Joseph Altuzarra For the Wall Street Journal

Click on Any Image for Full-Size
______________________________

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

Advertisements

Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland

Click on any image for Full-Size

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!

_MG_0024

_MG_0082

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

_MG_0031

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

_MG_0091

Robert and Julien sitting in for our cover…

misty_copeland_1843

Julien taking flight…

misty_copeland_1869

_MG_0832

My stylist Karen Sherwood laying out the wardrobe…

_MG_0022

_MG_0042

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

_MG_0026

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

_MG_0269

and they quickly put on a little show for Misty…

_MG_0316

_MG_0363

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

_MG_0296

_MG_0309

…and so started our shooting day…

_MG_0440

_MG_0460

_MG_0476

_MG_0574

Here is the final portrait of Raven and Misty…

misty_copeland_1937

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

_MG_0619

_MG_0621

misty_copeland_1969

_MG_0651

_MG_0659

_MG_0676

misty_copeland_1973

_MG_0691

Misty approves…

_MG_0699

…and the resulting photograph…

Misty Copeland

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…

_MG_0804

misty_copeland_2012

misty_copeland_2066

misty_copeland_2043

misty_copeland_2018

And the final ‘group’ shot…

misty_copeland_group

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

_MG_0814

_MG_0835

_MG_0823

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

_MG_0905

Now where was I…oh yeah…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…

_MG_0917

_MG_0936

_MG_0984

Our cover image…

misty_copeland_2130

Here’s how everything looked in ‘Arrive’…

AA0315_Misty_Cover

AA0315_TOC_xxx

AA0315_Cover_Feature-1

AA0315_Cover_Feature-2

AA0315_Cover_Feature-3

misty_copeland_2121

Joking Around With Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

Click on any image for Full-Size

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…

photo 5

photo 7

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3

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…

photo 4

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…

_DSF0321

_DSF0327

_DSF0329

_DSF0331

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!

_DSF0334

_DSF0340

_DSF0342

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…

_DSF0343

Here are some of the final selects…

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

_arrive_seth_spread1

Now where did we put that red wagon…

_DSF0322

_DSF0350

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!

_DSF0344

Seth Meyers

_arrive_seth_spread2

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

Seth Meyers

_DSF0352

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

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

_arrive_seth_spread3

Next, we moved on to our cover setup…

_DSF0355

_DSF0358

_DSF0359

Seth Meyers

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

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

_arrive_seth_toc

Seth Meyers

_arrive_seth_cover

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!

Seth Meyers

Rick Masters + Jesus + Sgt. Elias = Willem Dafoe

willem_dafoe_1078

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…

willem_bts__DSF0414
(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…

willem_bts__DSF0419

willem_bts__DSF0426

willem_bts__DSF0424

willem_bts__DSF0431

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…

willem_dafoe_1083

willem_dafoe_1090

William Dafoe

willem_dafoe_1114

willem_dafoe_1123

willem_dafoe_1149

willem_dafoe_1153

willem_dafoe_1166

willem_dafoe_1178

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

willem_bts__DSF0435

willem_bts__DSF0438

willem_dafoe_1263

willem_dafoe_1198

William Dafoe

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…

willem_bts__DSF0444

willem_bts__DSF0449

willem_bts__DSF0443

William Dafoe

William Dafoe

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

2014_07_26_cmyk_NA_04

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

bt_willem

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

Impractical Jokers

Click on any image for Full-Size

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…

cover_bts

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…

angels

Not quite…

impractical_cover_00013

Closer…

impractical_cover_00021

Bingo!

impractical_cover_00071

…and the final cover image…

Impractical Jokers

jokers_cover

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…

impractical_cover_00147

impractical_cover_00204

And after a bit of Photoshoppery…

Impractical Jokers

jokers_opener

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…

Impractical Jokers - Joseph "Joe" Gatto

Murr and his Monkey…

Impractical Jokers - Joseph "Joe" Gatto

Joe the Big Gulp Cowboy…

Impractical Jokers - Joseph "Joe" Gatto

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

Impractical Jokers - Joseph "Joe" Gatto

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

Impractical Jokers

Impractical Jokers

Impractical Jokers

Impractical Jokers

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!

Impractical Jokers

The Jersey Boy – Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli

Click on any image for Full-Size

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…

frankie_valli_00001

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…

Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli

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

frankie_valli_MG_0011

frankie_valli_00178

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

frankie_valli_MG_0002

frankie_valli_MG_0008

frankie_valli_MG_0022

We were happy with what we had done, but then looking back at the first setup, I saw the chance for another shot, so I pressed Frankie for a few more minutes of his time, pulled out the tabletop and backed up a bit for these…

Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli

2014_06_20_cmyk_VICE_02

So thank you Kat for the opportunity…and thanks Frankie for a day we won’t forget.

Frankie Valli

The BIG One: Behind The Scenes At The 2014 Barron’s Roundtable

bull.bear_01_0303

Click on any image for Full-Size

In an attempt to freshen things up around here, today I’m giving the blog a fresh coat of paint in the form of a new Theme. The old dark grey was getting a bit depressing, so I chose a brighter version complete with much larger photos…and larger text for those of you who might rely on reading glasses. I also slightly modified the title. After much deliberation, gone is any reference to the Song of the Day, since my increased work schedule has made dropping a regular stream of free tunes on you guys just about impossible. I’ll still post on music that catches my ear when I have the time, but I think going forward I’m gonna focus on why I’m here in the first place…Damn Ugly Photography. With that in mind, I have a lot of catching up to do, starting with today’s mega-post, long-winded as it is…

The posting frequency has been reduced to such a level that we completely blew off discussing this year’s Barron’s Roundtable from earlier this year, but fear not…today I’m gonna spew out the full behind-the-scenes for the three issues that ran back in January, as well as how we put together the mid-year cover story that hit the stands this past Monday. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been eight years since Adrian Delucca first called me to shoot the Roundtable Feature for Barron’s, and each year we have tried to one-up ourselves with new ways to shoot the ten Roundtable members for both the January and June issues, including multiple cover images, inside opening shots and individual portraits…and get it all done in the two hours before their meeting begins. And this year, for the first time, we would have to come away with four cover images instead of the usual two. We had our work cut out for us…

With the increased image count, we had to set up three separate shoot areas in the very tight confines of the President’s Room at the Harvard Club…

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0240

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0241

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0243

Adrian and I cooked up a re-working of the old financial Bulls & Bears theme, and our Big Ticket prop items this year were a couple of mascot costumes we had made for the event. Photo assistants Rob MacInnis and Takeshi Koike got to spend the day sweating inside the furry suits.

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0253

But I’m getting ahead of myself…we’ll talk about those costumes later…

The first January cover would involve shooting each Roundtable member on white in various poses to make them look like they were in Pamplona…running with the Bulls…

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0272

roundtable_2014_mario_gabelli_00027

roundtable_2014_meryl_witmer_00034

roundtable_2014_oscar_schafer_00031

…then in post, I would hafta do a bit of magic with a cobblestone street and a toy bull I shot earlier…

cobblestones

bullhead_00058.mos

cobblestones_bull

…which eventually turned into this…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

2014_01_20_cmyk_NL_

Now as complicated as that might seem, the inside opener for Week One was actually waaaay harder to pull off. I now had to convince these ten financial gurus to imagine running away from, jumping outta the way of, cheering for and riding…an imaginary bull. For this, I first went down to Wall Street and shot the famous Bull statue…

bull_mg_0047

…then I took some outside shots of the Federal Reserve Building…

bull_wall_mg_0174

…and combined the two images with those cobblestones again…

bull_wall_combine

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0283

Now we had to get some reaction shots of the Roundtable members…

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0255

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0262

Oscar Schafer and Mario Gabelli are probably hoping they won’t have to ride the sawhorse…

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0265

_MG_0008

_MG_0038

_MG_0055

_MG_0103

_MG_0118

…and finally, many, many Photoshop hours later…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

__Week1_inside

With Week One outta the way, we now had to get workin’ on those furry suits for the Week Two & Three covers.

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0257

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0267

2014_roundtable_armwrestle_01_0012

2014_roundtable_fighting_01_0082

2014_roundtable_fighting_01_0148

2014_roundtable_fighting_01_0162

And here are the final images…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

2014_01_27_cmyk_NL_

2014_01_27_cmyk_NL_

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

2014_02_03_cmyk_NL_

2014_02_03_cmyk_NL_

Are you gettin’ tired yet?!!

Finally, for the Midyear Roundtable cover, Adrian and I wanted to assemble a group shot in the form of a jigsaw puzzle. Our initial idea was to do the puzzle effect in Photoshop, because I had heard there was actually a filter for that, but after a bunch of tests we decided it just looked too fakey and so…we had some real puzzles made by PortraitPuzzles.com!

_puzzle

I put my still-life photographer cap on and shot the assembled puzzles…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable

2014_06_16_cmyk_NL_

2014_06_16_cmyk_NL_

2014_06_16_cmyk_NL_

And with that, one more year of the Barron’s Roundtable is done!!!

2014_roundtable_bts_dsf0237