Drinking A Few Beers With DW Gibson

DW Gibson

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DW Gibson is a writer and journalist whose work appears in publications like the Washington Post, the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Village Voice & The Daily Beast and is also a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered. And over the past few years, he’s written extensively about New Yorkers who’ve been affected by gentrification. Here’s a little behind the scenes of my shoot for WirtschaftsWoche…one of my European clients…when they asked if I could shoot him in his own rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn…

Kaz and I started with a pretty simple setup in between DW’s house and his next door neighbors. I liked the way the design of the houses showed the type of architecture the neighborhood was comprised of, and it also allowed me to do one of my ‘Artificial Portraits’, since my editor at WiWo had specifically asked me to do at least one setup that showed my lighting kit…

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DW Gibson

Did I mention it was about 100 degrees the day we were shooting? DW was very gracious and offered beer to keep us cool…

DW Gibson

Next, we crossed the street for a couple of portraits against a brick wall…

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DW Gibson

DW Gibson

…and finally finished off with some views of his street…

DW Gibson

DW Gibson

…which opened our story…

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Behind The Scenes At The 2011 Barron’s Roundtable PART THREE

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The year is half over and that means The Mid-Year Roundtable issue of Barron’s has hit the stands. I’ve already spilled the beans on some of some of what went down at the Harvard Club that cold day in January in PART ONE and PART TWO, and now comes the final story of how we shot the ten members of the Roundtable separately and put ’em all together into a cover, an inside opener and individual portraits that would accompany each of their stock picks.

Adrian DeLucca and I figured we would hammer home the Global theme we started in the January issue by shooting each person against a section of a World map and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to squeeze a few Artificial Portraits in at the same time. I photographed a giant map I picked up from IKEA and then printed it out in ten 40″ x 50″ sections that would serve as a backdrop for each individual portrait…..

Since we had precious little time to waste the day of the shoot, I decided to ‘map out’ who would be in front of which section ahead of time…..

I kept the lighting pretty simple…just a gridded 20″ Profoto beauty dish way up high on a boom and an on-camera ringlight…..

Because we were jumping between the two sets, I gave myself a few cheaters to remind me what my settings should be…..

Oh yeah…just about forgot…I added an over the shoulder fill in the form of an open-face Octalite…..

…all of which gave us ten images that I had to re-assemble into a map of the World…..

…which looked like this on the cover…..

…with a variation for the inside opener…..

But while I was shooting the images for the cover, I also had to come away with some individual portraits that were a bit different and that’s where the Artificial Portraits came in…..

…and these shots were peppered throughout the article…..

And another year of the Roundtable was in the can! So until next January, Photo Editor Adrian DeLucca, Art Director Pam Budz and yours truly wish you well!

Do You Have Any Stronger Sawhorses For The Chairman?!!

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A few weeks ago, Mr. DeLucca asked if I would like to take a trip up to Herald Square to shoot Terry Lundgren, the President, Chairman of the Board, Director and CEO of Macy’s. “Yeah”, I said, “but only if I don’t hafta do some lame picture of him on the retail floor!”. Thus began our journey…

I went up to Macy’s for a quick location scout and was of course shown every square inch of the million square feet of retail space in the World’s Largest Department Store…none of which really interested me. What I really wanted to see was their display department…I had a kind of cool idea that required mannequins and such, but I got shot down on that one. I was then offered a look around their ‘Executive Offices’, which is normally the kiss of death, but in this case it proved damned inspiring. The floor dates back to the 1902 origin of the building and was stunning, but what really got me going was the Executive Dining Room. The walls were covered in frescos painted in the 1940’s that show views of the building as it looked back then…

But using the P/R guy as a stand in, I saw immediately that just dropping him in front of the wall was gonna be flat-footed and boring…..

I needed to raise him up and get him into the scene, and that was gonna take a lot of gear! (And since this was a Barron’s gig, I only had one assistant) So Kaz and I showed up early…we got to Macy’s three hours before the shoot…and proceeded to turn the dining room into a photo studio for real. Besides my usual two tons of lighting gear, we hauled in apple boxes, saw horses, a sheet of plywood and a 4 x 8 piece of white plexiglass and went about rigging a platform that would raise him up to the right height…

But we still had one final hurdle to get over…the P/R guy walked in while we were setting up and had concerns about our plastic saw horses….”Do you have any stronger sawhorses for the Chairman?!!”. I had to get up on the platform and dance a jig to convince him we were safe. And it was worth it…here’s the resulting page in Barron’s…

But I wasn’t done. My favorite image was actually like that set-up shot I sat in for. The much more dramatic, pulled-back view of Lundgren is now sitting at the front of my portfolio…

Behind The Scenes At The 2011 Barron’s Roundtable PART TWO

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I could have subtitled this post “How To Make 10 People Appear Out Of Thin Air” cuz that’s kinda what we had to do with the inside shots for this years Barron’s Roundtable issue. It took a little arm-twisting, but I convinced Adrian that after all these years of assembling individual portraits of the Roundtable members into our fanciful group shots, this would be a perfect time to pull away the curtain…up to a point…and show a bit of the behind-the-scenes magic and Photoshoppery that is involved in making ten people look like they were actually in the same room at the same time. My idea was to do a pulled-back view of the cover image showing the lights, assistants and set dressing, as well as having some fun with the MacBeth color-checker while we were at it, much like what I do in the Light Test galleries on my website. But the truth was that we would still be tricking the viewer into thinking they were seeing a real look at the set, when in fact the entire shot was created in Photoshop!

You’ll remember from Part One that we shot everybody separately on the black velvet set…..

…but those shots weren’t wide enough for me to insert all ten people, so we cleared the set, widened the black velvet and shot a blank canvas for me to assemble the group shot with…

Unfortunately, even that area wasn’t wide enough, so I had to stretch it even further in Photoshop into this…

You’ll notice that besides making the velvet area wider, I also corrected the lens distortion by straightening the verticals and I also added a few A-Clamps to the crossbar holding the velvet. Now I could get to work filling in the lighting. I added a second hairlight boom, and three beauty dishes on the bottom of the frame…

…and then cloned in the posing table and some sandbags, four times…..

…which got us to the point where I could start adding bodies!

…and then get the whole gang together…

Now by this time, I had worked up a pretty complex file with more than 30 layers…

There were more than 25 image layers alone, with things like hands, shadows, tabletops, light booms, and various body parts overlapping and blending into one another…trust me, it’s a lot to keep track of!

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But after all the cloning and cropping and positioning and blending and color-correcting, this was the final image…..

…and here is how it looked in Barron’s…

Now I figure after all that, y’all should have the basics down for how to fake a big group, so I won’t bore you with another step-by-step breakdown of the two additional shots I put together for the following two shots, but here’s what we did for week two and week three of the Roundtable Reports…

Week Two:

Week Three:

So there you have it…for now! Remember, I still have the two situations we did for the Mid-Year cover to talk about, but not until June when it gets published!

OK…OK…there is this…….

Behind The Scenes At The 2011 Barron’s Roundtable PART ONE

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For the fifth year in a row, I got to photograph the ten investment professionals who make up the Barron’s Roundtable to illustrate the two cover stories the magazine runs on their predictions for the World financial markets. And just as we do every year, photo editor Adrian DeLucca and I brainstormed over fine wines and French food to come up with the best way to use the extremely limited time we are given to shoot everybody for the minimum of four separate uses the magazine has. In the roughly two hours we’re alloted (we have to shoot everybody before their day-long meeting begins) we have to come up with two covers…one for January and one for the mid-year June issue…as well as double-page opening shots for both issues, and still try to get individual photos of each person that can be used in stand-alone stories. That’s ten people…two hours……four different shots!

Since I can’t talk about anything we shot for the June Mid-Year cover until it is published, you’ll all just hafta make due with half of the story until then, but here’s the story on how the January cover went down…..

Since the Roundtable members generally talk about Global financial markets, Adrian and I thought to shoot a cover image where the Roundtable members would be sitting…somewhat God-like…at a round table that was actually the Earth, but because the focus of their discussions typically center on how things will effect the North American markets, we decided it was best to concentrate on the North American continent. The first thing I had to do was come up with a globe map that was both graphic and a quick read and something I could easily morph into a table top. A bit of Googling came up with this…

…and with a bit of Photoshoppery I was able to turn it into this…

That gave me the basic shape I needed to determine the camera height & angle so that I could make a cover mockup…

Because each person was to be shot separately and combined in post into the final group shot around the table, I needed a posing table that would give me the proper curve for them to lean into so that when I positioned each person, they would be sitting or standing at the correct angle and my Photoshop blending at our gigantic Earth Table wouldn’t look fake. For the posing stand, I simply cut a curved piece of plywood, painted it blue to match the color of the globe image and screwed it into some apple boxes. Once the basic physics of what angle and height to shoot the cover was planned out, we were ready to get down to business. Since we were scheduled to begin at 8:00AM Monday morning, we spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon setting up…

Just as last year, The Roundtable meeting was taking place at The Harvard Club, so our ‘studio’ was a room with walls covered in portraits of dead, rich white guys staring down at us. They were apparently ex-Presidents of Harvard, which is probably why they called it the Presidents Room. We quickly set up out cover set…a black velvet backdrop, the blue plywood posing table, and a pretty simple lighting setup of a 20″ Profoto White Beauty Dish main light, a second Profoto Beauty Dish as a blue moon-glowy hairlight (but this one is a Silver dish with a 20 degree grid and 2 Full Blue (CTB) filters attached) and a 4′ x 6′ Chimera for an overall fill behind the camera position…

Here’s the subject’s-eye view…

…and you can see we added a fourth light…that head to the right of the camera with a 7″ reflector and a 10 degree grid…it threw a bit more light onto the subjects face, ‘cuz that beauty dish aimed from the ground-up was just a wee bit too monster-lighty. Here are the first tests…

With our basic lighting nailed down and our mockup cover taped to the tripod…

…we were ready for the parade of people that would show up the next morning. Well…as ready as you can possibly be when you have to keep four separate shots in your head where you have to composite ten people into believable groups for the final image! In that two hour shoot window! Anyway…it all came together rather nicely…..

…I’m not kidding…Oscar’s watch is worth $1 million bucks!

Making sure to cover all manner of goofy expressions ‘cuz You never know what you’re gonna hafta do when putting the group shots together…

And in no time…we were done! Now came the assembly. This was the first simple comp I did with people added around our Global Table…

After moving a few people around and swapping in a different pose for Archie MacAllaster on the far left, I erased the plywood posing tables from under their hands and this was the result…

Next came a bit of color and contrast retouching, some tweeking of the levels and curves and dodging the highlights on everyones shoulders so they separated from the background a bit better…

And finally, we added a field of stars…..

…and here is the final cover, complete with the moon that replaced the usual ‘O’ in Barron’s (I can’t remember if that was Adrian’s idea or mine, but it was a nice touch)…..

Next up in Part Two…I’ll break down the assembly and retouching of the Behind-The-Scenes two-page opener for the Roundtable story, including how I managed to convince Adrian that this was a perfect situation to pull out my Artificial Portrait technique, as well and two additional shots we put together for the subsequent two editions of Barron’s.

New Work – Robert Nardelli

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My tour of the nation’s boardrooms continued last week when I got to spend some time with Bob Nardelli, the ex-CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler, who is now at Cerberus Capital Management, one of the largest private equity investment firms in the country. His new gig has him running the Cerberus Operations and Advisory Company…a little portfolio that includes about 50 companies with combined revenues of nearly $50 billion. With that as his day job, it’s not too surprising that I was not going to be given a lot of time to do what I do, but I was further hamstrung when the location I wanted to shoot him in was deemed ‘too public’ and instead my only choice was…the boardroom.

The boardroom is always the first place I’m shown and usually the last place I wanna be! The person giving me the office tour typically says, “We’ve done a lot of photography in here!”, which makes me wonder why they think I would want to go where thousands have gone before, but beyond that, most boardrooms are just not that photo-friendly. They can be High-Tech or Old-World and as well-designed as possible, but there’s no gettin’ around the monstrously large table that inevitably takes up the bulk of the room. And even the best boardroom is usually kinda bland, overlit and without much drama. So to overcome these little obstacles I decided to get a bit dark and moody and make a shot that was more cinematic than real…..

…then, for a quick secondary photo, I decided to do one of my Artificial Portraits (above) that I could also serve as a nice setup for a tight portrait…..