The American Heart Association Goes To Bushwick

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December was a pretty busy month here at Damn Ugly. We had a number of very involved shoots booked, including a week-long gig that took us out of town. It was right in the middle of this swirl of work that Rena Wong called me. Rena is a Creative Director at CDM New York and my friend James Wigger told her about me. She wanted to know if I could shoot a Pro-Bono gig for the American Heart Association. I’ll make a long story short by saying I agreed before I even asked when they wanted to shoot…which turned out to be in a week! That would be right after I got back from my week-long road trip. That gave me very little time to assemble a lotta moving parts…stylists, hair and makeup, assistants, gear…and the most important thing…a location that would give us 6 separate locations for the ads.

I had a few days before I headed outta town, so we started with finding talent that would agree to chip in and work gratis. And it’s a big ask…this was going to be a very long, action packed shoot. I called my regulars, but everyone was either booked or heading outta town for the Xmas holidays. But through referrals and word of mouth, we locked down a fantastic crew. CDM was handling the model casting, which would include a broad spectrum of women…ranging in age from a teenager up to a senior citizen.

Now for that location…

The brief for the ‘Go Red For Women’ campaign called for all of the shots to have a cohesive hip, urban/grungey feel. If we were shooting any other time than the end of December, outdoor locations would certainly make sense, but doing this thing in 20 degree temps wasn’t a good idea. I knew of a number of studios that had the right kind of messed up appeal I could use, so I began shotgunning out emails to see if someone could offer us a space for nothing. But I immediatley had one place in particular in mind…The 1896 in Bushwick. It’s a collection of glorious, rough & tumble warehouse spaces where just pointing in any direction would give us our six shots and they would all have that connected look we wanted. I have tried to book The 1896 a number of times in the past, but it’s amazingly popular and was never able to book any of their spaces. But I got a reply almost immediately from Jen Durbin…the 1896’s founder. She told me if I could be flexible with my shoot date, she could offer the entire place…four individual studios…for no fee! Then she told me why. Her sister had died from heart disease. She wanted to do whatever she could to help us out. I gotta say, I am still quite overwhelmed by her story and her generosity.

So I took a drive out to Bushwick for a look around…

We were set.

With CDM casting our talent and my stylist, Stella Montoya, furiously pulling props and wardrobe, I headed out for my road trip shoot. We got back late Thursday night, less than a week before Christmas. That really only gave me Friday to tighten things up before the shoot. We arrived at The 1896 at 8:00AM on Sunday. Until the heat got cranked up, it was meat-locker brisk in there! Besides Rena, I would be working with Art Director Katie Zheng. The first thing Katie and I did…shortly after getting a cup of coffee…was to block out our six shots…

So with our Hair & Makeup team thing care of business…

…we got to work on the six setups!

Number one featured Leiti, an Asian-American Social Media influencer who was perfectly cast as a hip & happening girl on the go. Kaz worked fine as a stand-in…

Enter Leiti…

Next up was Danna, our Latina Hip-Hop dancer…

You can see in the shot above the basic lighting setup we used for all of the shots…our main light was a 47” Rime Light Octa…but what you don’t see are the many other filtered lights bouncing around to fill and/or brighten the backgrounds. The 1896 is a lotta things, but despite their skylights, a daylight studio it ain’t! We had multiple heads high up on 24’ high Mombo-Combo stands that did a great job of pumping up the contrast and highlighting the colors in the background.

These next two shots show my color grading from the RAW file to my final tweaked color…

RAW File…

Color Corrected Image…

We stuck Raphaella…our mixed-race (Chinese/Italian/Slovak) teen…in the corner next to the bathroom. Oh yeah…Raphaella’s also Rena’s daughter!

We used James for our stand-in for Donna…our retired 60+ woman…simply because his white beard matched her white hair perfectly…

Svetlanna’s back story was that of a graffiti artist, urban fashionista and Instagram influencer. This first photo of her on set shows why we really needed those background lights…

After adding one light…

…and a second…

And our final image…

It was late in the day by the time we got to our final setup with Dana…our athletic sports enthusiast…whatever available light there was outside was fading fast. That wasn’t great cuz our last shot had a wall of windows as our background. The one-light first shot was pretty dark, even at 1/8th of a second…

So we added in some background lights and dropped the shutter speed all the way to half a second…

…but that half a second exposure meant we would be shooting in the dark…

After we cleaned up the flare from the back lights, here’s the final image…

Now while all this was going on, we had set up a totally separate scenario in another studio where I photographed each person after they came off set…

Here’s how everybody looked…

And here are all of the final ads that are appearing right now around New York, in the NYC Subway and Bus Shelters around town…

If all this ain’t enough for you, here’s a behind the scenes video the folks at CDM put together from our day in Bushwick!

And finally…PHEW!!!…thanks to all of the wonderful people who helped us make this campaign a great success…

Denise Henry – Chief Strategy Officer CDM
Rena Wong – Creative Director/Producer CDM
Katie Zheng – Art Lead CDM
Kelly Kinder – Account Lead CDM
Dan Torres – Accounts CDM
Sam Dixon – Art Director CDM
Chris De Maria – Copy Lead CDM
Michael Davis – Copy CDM
Jen Durbin – The 1896 Studios
Models – Donna Tucci, Danna Crooke, Raphaella Bamonte, Svetlanna Farinha, Dana Candelino & Leiti Hsu
Makeup – Regina Harris
Hair – Kiyo Igarashi
Styling – Stella Montoya
Assistants – Kaz Sakuma & James Wigger

Tiny Room Portraits Of Mohamed El-Erian For InvestmentNews

So I got an email from Scott Valenzano, the Art Director at InvestmentNews

“Don’t care if you are booked, can you shoot this cover for me…..”

The gig was Mohamed El-Erianrabid New York Jets fan and the BIG brain behind PIMCO…the global investment management firm with about $2 Trillion bucks sewn up in the mattress. As is the case with most billionaires, we weren’t gonna have a lot of time…and we had to shoot him in the InvestmentNews offices, so no big open spaces, no high ceilings, no groovy locations. And Scott wanted a couple of setups…but we’ve done this lotsa times. Let’s roll…

Scott ushered us into a conference room…it was maybe 12′ x 15′ with a lovely 8′ ceiling and a huge table in the middle. It would be perfect…insert sarcasm…more than enough for a couple of setups! Scott mentioned that he wanted a really bright look for one of the shots and mentioned how he liked the orange drops I used in my portraits of Bill O’Reilly and Ricky Gervais…

Here’s how we squeezed ourselves into the room…

Normally I would use a 3′ Octa for a main light, but in that room we were seriously limited with what we could do. We managed to have just enough ceiling height to fly a 20″ Profoto Beauty Dish for a main light, filled with a Profoto Ringlight…

After some color and contrast adjustments, here is the how the final lighting looked…

Onto the second setup. We turned 45 degrees to the left and used a simliar lighting as the first, but since Mohamed would be sitting I had enough space for a 3′ Profoto RFI main light. In place of the ringlight, we used a 6′ Chimera bank placed directly behind me and the camera for fill. We dropped a half roll of Thunder Grey seamless behind him and covered the table with another piece and here’s how Kaz looked…

Partly because of the limited space, but mostly cuz I liked the wide angle perspective, we used a 50mm lens on the Hasselblad for both setups…

Here’s how everything turned out in the magazine…

You can read what Mohamed thinks about whether or not a recession is coming HERE

Josh Silverman of ETSY for the London Sunday Times

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Andrew Mitchell, my editor at the London Sunday Times, sent us out to Brooklyn to the headquarters of Etsy…the online site where all the cool kids go to buy and sell hand-crafted and vintage stuff…to shoot their CEO, Josh Silverman. In less than three years, Silverman has taken a company that had slowing sales growth, climbing expenses and a stock price that had slumped 65 percent from it’s IPO, into a true Juggernaut in the space. Etsy’s investors love the guy and what his ideas have done for the formerly foundering company. It was sorta my job to illustrate those big ideas in a portrait…

Walking around Etsy’s two huge buildings in DUMBO, we passed by this kitchen space…

Now I’m not the kinda guy who lets a good metaphor go unnoticed, and those hanging light bulbs just screamed BIG IDEA…so we quickly threw up some lights and I had Robert jump up on that table…

The lighting was pretty simple…we let the windows bleed in a ton of ambient light to blow out the details from outside, and I added a couple of very bright rim lights on either side, then just dropped in some front fill from a gridded Profoto RFI boomed high above him…

After tweeking the color balance and contrast, this is how things were looking…

It was getting there, but it still needed some more drama…a bit more theatrical lighting oomph…so I added a mask (I was shooting tethered to Capture One Pro) and by using some reverse-clarity and really increasing the contrast, it gave the lightbulbs a wonderful glowing halo effect…

My ‘Light Bulb Over The Head’ metaphor was complete…

Just down the a hallway from our lightbulb shot was the Etsy Lab…sort of a ‘Test Kitchen’ that Esty suppliers can come and play in. It sorta has the feel of the ultimate Elementary School art class, with all the buttons, bows, paints, beads and glue sticks you would ever need to do whatever you might wanna do!

Sarah Marx, our liaison from Etsy, sat in for a quick iPhone test shot…

…and after a good dose of styling and lighting, we turned it into this…

And Josh dug it…

Here is the final page as it appeared in The Times…

Big Dogs On Staten Island

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I’ve been working with Uber-Designer Patrick Mitchell and Nicole Dyer from NYU Langone Medical Center for quite a while and when I get the call to photograph one of their patients, I can usually be sure the day will be something we haven’t had to tackle before. This was the case when Nicole asked me to shoot Artie Zuckerman, a retired NYC Cop who was treated for prostate cancer at the Perlmutter Cancer Center. So Kaz and I loaded up the van and headed over the Verrazzano Bridge to Staten Island…..

I immediately fell in love with the suburban image of Artie’s front porch…let’s get to work!

But what really got me excited about the steps was I knew I wanted to shoot Artie with his puppies…his three really, really big puppies!

Now if you think wrangling three rambunctious Great Danes is easy, lemme burst your bubble and assure you it is not. After more than half an hour of trying for one frame where everything came together, I’m happy to report that we got just ONE…

With the pooch portrait in the bag, we needed to get another setup for the story. At 68, Artie has a 31-inch waist, a 46-inch chest, and can knock out 20 chin-ups…so we wanted to show how fit he was after his successful treatment. He suggested going to the beach where he does his daily run with the dogs…

You can read Artie’s story here on the NYU Langone site.

Sam Edelman – The Shoe King

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Sam Edelman began his career in shoes when Ralph Lauren had him produce a line of equestrian-inspired footwear, but then he went on to co-found Kenneth Cole Productions, and launched the shoe division at Esprit. Sam Edelman was the Shoe King. Jessica Fitzgerald, the Art Director at Footwear News, asked me to shoot a “Legends’ cover for the magazine…the first time I’d ever done an assignment for them!

Our shot list was long…and we’d only have a couple of hours…so Kaz and I loaded up the van and headed to the Sam Edelman Showroom in midtown for our audience with The King…

The first thing we saw when we arrived was the large showroom area…

Jessie liked my series of ‘Artificial Portraits’ and thought this would make for a nice warts-and-all, behind-the-scenes cover setup…

Enter The King…

Jessie nailed it with her cover layout…

For our second shot, I noticed a corner of the showroom was papered in a stylized ‘E’ pattern…

And there was also a similarly colored display case…

We used the display case as a table and positioned it in front of the wall…

Lighting was a single 20″ Profoto beauty dish (softened & gridded) with a 7′ Impact umbrella directly behind me and the camera…

Jessie liked the idea of Sam in his corner office…

…so the styling crew went to work…

…but Kaz and I had to add a bit more light, drop the color temperature to accentuate the blue, and open up to a 1/4 second shutter speed to blow out the window exposure. We dropped a couple of bare heads in the corners aimed back at Sam’s chair…with no other front light or fill…to mimic a hot Sun light…

This became the opener for the story…

Now after three pretty involved setups, Sam was about done…but Jessie and I pressed for one more very quick portrait. We went back to out first setup on white. I could have just used the existing light and come in close for a tight portrait, but instead I dropped in a white flat for a table and started with just the small Strip Light that we were using for a skim light…

Then we swung the 3′ Profoto RFI around high and to the left side…

Playing around with the Kelvin slider, we decided cooler was better…

…but Sam’s icy stare made the photo…

You can read about Sam Edelman’s Wild Ride here…and thanks Jessie, for what I hope is the beginning of a long working relationship!

Salman Rushdie for WSJ

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The phone rang…and we got to spend the morning with Salman Rushdie”. The celebrated author just released his fourteenth novel…Quichotte, which was just added to the shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize…and Elizabeth Winkler was interviewing him for the Weekend Confidential column.

Here’s a look at our time with Salman…

The first setup couldn’t be simpler…a single 5-foot parabolic umbrella flying high on a boom, a couple of layered backdrops (courtesy of Gravity Backdrops) and an old, beat up farm table…

Very classic and very contrasty…

For the second portrait, we went with a boomed, gridded, diffused 20″ Profoto Beauty Dish high and directly overhead, filled with another five-footer behind the camera…

Here’s how it looked…

Finally, I moved in tighter…

That was the one…..

Photographing The Maestro…Jaap Van Zweden

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Oscar Schafer called me up to see if I had an interest in photographing Jaap Van Zweden, the new conductor of the New York Philharmonic. I’ve know Oscar for over a decade…having photographed him ever year for the Barron’s Round Table…but Oscar is also the Chairman of NYPHIL and he trusted me to get images of Jaap that they could use to introduce him to New York! What with rehearsals and performances, his time was pretty tight, but if I could set up a studio at Lincoln Center, we’d be given the opportunity…..so off we went!

They had requested a white background option, but since I knew Jaap would be wearing his all-black attire, for our first setup I added a black flat to split the scene in half to play off the black/white aspect. And we kept the lighting fairly strong on the dark side to let him stand out…

Thank God my assistants usually wear all-black…it makes it easier when I use them as stand-ins!

Jaap immediately understood the attitude we were looking for…

And then for the all-white option, we just pulled the flat out of the way and put our main light on a boom directly above Japan…

For a literal 180 degree twist, we had an all-black set ready to go at the other side of the room…a 5-foot umbrella and 20 feet of black velvet…

With the lighting dialed in, now it was Jaap’s turn…

Here’s how it looked on the Philharmonic’s Playbill…

Now the folks at the Philharmonic were happy with what we already shot, but I convinced them to give me a few minutes more to try something inside David Geffen concert hall. Since it was a last minute thing, we didn’t have time to pop off any behind-the-scenes stuff, but my idea was to shoot Jaap from the stage sitting in the seats. Like this…

But how about trying it Black & White?

Or wider??

Or how about we add a few musicians?!!

All in all, everybody had a pretty fun day…including Oscar who stole Jaap’s baton…