Behind the Scenes of the 2012 Barron’s Roundtable Cover Shoot

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I first photographed the annual Barron’s Roundtable cover story back in January of 2007, which makes this the sixth year I’ve had the privilege, and each year the team of Art Director Pamela Budz, Photo Editor Adrian Delucca and myself have stepped up our game to reinvent creative ways to show the gang of financial prognosticators. This year the three of us came up with the idea that centered around the entire group posing in front of a blackboard. I did a quick mockup using shots of the Roundtable members I had taken previously…

So we packed up our usual thousand pounds of lighting gear along with a blackboard and various other set pieces and headed uptown to The Harvard Club to make it work…

Our main prop…a 4′x6′ blackboard…

Now for those of you who haven’t read about some of the previous Roundtable shoot days, I’ll break down the schedule for you. We have roughly two hours to shoot everybody before the meeting begins at 10:00AM. In that two hours we have to come away with two cover shots (one for main January issue and one for the mid-year follow-up in June), three additional situations that will be used for openers in three January issues, an opener for the June issue and individual portraits of all ten Roundtable members that will get dropped into the copy of the June issue.

Ten People. Two Hours.

Oh yeah…we shoot everybody separately as they arrive at the Harvard Club and assemble those shots into the group photos for the cover and inside openers.

Simple.

Here’s what it looked like…

Adrian reminding me we have very little time…

And this is just from the Blackboard set. You can see the second white seamless setup behind me in one of the above photos, but I can’t show you any of that until it publishes in June.

Once we had finished with the people, we now had to shoot the blackboard, out of the rigging we used to suspend it for the portraits and back on its stand…

…and various elements on the blackboard that I could insert into the final compositions. Since Pam can freehand fonts way better than any of us, she got to draw the cover headline on the board…

Adrian was elected to do the ‘Charts & Graphs’…

And with all of the elements photographed, now it was up to me to push everything together in Photoshop and manufacture that group shot for the cover. The individual photos looked like this…

…so first I had to silhouette the images and paste them into a new Photoshop document…

…and then fill in the group with everybody else…

…do a rough mockup with the blackboard inserted behind the group…

…and after Pam and Adrian had approved the final composition, do a whole lotta fine-tuning…like erasing the rough edges around the silhouette, feathering the hair to blend naturally against the blackboard, add shadows in front and behind everybody and finally cook in my own special sauce of color and contrast adjustments…

With the cover outta the way, next up was the week one opener. I started by seriously stretching out that blackboard so that it would run over a two-page spread, then I added both the people and their names that I had them write on the board…

Using the same fine-tuning I did on the cover, this was the final image…

And here’s how it appeared in print…

And using the same basic technique, just on a smaller scale, here is the image that ran as the opener in this weeks issue…

Just like I said…simple!

24 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes of the 2012 Barron’s Roundtable Cover Shoot

  1. You’re a maestro, Brad. Really well done. Just stuff like tweaking the shadows on the floor and feathering the hair and stretching the board and and and… wow.

    What kind of Hassie is that? Can you reveal?

    Do you always shoot medium format?

    thanks much

    anon-guy

    Thanks for the comment…I really do appreciate it. I shoot about 80% of my work with the Hasselblad H1/Leaf Aptus 33. The rest of the time it’s the Canon 5Dmkii. As good as the Canon is, there is really no comparing the image quality you get from a digital back…any digital back…to a file out of a DSLR. That’s why I almost always shoot covers with the Hasselblad. BT

  2. Jesus- and I thought orthopedic surgery was hard! It’s astounding how much work goes into producing a shot like that, and how little we of the general public appreciate your artistry. You are truly a master of your craft, and make it look effortless. Thanks for the opportunity to look “behind the curtain” at your wizardry.

  3. Nice work. One question – why did you shoot the torsos against the blackboard? It looks like you completely isolated each subject anyway, prior to final compositing – so wouldn’t it have been easier to make each matte from a single white/gray background?

    Very good question…surprised nobody else hasn’t asked already! We though about shooting on white or gray, but two things…I had to have each person actually write on the board at some point and we didn’t have the time to have them go from a white set then back onto the blackboard, and secondly, I needed the actual blackboard tone & texture behind them to make it easier to feather their hair against the inserted blackboard in the final composition. If I had shot on white it would have been a nightmare and even on gray I would have had a much harder time making it look real. BT

  4. Thanks for answering my Q above, Brad, about the medium format back. Holy smokes, that’s a pricey solution, but worth it I’m sure.

    Silhouetting people is a huge pain in the, well, neck… there’s always that 1 or 2 pixel bit that won’t go away, there’s always bits of color in the hair… you must have incredible patience. And possibly carpal tunnel syndrome :-) (hope not!)

    Logistically, I guess you are used to it — but how do you travel around NYC with SO MUCH STUFF? C-stands, sandbags, backdrops… do you ever just walk around with a pocket camera and shoot for yourself?

    Thanks for sharing, I read every entry. You have fans out here. Don’t blush.

    Pocket camera…yer a funny dude! But yeah…I do carry a G9, but I’m waiting to see what the Fuji X-Pro1 is gonna be like. And getting around in the city ain’t that hard as long as you own a van and can get over the $50-70 you’ll get hit up to park! And thanks for watching the Damn Ugly Channel! BT

  5. Great stuff. I appreciate your sharing. Some of the questions I had were answered either in the post, or in the comments. I kinda figured out the one regarding shooting against the blackboard. However, I can’t really figure out your post processing. Could you expand on your “special sauce of color and contrast adjustments”? Also, I didn’t see you using a ring flash. What else did you use for fill? Thanks and keep on sharing!

    Last thing first…no ring light on these…what you see is what you get this time. Main light was the mini-octa, a hair light with a 20 degree grid high and to the left and just a couple of Elinchrom 500′s lighting the white seamless down below. No additional fill required.

    Now…since you guys are always pestering me about my post work, here’s the breakdown. I’ll lay it all out for you, even though by just ‘saying’ what I do I’m sure it will seem like I’m speaking in tongues, but it’s really nothing too outrageous. It starts with the same formula. After I’ve converted my RAW files to TIFFs, the first step of my workflow is to run an action I made that adds adjustment layers. The first step is to duplicate the background image layer (I rename it ‘Retouch Layer’), then…in order…add adjustment layers for color correction, selective color, curves, levels and hue & saturation. If I think it is required, I might throw in an exposure layer, too. That gives me the basic file I can then start to work on. Typically the first thing I do at this point is the add a little shadow & highlight detail to that ‘Retouch Layer’. I can’t explain exactly how much cuz that sorta comes with experience, but it’s needed because the next step involves duplicating the ‘Retouch Layer’, setting its opacity to ‘Soft Light’, then desaturating this new layer. The effect of doing this is to add overall contrast to the image. This is where it can get complicated. I then play with the opacity of this new contrast layer to see if I can get away with just minimizing the opacity for the desired increased contrast or if I should then add some High Pass filter. If it looks good by simply taking down the opacity from 100% to say, 50-60%, then I can move on…if not I’ll go to the High Pass filter. Once again, the amount of High Pass is totally up to you and the final effect you want to achieve, but for a 300dpi image I usually set the radius to 150 pixels and go from there. You will probably have to minimize the opacity of the High Pass layer even after applying the filter. Now I can work on the individual adjustment layers, moving from the bottom (color balance) up (hue & saturation). This is important because adjustment layers are relational…the layers above affect those below…and I’ve found that adjusting color first, then curves and levels and finally hue & saturation works best. Breaking it down further, in color balance I will usually add cyan to the shadows, red/yellow to the mid tones and cyan or blue to the highlights. Obviously what color corrections I do depend on what the image is, but these general corrections seem to get used more often than not. Next I will mess with individual color channels in selective color…I’ll take a bit of magenta out of the reds, a bit of cyan from the yellows and add cyan/remove yellow from the cyan and blue layers. In my opinion, the selective color adjustment is underused. Next I will slightly adjust the RGB in the curves layer to heighten the contrast a bit and occasionally play with the individual color channels in curves to alter the contrast of each color. Levels is next and CRAZY important…usually I will start by coming down on the RGB channel on the highlight end of the histogram (from 255 to where it just starts blowing out the highlights sometimes), then increasing the shadow end of the scale (from ’0′ to ’5-10′). I’m not done with the levels, but I will probably move on to hue & saturation to knock down the saturation a bit…usually drop the red and yellow by 10-15%…then I’ll go back to levels and play with either/or the red and blue channels. I like have nice, blue-ish blacks, so I will increase the shadow end of the red channel from ’0′ to ’10′ as a start…this will add cyan to the shadows of the image. I sometimes do the same thing in the blue channel, but that adds yellow and will bring the shadows back to a more neutral tone. Finally I might go back to hue & saturation and tweak the overall saturation.

    Wasn’t that easy?!! Now you can be Damn Ugly, too! BT

  6. WOW… very kind of you to share soooooo much. You are an incredibly kind and generous man. I wish you all the continued success that you deserve.

  7. Very interesting, thanks for posting so many behind the scenes photos of the lighting set up and the before/afters. Great job all around, the final product looks fantastic. It must be tough to get so many looks for so many different purposes in such a short amount of time, great planning and coordination on all involved.

  8. Wow! What a detailed answer! I might have to read it 3 or 4 times just to get the hang of the post-process part. I’ll give it a try nevertheless. Thank you.

  9. Just wanted to say a quick thanks for posting your BTS and processing workflow.. Always interesting to hear about the wildly different and various ways pro’s utilize more or less the same tools.

  10. very informative post, i am impressed at how much information is shared by professionals knowing full well that the reader really is interested in the workflow. not that we could produce your ‘secret sauce’ but it gives insight to the process, and educates us in the process. thank you

  11. Awesome breakdown! Was wondering… how do you deal with crinkly, bulky suits? I’ve been shooting lots of ill-fitting suits, lately, and wonder if I should patting down my subjects or steaming their jackets or something….

    On shoots like this I usually have a few extra sets of eyes watching for wrinkles and messed up lines…typically my makeup artist, but often an on-set stylist. And we always carry clips & pins to keep things looking tight! BT

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