The Jersey Boy – Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli

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Imagine you’re just sitting around, not doin’ anything besides playing with your cat, and you get a call asking if you wanna shoot Frankie Valli? Yeah…that happened. Kat Malott at the Wall Street Journal offered this chance to me and it once again reinforced that decision I made to be a photographer. We talked about crossing the river into New Jersey and shooting him in his old neighborhood in Newark, or on the street in New York, but the logistics were getting tough and the weather wasn’t cooperating, so we decided on the wonderful surroundings of Shoot Digital Studios. But no stylists, wardrobe or big production…Frankie was just gonna come down for an hour or so and we’d see what happened…

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For our first shot, Kaz and I picked up this great tabletop from Surface Studio and an antique microphone. The Journal has an affinity for grey backgrounds, and this classically lit portrait would fill that need…

Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli

For the next shot, we put the microphone onto a mic stand and fired up the spotlight…

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Finally, I really wanted to do something with this window…

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We were happy with what we had done, but then looking back at the first setup, I saw the chance for another shot, so I pressed Frankie for a few more minutes of his time, pulled out the tabletop and backed up a bit for these…

Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli

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So thank you Kat for the opportunity…and thanks Frankie for a day we won’t forget.

Frankie Valli

The BIG One: Behind The Scenes At The 2014 Barron’s Roundtable

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In an attempt to freshen things up around here, today I’m giving the blog a fresh coat of paint in the form of a new Theme. The old dark grey was getting a bit depressing, so I chose a brighter version complete with much larger photos…and larger text for those of you who might rely on reading glasses. I also slightly modified the title. After much deliberation, gone is any reference to the Song of the Day, since my increased work schedule has made dropping a regular stream of free tunes on you guys just about impossible. I’ll still post on music that catches my ear when I have the time, but I think going forward I’m gonna focus on why I’m here in the first place…Damn Ugly Photography. With that in mind, I have a lot of catching up to do, starting with today’s mega-post, long-winded as it is…

The posting frequency has been reduced to such a level that we completely blew off discussing this year’s Barron’s Roundtable from earlier this year, but fear not…today I’m gonna spew out the full behind-the-scenes for the three issues that ran back in January, as well as how we put together the mid-year cover story that hit the stands this past Monday. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been eight years since Adrian Delucca first called me to shoot the Roundtable Feature for Barron’s, and each year we have tried to one-up ourselves with new ways to shoot the ten Roundtable members for both the January and June issues, including multiple cover images, inside opening shots and individual portraits…and get it all done in the two hours before their meeting begins. And this year, for the first time, we would have to come away with four cover images instead of the usual two. We had our work cut out for us…

With the increased image count, we had to set up three separate shoot areas in the very tight confines of the President’s Room at the Harvard Club…

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Adrian and I cooked up a re-working of the old financial Bulls & Bears theme, and our Big Ticket prop items this year were a couple of mascot costumes we had made for the event. Photo assistants Rob MacInnis and Takeshi Koike got to spend the day sweating inside the furry suits.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself…we’ll talk about those costumes later…

The first January cover would involve shooting each Roundtable member on white in various poses to make them look like they were in Pamplona…running with the Bulls…

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…then in post, I would hafta do a bit of magic with a cobblestone street and a toy bull I shot earlier…

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…which eventually turned into this…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

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Now as complicated as that might seem, the inside opener for Week One was actually waaaay harder to pull off. I now had to convince these ten financial gurus to imagine running away from, jumping outta the way of, cheering for and riding…an imaginary bull. For this, I first went down to Wall Street and shot the famous Bull statue…

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…then I took some outside shots of the Federal Reserve Building…

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…and combined the two images with those cobblestones again…

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Now we had to get some reaction shots of the Roundtable members…

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Oscar Schafer and Mario Gabelli are probably hoping they won’t have to ride the sawhorse…

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…and finally, many, many Photoshop hours later…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

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With Week One outta the way, we now had to get workin’ on those furry suits for the Week Two & Three covers.

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And here are the final images…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

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The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

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Are you gettin’ tired yet?!!

Finally, for the Midyear Roundtable cover, Adrian and I wanted to assemble a group shot in the form of a jigsaw puzzle. Our initial idea was to do the puzzle effect in Photoshop, because I had heard there was actually a filter for that, but after a bunch of tests we decided it just looked too fakey and so…we had some real puzzles made by PortraitPuzzles.com!

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I put my still-life photographer cap on and shot the assembled puzzles…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

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And with that, one more year of the Barron’s Roundtable is done!!!

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On the Top of the World for Barron’s

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A few weeks back, Adrian sent me uptown to the GM Building for a feature on Jeff Kolitch, the manager of Baron Capital’s Real Estate Fund. Since the focus of the article was Real Estate, they kinda wanted to see Real Estate, so on the scout, even thought they had a lot of fish tanks that might make for some fun portraits…

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…I still had to make sure to come up with something that might actually relate to why Jeff was being interviewed…

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Adrian really liked the window and its view, so Ben and I figured we could turn it into a ‘frame’ that would hold our photo…

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And the final images…

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Jeff Kolitch

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But we weren’t done yet. When Jeff walked me around the offices on the location scout, I really liked the space-age, floating glass staircase that joined the 48th & 49th floors…

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…and after a bit of lighting…

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Jeff Kolitch

…we ended up with this…

Jeff Kolitch

Sharp eyes will notice that in the final image I cloned the wall on the right side of the photo onto the left side to make things more symmetrical, a technique I used once before on another staircase shot for Businessweek.

Making Sun Where There Was None

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…

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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…

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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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Behind The Scenes At The Most Expensive Barron’s Roundtable Yet

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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…

Alec Baldwin Is Santa Claus

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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!!!

Where Has Damn Ugly Gone?!!

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!!!