The Federation Of Black Cowboys

Arthur “JR” Fulmore - The Federation of Black Cowboys

This was one of those situations that shows you never know where the flow of your career is gonna take you. Andrew Horton…the Creative Director at The Village Voice…asked if I wanted to shoot some Black Cowboys…in Queens. The Federation of Black Cowboys is a group of urban cowpokes whose goal is to promote knowledge of the “Black West”. Their Ponderosa for the past two decades is a ramshackle stable just off Conduit Boulevard in Howard Beach, but recently their membership has dwindled to around 20 die-hards and now they face losing the license agreement for the stables. Andrew and I wanted my portraits to capture a gritty, iconic essence of what it is to be a Cowboy…and we also agreed that our touchstone style should be an homage to Richard Avedon’s In The American West. So off to Queens we went…

Unlike Avedon, I wasn’t going to drag out the 8×10 and set up a North-Light studio in the shadow of a barn…

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Instead, we decided to make a huge wall of soft light by putting up the biggest lights I own…

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The only problem is, when you fly a 79″ parabolic light in 25mph wind as we had that day, the shit hits the fan awfully fast. Even with over 100lbs of sandbags on each 50lb Matthews Stand, it was like trying to hold down a racing sailboat in a Regatta! But I didn’t care…Kaz had to deal with it…

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But our basic setup was pretty similar to Avedon’s…a simple white seamless set up on the North side of one of the stables…

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And here’s how things turned out…

Arthur “J.R.” Fulmore…

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Arthur “JR” Fulmore - The Federation of Black Cowboys

“Mama” Kesha Morse…

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Sheryl “Kesha” Morse - The Federation of Black Cowboys

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“Mountain Man” Ellis Harris…

Ellis “Mountain Man” Harris - The Federation of Black Cowboy

Ellis “Mountain Man” Harris - The Federation of Black Cowboy

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Even though we had always conceived the shoot as a high-contrast Black & White series, we still wanted to see how things looked in color…

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…but in the end, the B&W was just too strong, and here’s how it looks in this week’s Village Voice

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Thanks to Andrew for giving me the opportunity to hang with some real cool cats…and special thanks to J.R., Kesha and Mountain Man for opening up the stables to a Dude from the City…

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Conference Room 101

“Here is the Conference Room we booked for the shoot…Mr. [enter name here] will be with you shortly…..”

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The above mentioned phrase is what I hear about 90% of the time when I arrive at a business for a corporate portrait…and about 99% of the time I bail on the Conference Room simply because they are usually the last place I want to do a portrait. But there are those times when you have no choice…either the offices are too small or too busy or too boring…so sometimes you gotta dig deep to come away with a decent shot in a beige room that is overpowered by a massive immovable table. Here’s how we shot Ross Margolies of Stelliam Investment Management for Barron’s last week…

Like I said…beige

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For the first shot, I liked the banquette seating that ran along the windows…the leading lines of the seating and verticals of the windows & back wall added a nice graphic element…but our first test showed off it’s more normal aspects, like all those uninteresting warm tones. The ‘normal’ white balance of around 5100K was just awful. Some creative white-balancing was called for…

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By simply opening up the shutter from 1/125th to 1/10th to let in more of that daylight in we immediately cooled things off. I also added a grid to the 3′ mini-octa main light that focused the light onto the subject and off the back wall. But then I dropped the white balance to 4000K and put a half CTO gel on the main light to keep the subject in a warm spot of light, but allowed the surroundings to keep the blue hue. Time for Ross to sit in…

Ross Margolies - Stelliam Investment Management LP

I did pull in a bit on the vignette in CaptureOne to further darken the edges of the frame to keep the attention on the subject. Then we moved around for a few other angles…

Ross Margolies - Stelliam Investment Management LP

…then we trimmed the power on both the fill and main lights for these slightly more dramatic views…

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But before we packed it it for the day, we still had time for a second quick shot. The other side of the Conference Room had the requisite Wall-Of-Frosted-Glass…a favorite of corporate photographers the World over…so we aimed a couple of blue-filtered lights directly into the wall (you can see them in the photo at the top of the post), cranked the power all the way up to blow out most of the details, and used another 3′ mini-octa for our main light…

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Here’s how things looked in Barron’s…

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American Photography AP32 Winners

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The American Photography AP32 Winners Slide Show will be announced tomorrow. I got two photographs accepted…

The portrait of Judy Collins I did for the Wall Street Journal…

Judy Collins

And my shot of Patti Smith in the Amtrak departure area at Penn Station…

Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015

You can see these…and all the rest of the winners…over at the AP32 Winners Gallery here:

AP32 Winners Gallery

Activist Investors & Bank Presidents For American Banker

Richard Lashley

Mark A. Turner - CEO WSFS Bank & WSFS Financial Corp

Click on any image to Enlarge

We just did back-to-back covers for American Banker…here’s how it went…

First, we headed to Morristown NJ to shoot Rich Lashley of PL Capital. Upon arrival, we found that PL Capital runs a pretty close-to-the-bone operation…which meant the entire place was two small offices and an equally small reception area. It was pouring that day, so shooting outside was outta the question, but we had to get creative fast. We cleared out as much of the reception area as possible and set up under a framed newspaper from the day of the Stock Market Crash of 1929…

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…which gave us this series…

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Richard Lashley

Richard Lashley

…for the feature opener…

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Then we dropped a seamless for a bit of color…

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Richard Lashley

Richard Lashley

But then I noticed Rich had a bright green baseball bat leaning against the wall…and besides the green looking great on that purple seamless, the metaphor of him being an ‘activist’ investor wielding a bat was just to good to pass up…

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Richard Lashley

The cover…

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A couple of weeks later we jumped on the Turnpike for a day trip to Wilmington Delaware to shoot Mark Turner, the President and CEO of WSFS Financial Corp. As soon as we got off the elevator we were greeted with a floor to ceiling bank of windows…

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That was kind of a no-brainer. They also had a lot of this kinda stuff all over the walls…

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But first we’d get a simple one-light seamless portrait out of the way…

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Mark A. Turner - CEO WSFS Bank & WSFS Financial Corp

Now to tackle those windows…

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I figured on only needing one light for this, but the hot reflection on the window frames bothered me, so we put a grid on the mini-octa to focus the light more on him and keep it off the window…

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With that reflection taken care of, we could get under way…

Mark A. Turner - CEO WSFS Bank & WSFS Financial Corp

Mark A. Turner - CEO WSFS Bank & WSFS Financial Corp

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Finally, we had to try to make that ‘Word Wall’ exciting…

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We succeeded…

Mark A. Turner - CEO WSFS Bank & WSFS Financial Corp

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Enya

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Click on any image for Full-Size

One of the best things about doing what I do is not knowing where I’m gonna be tomorrow, so when Dana Kien at the Wall Street Journal asked if I wanted to shoot Irish singer Enya, there was no hesitation when I said ‘Yes!”. She was going to be in New York to promote her new album and I could get an hour with her at her hotel between interviews and TV gigs. So Robert and I loaded up the van and drove downtown to the St. Regis Hotel…

I didn’t know what kind of suite we would have to work with, but I did know all of the rooms at the St. Regis face North, so we would probably have lots of soft window light to play with. And when we got there, the first thing I did was see how Robert looked with nothing but that available light…

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Well…that was easy…now what else can we do?!! The bedroom was pretty opulent complete with a nice, velvet wallpaper…

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…and I also brought a lavender seamless that I could drop for a variation…

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…that looked like this…

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I think we’re ready to go! And as cute as Robert was, I knew Enya would bring a bit more to the table…

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Enya

And by just pulling the seamless outta the way…and adding a pillow from the bed for her to lean on…this is how things looked…

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Now let’s move onto the windows…

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You’ll notice that I got rid of those windows across the street…it just makes everything look a lot cleaner and more elegant.

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Enya

And here’s the page from today’s Wall Street Journal

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Thanks to Dana for the great shoot…and thanks to Enya for letting me turn her suite into a studio for an hour!

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Hamilton In ‘Da House!!!

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Click on Any Image for Full-Size
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OK…let’s get this outta the way right off the bat…

No, I did not get tickets to Hamilton!

Now…on with the show……

My string of extremely cool shoots for Arrive Magazine continued when Rob Smith offered up Lin-Manuel Miranda for a cover feature on the ‘Hamilton’ writer and star. The story was tied to the productions donation of 20,000 $10 tickets to High School students so they see private matinees of ‘Hamilton’ that also includes a Q&A with the cast afterwards. It’s all done with the hope that it will get students to enjoy learning history…and what better way to get teens to enjoy history than to have them rapping the incredibly infectious songs from the musical after they leave the theater?!! And for one of our main photos we would be shooting Lin-Manuel with a group of students!

There were of course the usual difficulties of a shoot like this…very limited shoot time…having to do a union call which besides being crazy expensive, meant we couldn’t even plug in a light or move as much as a clamp without having a Hamilton crew member do it for us…to not even knowing what kind of wardrobe Lin-Manuel would be wearing before he arrived. Then there was the fact that I had a wild chest cold that made me feel like death and took 90% of my voice away! But hammer on we must…

On the location scout we decided on a few locations…

A view from the stage for our shot with Lin-Manuel and the kids…

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The back wall of the stage for a portrait…

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And a corner up in the mezzanine that would work great for our cover…my editor Leigh Flayton was giving her acting chops a workout…

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The ‘Hamilton’ wine being served in the Mezzanine Bar…

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Since we are going to have very little time for our shots, we had to pre-light each shot in advance…that was a lotta light! We had three separate setups on the stage alone, as well as the cover we were doing up in the mezzanine…

Most of these lights were for the opening shot of Lin-Manuel with the kids…

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But you can see the setup against the ‘rope wall’ in the background…

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Rob and I checking out the opening shot…with some of the union crew approving in the back…

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Here’s our first shot with stand ins for the opener…

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…and how things got looking better when the ‘talent’ showed up…

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But once we got the lighting dialed in a bit more, the final shot for the opener dazzled…

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Next was our ‘rope wall’ shot. Since Matt and Lin-Manuel were about the same height, he got to be the stand in…

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Lin-Manuel Miranda

Then we dropped a seamless for a tight portrait. I wanted something a little darker and moodier, so we kept things pretty contrasty…and I tweaked the color way into the blue spectrum which made Matt’s baby-blues even dreamier than normal…

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For Lin-Manuel I backed off a bit cuz I liked the shadow we were getting on the background…

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Finally, we raced upstairs for the cover. It’s pretty hard to describe how tight this location was, and unfortunately we didn’t have the time to do any behind-the-scenes shots, but Lin-Manuel was stuck into the corner and I was no more than four feet away shooting between the railing of a very dark stairway with the widest lens I had!

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Once again, I chose to shift the color balance towards the blue end of things since I didn’t really like how the dead green/cyan of the wallpaper was looking. I also popped the saturation of the gold quite a bit in CaptureOne which really made those frames stand out…

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And here’s how it all turned out…

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And I wasn’t kidding earlier…I still haven’t seen ‘Hamilton’…..but these kids did!!!

Lin-Manuel Miranda

The Human Face of Big Data – The Book & the Film…

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I got an email this afternoon reminding me that ‘The Human Face of Big Data’Rick Smolan’s look at how the rapid emergence of digital devices is affecting our lives…will be airing tonight at 10:00PM Eastern on PBS (check local listings). And that reminded me that I actually did one of the shots that was featured in the book. Rick had me shoot Josh Koppel, the CEO of ScrollMotion…an App developer that has created mobile content for most of the world’s largest publishers. ScrollMotion basically ‘teaches’ Old Media how to use New Media. The funny thing is that when you enter their offices, it’s like going to a museum of Pre-Digital Technology! Every single inch of the wall space is filled with magazine cover, record albums, movie posters and newspaper clippings…

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…and especially Josh’s office…

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My mission was clear…show what the place was like and the rest would fall in place. We figured that couch with the wall full of Nostalgia behind it was the place to start. Since Josh lives on his iPad, I wanted to play that off the wall of old printed material. But I needed to make the iPad the hero. It kind of had to be the focal point of the photo. It had to shine…and I had just the right thing…my little battery powered Morris Mini Slave units…

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The Mini Slaves are small…really small…and if he held one in his hand at just the right angle it would appear that the iPad was lighting his face while also giving me a nice halo-glow. This is how we set it up…

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I did a lot of cross-filtering with CTO and CTB tells to add to the mood. The Ring Light and Mini Slave were both wrapped in blue, while the beauty dish had a full CTO to warm up his skin and the wall behind him. There was a huge wall of windows on the left side that also let a lot of cool, blue light in. My first test was kind of right on…

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Once we added Josh to the shot, all we had to do was get him to master holding the Mini Slave in the right place…

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Here’s the final image in the book…

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So anyway…you should check out the documentary tonight…watch the trailer here:

Josh Koppel - Chief Creative Officer, ScrollMotion