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A smartphone camera just shot Sports Illustrated's latest cover

Appearing on the December cover of Sports Illustrated  was a dream come true for former football player and current Hollywood star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — but the image also marks a rite of passage for smartphone photography. The cover, shot by Michael LeBrecht, is the magazine’s first cover photo that was actually shot with a smartphone.

A behind-the-scenes video shows Lebrecht, normally a Canon shooter, working with a Moto Z smartphone. The modular smartphone also allowed the photographer to snap a Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod on the back of the phone so he could shoot with a 12 megapixel, 1/2.3” sensor and a 10x optical zoom.

As my good friend @luisdortiz would say “good morning, good morning, good morning ” that it is, photographing @therock was another dream coming true. He was the most amazing person and such a pro. His team is the best in the business @mercbeauty @robertmatadesigns . I am so grateful @sportsillustrated , Margurite lucarelli, @chercik ,@karencarpk had the confidence in me to pull this one off. Going to LA to photograph the biggest Man in Hollywood, and by the way “you will use a phone”? Not just any phone, a Moto z with a #Hasselblad Moto Mod. Just 3 weeks prior i was in LA meeting with Agencies, @we_luv_la, @willy_rags, its no secret i want to photograph movie posters, and the universe has an amazing way of proving it feeds off your energy. I could not have done this shoot without the help of my amazing crew @johnengstrom_dp and @rhdg808 , they where rock stars, and “The Rock Said So”. @theflug @schmidlibackdrops the support i get at home from @yesile28 and my kids makes living a dream a full time job. #grateful #therock #rock #sportsillustrated #Alist #celebrity #MOANA #wwe

A photo posted by MICHAEL LE BRECHT II (@lebrechtmedia) on Nov 30, 2016 at 5:43am PST

Sports Illustrated approached LeBrecht about the cover nearly a year ago — and just before the shoot, the magazine threw in a twist by requesting that the photographer shoot the cover with a smartphone. While the cover image is from the modular smartphone, the photographer’s usual Canon 5DS was also on scene to shoot a few outtakes, along with a professional lighting setup.

LeBrecht also used a tripod to hold the smartphone camera in place. Because the mod format of the phone has a protruding lens on the back, he had to use the smartphone adapter backwards, which blocked off part of the screen, creating one of his biggest challenges on set.

LeBrecht said that after learning Sports Illustrated wanted the shot done with a smartphone, he set up a few practice shoots both to get comfortable with the smartphone camera’s menu and to see how the image quality held up working with both ambient and continuous light.

On the shoot, LeBrecht said the 18th shot was the one that made the cover — the smartphone format made it easy to show Johnson the images, then shoot again for better expressions.

LeBrecht won’t be ditching his DSLR, but said the Moto Z with the Hasselblad True Zoom could serve as an excellent learning tool since some of the same controls are available on an advanced, dedicated camera.

Sports Illustrated’s interview with Johnson, as well as more outtakes from the shoot, are available in the Dec. 5 issue as well as online.