Ladies & Gentlemen…Mr. Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

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Tony Bennett

Yes…Tony Bennett…!!!

I have a very short, unspoken list of people that I would never presume I would have the opportunity to meet, let alone get to photograph. That list has included Jacques Cousteau, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Reeve, and a few Presidents. But a couple of weeks ago, Kat Malott at the Wall Street Journal gave me the call. Tony Bennett. Tony sketches or paints every day, and Kat…the Photo Editor for the ‘Mansions’ section…wanted me to shoot Tony the Artist, at home with his paintings. The idea was to show him in his studio and keep things as ‘real’ as possible. Given that it was a painting studio, I kinda hoped the available light would make things easy in that respect. I wasn’t disappointed. Here is how things looked…

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The big wall of windows next to the easel face North onto Central Park and the east-facing windows would act as a nice fill, but I would still have to pull out my DIY Ghetto-Flo’s to to act as a main light, while still keeping the natural look of the scene. I didn’t need too much front light…two of the Ghetto’s should do it…

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The two strip lights added just enough soft light to mimic the existing light without looking like we faked it…

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And away we go…

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

It was natural enough that even with a camera angle change, we didn’t have to move the lights…

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

And even more extreme angle change for a still life of his easel and a bronze of Harry Belafonte let us use that North window light as our main source…

Tony Bennett

With the ‘Artist’ portraits in the bag, I pressed for a few extra minutes to do a quick portrait using the wall opposite the windows…

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As you can see, the setup couldn’t be simpler…just a mini-octa bank and a soft ringlight. We put down the Canon, and pulled out the Hasselblad and the Macbeth chart…

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

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Thanks Tony…that’s one more thing checked off my Bucket List.

Tony Bennett

Behind The Scenes For American Lawyer

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Maggie Soladay, Photo Editor at American Lawyer, recently had us shoot the cover feature for their annual Associates Survey. The cover image had to convey the rather subtle idea that female associates gave their firms lower marks than the male associates did in many areas on the survey. Here’s a little taste of how it went…

For the cover, I wanted to use a color that immediately grabbed the reader’s attention and Art Director Morris Stubbs was on board, especially after seeing what I did with Bill O’Reilly a few months ago…so we pulled out the orange seamless and went to work.

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As you can see in the lighting diagram, I kept things fairly simple, but I wanted to light our models (Jo Quiles and Johnny Tyrone) with two separate main lights…20″ Profoto Beauty dishes with 25 degree grids…in such a way to add to the drama. The male associate had to be in a hero light…something that would make him more prominent in the photo, while the female associate was lit slightly from below to give off a more menacing vibe. Not exactly ‘monster lighting’, but just enough to not come off as a wash of soft light. Other than the dish reflectors, I added a ringlight with the soft reflector to give a sheen to their suits.

American Lawyer - Associates

Then we backed up the orange set with a similar look on blue…

American Lawyer - Associates

Next, we moved on to the inside look…

American Lawyer - Associates

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To illustrate the idea of a law associate moving out of the shadows and stepping into the spotlight, I literally pulled out my modified Desisti spotlight for the task…

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I positioned the Desisti directly behind and above my camera and cut the light with two cards on either side that gave me a exact slash of light I wanted. A little pop from the ringlight filled in the shadows just enough without throwing a ringlight-effect shadow…

American Lawyer - Associates

The resulting image opened the story…

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…and all was right with the World…

American Lawyer - Associates

Easy As 1, 2, 3…

LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

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When people ask me what it’s like to do what I do, more often than not they think the life of a photographer is some kind of a Holy Grail job and how great it must be to rub elbows and frolic among the people I get to (briefly) hang with. I try my best to convince them that it ain’t all Roses & Butterflies, but most have a hard time believing me. Which brings us to todays little waste of time. This isn’t gonna be glamourous. There will be no talk of Rock Stars or Celebrities or Fabulous locations. The following is a pretty honest representation of what an average shoot for your typical business magazine is like. It’s all about photographing real people in real situations in very little time and still coming away with interesting images. To the best of our knowledge, no one was harmed in the making of this post…

Scott Valenzano sent us to Park Avenue to shoot a cover for Financial Planning with the Altfest’s…Lewis & Karen, who run Altfest Personal Wealth Management…as our subjects du jour. And as is often the case, we had to alter the reality of the location just a touch to get things to look good. Here’s a little rundown…

The Altfest offices aren’t that large, but within minutes of my arrival I knew where we were gonna shoot the cover shot…

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I figured that if we backlit the frosted glass wall and used just the right wide angle lens, that grid pattern would make for a nice, graphic background. But that big wall of glass took a lotta light before it blew out nicely!

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You can see that we used four heads just to cover the frosted glass, and another big umbrella to fill in the background on the far right side. With all that light bouncing around, all we need up front was the Mini-Octa bank positioned high and to the right and we were good to go…

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LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

With the cover in the bag, we very quickly moved to shot number two…on the other side of that glass wall…

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The classic sofa was a perfect posing bench for the couple and it would be relatively simple to relight the scene using the lighting from the first shot. The four background lights were now placed on the other side of the glass and the Mini-Octa would again be our main light, but we added a ringlight for fill…

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LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

Finally, we decided to move in a totally different direction and pulled out the Canon to do an almost-available light portrait in Lewis’s office…

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With large windows on two sides streaming in all that light you might think we wouldn’t have to add anything, but the bright backlight was just too much to overcome without looking like a blown-out fashion shoot. My DIY Ghetto-Flo Lights would be just the right thing for the task…

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With one light each aimed at Lewis and Karen and another two positioned off to the far left to act as a kicker that mimicked the window light, we were able to bring the ambient light down just enough to get the subjects to pop and also white-balance the ambient light down to a nice, cool blue cast…

LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

Three shots in about an hour…like I said…easy as 1, 2, 3…!

Screaming At Adobe May Actually Have Helped…!!!

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As any of the regular viewers of the Damn Ugly Channel can attest (and by regular, I mean those who have stuck with me through this past Summers marked lack of action in here!), I have been a rather vocal opponent to Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription scheme. I made my feelings about their plans to charge $20/month to use Photoshop (and Lightroom, Behance, and have access to a 20GB Cloud Storage account) very well known, as I saw it for what it was…a blatant money grab! The smart kids in class realized very early on that moving to a subscription-based pricing scheme wasn’t about innovation and the seamless transfer of upgrades to its end-users, as Adobe claimed…no, the writing was on the wall that in order to keep their business going, Adobe had to do something to lock in a steady cash flow since it was obvious they weren’t gonna stay profitable forever relying on periodic upgrade fees alone. There are only so many new gizmos and filters they could add to any piece of software before the end user wouldn’t care and bail on paying for upgrades. Now comes word that all that screaming from the mountaintop by those of us in the Photo Community may have have a positive outcome as Adobe just announced a “New” Photoshop Photography Program…only $10/month…forever…if you’re already a Photoshop user (minimum CS3) and you sign up buy the end of the year.

Now by lowering the subscription price to $120/year, it kinda brings the cost down to what have been historically what users paid if they were fastidious about sticking to the Adobe upgrade path. But as good a move in the right direction as this might be, I’m not exactly ‘rejoicing’ at the news, as the PetaPixel Photo Blog suggests all photographers should be doing just yet. At ten bucks a month even I can’t come up with too many arguments for not joining…except one…why isn’t Adobe addressing the biggest issue with their plan for an ongoing subscription model…the lack of any viable exit strategy for loyal users once they get off the subscription track?!! I mean, I’m not planning my retirement party just yet, but there will come a day when I won’t wanna fork over even $10/month for occasional access to a program I will use sparingly at best! All Adobe would have to do to win over the entire Photo Community would be to say that after you’ve paid into “The Cloud” for a period of time…say three, four or even five years…the end user can end their subscription and their software will be locked in at that level of upgrade. This would ensure the user could still have full working access to their work and Adobe will have made a healthy profit over the subscription time frame. And best of all for Adobe, should that user decide at a later date that it is once again necessary to get back on “The Cloud”, then they would have to pay whatever the going rate was at that time to re-subscribe and build time credits towards the next allowed jumping off point.

See…very simple…why can’t everyone just listen to Damn Ugly Photography?!! But let me know…what do you think of Adobe’s price drop?

A Few Minutes With Bill O’Reilly

Bill O'Reilly

When I got the call from Dave Baratz at USAWeekend to shoot Bill O’Reilly, I immediately could tell from his voice that this was probably when was of those quick in-and-out gigs, and I was right. Bill had extremely limited time available and wouldn’t go to a studio, so the only place we could shoot him was on the set of The O’Reilly Factor at Fox News. Oh yeah…we were told we would only have about ten minutes with him…immediately before he taped his show!

I figured I had better go check the place out…

It was small…really small! My wide-angle lenses were gonna get a workout! The only place I could drop a seamless for the cover would be in a back corner behind the cameras…

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For a second shot, the only other possibility seemed around his desk…

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But when I saw the Stage Manager sitting in a nook to the side I had an idea…

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Because of the time constraints and the fact that I was going to shoot him against that backlit set, I made the decision to light Bill with a couple of 1′ x 1′ BiColor Litepanels. The BiColor variator made it super easy to dial in the correct color temperature and the output variator allowed me to match the intensity of the backlit blue wall in seconds. I’ve really come to appreciate the WYSIWYG aspect of shooting the the Litepanel system.

Bill O’Reilly…on set in 3…2…1…

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Bill O'Reilly

That took care of the opener…

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Now, on to the cover.

I took a subjects-eye-view of the cover setup…

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…which sort of shows how tightly backed into that corner we really were…

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Since the story was about volunteerism, Dave and I thought it would be nice to play off the old Uncle Sam, ‘I Want You!’ poster…

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And Bill got into the whole Uncle-Sam-pointing thing which made my work that much easier…

Bill O'Reilly

And here’s the cover that came out yesterday

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Bill and I hope YOU enjoyed todays behind-the-scenes look!

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Three Canadians Walk Into A Bar…

Catherine Mary Stewart & Michael Kaye

Even though I’ve lived in New York since 1982, if someone asks me where I’m from I immediately say, “Edmonton!”, so when Terri Belley…the Art Director at Avenue Magazine…asked me to shoot a feature on another ex-Edmontonian, actress Catherine Mary Stewart, I jumped at the chance. I mean, this was the hot chick from “Night of the Comet”, “The Last Starfighter” and who can forget…“Weekend at Bernie’s”!!! And designer Michael Kaye…another native son of Edmonton now calling New York home…was gonna be providing the fashions.

But then reality kicked in. Avenue ain’t Vanity Fair, and as such, the production budget was very tight, so we decided to shoot everything at Michael’s design studio. The only problem, he just moved in and when I went by to take a look at what we might have to work with, the place was still under construction. Even so, there were a few things that caught my eye…

These mirrors…
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A Knoll Egg Chair…
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A wall of dress forms…
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And something all Canucks have on their walls…a really cool mounted head!
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Michael assured me the studio would be completed in time for the shoot, and a few weeks later Kaz and I hauled a thousand pounds of gear uptown and went to work, starting with those mirrors…

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Well, that sucked…gotta get that color balance right…

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Much better. Let’s do it…

Catherine Mary Stewart & Michael Kaye

Catherine Mary Stewart & Michael Kaye

Catherine Mary Stewart & Michael Kaye

And here’s how it looked in the magazine…

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Now…the dress forms…

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Way too much ring light and too little drama…gotta bring in the Mini-Octa…

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Perfect!

Catherine Mary Stewart

So good, it ended up on the cover…

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Michael had a black pony area rug on the floor that I thought would look good from above…

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The high angle was great, but the day bed wasn’t working, so we went with the Egg Chair instead…

Catherine Mary Stewart

And as the only horizontal I shot all day, it fit right in as the opener for the story…

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Since I had been to the studio on the scout, Michael had added some shelves that showed off his collection of fashion illustrations on either side of the Antelope head. Catherine was going to wear one of his signature Tartan dresses that he designed especially for her, and I originally thought it might look good with a stark ringlight effect…

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But it came off like a Terry Richardson rip-of and was too different from everything else we were doing, so I brought back the drama with a spotlight on her…

Catherine Mary Stewart

Catherine Mary Stewart

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We had already shot a lot, but Michael had one more gown he wanted to include and although we had pretty much shot every angle of his studio, after wracking our brains for one more idea we thought it might be fun to offset the stunning beaded dress against a haphazard pile of chairs…

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Works for me!

Catherine Mary Stewart & Michael Kaye

Catherine Mary Stewart & Michael Kaye

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After a very long day in a very small studio, we were three very tired Canadians! And the June issue of Avenue magazine is on the stands now!

Catherine Mary Stewart & Michael Kaye

Catherine Mary Stewart

Blowing Smoke With Iron Chef Bobby Flay!!!

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This past weekend was the unofficial start of Summer and to kick off the season, Dave Baratz at USAWeekend had me shoot Iron Chef Bobby Flay for a Summer Grilling cover. He wanted BBQ…he wanted smoke…he wanted fire…and he wanted it shot in a studio.

So we obliged.

We set up shop at Milk studios for a couple of reasons…first, Studio #3 was wonderfully huge and second, it had tons of windows that we were gonna need to clear out all the smoke I knew we would have. But fake smoke is one thing, fire is something else! Since we couldn’t exactly light a real fire, I called upon Sarah Oliphant for a flame backdrop

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Next came the smoke. I kinda knew the standard Rosco smoke fogger wouldn’t be the way to go because all it does is spew out a huge blast of very hard to control smoke and I really wanted to have very precise, wispy smoke curls. We did tests using Superior smoke pellets

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…but at $7 a pop and only lasting 20-30 seconds each, they weren’t the ideal fit. But then we found something new to me at JMFX out in Brooklyn…the Tiny F07 fogger

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Not only is it small…about the size of a deck of cards…so it’s easy to hide on a set or maneuver in and out of the shot on the fly, but since it has a wireless remote control, it’s extremely easy to control the output. About the only downside is that the damned thing costs $1850.00!!! Thank God for rental houses.

But after firing up a couple of the Tiny F07’s, this was literally our first test with the smoke..

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Not bad at all…all we had to do now was add an Iron Chef…

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay

…and the cover…

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With the cover in the bag, we moved on to a second shot with another Olpihant backdrop

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After slapping a couple of steaks on the grill and both mini-smoke machines hidden inside, Bobby went to work…

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay

So that was our day with the Iron Chef…and the best part is that now all of us at Damn Ugly Photography are certified special effects technicians!!!

Kaz, Brad & Ben