Yes Was the Right Answer: How Ian Curcio Met and Photographed NBA Star Zion Williamson

Apr 2, 2021
Photographer Spotlight

Portrait photographer Ian Curcio doesn’t usually shoot senior portraits, but a few years back he did one for a girl whose mother worked at Spartanburg Day School. At the time, future NBA superstar Zion Williamson was attending the high school, so Ian asked if he could photograph the rising talent. Next thing you know, Ian was shaking hands with Zion.  

Ian Curcio photographs grinning NBA star Zion Williamson back in high school

Sometimes, things just work out. Take Ian Curcio’s story of meeting and photographing Zion Williamson, the up-and-coming NBA star whose gleaming smile and jaw-dropping talent have garnered him a global fanbase. Ian is an accomplished portrait photographer, but he doesn’t really do senior portraits. He made an exception a few years back, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect time to do so.

An acquaintance reached out about shooting some senior portraits, which does not happen very often; when it does, I usually pass the request along. However, this time I said yes, and as it turns out, yes was the right answer. 

As Ian got a few shots of the graduating student, he figured out that the kid’s mom worked at the same high school Zion Williamson was attending at the time. At this point, Zion was earmarked for superstardom: he had a social media presence as dizzying as the dunks often shared on his IG page and was going to play basketball at Duke that fall. So Ian, as any photographer would in this instance, took his chance.  

At some point during the shoot, I realized the senior’s mom worked with the Spartanburg Day School. This high school happens to be where Zion Williamson was becoming a household name at the time. He was ending his senior year and was just weeks away from heading off to Duke. We chatted all things Zion and I simply said, ‘I'd love to have him in front of my camera one day.’

Ian Curcio photographs NBA star Zion Williamson portrait with a basketball

We both laughed, and that was that. Seriously, the kid already had a million follows on Instagram in his junior year. Tons of photographers would love to have had him in front of their camera by this point. 

Fast forward a bit to when Ian got a call from Ms. Williamson, who was inquiring about a senior portrait for her son. You can guess how Ian responded.

A few weeks later, Zion's mother called me personally and asked if I was interested in shooting his senior portraits. The location ended up being the high school gym before practice. I brought one assistant as well as hair & makeup, and we set up two different backdrops: a white seamless and my Oliphant. I shot both film and digital.

Ian Curcio photographs Zion Williamson head on against a white background

After watching Zion fly through the air and be all business on the court, I enjoyed spending some one-on-one time getting to know a sillier side of him. He's a star athlete and an all-around nice guy.

Ian Curcio photographs a jovial NBA star Zion Williamson in a suit

Zion has been lauded for his down-to-earth nature and easy-going disposition, two things Ian experienced while working with the soon-to-be top overall pick in the NBA Draft. This is a person who, before turning 20, was one-name famous (say “Zion” in front of any sports fan and they’ll know exactly who you’re talking about) and yet couldn’t have been more pleasant to be around. Ian went home that day with a litany of great photographs and an equal number of unforgettable experiences. When it came to figuring out whether to do that initial senior portrait, “yes” was absolutely the right answer.

Our time during the shoot was us swapping stories about how we both like to embellish our height (he's 6' 6", I'm 5' 6") and listening to Drake, who wore Zion's high-school jersey in an Instagram post.

 

Ian Curcio behind the scenes with Zion Williams capturing a laughable height difference

 

 

I shot many of these effortlessly while listening to Zion and his mom banter back and forth while quoting "Coming to America." The smiles are as genuine as they come.

See more of Ian's work at iancurcio.com.

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