The American Heart Association Goes To Bushwick

Click on any image to Enlarge
______________________________

December was a pretty busy month here at Damn Ugly. We had a number of very involved shoots booked, including a week-long gig that took us out of town. It was right in the middle of this swirl of work that Rena Wong called me. Rena is a Creative Director at CDM New York and my friend James Wigger told her about me. She wanted to know if I could shoot a Pro-Bono gig for the American Heart Association. I’ll make a long story short by saying I agreed before I even asked when they wanted to shoot…which turned out to be in a week! That would be right after I got back from my week-long road trip. That gave me very little time to assemble a lotta moving parts…stylists, hair and makeup, assistants, gear…and the most important thing…a location that would give us 6 separate locations for the ads.

I had a few days before I headed outta town, so we started with finding talent that would agree to chip in and work gratis. And it’s a big ask…this was going to be a very long, action packed shoot. I called my regulars, but everyone was either booked or heading outta town for the Xmas holidays. But through referrals and word of mouth, we locked down a fantastic crew. CDM was handling the model casting, which would include a broad spectrum of women…ranging in age from a teenager up to a senior citizen.

Now for that location…

The brief for the ‘Go Red For Women’ campaign called for all of the shots to have a cohesive hip, urban/grungey feel. If we were shooting any other time than the end of December, outdoor locations would certainly make sense, but doing this thing in 20 degree temps wasn’t a good idea. I knew of a number of studios that had the right kind of messed up appeal I could use, so I began shotgunning out emails to see if someone could offer us a space for nothing. But I immediatley had one place in particular in mind…The 1896 in Bushwick. It’s a collection of glorious, rough & tumble warehouse spaces where just pointing in any direction would give us our six shots and they would all have that connected look we wanted. I have tried to book The 1896 a number of times in the past, but it’s amazingly popular and was never able to book any of their spaces. But I got a reply almost immediately from Jen Durbin…the 1896’s founder. She told me if I could be flexible with my shoot date, she could offer the entire place…four individual studios…for no fee! Then she told me why. Her sister had died from heart disease. She wanted to do whatever she could to help us out. I gotta say, I am still quite overwhelmed by her story and her generosity.

So I took a drive out to Bushwick for a look around…

We were set.

With CDM casting our talent and my stylist, Stella Montoya, furiously pulling props and wardrobe, I headed out for my road trip shoot. We got back late Thursday night, less than a week before Christmas. That really only gave me Friday to tighten things up before the shoot. We arrived at The 1896 at 8:00AM on Sunday. Until the heat got cranked up, it was meat-locker brisk in there! Besides Rena, I would be working with Art Director Katie Zheng. The first thing Katie and I did…shortly after getting a cup of coffee…was to block out our six shots…

So with our Hair & Makeup team thing care of business…

…we got to work on the six setups!

Number one featured Leiti, an Asian-American Social Media influencer who was perfectly cast as a hip & happening girl on the go. Kaz worked fine as a stand-in…

Enter Leiti…

Next up was Danna, our Latina Hip-Hop dancer…

You can see in the shot above the basic lighting setup we used for all of the shots…our main light was a 47” Rime Light Octa…but what you don’t see are the many other filtered lights bouncing around to fill and/or brighten the backgrounds. The 1896 is a lotta things, but despite their skylights, a daylight studio it ain’t! We had multiple heads high up on 24’ high Mombo-Combo stands that did a great job of pumping up the contrast and highlighting the colors in the background.

These next two shots show my color grading from the RAW file to my final tweaked color…

RAW File…

Color Corrected Image…

We stuck Raphaella…our mixed-race (Chinese/Italian/Slovak) teen…in the corner next to the bathroom. Oh yeah…Raphaella’s also Rena’s daughter!

We used James for our stand-in for Donna…our retired 60+ woman…simply because his white beard matched her white hair perfectly…

Svetlanna’s back story was that of a graffiti artist, urban fashionista and Instagram influencer. This first photo of her on set shows why we really needed those background lights…

After adding one light…

…and a second…

And our final image…

It was late in the day by the time we got to our final setup with Dana…our athletic sports enthusiast…whatever available light there was outside was fading fast. That wasn’t great cuz our last shot had a wall of windows as our background. The one-light first shot was pretty dark, even at 1/8th of a second…

So we added in some background lights and dropped the shutter speed all the way to half a second…

…but that half a second exposure meant we would be shooting in the dark…

After we cleaned up the flare from the back lights, here’s the final image…

Now while all this was going on, we had set up a totally separate scenario in another studio where I photographed each person after they came off set…

Here’s how everybody looked…

And here are all of the final ads that are appearing right now around New York, in the NYC Subway and Bus Shelters around town…

If all this ain’t enough for you, here’s a behind the scenes video the folks at CDM put together from our day in Bushwick!

And finally…PHEW!!!…thanks to all of the wonderful people who helped us make this campaign a great success…

Denise Henry – Chief Strategy Officer CDM
Rena Wong – Creative Director/Producer CDM
Katie Zheng – Art Lead CDM
Kelly Kinder – Account Lead CDM
Dan Torres – Accounts CDM
Sam Dixon – Art Director CDM
Chris De Maria – Copy Lead CDM
Michael Davis – Copy CDM
Jen Durbin – The 1896 Studios
Models – Donna Tucci, Danna Crooke, Raphaella Bamonte, Svetlanna Farinha, Dana Candelino & Leiti Hsu
Makeup – Regina Harris
Hair – Kiyo Igarashi
Styling – Stella Montoya
Assistants – Kaz Sakuma & James Wigger

Big Dogs On Staten Island

Click on any image to Enlarge
______________________________

I’ve been working with Uber-Designer Patrick Mitchell and Nicole Dyer from NYU Langone Medical Center for quite a while and when I get the call to photograph one of their patients, I can usually be sure the day will be something we haven’t had to tackle before. This was the case when Nicole asked me to shoot Artie Zuckerman, a retired NYC Cop who was treated for prostate cancer at the Perlmutter Cancer Center. So Kaz and I loaded up the van and headed over the Verrazzano Bridge to Staten Island…..

I immediately fell in love with the suburban image of Artie’s front porch…let’s get to work!

But what really got me excited about the steps was I knew I wanted to shoot Artie with his puppies…his three really, really big puppies!

Now if you think wrangling three rambunctious Great Danes is easy, lemme burst your bubble and assure you it is not. After more than half an hour of trying for one frame where everything came together, I’m happy to report that we got just ONE…

With the pooch portrait in the bag, we needed to get another setup for the story. At 68, Artie has a 31-inch waist, a 46-inch chest, and can knock out 20 chin-ups…so we wanted to show how fit he was after his successful treatment. He suggested going to the beach where he does his daily run with the dogs…

You can read Artie’s story here on the NYU Langone site.

Salman Rushdie for WSJ

Click on any image to Enlarge
______________________________

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

Click on any image to Enlarge
______________________________

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

Click on Any Image to view Full-Size
______________________________

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

Armie Hammer…Is Very Tall!!!

Click on Any Image for Full-Size
______________________________

Armie Hammer. The Social Network…The Lone Ranger…Nocturnal Animals…Call Me by Your Name…that guy! And since his new film…On the Basis of Sex…was opening Christmas Day, Ronnie Weil had me photograph all Six-Foot Five of him for a feature profile for Weekend Confidential in the Wall Street Journal…and we had a blast!

Robert was doing the heavy lifting on this shoot and we started with a simple white cyc setup…

So I just let Armie be Armie…

With a few intense closeups…

And with all of those in the bag, it allowed me to assemble a fun multi-image…

Next, we dropped a black velvet off to the side…

…that one big, soft top light gave us a nice skylight effect…

…and it allowed me to quickly move around and try a few different angles…

Here’s how it looks in this weeks ‘Weekend Confidential’

Call me by your name, Armie…

Joe Duran In A Walnut-Paneled Room For InvestmentNews

Click on any image to Enlarge
______________________________

Joe Duran is the CEO of United Capital and we met up with him in a sumptuous, expensive looking, walnut-paneled room at the University Club in Midtown Manhattan for a cover shoot for InvestmentNews.

Here we go…..

Lotsa wood paneled walls…

But we had a specific look in mind, and that meant we were gonna drop some seamless…here’s Matt, looking pensive…

Lighting was pretty simple…a gridded 3′ Profoto RFI main light filled with a soft ring light.

When Joe arrived, he tried his best to emulate Matt’s serious look…

…but there was something about his smile that worked better…

On the opposite side of the room, we had dropped a grey seamless…

Obviously, I white-balanced my setup in Capture One rather cool…around 4350 Kelvin…to shift the grey tones from neutral to blue. I did that to better match Joe’s blue suit. The whole thing was lit by a single 47″ Rime Lite Grand Box with only a 7′ pop-up reflector on the right side for fill and I shot everything using a 50mm on the Hasselblad for a bit of wide angle distortion…

Here’s how it looks in this week’s InvestmentNews