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I’ve been spending a lotta time in boardrooms lately, but despite what a lotta people think, most corporate offices in America aren’t designed like the ones you see in the movies. For example, when I close my eyes, I can still see Gordon Gekko’s beautifully art-directed office in Oliver Stones ‘Wall Street’ with it’s sleek, sexy Italian furniture, floor-to-ceiling windows and made-for-photography views, but it’s very rare when I walk into a office location to shoot a CEO and have that warm & fuzzy feeling when an obvious shot jumps out at me (although my shoot at MTV last week was an exception!). I usually get the tour with the corporate communications director highlighting a series of sterile conference rooms, painted industrial beige, telling me, “We’ve done a lot of photo shoots in here…”. Or I get taken to a corner office that has nothing to do with the guy I’m shooting and shown the ‘amazing sweeping view’ that will make for a great portrait. OK…I’m just thinkin’ out loud now, but really…if I’m there to shoot your boss, why do you think having the Chrysler Building growing outta his head is gonna be what either of us wants?!!
Which brings us to a couple of recent portraits I did for Barron’s. The locations for both Tom O’Halloran of Lord, Abbett & Co. and John Castle of Castle Harlan, Inc. can’t be described as Spartan by any means…in fact, they were both classic, old-school investment bank offices…full of the requisite walnut wood panelling, plush leather chairs, opulent design details with lavish antiques & art, complete with portraits of their dead ex-presidents on the walls and yes, that corporate communications director telling me about the great views. But they come with their own set of ‘issues’…that dark wood can be deadly in a photograph and the Hall of Ex-Presidents might be impressive to look at, but if I was a the current guy in charge, I’d find it a little creepy to to be put in that situation while I’m still vertical. And l generally pass on ‘the view’…it never (OK, rarely) works…but for the shot of O’Halloran I thought that maybe I could work with those big windows and kinda blow out all of the detail and wrap him in a cool, wrap-around light…..
Hmmmmm…that kinda sucked….how ’bout we head in the opposite direction and go for the drama by knocking down the ambient light about five stops…..
That’s much more like it!
Now let’s move on and see what we can do with Mr. Castle…..
This one was actually a lot harder to do than I thought it would be and is kinda of those shots that doesn’t exist in ‘real life’. First, to even see this angle you would hafta jump up into the window well at the end of the room, press your body against the window to get as far back as possible, make sure not to fall through the air conditioning duct (that always freaks out the guy from corporate communications!) and then use the widest lens you have because you’re only about four feet from where the guy is gonna stand. Next, there was that wall of windows that ran the entire right side of the room. They didn’t have blinds on them and there was just way too much light pouring into the room. I had to reduce he ambient light from those windows just the right amount to keep things interesting, while still retaining enough from the chandelier and lamps in the background so that they would still show up. Then we aimed a hard spotlight from the table directly behind him so that it picked up the ceiling (which also gave us a cool shadow) and added some tasty highlights on the boardroom chairs that were fading into the dark. But the first couple of tests we did were really boring, so I cross-filtered the beauty dish I was using as his key light with a full blue CT filter, then set the gray-balance off of that light…this resulted in my other lights and the ambient window light having an overall blue cast that turned the sedate beige boardroom into something a bit more dramatic…and a bit more ‘Wall Streety’…..
And one last thing…..here is John Castle…with his Corporate Communications guy!