up my abs…”)

We used two Profoto 7B’s on the UH practice field late in the day.  We decided to use a Plume Wafer 75 with a Lighttools grid from the right side, to just barely light the edge of DJ’s face, with a little bit of spill highlighting the scar on his wrist from the many needles and transfusions he endured during his hospital stay.  We used a regular 7″ reflector with a 3-degree grid with a Cinefoil snoot to highlight the scar on the chest and abdomen.  Andres Quintero, my assistant on the shoot, operated the 3-degree grid by hand to make sure it stayed in the optimum position as we shot.

With the under-exposed gray stormy sky, the result was a dramatic portrait that told the story of what DJ Hayden had been through en route to the 2013 draft.

Inspirational bracelets made for DJ during his hospital ordeal.

UH cornerback DJ Hayden, who survived a ruptured vein to be the 12th pick in the NFL draft.

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