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…

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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…

DW Gibson

DW Gibson

…which opened our story…

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