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Connie Brown

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Today’s behind-the-scenes (and lighting tutorial) is from my recent shoot for the Wall Street Journal’s Review Section on Connie Brown, who paints one-of-a-kind wall maps on canvas that are, quite simply, works of art. She researches each private commission and creates much more than a map, but instead produces what can be described as personal portraits of a region special to the client.

I spoke to Connie and she told me she lived in a converted schoolhouse, but her studio was an all-new building out back, with lotsa white walls, high ceilings, and quite bright…which it was…but it was also surrounded by a lot of really tall trees…

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…and as bright as it may have been, those trees did a super job of keeping any direct sun from lighting up the studio. And since I wanted to have a bright, airy look to the shots, it fell upon me to invent some Sun…fast! Thankfully I had the perfect thing for making Sun when there is none…a Profoto Magnum Reflector

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As a light modifier, the Magnum couldn’t be simpler…it’s just a deep dish with a 50 degree throw that is highly polished to a mirror finish. This not only makes for an extremely efficient light…even backed off 50 feet from your subject you still get a huge output…but the quality of light has a nice, open feel to it that looks just like the Sun!

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We placed one Magnum with a Half CTO (for warmth) on a Profoto Acute 2400w/s pack about 20 feet from the main, double-height window…with a second pack & head lighting up a smaller second window…and were amazed at how realistic the results were…

Connie Brown

Connie Brown

Connie Brown

The white ceiling and walls acted as natural fill cards, so we were able to point and shoot from pretty much any angle we wanted, and the hot backlight perfectly mimicked the Sun. And when we switched to a more head-on shot of Connie against her easel, the bright, open, lifestyley look of the first shots now turned wonderfully dramatic…

Connie Brown

With the portraits done, I now had to do some vignettes of her studio, and the outside lighting still proved to work without any changes…

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I can’t say enough how impressed I was with the lighting effect we were able to achieve with essentially one pack and one head. This is the kind of thing filmmakers do all the time by dropping a few 10K HMI’s outside of a window, but this was much, much easier!

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Here’s a quick follow-up to what we did with that $30 Grand in cash I needed as a prop for the Week Two and Week Three group shots of this years Barron’s Roundtable shoot. Once again, our object was to shoot as many different single images of each Roundtable member playing around the cooking theme so that we could later assemble them into our little stories. Since the theme played on the idea of cooking up a recipe for the perfect economy, cash…lotsa cash…was required as our main ingredient!

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And here’s how the final pages looked…

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We here at Damn Ugly Photography have done many, many, many Barron’s Roundtable shoots over the years, but this time we came close to breaking the bank…literally! Our cover idea was to have the members of the Roundtable rockin’ Chef Props as they cooked up the perfect economic recipe for the coming year, and for our ‘ingredients’ we needed cash…lots and lots of cash

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Since Photoshop has added high-tech security filters that make it almost impossible to scan money and print it out…and prop money looks way too fake…we decided to hit my bank and just get real cash (that’s about $30 Grand in the bag) to use in our recipes…

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The basic cover setup was a raised plexiglass platform that I could shoot from both a low angle for the cover image, and from slightly above for the inside compositions for the Week Two & Week Three images…

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Hasselblad H1/50mm f4.0 with a Leaf Aptus 33 for the cover and the 5DmkII/24-70mm f2.8 for the higher-angle inside shots…

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As in previous years, we have only two hours to shoot everybody…all separately as they arrive at The Harvard Club for the meeting…on two different sets, and we must come away with two covers (for the January and June Mid-Year issues), two inside openers for those covers, two feature openers for the second and third week follow-up issues and individual shots of each person for the June Mid-Year issue. In those two hours we try to cram in as many different poses and props as possible so we have enough to work with when it comes to assembling the final group shots. Here’s some of the fun…

Marni worked her super-fast makeup magic on everyone before they got on set…

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Oscar Schafer…

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Brian Rogers…

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Fred Hickey…

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Abby Joseph Cohen…

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Scott Black…

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Adrian and I liked the idea of placing everyone on the edge of a mountaintop made from a butcher block cutting board and viewing them from below…

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…so once I shot a bunch of angles on the board, we had all the raw materials in place. Now it was up to me to assembly the individual shots into our cover and feature opening photos…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

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The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

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This stuff never gets old!

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Stay tuned next week and you’ll see what we did with all that cash once Barron’s runs the Week Two and Week Three images…

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As a wine geek, getting a call from Adrian Delucca asking if I wanted to spend a day photographing Tom Ryder in his World-Class wine cellar, made me extremely happy that I do what I do for a living. Tom has been the President of American Express Publishing, CEO of Readers Digest and was the Chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America, and over the years has amassed a truly amazing wine collection. He was writing a feature for Barron’s that discussed how the bottom has fallen out of the wine collecting (as an investment) market and told his own story of when he auctioned off a small portion of his own cellar. As part of the process, he had the auction house appraise the wines he wanted to sell and was shocked to learn that the 1,000 bottles he was looking to divest would ‘only’ fetch between $70,000 – $100,000…but if he were to sell only three Magnum bottles of his 2005 Romanee-Conti he would get roughly the same $100,000! It was my job to show him with those three bottles of very pricy DRC. Here’s how it went…

Nick and I started by stacking up cases of his very best Grand Cru Burgundies that would be our posing table…

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…and then cleaned up the background a bit…

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Nick enjoying the view from the stacks…

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…but Tom fit the mood a bit more…

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Because of the tight quarters in the cellar, we were kind of limited with what we could do, lighting-wise, but we pulled off a nice, warm and dramatic look with only two lights…an Elinchrom 39″ Mini Octa high and to the right of the camera, and a Ringlight…that’s it!

Our final select, with the three Magnums of DRC valued at $100,000 (and those messy cases behind him cleaned up in post )…

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And here’s how it looked in the magazine…

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In the Dreamworks Holiday Blockbuster, Rise of the Guardians, Alec Baldwin is lending his (Russian-accented) voice to Santa Claus, and in a bit of cross-promotion, David Baratz at USA Weekend called upon me and the crew to shoot him for the cover of their Holiday Tech Gift Guide. So a few weeks ago, we turned a room at the Crosby Street Hotel into our studio and brought a bit of Christmas to Soho…here’s how it went down…

Since it was a Christmas cover, I figured it was OK to dress up the set with a few Xmas lights…

Even though we knew we would only have Alec for maybe half an hour, my stylist, Cynthia Altoriso, pulled together a stunning array of clothes, including a couple of $7,000 Brioni burgundy velvet jackets (that unfortunately didn’t get worn)…

Since the idea of the cover was to have Alec plugged in to the tech gifts, he worked with the few props that played on that metaphor…

…and here are the final images…

Merry early Christmas!!!

Relax…relax…I know I’ve been incognito!

The ongoing project of moving the Damn Ugly World Headquarters has proven to be a much more daunting task than we ever could have imagined and with that, updating the old blog has certainly suffered. But never fear, we’ll be back with a vengeance come Monday morning!!!

…more details when I can talk about it…..

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I logged another CEO Spotlight for Barron’s a few weeks back when Adrian sent us to shoot Bob Benmosche, the CEO of AIG. As usual, the drill is we get told The Boss is extremely busy and I will only be allowed five minutes to get everything I need in the can. I typically take the ‘five minutes’ as shorthand for we hafta be quick, but this time I knew we had no wiggle room. Benmosche was going to shoehorn us in between an earnings statement conference call and a Town Hall Meeting, so his schedule was carved in stone. There was going to be very little time for small talk, but I know how important it is to come away with a portrait that shows the subject’s personality. Obviously, with such little time to shoot we had to have our setups nailed down when he showed up. Here’s how it went.

The CEO Spotlight is formatted as a full-length portrait on white, so on this day we turned the top floor of the AIG building…with it’s 18-foot ceilings and Million Dollar views…into our studio…

That gave us our feature opener…

We also did a second shot where I used my Ghetto-Flos in the hallway area directly behind where we had the seamless set up…

…which gave us this…

…that morphed into this after a wee bit of Photoshoppery…

And we were done…in five minutes.

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It took a while, but my friend Marybeth Dulany finally called me with a gig over at Prevention Magazine. I used to work for Marybeth a lot back in the days of ‘Rosie’ magazine, but once that folded she moved on to ‘Health’ where my particular style wasn’t a good fit. She ended up at Prevention last year and now she had something kinda cool…a profile of Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the July issue. The Damn Ugly crew made the trip down to Industria and here’s a bit of our day with the Doctor…

We started with a white setup for some cover stuff. Cate Sheehy was styling…

…and Marni Burton handled makeup…

We even did a bit of off-set/artificial portrait stuff that made it into the story…

I also set up a canvas backdrop that had a nice, terra cotta look to it…

I got to use my new 5-foot PLM umbrella for the first time…what a great light! I was really impressed at the quality of light and how large the coverage was. It was set up about 15 feet away from the subject and kicked out an open, but still contrasty light that gave me a wonderful shadow.

Finally, since it was such a nice day, Marybeth asked if we could do a few outdoor shots, so we fired up a 600-B and hit the street…

Marybeth was very happy…

And here are the final pages…

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Stacey Pleasant offered me a fun gig a few weeks ago. She produces a series of advertorials for McDonald’s that runs in Sports Illustrated and they wanted me to shoot Megan Rapinoe, a mid-fielder on the United States women’s national soccer team that’s going to London for the Olympics. Megan was gonna be in town doing some P/R and had very little time available for a shoot, so Stacey arranged to do everything at her hotel, the Dream Downtown. The advertorials are single-page interviews with the athletes and formatted in such a way that there has to be a lot of clean space around the person in order to run the type over the background. For our purposes, the options for locations at the hotel were limited, but we were offered the swimming pool area. Both Stacey and I figured using the pool as a clean backdrop would work perfectly for the type…but we didn’t know about one of the main design features of the Dream’s pool…

Portholes!!! Hundreds of little (and a few BIG) portholes at the bottom of the pool! Well…we were locked into the location, so I was just gonna hafta deal with that later…right now we had to start shooting!

While Marni worked on Megan…

Ben stood in so we could pick an angle on that pool, but without the sun things were looking kinda flat…

Megan’s a pro…she immediately understood the Damn Ugly Photography aesthetic…

And as if by magic…a few frames into the shoot the Sun came out…and all was right with the World. We decided to still keep the full-CTO filtered bare head we set up for a Sun-like skim camera left, ‘cuz it added a nice warmth to the highlight created by the real Sun…

But as good as that looked, I still had to deal with all those portholes…a few hours and a lotta mouse-clicks later, and the shot was now ready for type…

The final page…

With the pool shot in the can, I pressed for a couple of minutes more to do a second shot. Immediately to the left of the pool was a wall clad in Stainless-Steel that could be kinda nice. The natural light was a little flat, so we threw on the ringlight which gave us a hot highlight that ran vertically through the middle of the shot…

That looked like Hell, but once we got the available/strobe balance down, we had a little fun…

The final image…and that ringlight added a nice, smoky highlight rising off of her…

The issue hit the stands this week. Good luck in London, Megan!

First off…I’m gonna thank Timothy Archibald for getting me off my ass and back on the blog! He wondered aloud on his own blog the other day about how facebook might be causing a lotta guys like me to slack off on our blog duties, so thanks T.A.

Now, back to business!

My twice-yearly Barron’s cover story on the meeting of their Round Table participants popped up a couple of weeks back, so just as I did for the Black Board cover back in January, here’s a little behind-the-scenes on how we put together the cover for Part 2…

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Since we only have about two hours to shoot all ten Roundtable members individually for both covers and all the inside photos for the two issues, we have to have our two sets nailed down pretty tight. And because we decided on the very complicated Black Board set for the January cover, the Mid Year cover set had to be somewhat simpler. Barron’s Photo Editor Adrian DeLucca and I came up with the idea to use arrow props that would be held to illustrate the Up and Down market trends and pose everyone on white around a few cubes…

Once we got all ten members shot, now I just had to assemble them into believable groups for both the cover and the inside opening spread…

…the final spread had most of those red arrows changed to blue…

…and for the cover we went without props altogether…

See y’all next January…

Thanks for all the cards & letters expressing concern for my health and well-being, but yes…I know…I haven’t exactly been burning up the interwebs with pithy comments lately! That’s ‘cuz there has been a lot going on here at Damn Ugly, not the least of which involves an impending move of the World Headquarters. But we’ll be getting back on the horse…PRONTO!!! In fact, I will prolly drop something later today…

Hot off the press, my portrait of Glen Whitney, the Director of the Museum of Mathematics, is in this month’s edition of Smithsonian Magazine. I went down to DC a while ago and saw Molly Roberts…the Photo Editor at Smithsonian…and she said it would be perfect for a new feature section they were starting that profiled “Big Ideas”.

You can check out the story HERE!

SOPHIE BARKER
Say Goodbye



DOWNLOAD: Say Goodbye

Remember Zero 7…??? Of course you do…who didn’t have the album Simple Things on the top of their iTunes list when it came out?!! It practically defined the entire Chillout genre of music. As luck would have it, Sia got crazy famous because of ‘Destiny’, but for some reason the same didn’t happen to Sophie Barker who sang lead on ‘In The Waiting Line’. But Sophie’s had three solo albums of her own material, the latest…Seagull…was released in the UK late last year, and even though you can pick it up on iTunes, it hasn’t had any kind of publicity over here. However…since ‘Say Goodbye’ has been dropped on a bunch of music blogs recently…it showed up in my email box this morning…I’m thinkin’ it’s about to get a stateside release soon. You can follow Sophie on her website or over on facebook

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Over the past few weeks you didn’t have to look too far to find an online review claiming how spectacular the new Photoshop CS6 upgrade is and how it’s gonna make everything you photograph so much better…but all I could think was no matter how easy the software engineers at Adobe make image editing by adding fancy new filters, content-aware tools or sexed-up widgets, none of that amounts to beans if you don’t have the smarts to envision the final result in that pile of mush that occupies the space between your ears. And it reminded me how I recently had to put some of my Photoshop smarts to good use and ‘fix’ a less than ideal situation when I was shooting the Annual Report for Philadelphia-based Glenmede…using Photoshop CS3, no less…

I had gone down to Philly a few weeks before the shoot to scout the location…Lenfest Hall at The Curtis Institute of Music…and on the day of the scout it was bright and sunny and would give us the perfect light & airy backdrop for the Management Committee photograph…

Problem was, on the day of the shoot, those 30-foot high windows gave us a view of Philly at it’s darkest and rainiest…

That’s when it became pretty clear I had to figure a way to let Photoshop brighten things up and get me to where I needed to be.

Here is the unretouched original, straight out of the camera…

The first thing I did was slide a new floor under everyone that was shot separately using a 16-second exposure…

For the next step, I figured the hardest thing I would hafta do would be to blow out all the detail in the windows to give the impression of it being a sunny day…but then things even got more interesting…the layout changed! My client wanted to know if it would be possible to give them more space on both sides of the group. Now this wasn’t something I had planned for, but if James Cameron can make the Titanic come to life I guess there had to be a way to generate a whole mess of information that didn’t exist…right?!!

I had some empty frames I shot after everyone had gone that I could use to clone the wood trim under the windows, but the real test would be adding perspective-correct banks of windows on both sides of the frame…that had me working well after midnight. Then I had to fake the entire right side of the piano, remove the rolling wheels under the piano, erase the clock and lighting panels from the back wall, and then turn on the sunbeams, add a little overexposure flare and brighten up those windows…

For the final step, I adjusted the color balance, heightened the Curves and Levels, and amped up the contrast with a High Pass Filter layer…

To see a larger version of the animated GIF at the top of the post that shows all the steps, click HERE

The Winner’s Gallery for American Photography 28 went live yesterday, and my portrait of Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren was among the images chosen. My shot can be seen HERE.

FORT ATLANTIC
No One Will Know



DOWNLOAD: No One Will Know

Fort Atlantic is Jon Black, and Jon Black is pretty Goddamned amazing. His musical style, lyrical phrasing and voice is eerily reminiscent of Jackson Browne, with a little bit of an upbeat Jeff Tweedy thing thrown in for some Indie cred. I was introduced to Mr. Black via my regular email blast from Noisetrade, one of the better sites I subscribe to for new music. Artists can upload an album, EP, single, or live recording to distribute it completely free (tipping gladly accepted and encouraged by yours truly). Fort Atlantic is set to release their first album May 29th, but to get you interested they’re offering a 5-song EP that is quite a revelation. The first time I listened to the anthemic ‘No One Will Know’, with its surging drumbeat and pleading harmonies, it raised the hairs on my neck…

I think I have made up my mind
I think there are places that we need to go just to find…

Black has spent the past three years in his DIY home studio working on the songs that make up his debut album. When he finished recording last November, he packed up the tapes and travelled to New York to have Grammy-winning producer Tom Schick (who coincidentally has spun the knobs for Tweedy and Wilco) handle the final mix. When they were done, Schick said…

“The songs on this record are instant classics. Jon has an impressive voice and crafts beautiful songs with many great twists and turns. I love this record”.

He was right…after listening to the five tracks on the EP you come away with a warm, comforting feeling…almost like you’ve known these songs your whole life. I love this record.

You must get this EP. Head over to Noisetrade for the free download…and if you like it like I know you will, throw him a tip! Then tell all of your friends. Then visit his facebook page and LIKE him…..you’re welcome!

SARAH JAFFE
Glorified High



DOWNLOAD: Glorified High

Sarah Jaffe has come a long way since she was last on The List back in 2010 with ‘Clementine’. On her new album, The Body Wins, the folky rhythms and mournful lyrics from that first record have been replaced with fuzzy sampled percussive beats, electronic pianos, upbeat melodies and a much more pop-centric feel to her songwriting. Gone too is her earthy, slacker image that featured a mish-mosh of hoodies, plaid shirts and knit caps. Judging from the cover of The Body Wins where she sports a new razor-cut hairstyle and almost military-like fashion, I’d say Sarah has been put through the record company makeover machine. But if the marketing guys thought getting a haircut was necessary to get noticed, it must be working ‘cuz even Jon Pareles of The NY Times reviewed her album yesterday. For an indie artist, that’s kinda huge. And judging from what he wrote, I’d say we’re both fans of her new sound.

You can check out more of Sarah Jaffe on her website or head over to her facebook page and hit the LIKE button.

HARPER SIMON
Wishes And Stars



DOWNLOAD: Wishes And Stars

No, you’re not listening to a long-lost Simon & Garfunkel single…this is Paul Simon’s son, Harper Simon, and if not for me clearing out some of the stuff taking up space on my DVR last night, I would probably have never heard this. It played as the credits rolled on the first episode of the new HBO series, ‘Girls’, and if you’ve seen the show (and you’re like me) then you probably can’t imagine a more perfect song to encapsulate the characters and themes…

Everyone seems so certain
Everyone knows who they are
Everyone’s got a mother and a father
They all seem so sure they’re going far
They all got more friends than they can use
Except me ‘cause I’m a fool…

The show, by the way, is excellent! Writer/Director/Creator/Voice-of-her-Generation Lena Dunham’s super-smart look at four twenty-something girls trying to make their way in the World is peppered with dialogue that flows like a hipster mash-up of a David Mamet play and a Whit Stillman movie. And is it coincidence or by clever design that Mamet’s daughter Zosia plays one of Dunham’s girlfriends and Stillman regular Chris Eigeman plays her boss? I dunno…just watch it!

But back to the song…which was chosen by the show’s music director Michael Penn…it’s off of Simon’s self-titled debut that features some serious bold-faced indie friends…Aaron Espinoza of Earlimart, Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, Sean Lennon, Joan (As Police Woman) Wasser and the amazing violinist Petra Haden. Oh yeah, he also called upon Steve Nieve whose day job is Elvis Costello’s keyboardist in the Attractions, percussion superstar Steve Gadd and of course, his Dad. Finally, if all that talent wasn’t enough, he got Tom Rothrock to twiddle the knobs and mix the final product. How he Hell did I miss this album when it was released?!!

So your assignment is to watch ‘Girls’ on Sunday nights and check out more of Harper Simon at his website!

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