Playing High-Stakes Chess With The Smartest Guys In The Room


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When January rolls around, one thing you can always count on is that I’ll be packing up 1000 pounds of gear and heading to The Harvard Club to shoot the Barron’s Roundtable. This year, Adrian Delucca and I worked up a few ideas based on the game of Chess. Here were Adrian’s chicken scratches that led to our cover shootā€¦


This year we would be publishing three covers in January, and the usual mid-year cover in June, so we had to set up three different lighting setups in the very tight quarters of the Presidents Room at the Harvard Clubā€¦

The main setup for the Week One cover and openerā€¦


ā€¦the Chess Table set for the Week Two & Three coversā€¦


ā€¦and third area for the mid-year portraitsā€¦



As usual, we would start shooting the ten Roundtable members separately as they began arriving at 8:00AM, and we had to be finished everything when the meeting beganā€¦at 10:00AM! That meant we had to shoot each person in enough different situations for three covers and three openers as well as individual portraits of each for the midyear issueā€¦all in two hours. And we also had to convey exactly what we needed each person to do since they wouldn’t be posing with anyone but themselves and everything would be put together in post! They’re given no advance warning of what we’ve cooked up for them until they arrive.

That kinda thing is hard enough to pull off when you’re dealing with professional models, but when you’ve only got 5 or 6 minutes with a financial expert, getting him to instantly channel his inner actor is a wee bit harderā€¦









With our Roundtable members safely in the bag, now I got to spend the next three days locked in front of my computer. I had already spent a day shooting a Chess Board & Pieces for our base cover imageā€¦


Now came adding the human chess piecesā€¦




And after a considerable amount of Photoshop work, the final cover image looked like thisā€¦



Next up was the opening imageā€¦





And the final imageā€¦



Finally, I had to put together two different chess playing situationsā€¦from two different anglesā€¦for the Week Two and Week Three issues. This was our high-angle test shot (you can see the low angle tripod at the bottom of the frame)ā€¦


What would be so easy if we could just shoot it as one photo becomes a very complicated puzzle when you hafta shoot everyone separately while trying to keep track of who you’ve already shot and in what positionā€¦





These are the two final imagesā€¦




Now on to the low angleā€¦










Manā€¦am I ever tiredā€¦ā€¦.

On the Top of the World for Barron’s


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…


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


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…



And the final images…

Jeff Kolitch

Jeff Kolitch


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…


…and after a bit of lighting…


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.

R.I.P. Alan Abelson

Alan Abelson & Brad Trent

Me and Alan at the 2008 Roundtable

Alan Abelson, the veteran financial journalist and longtime writer of the “Up and Down Wall Street” column in Barron’s Magazine, died last Thursday. The former Editor of Barron’s was a regular member of the panel who quizzed the Roundtable members each year about their predictions on the coming years financial markets, and as many of you probably know, I’ve shot that Roundtable issue for the past seven years. Alan was well-known as being a thorn in the side of Wall Street for his fearless style of journalism. Ben Stein, the writer, actor, economist, and humorist who was a longtime friend of Alan’s, wrote in the American Spectatorā€¦

“ā€¦His columns were dour, hilarious, insightful. He never bought into the prevailing ā€œwisdomā€ of Wall Street. It was all about hucksterism and self-promotion. He realized that from the first day until the last. He could and would deflate any balloon, from the dirigibles of the Fed to the smaller ones of hedge funds. There is no one like him now. The rest of us are just ordinary people. He was Superman.”

Goodbye Superman.

Cooking With Cash For The Barron’s Roundtable


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Here’s a quick follow-up to what we did with that $30 Grand in cash I needed as a prop for the Week Two and Week Three group shots of this years Barron’s Roundtable shoot. Once again, our object was to shoot as many different single images of each Roundtable member playing around the cooking theme so that we could later assemble them into our little stories. Since the theme played on the idea of cooking up a recipe for the perfect economy, cash…lotsa cash…was required as our main ingredient!





And here’s how the final pages looked…



Behind The Scenes At The Most Expensive Barronā€™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


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…


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…


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…



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…


Oscar Schafer…




Brian Rogers…


Fred Hickey…


Abby Joseph Cohen…


Scott Black…


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…


…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


This stuff never gets old!


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…

Spending A Day In Wine Heaven


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As a wine geek, getting a call from Adrian Delucca asking if I wanted to spend a day photographing Tom Ryder in his World-Class wine cellar, made me extremely happy that I do what I do for a living. Tom has been the President of American Express Publishing, CEO of Readers Digest and was the Chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America, and over the years has amassed a truly amazing wine collection. He was writing a feature for Barron’s that discussed how the bottom has fallen out of the wine collecting (as an investment) market and told his own story of when he auctioned off a small portion of his own cellar. As part of the process, he had the auction house appraise the wines he wanted to sell and was shocked to learn that the 1,000 bottles he was looking to divest would ‘only’ fetch between $70,000 – $100,000…but if he were to sell only three Magnum bottles of his 2005 Romanee-Conti he would get roughly the same $100,000! It was my job to show him with those three bottles of very pricy DRC. Here’s how it went…

Nick and I started by stacking up cases of his very best Grand Cru Burgundies that would be our posing table…


…and then cleaned up the background a bit…


Nick enjoying the view from the stacks…


…but Tom fit the mood a bit more…

Thomas O. Ryder

Because of the tight quarters in the cellar, we were kind of limited with what we could do, lighting-wise, but we pulled off a nice, warm and dramatic look with only two lights…an Elinchrom 39″ Mini Octa high and to the right of the camera, and a Ringlight…that’s it!

Our final select, with the three Magnums of DRC valued at $100,000 (and those messy cases behind him cleaned up in post )…


And here’s how it looked in the magazine…


In Case You Were Wondering…CEO’s Are VERY Busy!!!

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I logged another CEO Spotlight for Barron’s a few weeks back when Adrian sent us to shoot Bob Benmosche, the CEO of AIG. As usual, the drill is we get told The Boss is extremely busy and I will only be allowed five minutes to get everything I need in the can. I typically take the ‘five minutes’ as shorthand for we hafta be quick, but this time I knew we had no wiggle room. Benmosche was going to shoehorn us in between an earnings statement conference call and a Town Hall Meeting, so his schedule was carved in stone. There was going to be very little time for small talk, but I know how important it is to come away with a portrait that shows the subject’s personality. Obviously, with such little time to shoot we had to have our setups nailed down when he showed up. Here’s how it went.

The CEO Spotlight is formatted as a full-length portrait on white, so on this day we turned the top floor of the AIG building…with it’s 18-foot ceilings and Million Dollar views…into our studio…

That gave us our feature opener…

We also did a second shot where I used my Ghetto-Flos in the hallway area directly behind where we had the seamless set up…

…which gave us this…

…that morphed into this after a wee bit of Photoshoppery…

And we were done…in five minutes.