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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The 2016 Barron’s Roundtable Extravaganza – Part One

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

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As anyone who has visited Damn Ugly Photography on a regular basis knows, the first week of January is when we decamp for the warm embrace of the Harvard Club to shoot the annual Barron’s Roundtable. This year was no different, and apart from there being a few familiar Roundtable members missing and replaced with a couple of new guys, the formula remains the same. We have two hours to shoot each of the nine Roundtable members…separately since they all arrive at staggered times…with the objective being that we need enough varied poses to fabricate four individual covers (three in January and one more for the mid-year report in June) as well as four feature photos to open the story with each week. We start at around 8:00AM and have to be totally done by the time the meeting begins at 10:00. If the thought of shooting nine people for four covers and four openers in two hours isn’t daunting enough, we also have to get each Roundtable member to wrap their head our concepts for the covers immediately…and remember…these aren’t models. They’re financial professionals. Trying to get them to understand the varied poses I need so that I can manufacture a cover where they all look like they’re relating to each other is harder than any of the technical tricks we work on!

So here is how the shoot for the first week’s cover went…

Our Week One cover and opener revolved around this image of a World Map…

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Using some old images of the Roundtable members from a previous shoot, I put together this comp…

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…so when people arrived, I could quickly show them a visual representation of what we were going to do…

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As usual, we have to set up multiple lighting sets for our different poses in a very small room…this time we had three individual sets…

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…everything is in the same place…hair & makeup, three sets and a very small area where people can hang out until we get them on set…

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For the cover, we wanted everyone to react to the people around them…people who weren’t there when we did the shoot…so Robert got to carry on imaginary conversations to get each persons attention aimed in the right direction…

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We did luck out once when Bill Priest and Brian Rogers overlapped, so we shot them together…

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…but for the most part, they had to wave their hands around like a weatherman in front of a green screen…

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So my raw materials from this part looked like this…

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Now I just had to pick the appropriate images where everyone looked like they were all together at the same time. Here’s how the cover got pieced together…

First, the base background image…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Next, the base image is flipped to make the floor, and I also de-focussed it so it looked more like a real reflection…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Now I could mess with the color & contrast for the combined background…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and add a few people…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and the rest follow…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and finally, I added shadows and more color & contrast tweaks…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…which gave us our cover for Week One…

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Now I could move on to the inside feature image. I stated with the same base image layer, but I destaurated the blue cast a bit and lightened the upper area so that we could overlay type onto it easier…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The inside poses needed to be a bit more serious, due to the recent instability of the markets…

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The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The ‘assembled’ group…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…the final image with shadows & color alterations…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and our opening feature image…

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So that was Week One. Tune in again next week to see how Adrian Delucca, Pam Budz and I put together Week Two & Week Three!

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Patti Smith

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

Patti Smith.

That’s all Rob Smith…the Art Director of Arrive Magazine…said when he called me a few months back.

Patti. Motherfucking. Smith.

I said “Yes!” before he even had time to get another word out. Are you kidding? Of course I wanna shoot Patti Smith! Besides adding to my current string of portraits of iconic women…Judy Collins, Gloria Steinem, Misty Copeland…Patti is someone I have always been fascinated by, and having the opportunity to shoot her would be a dream! The shoot would be tied in with the release of her new book, M Train. But then Rob had more to add…

No Hair and Makeup…

No Styling…

We’d get half an hour from the time she arrived at the studio…not a second more.

Fine..done…it would be a challenge, but I didn’t care…let’s get on with it!

I originally booked a studio in Long Island City because it had lots of character…but a week later Patti’s publicist nixed it saying Patti didn’t want to cross the river. She said Patti lived in the West Village and that she liked shooting at Industria. OK…less character, but if it makes Patti happy, we’ll book Industria. So more than a month goes by and it’s now about a week before the shoot date and I call the publicist and ask if we’re still on track to shoot and if we can confirm the studio…“Sure…we’re all set!”, she says…and I confirm Industria. But then a few days later…only three days before our shoot…she calls back to say that Patti now doesn’t want to shoot in a studio…she wants to do the shoot at Penn Station! She apparently had written a lot of her book while riding the Acela train and liked the metaphor of shooting at Penn Station since we were shooting for Amtrak’s magazine. But besides the fact that canceling Industria meant we would lose about $2 Grand…exactly how were we gonna shoot in the departure lounge of the busiest train station in America on three days notice?!! Without getting into detail, I’m just gonna fast-forward past the conference calls, begging and hand-wringing that ensued,  and say that somehow we were given permission. And so on an extremely hot August afternoon, myself and my crew took over Penn Station…

Patti wanted the Departure Board…she gets the Departure Board…

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…but even though I lost my studio aspect of the shoot, I figured we could still set up a smallish backdrop off to the side…

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The two areas were only a few feet apart, but the Penn Station folks were still kinda freaked out when they saw the size of our setup!

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But I didn’t care…I was shooting Patti Smith, dammit!

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

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Now let’s move over to that backdrop…

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

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And then…just as we were pretty much finished…something truly magical happened…

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

Those kids sticking their heads around the corner might be the best happy accident I’ve ever photographed.

For one final setup, I pulled back the curtain to show the overall set and exactly where our little popup studio was…

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

Here’s how everything looked in ‘Arrive’…

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So even though we were thrown more curveballs than I had seen in a year, everything worked out in the end…

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The APA Image Maker Lecture Series Is Gonna Be Damn Ugly

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Hey kids…this coming Monday, November 9th…Mr. Damn Ugly will be taking over the Apple Store in SoHo (103 Prince Street at Greene Street) as the next speaker in the APA Image Maker Lecture Series. I’ll be dropping plenty of bon mots about what actually happens on my shoots, complete with lots of behind-the-scenes juice and info on the post-processing that goes into making my final images.

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Check out the APA NY Facebook Events Page where you can sign up if you wanna go…and it’s 100% free! And as an added incentive, they tell me there’s gonna be a post-Image Makers Talk Networking Happy Hour hosted by the folks at APA NY.

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…

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DW Gibson

…which opened our story…

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Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland

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I’m not sure at this point if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Misty Copeland. Besides making history as the only African American soloist dancing with the American Ballet Theatre, her best-selling autobiography, ‘Life In Motion’, dancing onstage with Prince, appearing in ads for Under Armour, Dr. Pepper, Coach, The Corcoran Group and T-Mobile, and her numerous features in magazines like The New Yorker, Vogue, Elle and New York Magazine, the 32 year-old ballerina is possibly the most visible face in the dance World since Baryshnikov. And my buddy Rob Smith asked me to put her on the cover of Arrive. Here’s the behind-the-scenes from our day at Bathhouse Studios

Since we knew we would have relatively limited time with Misty, Rob and I had worked up our ideas for the shoot early on. The story was about mentors, and we would be photographing Misty with Raven Wilkinson, the first black woman to dance full-time in a major ballet company, including Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, the Dutch National Ballet, and the New York City Opera Ballet. We had to get enough for our cover, a few opening shots, a portrait of Misty and Raven together and anything else we could fit in! But shooting at the Bathhouse meant we would have lotsa space to set up everything beforehand cuz the studio is so beautifully huge!

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Our setup on the cyc…and that marvelously high ceiling…

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Kaz and I setting up the two-shot of Misty and Raven…

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Robert and Julien sitting in for our cover…

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Julien taking flight…

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My stylist Karen Sherwood laying out the wardrobe…

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Misty arrived just as we were about finished with our setup and went into hair & makeup right away…

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…but shortly afterwards, our little dancers from the ABT School showed up…

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and they quickly put on a little show for Misty…

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Julien grabbed Misty to test the lighting on our first setup…

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…and so started our shooting day…

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Here is the final portrait of Raven and Misty…

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Next, we moved onto the cyc for our opening photo of Misty with the Dance School students…

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Misty approves…

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…and the resulting photograph…

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Now I wanted to do a series of solo shots of Misty in different positions. The idea was that I would assemble these solo images into one unified ‘group’ photograph…

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And the final ‘group’ shot…

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Before I took Misty off the cyc, I pulled out my vintage stools for one more idea…

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Best shot of those two stools I’ve ever taken…

Misty Copeland

Oh yeah…I nearly forgot…CBS sent over Anthony Mason and a film crew to document our little shoot for CBS Sunday Morning

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Now where was I…oh right…the final shot would be of Misty and Raven together for our cover. We re-purposed that ballet barre from the shot with the kids, and set up a very simple situation with a big, soft Octalite…Misty in her costume as her mentor looked on…

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Our cover image…

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Here’s how everything looked in ‘Arrive’…

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Suite Judy Blue Eyes

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Judy Collins…!!!

When Ronnie Weil called and offered me this one, all I could say was, “Wow!”. For five decades…my entire life…she’s been making music…beautiful music. Now Judy is recording a new CD that is tentatively titled “Duets with Guys”, an album that will feature her signing with Jeff Bridges, Jimmy Buffett, Don McLean and Kris Kristofferson, and Alexandra Wolfe was writing a profile on her for the Wall Street Journal. Here is how our day went…

Kaz sitting in for our first shot…

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Ms. Collins in the makeup chair…

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And our shooting day begins…

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We also had a Journal video crew following us around…

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Here are a couple of final images…

Judy Collins

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For the next setup, I wanted to do something dark & dramatic, and more etherial. And while it doesn’t look like much with Kaz in place…

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…once Judy stepped on set, things got dialed in pretty fast…

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Judy Collins

…and our final image…

Judy Collins

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As a little bonus, follow the link below for Ali Wolfe’s interview with Judy…

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…as well as some more behind-the-scenes from our shoot:

Judy Collins Interview & Behind-the-Scenes footage

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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 shoot…

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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 Club…

The main setup for the Week One cover and opener…

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…the Chess Table set for the Week Two & Three covers…

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…and third area for the mid-year portraits…

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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 began…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 issue…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 harder…

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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 image…

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Now came adding the human chess pieces…

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And after a considerable amount of Photoshop work, the final cover image looked like this…

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Next up was the opening image…

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And the final image…

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Finally, I had to put together two different chess playing situations…from two different angles…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)…

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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 position…

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These are the two final images…

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Now on to the low angle…

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Man…am I ever tired…….

Joking Around With Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

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I’ve had a pretty good run of celebrity shoots lately…Frankie Valli, Ricky Gervais, Tony Bennett, Spike Lee, Willem Dafoe…and I’m trying my best to catch up on the behind-the-scenes on most of them. This shoot with Seth Meyers was actually shot back in February, but it just published a few weeks ago in the latest issue of Amtrak’s ‘Arrive’ magazine. Rob Smith…Arrive’s Art director and one of my oldest friends…had a few thoughts on what he wanted to do with the shoot, and I had a couple of ideas as well, so we drove out to Queens where all the prop warehouses have moved to see if anything got us going…

Since Seth was the Head Writer at SNL, we both stopped when we came across these old desks and typewriters…

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Next, we brainstormed a few shots based on the idea that Seth was not only moving from Saturday Night Live to the Late Night program, but when the story was scheduled to run Seth was supposed to be taking the show on the road. Moving his stuff in a little red wagon just made sense…

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With the van full of dusty old props, we headed down to Bathhouse Studios…truly one of the nicest places you can shoot at in all Manhattan…and got to work…

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Unlike the low-key shoot with Willem Dafoe last week, this time the studio was filled with multiple stylists, make-up and hair people, and more NBC publicists than I’ve ever seen gathered in one place!

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And I know it might not look like much in these BTS photos…but dropping Seth into that precisely focussed spot of light against the cyc background created just the right amount of drama…it was all about Seth going out on his own…

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Here are some of the final selects…

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Seth Meyers

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Now where did we put that red wagon…

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By the way…for all you lighting geeks out there…I am seriously loving the Rime Lite deep octas…as long as you know a bit about lighting, they’ll give you everything you expect out of a Broncolor Para, but for less than one-tenth the price!

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Seth Meyers

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And since a lot of people figured that Seth taking on Late Night was a bit of a leap…

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…I thought having him stepping into the unknown kind of worked the metaphor nicely…

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Seth Meyers

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Next, we moved on to our cover setup…

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Seth Meyers

…which gave us both our cover and a pulled-back shot for the table of contents page…

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Seth Meyers

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Seth Meyers

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So thanks to the huge team it took to pull this off and make things come off so smoothly, but especially thanks to Seth for giving up his time and being such a good sport!

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Rick Masters + Jesus + Sgt. Elias = Willem Dafoe

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Click on any image for Full-Size

As a young photographer, I had this very dreamy, romanticized idea of what it must be like to shoot celebrities. One of my early photography idols was Bert Stern, and I just figured every shoot with a celebrity might end up like his famous session with Marilyn Monroe where they locked themselves in a suite at the Bel-Air Hotel for three days with a case of ’53 Dom Perignon, a couple of cameras and a few props, and emerged totally spent but with a collection of amazing photographs. But I moved to New York a couple of decades later…just about the time when shoots like that were becoming increasingly controlled by managers, publicists, agents and the studio P/R machine. Ideas had to be pre-approved and even then it didn’t mean you would get to do them. And three days? More like five minutes after your writer got to ask his five questions, thank you very much! But if you’re smart you learn how to work the angles, you keep a few tricks up your sleeve when you don’t have the cooperation you had hoped for, and occasionally, you get lucky…

Ronnie Weil called me at 5:00PM on a Thursday and asked if I would be available the next morning to shoot Willem Dafoe for the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Weekend Confidential’ section. His new film, “A Most Wanted Man”, was coming out in a week and they were given a last-minute opportunity interview him. Now I don’t know about you, but there are very few actors that I can remember from the first moment I saw them on screen, and Willem Dafoe is one of them. His performance as the slick criminal Rick Masters in “To Live and Die in L.A.” burned into my brain. I immediately knew this was a seriously great actor. So yes…of course…just tell me where and when and I’ll be there with a big grin on my face…

The Journal likes the portraits for the ‘Weekend Confidential’ section to be all about the personality, and not prop or location-driven, and so we typically keep things very simple…seamless backdrops or locations that don’t distract from the subject. And it’s not a fashion show, either. What you bring with you is what we shoot. Willem arrived…early, I might add…alone and ready to go. He was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt and a wonderfully disarming smile. After a few minutes of me heaping gobs of fanboy praise on him and a little light grooming, we were ready to go…

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(Groomer Amy Komorowski)

Willem Dafoe was made to be photographed. He has one of the most expressive faces in the business…whether he’s playing a silent film Vampire (Max Schreck in “Shadow of the Vampire”), a Viet Nam-era Marine (Sergeant Elias in “Platoon”), a cartoon character arch-villain (the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man”) or Jesus Christ himself (“The Last Temptation of Christ”)…and I wanted my portraits of him had to capture the depth he conveys through the characters he portrays. I had a few ideas I wanted to try…and we were told Willem would give us about an hour…so here is how it went…

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I started this first setup as a 3/4 body shot, but allowed myself to move in and out as his poses and mood changed…

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William Dafoe

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Then we sat down and came in for a tight series of darker, more intimate portraits…

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Now, I was already thrilled with what we had done and that Willem had given us so much time, but I kind of liked the white brick wall in the studio, so I asked him for a few more minutes to put up a fresnel spotlight and play around with the shadows…

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William Dafoe

William Dafoe

In the end, the Journal chose one of my favorites for the article…

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…and once again, I find myself surprised at how lucky I am to be able to do what I do…

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Going Ninja With The Impractical Jokers For The Cover Of Resource Magazine

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I had the privilege to be asked by Alexandra Niki and Aurelie Jezequel…the team behind Resource Magazine…to photograph their very first ‘Celebrity’ cover, featuring Brian “Q” Quinn, James “Murr” Murray, Joseph “Joe” Gatto and Salvatore “Sal” Vulcano, better known as The Tenderloins, but who are also the stars of truTV’s The Impractical Jokers. The Jokers…in case you didn’t know…is a practical-joke reality show where the four guys coerce one another into doing public pranks while being filmed by hidden cameras. For the cover theme, Alex and Aurelie wanted to use Sun-tzu’s, “The Art Of War” for our inspiration, with the Jokers dressed as Ninja Warriors, and I was happy to pull it all together…

Aside from using a ridiculously expensive Broncolor Para 220 as a main light, the cover setup was pretty simple…

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Alex and Aurelie wanted a very high contrast, red & black look for the shot, and I had an idea for the cover that was centered around the original Charlie’s Angels logo…

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Not quite…

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Closer…

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Bingo!

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…and the final cover image…

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Next, for the opener to the story, we wanted to do a ‘reveal’ where they tore off their Black Ninja Suits to show their Black Hipster Suits underneath…

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And after a bit of Photoshoppery…

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Now came some ‘Hidden Camera’ goofs, with each of the guys hamming it up with a few not-so-hidden camera props…

“Q” the Ping Pong Pro…

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Murr and his Monkey…

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Joe the Big Gulp Cowboy…

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And Sal with a drippy ice cream cone and ‘Battle’, the GoPro-enabled Chihuahua…

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We finished things off with a few more hidden camera pranks, with the guys in their signature suits…

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Impractical Jokers

Impractical Jokers

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And finally, here’s a little behind-the-scenes video shot by Resource’s Adam Sherwin that wraps up the day nicely…

Oh yeah…Alex wanted to play Ninja, too!

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The Jersey Boy – Frankie Valli

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Imagine you’re just sitting around, not doin’ anything besides playing with your cat, and you get a call asking if you wanna shoot Frankie Valli? Yeah…that happened. Kat Malott at the Wall Street Journal offered this chance to me and it once again reinforced that decision I made to be a photographer. We talked about crossing the river into New Jersey and shooting him in his old neighborhood in Newark, or on the street in New York, but the logistics were getting tough and the weather wasn’t cooperating, so we decided on the wonderful surroundings of Shoot Digital Studios. But no stylists, wardrobe or big production…Frankie was just gonna come down for an hour or so and we’d see what happened…

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For our first shot, Kaz and I picked up this great tabletop from Surface Studio and an antique microphone. The Journal has an affinity for grey backgrounds, and this classically lit portrait would fill that need…

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Frankie Valli

For the next shot, we put the microphone onto a mic stand and fired up the spotlight…

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Finally, I really wanted to do something with this window…

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