Behind The Scenes At The Most Expensive Barron’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

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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Oscar Schafer…

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Brian Rogers…

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Fred Hickey…

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Abby Joseph Cohen…

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Scott Black…

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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…

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…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

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This stuff never gets old!

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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…

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Alec Baldwin Is Santa Claus

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In the Dreamworks Holiday Blockbuster, Rise of the Guardians, Alec Baldwin is lending his (Russian-accented) voice to Santa Claus, and in a bit of cross-promotion, David Baratz at USA Weekend called upon me and the crew to shoot him for the cover of their Holiday Tech Gift Guide. So a few weeks ago, we turned a room at the Crosby Street Hotel into our studio and brought a bit of Christmas to Soho…here’s how it went down…

Since it was a Christmas cover, I figured it was OK to dress up the set with a few Xmas lights…

Even though we knew we would only have Alec for maybe half an hour, my stylist, Cynthia Altoriso, pulled together a stunning array of clothes, including a couple of $7,000 Brioni burgundy velvet jackets (that unfortunately didn’t get worn)…

Since the idea of the cover was to have Alec plugged in to the tech gifts, he worked with the few props that played on that metaphor…

…and here are the final images…

Merry early Christmas!!!

The Doctor Will See You Now – Sanjay Gupta For Prevention Magazine

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It took a while, but my friend Marybeth Dulany finally called me with a gig over at Prevention Magazine. I used to work for Marybeth a lot back in the days of ‘Rosie’ magazine, but once that folded she moved on to ‘Health’ where my particular style wasn’t a good fit. She ended up at Prevention last year and now she had something kinda cool…a profile of Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the July issue. The Damn Ugly crew made the trip down to Industria and here’s a bit of our day with the Doctor…

We started with a white setup for some cover stuff. Cate Sheehy was styling…

…and Marni Burton handled makeup…

We even did a bit of off-set/artificial portrait stuff that made it into the story…

I also set up a canvas backdrop that had a nice, terra cotta look to it…

I got to use my new 5-foot PLM umbrella for the first time…what a great light! I was really impressed at the quality of light and how large the coverage was. It was set up about 15 feet away from the subject and kicked out an open, but still contrasty light that gave me a wonderful shadow.

Finally, since it was such a nice day, Marybeth asked if we could do a few outdoor shots, so we fired up a 600-B and hit the street…

Marybeth was very happy…

And here are the final pages…

The 2012 Barron’s Roundtable Mid-Year Report

First off…I’m gonna thank Timothy Archibald for getting me off my ass and back on the blog! He wondered aloud on his own blog the other day about how facebook might be causing a lotta guys like me to slack off on our blog duties, so thanks T.A.

Now, back to business!

My twice-yearly Barron’s cover story on the meeting of their Round Table participants popped up a couple of weeks back, so just as I did for the Black Board cover back in January, here’s a little behind-the-scenes on how we put together the cover for Part 2…

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Since we only have about two hours to shoot all ten Roundtable members individually for both covers and all the inside photos for the two issues, we have to have our two sets nailed down pretty tight. And because we decided on the very complicated Black Board set for the January cover, the Mid Year cover set had to be somewhat simpler. Barron’s Photo Editor Adrian DeLucca and I came up with the idea to use arrow props that would be held to illustrate the Up and Down market trends and pose everyone on white around a few cubes…

Once we got all ten members shot, now I just had to assemble them into believable groups for both the cover and the inside opening spread…

…the final spread had most of those red arrows changed to blue…

…and for the cover we went without props altogether…

See y’all next January…

There Is No Photoshop Easy Button…

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Over the past few weeks you didn’t have to look too far to find an online review claiming how spectacular the new Photoshop CS6 upgrade is and how it’s gonna make everything you photograph so much better…but all I could think was no matter how easy the software engineers at Adobe make image editing by adding fancy new filters, content-aware tools or sexed-up widgets, none of that amounts to beans if you don’t have the smarts to envision the final result in that pile of mush that occupies the space between your ears. And it reminded me how I recently had to put some of my Photoshop smarts to good use and ‘fix’ a less than ideal situation when I was shooting the Annual Report for Philadelphia-based Glenmede…using Photoshop CS3, no less…

I had gone down to Philly a few weeks before the shoot to scout the location…Lenfest Hall at The Curtis Institute of Music…and on the day of the scout it was bright and sunny and would give us the perfect light & airy backdrop for the Management Committee photograph…

Problem was, on the day of the shoot, those 30-foot high windows gave us a view of Philly at it’s darkest and rainiest…

That’s when it became pretty clear I had to figure a way to let Photoshop brighten things up and get me to where I needed to be.

Here is the unretouched original, straight out of the camera…

The first thing I did was slide a new floor under everyone that was shot separately using a 16-second exposure…

For the next step, I figured the hardest thing I would hafta do would be to blow out all the detail in the windows to give the impression of it being a sunny day…but then things even got more interesting…the layout changed! My client wanted to know if it would be possible to give them more space on both sides of the group. Now this wasn’t something I had planned for, but if James Cameron can make the Titanic come to life I guess there had to be a way to generate a whole mess of information that didn’t exist…right?!!

I had some empty frames I shot after everyone had gone that I could use to clone the wood trim under the windows, but the real test would be adding perspective-correct banks of windows on both sides of the frame…that had me working well after midnight. Then I had to fake the entire right side of the piano, remove the rolling wheels under the piano, erase the clock and lighting panels from the back wall, and then turn on the sunbeams, add a little overexposure flare and brighten up those windows…

For the final step, I adjusted the color balance, heightened the Curves and Levels, and amped up the contrast with a High Pass Filter layer…

To see a larger version of the animated GIF at the top of the post that shows all the steps, click HERE

Behind the Scenes of the 2012 Barron’s Roundtable Cover Shoot

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I first photographed the annual Barron’s Roundtable cover story back in January of 2007, which makes this the sixth year I’ve had the privilege, and each year the team of Art Director Pamela Budz, Photo Editor Adrian Delucca and myself have stepped up our game to reinvent creative ways to show the gang of financial prognosticators. This year the three of us came up with the idea that centered around the entire group posing in front of a blackboard. I did a quick mockup using shots of the Roundtable members I had taken previously…

So we packed up our usual thousand pounds of lighting gear along with a blackboard and various other set pieces and headed uptown to The Harvard Club to make it work…

Our main prop…a 4’x6′ blackboard…

Now for those of you who haven’t read about some of the previous Roundtable shoot days, I’ll break down the schedule for you. We have roughly two hours to shoot everybody before the meeting begins at 10:00AM. In that two hours we have to come away with two cover shots (one for main January issue and one for the mid-year follow-up in June), three additional situations that will be used for openers in three January issues, an opener for the June issue and individual portraits of all ten Roundtable members that will get dropped into the copy of the June issue.

Ten People. Two Hours.

Oh yeah…we shoot everybody separately as they arrive at the Harvard Club and assemble those shots into the group photos for the cover and inside openers.

Simple.

Here’s what it looked like…

Adrian reminding me we have very little time…

And this is just from the Blackboard set. You can see the second white seamless setup behind me in one of the above photos, but I can’t show you any of that until it publishes in June.

Once we had finished with the people, we now had to shoot the blackboard, out of the rigging we used to suspend it for the portraits and back on its stand…

…and various elements on the blackboard that I could insert into the final compositions. Since Pam can freehand fonts way better than any of us, she got to draw the cover headline on the board…

Adrian was elected to do the ‘Charts & Graphs’…

And with all of the elements photographed, now it was up to me to push everything together in Photoshop and manufacture that group shot for the cover. The individual photos looked like this…

…so first I had to silhouette the images and paste them into a new Photoshop document…

…and then fill in the group with everybody else…

…do a rough mockup with the blackboard inserted behind the group…

…and after Pam and Adrian had approved the final composition, do a whole lotta fine-tuning…like erasing the rough edges around the silhouette, feathering the hair to blend naturally against the blackboard, add shadows in front and behind everybody and finally cook in my own special sauce of color and contrast adjustments…

With the cover outta the way, next up was the week one opener. I started by seriously stretching out that blackboard so that it would run over a two-page spread, then I added both the people and their names that I had them write on the board…

Using the same fine-tuning I did on the cover, this was the final image…

And here’s how it appeared in print…

And using the same basic technique, just on a smaller scale, here is the image that ran as the opener in this weeks issue…

Just like I said…simple!

Saying Goodbye to Sam Palmisano

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I’ve been shooting Sam Palmisano since he was named CEO of IBM back in 2002, and as CEO’s go, I always found him to be a very honorable, straightforward guy. But I also knew that since he had reached IBM’s mandatory retirement age of 60 he would be stepping down, so when I got the call to photograph him a couple of weeks ago for what would probably be his last hurrah at the helm of the largest IT company in the World, it was a little bittersweet. I did three covers with him and made a lot of connections with IBM in the process. But connections aside, I was still ‘warned’ by the P/R person that Sam didn’t like being photographed and that he would only have five minutes. I assured her that I knew the drill and that Sam and I went way back…we would be ready to rock-n-roll the second he walked through the door. We were taken to the Board Room and went about turning an area that could easily double as the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise into a white studio, then we quickly set up a second shot, ‘cuz I didn’t wanna come away with just just one since this might be the last time I got to bother Sam with my camera. And when Sam arrived, true to form, he warmly greeted us and asked how we had been doing since the last time I had to put him through a photo torture session. And then with the P/R person looking at her wrist, our five minute clock began to tick down…

The IBM Boardroom…

You can see how we set up both situations side-by-side, mostly because I knew if I had to walk Sam more than 50 feet a second shot just wasn’t gonna happen!

The simply ridiculous area we dropped our white background…

…how it looked on camera…

…and the final spread in the magazine…

The second shot was deceptively simple…I planned to work with the ambient light in the room and drop him against the stainless steel wall that I had lit with only two of my DIY Kino-Flo lights…

And the final image…

I just checked the metadata on the files. The first shot was at 17:06:54…the last frame was at 17:14:55…..Sam must have enjoyed our last session together ‘cuz he let me go over by three minutes and one second.