Hamilton In ‘Da House!!!

Lin-Manuel Miranda

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OK…let’s get this outta the way right off the bat…

No, I did not get tickets to Hamilton!

Now…on with the show……

My string of extremely cool shoots for Arrive Magazine continued when Rob Smith offered up Lin-Manuel Miranda for a cover feature on the ‘Hamilton’ writer and star. The story was tied to the productions donation of 20,000 $10 tickets to High School students so they see private matinees of ‘Hamilton’ that also includes a Q&A with the cast afterwards. It’s all done with the hope that it will get students to enjoy learning history…and what better way to get teens to enjoy history than to have them rapping the incredibly infectious songs from the musical after they leave the theater?!! And for one of our main photos we would be shooting Lin-Manuel with a group of students!

There were of course the usual difficulties of a shoot like this…very limited shoot time…having to do a union call which besides being crazy expensive, meant we couldn’t even plug in a light or move as much as a clamp without having a Hamilton crew member do it for us…to not even knowing what kind of wardrobe Lin-Manuel would be wearing before he arrived. Then there was the fact that I had a wild chest cold that made me feel like death and took 90% of my voice away! But hammer on we must…

On the location scout we decided on a few locations…

A view from the stage for our shot with Lin-Manuel and the kids…

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The back wall of the stage for a portrait…

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And a corner up in the mezzanine that would work great for our cover…my editor Leigh Flayton was giving her acting chops a workout…

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The ‘Hamilton’ wine being served in the Mezzanine Bar…

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Since we are going to have very little time for our shots, we had to pre-light each shot in advance…that was a lotta light! We had three separate setups on the stage alone, as well as the cover we were doing up in the mezzanine…

Most of these lights were for the opening shot of Lin-Manuel with the kids…

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But you can see the setup against the ‘rope wall’ in the background…

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Rob and I checking out the opening shot…with some of the union crew approving in the back…

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Here’s our first shot with stand ins for the opener…

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…and how things got looking better when the ‘talent’ showed up…

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But once we got the lighting dialed in a bit more, the final shot for the opener dazzled…

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Next was our ‘rope wall’ shot. Since Matt and Lin-Manuel were about the same height, he got to be the stand in…

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Lin-Manuel Miranda

Then we dropped a seamless for a tight portrait. I wanted something a little darker and moodier, so we kept things pretty contrasty…and I tweaked the color way into the blue spectrum which made Matt’s baby-blues even dreamier than normal…

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For Lin-Manuel I backed off a bit cuz I liked the shadow we were getting on the background…

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Finally, we raced upstairs for the cover. It’s pretty hard to describe how tight this location was, and unfortunately we didn’t have the time to do any behind-the-scenes shots, but Lin-Manuel was stuck into the corner and I was no more than four feet away shooting between the railing of a very dark stairway with the widest lens I had!

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Once again, I chose to shift the color balance towards the blue end of things since I didn’t really like how the dead green/cyan of the wallpaper was looking. I also popped the saturation of the gold quite a bit in CaptureOne which really made those frames stand out…

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And here’s how it all turned out…

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And I wasn’t kidding earlier…I still haven’t seen ‘Hamilton’…..but these kids did!!!

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Making Sun Where There Was None

Connie Brown

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Today’s behind-the-scenes (and lighting tutorial) is from my recent shoot for the Wall Street Journal’s Review Section on Connie Brown, who paints one-of-a-kind wall maps on canvas that are, quite simply, works of art. She researches each private commission and creates much more than a map, but instead produces what can be described as personal portraits of a region special to the client.

I spoke to Connie and she told me she lived in a converted schoolhouse, but her studio was an all-new building out back, with lotsa white walls, high ceilings, and quite bright…which it was…but it was also surrounded by a lot of really tall trees…

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…and as bright as it may have been, those trees did a super job of keeping any direct sun from lighting up the studio. And since I wanted to have a bright, airy look to the shots, it fell upon me to invent some Sun…fast! Thankfully I had the perfect thing for making Sun when there is none…a Profoto Magnum Reflector

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As a light modifier, the Magnum couldn’t be simpler…it’s just a deep dish with a 50 degree throw that is highly polished to a mirror finish. This not only makes for an extremely efficient light…even backed off 50 feet from your subject you still get a huge output…but the quality of light has a nice, open feel to it that looks just like the Sun!

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We placed one Magnum with a Half CTO (for warmth) on a Profoto Acute 2400w/s pack about 20 feet from the main, double-height window…with a second pack & head lighting up a smaller second window…and were amazed at how realistic the results were…

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Connie Brown

Connie Brown

The white ceiling and walls acted as natural fill cards, so we were able to point and shoot from pretty much any angle we wanted, and the hot backlight perfectly mimicked the Sun. And when we switched to a more head-on shot of Connie against her easel, the bright, open, lifestyley look of the first shots now turned wonderfully dramatic…

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With the portraits done, I now had to do some vignettes of her studio, and the outside lighting still proved to work without any changes…

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I can’t say enough how impressed I was with the lighting effect we were able to achieve with essentially one pack and one head. This is the kind of thing filmmakers do all the time by dropping a few 10K HMI’s outside of a window, but this was much, much easier!

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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!

Mola Likes Damn Ugly…

The guys over at Mola Soft Lights just noticed that I used a Demi to shoot Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren a while back, ‘cuz they just wrote about it on their blog…check it out HERE!

PopPhoto Gets Damn Ugly

I was recently interviewed by Popular Photography contributor Laurence Chen for the February issue’s ‘HOW * Creative Thinking’ section. The article featured a little behind-the-scenes look at my portrait of Howard Sontag. Big thanks Laurence and PopPhoto, and you can check out the article HERE