Panini America Photo Editor Kevin Jairaj on His ‘Rookie Card,’ Leo Messi and More

September 08, 2017


I remember regularly going to M.E Moses stores as a youngster (more or less a Mom and Pop version of a modern-day Walgreens) and begging my mom for a few dollars so I could buy baseball cards. In fact, I remember vividly how much I fell in love with the look and feel of the 1984 Donruss Baseball cards I saw on the shelves. What caught my attention (besides the chase for the highly coveted Darryl Strawberry and Don Mattingly Rookie Cards) was the stunning photography and unique Diamond Kings and Rated Rookie inserts. This honestly started my card-collecting obsession and even turned me into a teenaged hobby dealer at local card shows a few years later. 

I guess I never got the wonderful photography from the 1984 Donruss Baseball set out of my head as, in my adult life, I became a fashion, wedding and sports photographer. In fact, I am currently in charge of all the photography for the College Football Playoff National Championship and I regularly work assignments — including Super Bowls, Olympics and Final Fours — for USA Today Sports Images. I’ve loved sports and trading cards all my life and when the opportunity came to join Panini America as a member of the company’s excellent Photo Editing team, I immediately jumped at the chance to combine two of my biggest loves.

I’ve been fortunate enough to win several photography awards in my career but because of my collecting background, I still get so excited to see one of my images on a Panini America trading card. The following image is one such example. I was on assignment in Houston last year to photograph the Copa America quarterfinal between Argentina and the U.S. It was also my first chance to photograph arguably the best soccer player in the world — Lionel Messi. I happened to be fortunate as Messi would end up scoring a goal and setting the record for most career goals for an Argentinian player. Panini America used a few images of mine from the game and below is how it looked from image capture to final product. As you can see, we have some incredible digital artists here at Panini America:


Another image of mine that made it on a card featured Texas A&M standout Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft. The folks who work on our Panini Instant line selected it to appear on his Draft Night card. I found it pretty cool that his first Panini America card had my image on it.


Since then, I have had my images appear on several cards and it never gets old. But never have I actually seen myself on a card until recently. Our Basketball Editors happened to be showing me a proof of our 2016-17 Excalibur Basketball product and, lo and behold, there is yours truly in the background! With all due respect to Wesley Matthews, I think I’m going to claim this one as my official Rookie Card.


It is a thorough joy working with an amazing group of photo editors at Panini America, each day picking out the best photos that complement our vast array of products. I know all of our customers and collectors truly appreciate the hard work and effort we put in to make Panini America products the best in the industry. 

Kevin Jairaj is a Photo Editor for Panini America. Feel free to follow all of his adventures and interact with him on Instagram and Twitter.