Playing High-Stakes Chess With The Smartest Guys In The Room


Click on any image for Full-Size

When January rolls around, one thing you can always count on is that I’ll be packing up 1000 pounds of gear and heading to The Harvard Club to shoot the Barron’s Roundtable. This year, Adrian Delucca and I worked up a few ideas based on the game of Chess. Here were Adrian’s chicken scratches that led to our cover shoot…


This year we would be publishing three covers in January, and the usual mid-year cover in June, so we had to set up three different lighting setups in the very tight quarters of the Presidents Room at the Harvard Club…

The main setup for the Week One cover and opener…


…the Chess Table set for the Week Two & Three covers…


…and third area for the mid-year portraits…



As usual, we would start shooting the ten Roundtable members separately as they began arriving at 8:00AM, and we had to be finished everything when the meeting began…at 10:00AM! That meant we had to shoot each person in enough different situations for three covers and three openers as well as individual portraits of each for the midyear issue…all in two hours. And we also had to convey exactly what we needed each person to do since they wouldn’t be posing with anyone but themselves and everything would be put together in post! They’re given no advance warning of what we’ve cooked up for them until they arrive.

That kinda thing is hard enough to pull off when you’re dealing with professional models, but when you’ve only got 5 or 6 minutes with a financial expert, getting him to instantly channel his inner actor is a wee bit harder…









With our Roundtable members safely in the bag, now I got to spend the next three days locked in front of my computer. I had already spent a day shooting a Chess Board & Pieces for our base cover image…


Now came adding the human chess pieces…




And after a considerable amount of Photoshop work, the final cover image looked like this…



Next up was the opening image…





And the final image…



Finally, I had to put together two different chess playing situations…from two different angles…for the Week Two and Week Three issues. This was our high-angle test shot (you can see the low angle tripod at the bottom of the frame)…


What would be so easy if we could just shoot it as one photo becomes a very complicated puzzle when you hafta shoot everyone separately while trying to keep track of who you’ve already shot and in what position…





These are the two final images…




Now on to the low angle…










Man…am I ever tired…….


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


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…




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.


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…





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




…which eventually turned into this…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable


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…


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


…and combined the two images with those cobblestones again…



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



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







…and finally, many, many Photoshop hours later…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable


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







And here are the final images…

The 2013 Barron's Roundtable



The 2013 Barron's Roundtable



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!


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




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


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

Click on Any Image for Full-Size

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.


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!

Behind The Scenes At The 2011 Barron’s Roundtable PART THREE

Click on any image for Full-Size

The year is half over and that means The Mid-Year Roundtable issue of Barron’s has hit the stands. I’ve already spilled the beans on some of some of what went down at the Harvard Club that cold day in January in PART ONE and PART TWO, and now comes the final story of how we shot the ten members of the Roundtable separately and put ’em all together into a cover, an inside opener and individual portraits that would accompany each of their stock picks.

Adrian DeLucca and I figured we would hammer home the Global theme we started in the January issue by shooting each person against a section of a World map and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to squeeze a few Artificial Portraits in at the same time. I photographed a giant map I picked up from IKEA and then printed it out in ten 40″ x 50″ sections that would serve as a backdrop for each individual portrait…..

Since we had precious little time to waste the day of the shoot, I decided to ‘map out’ who would be in front of which section ahead of time…..

I kept the lighting pretty simple…just a gridded 20″ Profoto beauty dish way up high on a boom and an on-camera ringlight…..

Because we were jumping between the two sets, I gave myself a few cheaters to remind me what my settings should be…..

Oh yeah…just about forgot…I added an over the shoulder fill in the form of an open-face Octalite…..

…all of which gave us ten images that I had to re-assemble into a map of the World…..

…which looked like this on the cover…..

…with a variation for the inside opener…..

But while I was shooting the images for the cover, I also had to come away with some individual portraits that were a bit different and that’s where the Artificial Portraits came in…..

…and these shots were peppered throughout the article…..

And another year of the Roundtable was in the can! So until next January, Photo Editor Adrian DeLucca, Art Director Pam Budz and yours truly wish you well!

Behind The Scenes At The 2011 Barron’s Roundtable PART TWO

Click on any image for Full-Size

I could have subtitled this post “How To Make 10 People Appear Out Of Thin Air” cuz that’s kinda what we had to do with the inside shots for this years Barron’s Roundtable issue. It took a little arm-twisting, but I convinced Adrian that after all these years of assembling individual portraits of the Roundtable members into our fanciful group shots, this would be a perfect time to pull away the curtain…up to a point…and show a bit of the behind-the-scenes magic and Photoshoppery that is involved in making ten people look like they were actually in the same room at the same time. My idea was to do a pulled-back view of the cover image showing the lights, assistants and set dressing, as well as having some fun with the MacBeth color-checker while we were at it, much like what I do in the Light Test galleries on my website. But the truth was that we would still be tricking the viewer into thinking they were seeing a real look at the set, when in fact the entire shot was created in Photoshop!

You’ll remember from Part One that we shot everybody separately on the black velvet set…..

…but those shots weren’t wide enough for me to insert all ten people, so we cleared the set, widened the black velvet and shot a blank canvas for me to assemble the group shot with…

Unfortunately, even that area wasn’t wide enough, so I had to stretch it even further in Photoshop into this…

You’ll notice that besides making the velvet area wider, I also corrected the lens distortion by straightening the verticals and I also added a few A-Clamps to the crossbar holding the velvet. Now I could get to work filling in the lighting. I added a second hairlight boom, and three beauty dishes on the bottom of the frame…

…and then cloned in the posing table and some sandbags, four times…..

…which got us to the point where I could start adding bodies!

…and then get the whole gang together…

Now by this time, I had worked up a pretty complex file with more than 30 layers…

There were more than 25 image layers alone, with things like hands, shadows, tabletops, light booms, and various body parts overlapping and blending into one another…trust me, it’s a lot to keep track of!

Click for Full-Size

But after all the cloning and cropping and positioning and blending and color-correcting, this was the final image…..

…and here is how it looked in Barron’s…

Now I figure after all that, y’all should have the basics down for how to fake a big group, so I won’t bore you with another step-by-step breakdown of the two additional shots I put together for the following two shots, but here’s what we did for week two and week three of the Roundtable Reports…

Week Two:

Week Three:

So there you have it…for now! Remember, I still have the two situations we did for the Mid-Year cover to talk about, but not until June when it gets published!

OK…OK…there is this…….

Behind The Scenes At The 2011 Barron’s Roundtable PART ONE

Click on any image for Full-Size

For the fifth year in a row, I got to photograph the ten investment professionals who make up the Barron’s Roundtable to illustrate the two cover stories the magazine runs on their predictions for the World financial markets. And just as we do every year, photo editor Adrian DeLucca and I brainstormed over fine wines and French food to come up with the best way to use the extremely limited time we are given to shoot everybody for the minimum of four separate uses the magazine has. In the roughly two hours we’re alloted (we have to shoot everybody before their day-long meeting begins) we have to come up with two covers…one for January and one for the mid-year June issue…as well as double-page opening shots for both issues, and still try to get individual photos of each person that can be used in stand-alone stories. That’s ten people…two hours……four different shots!

Since I can’t talk about anything we shot for the June Mid-Year cover until it is published, you’ll all just hafta make due with half of the story until then, but here’s the story on how the January cover went down…..

Since the Roundtable members generally talk about Global financial markets, Adrian and I thought to shoot a cover image where the Roundtable members would be sitting…somewhat God-like…at a round table that was actually the Earth, but because the focus of their discussions typically center on how things will effect the North American markets, we decided it was best to concentrate on the North American continent. The first thing I had to do was come up with a globe map that was both graphic and a quick read and something I could easily morph into a table top. A bit of Googling came up with this…

…and with a bit of Photoshoppery I was able to turn it into this…

That gave me the basic shape I needed to determine the camera height & angle so that I could make a cover mockup…

Because each person was to be shot separately and combined in post into the final group shot around the table, I needed a posing table that would give me the proper curve for them to lean into so that when I positioned each person, they would be sitting or standing at the correct angle and my Photoshop blending at our gigantic Earth Table wouldn’t look fake. For the posing stand, I simply cut a curved piece of plywood, painted it blue to match the color of the globe image and screwed it into some apple boxes. Once the basic physics of what angle and height to shoot the cover was planned out, we were ready to get down to business. Since we were scheduled to begin at 8:00AM Monday morning, we spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon setting up…

Just as last year, The Roundtable meeting was taking place at The Harvard Club, so our ‘studio’ was a room with walls covered in portraits of dead, rich white guys staring down at us. They were apparently ex-Presidents of Harvard, which is probably why they called it the Presidents Room. We quickly set up out cover set…a black velvet backdrop, the blue plywood posing table, and a pretty simple lighting setup of a 20″ Profoto White Beauty Dish main light, a second Profoto Beauty Dish as a blue moon-glowy hairlight (but this one is a Silver dish with a 20 degree grid and 2 Full Blue (CTB) filters attached) and a 4′ x 6′ Chimera for an overall fill behind the camera position…

Here’s the subject’s-eye view…

…and you can see we added a fourth light…that head to the right of the camera with a 7″ reflector and a 10 degree grid…it threw a bit more light onto the subjects face, ‘cuz that beauty dish aimed from the ground-up was just a wee bit too monster-lighty. Here are the first tests…

With our basic lighting nailed down and our mockup cover taped to the tripod…

…we were ready for the parade of people that would show up the next morning. Well…as ready as you can possibly be when you have to keep four separate shots in your head where you have to composite ten people into believable groups for the final image! In that two hour shoot window! Anyway…it all came together rather nicely…..

…I’m not kidding…Oscar’s watch is worth $1 million bucks!

Making sure to cover all manner of goofy expressions ‘cuz You never know what you’re gonna hafta do when putting the group shots together…

And in no time…we were done! Now came the assembly. This was the first simple comp I did with people added around our Global Table…

After moving a few people around and swapping in a different pose for Archie MacAllaster on the far left, I erased the plywood posing tables from under their hands and this was the result…

Next came a bit of color and contrast retouching, some tweeking of the levels and curves and dodging the highlights on everyones shoulders so they separated from the background a bit better…

And finally, we added a field of stars…..

…and here is the final cover, complete with the moon that replaced the usual ‘O’ in Barron’s (I can’t remember if that was Adrian’s idea or mine, but it was a nice touch)…..

Next up in Part Two…I’ll break down the assembly and retouching of the Behind-The-Scenes two-page opener for the Roundtable story, including how I managed to convince Adrian that this was a perfect situation to pull out my Artificial Portrait technique, as well and two additional shots we put together for the subsequent two editions of Barron’s.

The Barron’s Roundtable – 2010 Edition

I’ve kinda been neglecting to include any actual photo-related posts lately, but a lot of what I’ve been shooting hasn’t run yet and until it does, it’s gotta stay under wraps, but here is a recent job I did for Barron’s…..

Click on any image for full-size

I’ve been shooting the Barron’s Roundtable cover for a lotta years now, and every year the challenge is to reinvent how to photograph these ten fund managers in new & compelling compositions that will work for the cover, an inside spread, a couple of weeks worth of feature portraits and if that’s not enough, another cover that runs mid-year…all in a little over an hour! The entire production takes a boatload of planning before we even show up at the location…this year’s meeting was at The Harvard Club…but the main trick is keeping to a schedule that will allow us to get all that work done with only seven or eight minutes per person. It’s one thing to make an interesting portrait of a person given those time constraints, but add in all of the different final uses, the fact that most of the images will have to be assembled into group shots in Photoshop and the meeting room we were using as our ‘studio’ was so old that there was only one fifteen-amp electrical circuit for the whole room which meant we had to rent just about every battery-powered strobe in Manhattan to light the two sets, when we’re done it felt like we had gone to war!

Since we always do the actual shoot very early in the morning, before the meeting starts, we always give ourselves a pre-light day, and this was what we came up with for our cover test…..

…then, on a second set, we put this together…

The ‘fun’ part on a shoot like this is always convincing these very buttoned-down investment executives to trust me when I ask them to do whatever it is we’ve cooked up for the cover. This year, the little metaphor we were trying to hammer home was ‘looking around the corner’, so we rigged a few foamcore panels and had each person playing with that idea…..

…Dr. Marc Faber

…Mario Gabelli

…Bill Gross

…and Kelly, touching up Oscar Schafer!

All of which came together inside as this Photoshop-realized group shot…..

With that part done, we quickly moved to the second set for a few tighter portraits which would result in these images that ran in the following weeks……