TIME 100 The Titans Kanye West Time Magazine Cover
Elon Musk on Kanye West: "Kanye’s been playing the long game all along, and we’re only just beginning to see why."Sebastian Kim for TIME
TIME 100 The Titans Kanye West Time Magazine Cover
Portrait of musician Kanye West photographed at Milk Studios in Los Angeles, California for time on march 18th, 2015.
TIME 100 The Icons Ruth Bader Ginsburg Time Magazine Cover
Portrait of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg photographed on Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 at the Supreme Court East Conference Room in Washington D.C. for TIME.
Portrait of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg photographed on Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 at the Supreme Court East Conference Room in Washington D.C. for TIME.
TIME 100 The Artists Bradley Cooper Time Magazine Cover
Portrait of actor Bradley Cooper photographed on Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at the TIME Magazine Studio in New York, NY.
TIME 100 The Pioneers Misty Copeland Time Magazine Cover
Portrait of author, entertainer, and American ballet dancer Misty Copeland photographed for Time on February 24th, 2015 at the American Ballet Theater in New York.
Photograph of author, entertainer, and American ballet dancer Misty Copeland photographed for Time on February 24th, 2015 at the American Ballet Theater in New York.
TIME 100 The Leaders Jorge Ramos Time Magazine Cover
Portrait of Mexican- American journalist and author Jorge Ramos photographed on Thursday, March 19, 2015 in Doral, Florida .
Elon Musk on Kanye West: "Kanye’s been playing the long game all along, and we’re only just beginning to see why."
Sebastian Kim for TIME
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Go Behind the Scenes of TIME 100's Cover Photo Shoots

Apr 16, 2015

They are our pioneers, our leaders, our titans, our artists and our icons. They are the 100 most influential people of the year. And when five of them – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kanye West, Bradley Cooper, Misty Copeland and Jorge Ramos – were selected for the covers of this special issue, TIME turned to fashion and portrait photographer Sebastian Kim.

"His genuine interest for the people who sit for him allows Sebastian to quickly develop a strong rapport with his subjects," says Natalie Matutschovsky, a senior photo editor at TIME. "In preparation for each shoot Sebastian did a tremendous amount of research both photographic and biographical on each subject. People immediately feel safe with him and that allows for a collaborative and creative atmosphere."

The challenge facing Kim, who once worked as an assistant to Richard Avedon, was to create visual consistency on five different sets across the country — from Washington to Los Angeles, Miami to New York City “The consistency comes from the decision to strip out the fluff,” he tells TIME. “Keeping it minimal, keeping it raw, keeping it about them.”

The approach came about naturally. While he started shooting the ballerina Misty Copeland in a very stylized way, Kim quickly reverted back to the most simple set-up, selecting, with TIME’s photo editors, a photo and an outfit that didn’t overpower the subject’s persona. “This approach came from the subjects themselves: Kanye wanted to wear a simple t-shirt, Bradley didn’t want to be glammed up, and Justice Ginsburg wanted to be herself,” says Kim. Even Jorge Ramos chose to be photographed in the suit he often wears to work. “It was really about themselves — the raw version of themselves,” Kim adds.

Photographer Sebastian Kim and Mexican- American journalist and author Jorge Ramos photographed on Thursday, March 19, 2015 in Doral, Florida for TIME. Zackery Michael Hollister for TIME  

This pared-down nature is particularly apparent in Cooper’s portrait. “Bradley is conscious of how he looks and how he’s portrayed,” says Kim. “He knew he didn’t want to be so polished. So, he sort of set the direction, which we rolled with.”

In the end, says Kim, portrait photography is all about connecting with your subject. But that can prove hard in certain situations. “These days, you have so little time to photograph them, it’s very difficult to connect,” he tells TIME. “How much can they give you? That’s the struggle of the modern-day portrait photographer, because the challenge is always to capture something that’s deeper than just the surface.”

Sebastian Kim is a fashion and portrait photographer based in New York. He is represented by Management Artists.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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