Sam Edelman – The Shoe King

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Sam Edelman began his career in shoes when Ralph Lauren had him produce a line of equestrian-inspired footwear, but then he went on to co-found Kenneth Cole Productions, and launched the shoe division at Esprit. Sam Edelman was the Shoe King. Jessica Fitzgerald, the Art Director at Footwear News, asked me to shoot a “Legends’ cover for the magazine…the first time I’d ever done an assignment for them!

Our shot list was long…and we’d only have a couple of hours…so Kaz and I loaded up the van and headed to the Sam Edelman Showroom in midtown for our audience with The King…

The first thing we saw when we arrived was the large showroom area…

Jessie liked my series of ‘Artificial Portraits’ and thought this would make for a nice warts-and-all, behind-the-scenes cover setup…

Enter The King…

Jessie nailed it with her cover layout…

For our second shot, I noticed a corner of the showroom was papered in a stylized ‘E’ pattern…

And there was also a similarly colored display case…

We used the display case as a table and positioned it in front of the wall…

Lighting was a single 20″ Profoto beauty dish (softened & gridded) with a 7′ Impact umbrella directly behind me and the camera…

Jessie liked the idea of Sam in his corner office…

…so the styling crew went to work…

…but Kaz and I had to add a bit more light, drop the color temperature to accentuate the blue, and open up to a 1/4 second shutter speed to blow out the window exposure. We dropped a couple of bare heads in the corners aimed back at Sam’s chair…with no other front light or fill…to mimic a hot Sun light…

This became the opener for the story…

Now after three pretty involved setups, Sam was about done…but Jessie and I pressed for one more very quick portrait. We went back to out first setup on white. I could have just used the existing light and come in close for a tight portrait, but instead I dropped in a white flat for a table and started with just the small Strip Light that we were using for a skim light…

Then we swung the 3′ Profoto RFI around high and to the left side…

Playing around with the Kelvin slider, we decided cooler was better…

…but Sam’s icy stare made the photo…

You can read about Sam Edelman’s Wild Ride here…and thanks Jessie, for what I hope is the beginning of a long working relationship!

Salman Rushdie for WSJ

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The phone rang…and we got to spend the morning with Salman Rushdie”. The celebrated author just released his fourteenth novel…Quichotte, which was just added to the shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize…and Elizabeth Winkler was interviewing him for the Weekend Confidential column.

Here’s a look at our time with Salman…

The first setup couldn’t be simpler…a single 5-foot parabolic umbrella flying high on a boom, a couple of layered backdrops (courtesy of Gravity Backdrops) and an old, beat up farm table…

Very classic and very contrasty…

For the second portrait, we went with a boomed, gridded, diffused 20″ Profoto Beauty Dish high and directly overhead, filled with another five-footer behind the camera…

Here’s how it looked…

Finally, I moved in tighter…

That was the one…..

Photographing The Maestro…Jaap Van Zweden

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Oscar Schafer called me up to see if I had an interest in photographing Jaap Van Zweden, the new conductor of the New York Philharmonic. I’ve know Oscar for over a decade…having photographed him ever year for the Barron’s Round Table…but Oscar is also the Chairman of NYPHIL and he trusted me to get images of Jaap that they could use to introduce him to New York! What with rehearsals and performances, his time was pretty tight, but if I could set up a studio at Lincoln Center, we’d be given the opportunity…..so off we went!

They had requested a white background option, but since I knew Jaap would be wearing his all-black attire, for our first setup I added a black flat to split the scene in half to play off the black/white aspect. And we kept the lighting fairly strong on the dark side to let him stand out…

Thank God my assistants usually wear all-black…it makes it easier when I use them as stand-ins!

Jaap immediately understood the attitude we were looking for…

And then for the all-white option, we just pulled the flat out of the way and put our main light on a boom directly above Japan…

For a literal 180 degree twist, we had an all-black set ready to go at the other side of the room…a 5-foot umbrella and 20 feet of black velvet…

With the lighting dialed in, now it was Jaap’s turn…

Here’s how it looked on the Philharmonic’s Playbill…

Now the folks at the Philharmonic were happy with what we already shot, but I convinced them to give me a few minutes more to try something inside David Geffen concert hall. Since it was a last minute thing, we didn’t have time to pop off any behind-the-scenes stuff, but my idea was to shoot Jaap from the stage sitting in the seats. Like this…

But how about trying it Black & White?

Or wider??

Or how about we add a few musicians?!!

All in all, everybody had a pretty fun day…including Oscar who stole Jaap’s baton…

John Lithgow For The Wall Street Journal

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As time goes by, when it comes to my portrait work, a lot of how I judge success or failure relates to how I can connect with a subject…usually in an extremely limited time frame. Oh sure, I gotta come away with a beautiful portrait or two, but I really want to also learn a little of the people who spend time in front of my lens. So when The Wall Street Journal called and said we were gonna get ‘some time’ to shoot John Lithgow for Weekend Confidential and would I be interested, I knew that meant very little time, but I still immediately screamed “YES!!!”…cuz getting to pick his brain…and take a few photos…was gonna be fun!

Lithgow is epic. He’s an actor’s actor. I’d pay gold to watch him open an envelope! He was doing promotion for his new play, “Hillary And Clinton”, and we would be given a slot on a day that included a matinee performance followed by his appearing on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” followed by the evening performance, so I knew things had to be nailed down. On with the show…

For our first setup, I got to use a couple of new canvasses I recently got from Gravity Backdrops. They’re essentially the same…both a very low texture dark grey…and I layered the smaller of the two on top of the larger to create a bit of depth & shadow. For lighting, it’s pretty simple…just a 5′ parabolic umbrella on a boom jacked up as high as I could get it…

Gotta love one light…

I showed him a few lighting test shots of Richard and he said he understood the direction I was going towards…serious, thoughtful and introspective.

Mr. Lithgow, enter Stage Left…

In between shots, we talked about his new play, his career, his time as a student at Harvard, and a whole lot more. Then we moved on to our feature portrait, where we used two more Gravity drops and a sawhorse tabletop…lit with a 20″ gridded Profoto Beauty dish and filled by another 5-footer…

With just a bit of finesse…mostly just adding a flag camera right to throw a little shadow on the background and the side of John’s face…it looked like this…

It was the exact mood I was aiming at…

Finally, before he left, John insisted on photographing…me!

He grabbed the Hasselblad and immortalized me thusly…

All in all, it was a typically quick session…but extremely satisfying.

You can check out the final results over at The Wall Street Journal

THE PICNIC TABLE STUDIO

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I’ve just finished a run of three back-to-back portrait gigs, all shot in the same empty, end-of-the-hall location at Barron’s. We’re calling it the Picnic Table Studio because at some point in the past few months somebody decided what that empty hallway needed was a fancy Picnic Table. For all three shoots we would have very little time. Each person was either going into or coming out of an interview and we would have five minutes…or less. Here we go…

The space itself ain’t nuthin’ you would gravitate towards as a location. There was the table…

…and a hallway…

But the low ceilings and tight surroundings didn’t make it an ideal place for lighting. So for the first two of our three shoots, we decided to just go with the bank of windows for our main light and add accents as needed with my continuous DIY ‘Ghetto-Flo’ lights.

Our first subject was Alan Colberg, the CEO of the Assurant Insurance Company. I liked how Kaz looked at the Picnic table, but it needed a bit of help. First thing, we had to cool down the color temperature…

The windows threw in a lot of light, but it still needed something. So we added one Ghetto-Flo on either side of him for a bit of separating rim light, and we were ready to go…

Since that only took us about two minutes to shoot, we quickly reset for a look down that hallway. Again we relied on the windows for our main light and then popped in one skim light on the right side…

Here’s the final page…

The next day we were back for Round 2. Jamie Dimon, the Chairman, President and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Now I have shot Jamie a lot over the past twenty years and I knew he wants the photo shoot to be over before it begins, so this had to be super-quick. Adrian said he wanted something very simple and matter-of-fact…just Jamie looking back at the viewer. Something like this…

And again, we decided to work with the available light and just add one skim light off camera on the right side…

Jamie’s simple black jacket gave just the right amount of negative space to the overall bright scene…

For a second shot, we wouldn’t have time to relight, so without changing our lighting I threw on a 200mm lens to come in tight…

…but his black jacket gave me another idea. Why not go black?!! So I had Kaz hold a black scrim behind Jamie and we instantly went from a high-key setup to a much darker, more dramatic look. We were able to get off three frames before he bolted…

The final shoot was less than five minutes long and gave us two separate features…

A few weeks later, we were back again…this time to shoot Henry Ellenbogen, a Portfolio Manager at T. Rowe Price. Like the others, he was there for an interview and we would get him for a few minutes. But this time I wanted to bit more control that the bank of window light would give me. So I brought along one of my Gravity Backdrops and a small Profoto kit for a nice, simple portrait setup…

Do you get the feeling Kaz is getting sick of setting up in the same place?!!

As you can see, the ceiling height really prevents us from an optimal setup…

…but even still, the light was kinda great…

With a little contrast control and desaturation, here’s how things looked when Henry sat down…

And the final image in Barron’s…

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

Activist Investors & Bank Presidents For American Banker

Richard Lashley

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

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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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