Ricky Gervais & Kermit’s Evil Twin for the London Sunday Times Magazine

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

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Ricky Gervais. In New York. For the London Sunday Times Magazine. And it was one of the most fun shoots of my entire career.

Adam Hearn is the photo editor of the London Sunday Times Culture Magazine and some of the other folks I work for at the Times recommended he give me a call next time he had a shoot on this side of the Atlantic. I am so happy he did, cuz not only am I a BIG fan of Ricky, but I had just lost out on a shoot with him for another client only a week before Adam called. The story was tied to his new film, “Muppets Most Wanted”, and would feature the other star of the movie, Constantine the Frog, the world’s “Number One” criminal and a doppelgänger of Kermit the Frog. Adam kept it fairly open-ended as to what we could do…he just needed fun interaction between Ricky and Constantine for the cover and left the rest up to me. With that in mind, I went on a mad tear of propping…

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…dragged my crew down to Industria on a Saturday morning and let Mr. Gervais and Mr. Frog do all the heavy lifting. Here’s how it went…

Ricky and I talk to Matt Vogel…the Muppeteer behind Constantine…about a few ideas…

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…and even before we start, the fun begins…

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Here are some behind-the-scenes shots of how you photograph a Man and his Muppet…

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One of the best things about the whole day was having Ricky’s input as we went along. He came up with so many great ideas of what would look good, that I just had to keep my finger on the shutter and wait for things to happen!

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Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

Then Ricky suggested they each pose with sunglasses…

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

…and our cover was in the bag!

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After a quick background & wardrobe change, the two A-Listers were suddenly at each others throats…

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

…but a left-cross from the Frog ended that argument…

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

…and gave us the opener to the story!

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I also wanted to to shoot Ricky, sans Frog, but had picked up a few Froggy bits and pieces to stick with the theme, including a t-shirt with strategically-placed eyeballs…

Ricky Gervais

…and a very special pair of Kermit Adidas that Ricky put to good use…

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

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Finally, I wanted to cool things down a bit, so I had Ricky get into his trademark black…and accessorized him with some very blingy fuzzy Frog Slippers…

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

Ricky Gervais

Then we both kicked back and enjoyed a Green Drink…

Ricky Gervais & Constantine the Muppet

And yes…that is a Karl Pilkington t-shirt. I told you I was a big fan!

A Few Card Tricks With Penn Jillette For The Wall Street Journal

Penn Jillette

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Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to shoot some very nice features for the Wall Street Journal, including today’s entry…Penn Jillette…the larger, more vocal half of Penn & Teller. He was in town promoting the move he produced and Teller directed called, “Tim’s Vermeer”, a documentary about inventor Tim Jenison’s quest to duplicate the painting techniques of Johannes Vermeer.

The Weekend Confidential section of the Journal typically uses a portrait shot on seamless for the lead art, but I really wanted to do something a bit darker and mysterious as well. I originally thought of doing a Vermeer-like set, but limited time (and budget) kind of made that impractical. However, I did have a classical muslin backdrop that would create the mood I saw in my head. I had it painted about 20 years earlier and pull it out every few years when the need arises. With a few decks of cards, a beat up table and a World-class magician, the photograph almost made itself…

Penn Jillette

There is something truly liberating about shooting portraits on a seamless drop when your subject is as expressive as Penn. I basically threw up a big, soft light (a 47″ Rime Lite Grand Box) and we just had a conversation that I recorded with my camera. My only props were an old chair and one perfectly chosen playing card…

Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette

And here’s how it turned out…

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Just a couple of Jokers…at your service!

Penn Jillette

EDIT:

Cuz some of you guys won’t leave me alone about how I lit the shot on the muslin drop, here’s a lighting diagram that should spell things out quite easily…

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As you can see…it’s pretty simple. The ring light had the diffusion reflector on it…

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…and was about two stops under the main light, my modified Desisti 10″ Fresnel spotlight…

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The Desisti (powered by a Profoto Acute 2400 pack) was placed to the right of the camera and was flagged off by two long, black cards that threw the shadows onto both Penn and the back wall. I like the Fresnel spot for a couple of reasons. First, it’s very easy to place the shadows exactly where you want them because of the focused beam of light. And secondly, the light quality is much nicer than a bare head…it just has an open, sunny look to it. To get the overall color looking the way I wanted, I added about 3/4 CT filtration on the Fresnel and then adjusted the white balance back so the skin tones weren’t too warm, which put a slight blue cast onto the background and in the shadow areas.

Ladies & Gentlemen…Mr. Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

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Tony Bennett

Yes…Tony Bennett…!!!

I have a very short, unspoken list of people that I would never presume I would have the opportunity to meet, let alone get to photograph. That list has included Jacques Cousteau, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Reeve, and a few Presidents. But a couple of weeks ago, Kat Malott at the Wall Street Journal gave me the call. Tony Bennett. Tony sketches or paints every day, and Kat…the Photo Editor for the ‘Mansions’ section…wanted me to shoot Tony the Artist, at home with his paintings. The idea was to show him in his studio and keep things as ‘real’ as possible. Given that it was a painting studio, I kinda hoped the available light would make things easy in that respect. I wasn’t disappointed. Here is how things looked…

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The big wall of windows next to the easel face North onto Central Park and the east-facing windows would act as a nice fill, but I would still have to pull out my DIY Ghetto-Flo’s to to act as a main light, while still keeping the natural look of the scene. I didn’t need too much front light…two of the Ghetto’s should do it…

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The two strip lights added just enough soft light to mimic the existing light without looking like we faked it…

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And away we go…

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

It was natural enough that even with a camera angle change, we didn’t have to move the lights…

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

And even more extreme angle change for a still life of his easel and a bronze of Harry Belafonte let us use that North window light as our main source…

Tony Bennett

With the ‘Artist’ portraits in the bag, I pressed for a few extra minutes to do a quick portrait using the wall opposite the windows…

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As you can see, the setup couldn’t be simpler…just a mini-octa bank and a soft ringlight. We put down the Canon, and pulled out the Hasselblad and the Macbeth chart…

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

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Thanks Tony…that’s one more thing checked off my Bucket List.

Tony Bennett

Behind The Scenes For American Lawyer

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Maggie Soladay, Photo Editor at American Lawyer, recently had us shoot the cover feature for their annual Associates Survey. The cover image had to convey the rather subtle idea that female associates gave their firms lower marks than the male associates did in many areas on the survey. Here’s a little taste of how it went…

For the cover, I wanted to use a color that immediately grabbed the reader’s attention and Art Director Morris Stubbs was on board, especially after seeing what I did with Bill O’Reilly a few months ago…so we pulled out the orange seamless and went to work.

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As you can see in the lighting diagram, I kept things fairly simple, but I wanted to light our models (Jo Quiles and Johnny Tyrone) with two separate main lights…20″ Profoto Beauty dishes with 25 degree grids…in such a way to add to the drama. The male associate had to be in a hero light…something that would make him more prominent in the photo, while the female associate was lit slightly from below to give off a more menacing vibe. Not exactly ‘monster lighting’, but just enough to not come off as a wash of soft light. Other than the dish reflectors, I added a ringlight with the soft reflector to give a sheen to their suits.

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Then we backed up the orange set with a similar look on blue…

American Lawyer - Associates

Next, we moved on to the inside look…

American Lawyer - Associates

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To illustrate the idea of a law associate moving out of the shadows and stepping into the spotlight, I literally pulled out my modified Desisti spotlight for the task…

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I positioned the Desisti directly behind and above my camera and cut the light with two cards on either side that gave me a exact slash of light I wanted. A little pop from the ringlight filled in the shadows just enough without throwing a ringlight-effect shadow…

American Lawyer - Associates

The resulting image opened the story…

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…and all was right with the World…

American Lawyer - Associates

Easy As 1, 2, 3…

LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

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When people ask me what it’s like to do what I do, more often than not they think the life of a photographer is some kind of a Holy Grail job and how great it must be to rub elbows and frolic among the people I get to (briefly) hang with. I try my best to convince them that it ain’t all Roses & Butterflies, but most have a hard time believing me. Which brings us to todays little waste of time. This isn’t gonna be glamourous. There will be no talk of Rock Stars or Celebrities or Fabulous locations. The following is a pretty honest representation of what an average shoot for your typical business magazine is like. It’s all about photographing real people in real situations in very little time and still coming away with interesting images. To the best of our knowledge, no one was harmed in the making of this post…

Scott Valenzano sent us to Park Avenue to shoot a cover for Financial Planning with the Altfest’s…Lewis & Karen, who run Altfest Personal Wealth Management…as our subjects du jour. And as is often the case, we had to alter the reality of the location just a touch to get things to look good. Here’s a little rundown…

The Altfest offices aren’t that large, but within minutes of my arrival I knew where we were gonna shoot the cover shot…

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I figured that if we backlit the frosted glass wall and used just the right wide angle lens, that grid pattern would make for a nice, graphic background. But that big wall of glass took a lotta light before it blew out nicely!

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You can see that we used four heads just to cover the frosted glass, and another big umbrella to fill in the background on the far right side. With all that light bouncing around, all we need up front was the Mini-Octa bank positioned high and to the right and we were good to go…

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LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

With the cover in the bag, we very quickly moved to shot number two…on the other side of that glass wall…

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The classic sofa was a perfect posing bench for the couple and it would be relatively simple to relight the scene using the lighting from the first shot. The four background lights were now placed on the other side of the glass and the Mini-Octa would again be our main light, but we added a ringlight for fill…

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LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

Finally, we decided to move in a totally different direction and pulled out the Canon to do an almost-available light portrait in Lewis’s office…

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With large windows on two sides streaming in all that light you might think we wouldn’t have to add anything, but the bright backlight was just too much to overcome without looking like a blown-out fashion shoot. My DIY Ghetto-Flo Lights would be just the right thing for the task…

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With one light each aimed at Lewis and Karen and another two positioned off to the far left to act as a kicker that mimicked the window light, we were able to bring the ambient light down just enough to get the subjects to pop and also white-balance the ambient light down to a nice, cool blue cast…

LEWIS & KAREN ALTFEST -  ALTFEST PERSONAL WEALTH MANAGEMENT

Three shots in about an hour…like I said…easy as 1, 2, 3…!

Screaming At Adobe May Actually Have Helped…!!!

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As any of the regular viewers of the Damn Ugly Channel can attest (and by regular, I mean those who have stuck with me through this past Summers marked lack of action in here!), I have been a rather vocal opponent to Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription scheme. I made my feelings about their plans to charge $20/month to use Photoshop (and Lightroom, Behance, and have access to a 20GB Cloud Storage account) very well known, as I saw it for what it was…a blatant money grab! The smart kids in class realized very early on that moving to a subscription-based pricing scheme wasn’t about innovation and the seamless transfer of upgrades to its end-users, as Adobe claimed…no, the writing was on the wall that in order to keep their business going, Adobe had to do something to lock in a steady cash flow since it was obvious they weren’t gonna stay profitable forever relying on periodic upgrade fees alone. There are only so many new gizmos and filters they could add to any piece of software before the end user wouldn’t care and bail on paying for upgrades. Now comes word that all that screaming from the mountaintop by those of us in the Photo Community may have have a positive outcome as Adobe just announced a “New” Photoshop Photography Program…only $10/month…forever…if you’re already a Photoshop user (minimum CS3) and you sign up buy the end of the year.

Now by lowering the subscription price to $120/year, it kinda brings the cost down to what have been historically what users paid if they were fastidious about sticking to the Adobe upgrade path. But as good a move in the right direction as this might be, I’m not exactly ‘rejoicing’ at the news, as the PetaPixel Photo Blog suggests all photographers should be doing just yet. At ten bucks a month even I can’t come up with too many arguments for not joining…except one…why isn’t Adobe addressing the biggest issue with their plan for an ongoing subscription model…the lack of any viable exit strategy for loyal users once they get off the subscription track?!! I mean, I’m not planning my retirement party just yet, but there will come a day when I won’t wanna fork over even $10/month for occasional access to a program I will use sparingly at best! All Adobe would have to do to win over the entire Photo Community would be to say that after you’ve paid into “The Cloud” for a period of time…say three, four or even five years…the end user can end their subscription and their software will be locked in at that level of upgrade. This would ensure the user could still have full working access to their work and Adobe will have made a healthy profit over the subscription time frame. And best of all for Adobe, should that user decide at a later date that it is once again necessary to get back on “The Cloud”, then they would have to pay whatever the going rate was at that time to re-subscribe and build time credits towards the next allowed jumping off point.

See…very simple…why can’t everyone just listen to Damn Ugly Photography?!! But let me know…what do you think of Adobe’s price drop?

A Few Minutes With Bill O’Reilly

Bill O'Reilly

When I got the call from Dave Baratz at USAWeekend to shoot Bill O’Reilly, I immediately could tell from his voice that this was probably when was of those quick in-and-out gigs, and I was right. Bill had extremely limited time available and wouldn’t go to a studio, so the only place we could shoot him was on the set of The O’Reilly Factor at Fox News. Oh yeah…we were told we would only have about ten minutes with him…immediately before he taped his show!

I figured I had better go check the place out…

It was small…really small! My wide-angle lenses were gonna get a workout! The only place I could drop a seamless for the cover would be in a back corner behind the cameras…

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For a second shot, the only other possibility seemed around his desk…

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But when I saw the Stage Manager sitting in a nook to the side I had an idea…

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Because of the time constraints and the fact that I was going to shoot him against that backlit set, I made the decision to light Bill with a couple of 1′ x 1′ BiColor Litepanels. The BiColor variator made it super easy to dial in the correct color temperature and the output variator allowed me to match the intensity of the backlit blue wall in seconds. I’ve really come to appreciate the WYSIWYG aspect of shooting the the Litepanel system.

Bill O’Reilly…on set in 3…2…1…

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Bill O'Reilly

That took care of the opener…

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Now, on to the cover.

I took a subjects-eye-view of the cover setup…

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…which sort of shows how tightly backed into that corner we really were…

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Since the story was about volunteerism, Dave and I thought it would be nice to play off the old Uncle Sam, ‘I Want You!’ poster…

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And Bill got into the whole Uncle-Sam-pointing thing which made my work that much easier…

Bill O'Reilly

And here’s the cover that came out yesterday

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Bill and I hope YOU enjoyed todays behind-the-scenes look!

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