Google Shot 'Real Tone' Player Portraits for the HBCU Classic

Shaniqwa Jarvis puts image equity in the picture

Acclaimed photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis employed Google's Real Tone camera-phone technology—optimized to accurately render diverse skin tones—for a photo shoot featuring basketball players from Howard University and Morgan State.

Those teams will meet in Saturday's inaugural HBCU Classic game, part of the NBA's All-Star Weekend. As part of its wide-ranging league sponsorship, Google tapped Jarvis to reimagine sports yearbook pics through the lens of image equity.

"When skin is photographed right, it looks exactly as I see it: warm, beautiful. With Real Tone, you really see the nuances," she explains in this project video:

Google | HBCU Classic

The effort aims "to produce a fresh take on the classic team photo and headshot ... that brings out the players' individual personalities," Google says. "While issues of representational justice have always been important, the pandemic has delivered a new reality wherein we exist for each other through screens more than ever before. All the more reason why it's essential that the tools we use to present ourselves digitally work equitably for everyone."

Below are the results, captured via the tech giant's Pixel 6 camera.

Click the images to enlarge and scroll through:

The ballers' energy "was off the charts" during the shoot, according to The Robot Company, which helped devise the campaign. "They all came in hyped, clowning on each other and gassing up the crew. We had a moment where we noticed all the Howard players making TikToks, so we had to remind them not to post until the game. Everyone immediately grabbed their phones and started deleting multiple posts."

What's more, "Keith McGee, Morgan State #3, was pitching himself as the face of Google, and jumped into so many shots his teammates started holding him back," the agency says. "Ty Horner, Morgan State #31, is hoping his shots grab the attention of Lululemon so he can get a modeling contract."

The player images images and half-minute spot will appear across TNT's HBCU Classic coverage. In addition, the pics will pop up Saturday and Sunday's during All-Star festivities at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.

"It is a joy to know these students will be properly seen," Jarvis says.

Google devoted its 60-second Super Bowl commercial from GUT, starring Lizzo, to the Real Tone technology. Other nods in this direction include Snap Inc.'s "inclusive camera" initiative to correctly reproduce darker pigments.


Photographer: Shaniqwa Jarvis
Agency: The Robot Company
Production Company: The SpringHill Company
Post-Production: Union Editorial

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