Joseph Altuzarra For the Wall Street Journal

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I haven’t done a real how-to blog post in a while, but the shoot we did last week of Hot fashion designer of the moment, Joseph Altuzarra, for the Wall Street Journal ‘Weekend Confidential’ feature sort of lent itself to that sort of thing. Both portraits we did look ridiculously simple, but it’s the little details that go into shoots like this where I get asked the most amount of questions. Questions about my lighting choices, color balance and post processing. I kinda take all this stuff for granted, but I’ll pull back the curtain and try to break them down for you…

The inspiration for our first portrait sort of hit me right away when I checked out Joseph’s showroom and saw these two mannequins…

I was immediately struck by both the starkness of their design and the beautiful way the soft light from a wall of windows in the studio wrapped around the faces against the white walls. But as beautiful as Joseph’s designs were, I sort of want to simplify things even more…and that meant getting rid of the clothes…

We positioned the mannequins in the largest open space in the showroom…

…and to mimic that soft wall of light from the windows, I decided to light the set with two 65″ white umbrellas plugged into 2000 w/s Elinchrom packs, set up 90 degrees to the camera (and almost 20 feet from the subject) for a split-light effect…

This was our first test shot (with Robert standing in for Joseph) just using the two umbrellas…

Honestly, for a first test it was very nice. It fit the ‘Weekend Confidential’ requirements of being graphic and powerful, while also immediately telling the story. This was exactly how I wanted to portray Joseph. But technically it just a little too soft, flat and monochromatic for my liking. Those two umbrellas essentially made one big, even light source, but although Joseph and the mannequins would be exposed properly, the brightness of white mannequins was too much. I needed to bring up the light on the subject without affecting the mannequin’s light. So I added a 20″ Profoto Beauty Dish on a Profoto Acute 1200 pack, with a 30 degree grid, for just a little more light at the center of the scene…

As you see in the lighting diagram, by positioning the Beauty Dish in front of the umbrellas and feathering it so that it hits my subject but stays off the mannequins, it brings up the light on the subject just enough to separate him from the rest of the set. But I also wanted to shift the overall color palate because ‘normal’ just wasn’t cutting it! Since I always shoot tethered to Capture One Pro with the Hasselblad/Leaf back, I have a lot of options when it comes to selecting ICC input profiles. Leaf has always had the best designed input profiles that allow me to do what I did next. I switched from the basic ‘LF3 Portrait 5’ profile (very neutral, very normal) to my favorite profile…’LF3 Portrait Warm 5′. Warm 5 heightens the contrast and saturates colors, and because of that, our next test looked like this…

The new input profile allowed me to lower my white balance from 5100K down to 4150K which gave me a cool, blue overall look, but the skin tones remained pleasant without me having to add a warming gel to the Beauty Dish. Next, using the Capture One ‘Color Editor’ control panel, I was able to further adjust the blue and cyan channels to make them even more saturated, and also was able to improve on the skin tone in the red and yellow channels. Now it’s certainly possible to do this kind of thing in post using Photoshop, but with the Leaf input profiles and adjustment panels, I’m not only able to see the effect as I’m shooting, but it cuts down on my post processing a ton! You can also see how the addition of the Beauty Dish brings up the light on my subject so that he stands out better.

With my prelight & Capture One setup nailed, I think we’re ready to get Joseph on set…

Before we finished, I switched from the 80mm to the 150mm lens that compressed the perspective further and lowered the output on the umbrellas by about half a stop that slightly darkened the mannequins and allowed Joseph to stand out even more…

Next, we had set up a thunder grey backdrop for some seamless portraits…

It doesn’t get any simpler than this…one big, soft light source (a 47″ Rime Lite Grand Box) placed on a boom stand about 2.5 feet above his head. No fill, no tricks. Here’s how it looked on Robert…

Again, that first test shot looks pretty good, but we can still improve on it with a few easy adjustments. All we had to do was lower the white balance from 4650K down to 4150K, tweak the Levels and Curves a bit, add a little shadow detail and pull in a bit of vignetting on the corners and we were ready to go…

Finally, here is the story as it appeared in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal ‘Review’ Section

Tony Bennett

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Three years ago I got to hang out with Tony Bennett for an afternoon. Then a few weeks ago, lightening struck twice when Ronnie Weil asked me to shoot him again for Alexandra Wolfe’s Weekend Confidential column in the Wall Street Journal. Just as the first time, we would be meeting Tony at his art studio on Central Park South…

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…but Ronnie had asked men to not concentrate on the studio this time, but instead to go for a classic portrait. Keep it simple. Focus on his personality. So with that as my brief, off we went.

As you can see in the above photo of his studio, there is a lot of natural light to work with. The entire north side of the room is a wall of windows facing the Park, so I decided to use my brand new Canon 5Ds with my equally new Sigma Art lenses with all that light against a black pop-up backdrop. Here is my first test with Kaz…

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But when Tony sat in place, the entire mood changed…

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And as much as we liked the color, I also processed the entire series in black and white as well…and it was kinda awesome…

Tony Bennett

And the Journal agreed. Here’s the final page…

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But I wasn’t done yet. I had set up a couple of lights against a wall for a second portrait…

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Tony Bennett

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Thanks to Ronnie for the opportunity…and thanks to Tony for allowing me to hang out with him one more time!

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Yeah, Yeah…I’ve Been Busy!!!

September 7th

That was the last time I dropped a post on the old Blog. More than two months. That’s gotta be a record, even for me. You know, life gets in the way and things get back-burnered, but I’ve been busy. Well…if we’re being totally honest, as some of you know I have also been preoccupied …some might say abnormally preoccupied…with the National Nightmare that was the Election of 2016. And in those few moments where I could have been filling the pages of Damn Ugly Photography with my behind-the-scenes tales, I was probably watching my Twitter feed…and screaming at my monitor. But that’s over now and all we have show for it is this petulant, obnoxious, short-fingered vulgarian who’s primed to take over the country…

Donald Trump

But starting tomorrow, I’m gonna try my best to focus more on my own shit and less on the shit situation the country faces over the next four years. I’ve got a lotta stuff in the pipeline so keep your eyeballs on this space.

Damn Ugly Is Best Of Show

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

The 2016 APA Awards Show winners were just announced, and Mr. Damn Ugly snuck out the back door with the ‘Best of Show’ honors with my portrait of Patti Smith at Penn Station! I am truly humbled and honored with this award, especially after seeing what the competition offered up. You can view the Award Gallery here:

2016 APA Awards Show Winners Gallery

Besides giving my ego a totally unnecessary boost, the Best of Show goody bag includes the following…

• Canon EOS 5Ds Camera
• ThinkTank Airport Roller Derby Case
• Adobe – One Year Creative Cloud Subscription
• Capture One Pro 9 Software
• X–Rite ColorMunki Display
• Cradoc fotosoftware – fotoBiz X program which includes fotoQuote Pro 6

• Agency Access – One Year Agency Access w/12,000 Email Credits
• Found – Basic Portfolio membership for 12 months
• Dripbook – A Premium Account for LIFE including Blog and Social Media feature

• DriveSavers Data Recovery, Inc. – $300 gift certificate
• ImageRights – One year of ImageRights Premier service

 • LiveBooks – Pro Website for Five Years

 • PhotoShelter – Five Year Pro Subscription
• Production Paradise – One Year Directory Listing
• Resource Magazine – One Year Print Subscription
• A & I – Cover & opening two–page spread in 2016 APA Awards book
• Lürzer’s Archive – A 2–page spread for Best of Show & First Place Winners
• Showcased on APA Awards Gallery
• Exclusive: APA Glass Trophy
• 2016 APA Awards Best Of Show Award Banner for website & email signature

My heartfelt thanks go out to Staff & Board of APA for putting together this competition, the judges who thought so highly of my work and the sponsors who donated all that stuff!!!

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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

Lord Julian Fellowes, Rock Star

Julian Fellowes

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Ronnie Weil from the Wall Street Journal recently called me up and asked if I wanted to add Julian Fellowes to my Rogues Gallery. The English actor, novelist, film director, screenwriter and member of the House of Lords…so that actually makes him Lord Julian Fellowes…was in town for the Broadway opening of the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, ‘School Of Rock”. Lord Fellowes wrote the book for the musical. That’s right…the same guy who won an Oscar for ‘Gosford Park’ and got crazy famous for coming up with ‘Downton Abbey’ was now gonna turn the Jack Black goofball comedy into a Larger than Life Andrew Lloyd Webber musical!

So what was I gonna do?!!

He’s English…offer him some Tea!!!

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And it’s a Rock & Roll musical, so I gotta get a guitar. I shot Gabrielle Sterbenz right after she picked up her shiny, white Stratocaster and I knew it would be the perfect prop for a fine English gentleman in a bespoke suit…

Gabrielle Sterbenz

Now I just had to get prepared. Lord Fellowes would have very little time once he got to the studio. He was coming from a morning TV appearance and had an interview immediately afterwards. So Matt and I set up a couple of tastily lit portrait situations…

Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes

As good as Matt looked, Julian just added a bit more panache…

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And to my surprise, he took to the guitar idea immediately…

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Next we moved over to the full-length seamless…

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…but now we added the Tea Cup with Gabby’s Strat…

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And our job was complete!

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Thank you, Lord Fellowes…I can hardly wait to see ‘School Of Rock’…and for the final season of Downton!

Julian Fellowes