Nick Murphy AKA Chet Faker

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I recently got to spend a day with Australian singer/songwriter Nick Murphy, better known by his stage name, Chet Faker. The Sydney Morning Herald was doing a cover story for their Sunday magazine that talked about his new album and how he was going to use his real name after five years as Faker. Tegan Sadlier, the photo editor at the Herald, and I tossed around a bunch of ideas before deciding on “Will The Real Nick Murphy Please Stand Up?” as our cover headline. More on that later, but here’s how the shoot went…

I have long had Ruby Bird Studios in Greenpoint on my radar, but haven’t had the right subject to take advantage of the wonderful grunge they have to offer…Nick was that subject! The old warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront was made for a day of rock star portraits…

While studio 520 can hardly be described as a daylight space, it does have a cool casement window…

…that with minimal lighting (one big umbrella directly over Nick’s head) made for a nice, moody start…

Just to the left of the window was a beat up old sliding metal door that I liked for some tight portraits…

To the right of the window was an even more interesting door, but this one was recessed in a brick wall that would make for a frame around Nick…

…and that furry green coat…perfect!!!

Finally, for our cover concept…I convinced Tegan I could do a multiple image photo of Nick in different positions, wearing different outfits, to illustrate the ‘Will The Real Nick Murphy Please Stand Up?’ idea…

This wall was our base…

Next, we had to place our ‘Nicks’ in different spots in the frame…

And when that was done, all that was left was for me to spend a day at the computer making a group shot…with the ‘real’ Nick standing up!

…and here’s our final cover…

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Joseph Altuzarra For the Wall Street Journal

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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

The 2017 Barron’s Roundtable

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When January rolls around, one constant for the past decade has been the crew from Damn Ugly Photography has gotten to load a couple of thousand pounds of gear into a small room at the Harvard Club to shoot the members of the annual Barron’s Round Table. The basic formula is always the same. We start shooting at 8:00AM as the folks arrive. We have to shoot them separately since we need to be able to move each person around into whatever situations we’ve cooked up…and we have to be completely finished by 10:00AM since that’s when their all-day meeting begins. In that time we have to come up with images that will run on three consecutive covers in January, plus the cover for the mid-year report in June, as well as inside feature photos for all issues. Easy, right?!!

Adrian DeLucca and I wanted this year’s theme centered on the year itself…2017…and we came up with the idea to place the Roundtable members into the year 2017. To do that, I had to come up with the perfect 2017. I always liked the numbers on the Damn Ugly World Headquarters building…

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So that seemed like a good place to start. I found similar numbers and went about shooting them…

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But the silver seemed too passive…red spray paint was definitely called for…

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Numbers…done. Now onto the moving parts. Our setup this year was actually much simpler than previously years. We only had two separate sets, one for the January issues and a second for the midyear.

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I had a couple of 2017 ‘cheats’ taped to the gobos on our main set to help me keep track of where to place people…

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Everything got dialed in pretty quickly (that ripped seamless in the background is a teaser for the midyear cover, so I can’t say any more about that for a while) and we were ready to get started.

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Makeup artist Margina Dennis, Kaz playing digital tech and Adrian looking happy…

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Kaz holding up Brian Rogers…

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Oscar Schafer shooting Jeff Gundlach…

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To get people into the correct positions, we used a few very simple props. Brian had to lean into the ‘1’…

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Mario was standing inside the ‘0’…

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Abby was holding up the ‘7’…

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And Oscar would be laying back into the ‘7’ for the Week 3 cover…

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After a few days at the computer, here’s how things turned out…

Week One Cover and Inside Opener…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Week Two Cover and Inside Opener…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Week Three Cover and Inside Opener…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

And finally, here are the printed pages…

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Turning The Barron’s Roundtable Into ‘The Minority Report’

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

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In the last episode of ‘Damn Ugly Photography’, we took a look at the first week of the 2016 Barron’s Roundtable Shoot…but now I’m gonna show you how I convinced our nine financial professionals to act as stand-ins for Tom Cruise in his movie, ‘The Minority Report’. You remember…this one…

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Adrian Delucca and I had been tossing ideas around for months on how to make this work. I had to generate the floating graphs and other graphics that would be ‘moved around’, and we also had to come up with the perfect background images to position the people against…

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…but probably the hardest thing would be how we could quickly get each Roundtable member to understand exactly what the final image would be and how to get them into position. Remember…I have less than ten minutes with each person and I had to shoot two other setups besides this one! I figured the smartest way around this would be to show them a pretty detailed mockup of our cover ideas with one of my assistants standing in, so on our setup day, I had Robert work his magic…

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The lighting was super-simple…just a single Profoto 3′ RFI Octa bank way up high on a boom…and a couple of medium strip skim lights with blue gels to mimic the lighting from the background…

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And the night before the shoot, I quickly Photoshopped this together…

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Showing each person the print before we got started proved to be the exact thing they needed to illustrate what we wanted them to do…

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Now we just had to get them to do their best impression of Marcel Marceau without feeling too self conscious…

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Point up at the graph…uhhhh….hand…..

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Here are a few of the raw images…

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And now comes the fun part…editing through the 1000 images I took to find the few I can use that will actually look like everyone was in the same place at the same time. Then, floating all the graphs in place while remembering I had to save lotsa room for cover headlines. Here’s how the Week Two cover came together…

First, the background image…made a bit fuzzier for perspective…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Now, add the people…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Then, the basic graphs…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Now I had to add in some shadows, haloes and color shifts to the graphs so they looked like the were actually floating in space…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Next I pasted in a few techie-looking graphics and charts…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

I decided to tone down the blue of the background cuz it as taking away from the overall dark mood I was aiming for…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

And finally I increased the contrast, desaturated the skin tones and added a glow around the fingertips…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Our final cover…

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Using the same steps, I worked up another image for the opener…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

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The Week Three images came together pretty much the same…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

For the final steps, I messed with the focus on the background cuz it was drawing attention away from the foreground and shifted the overall blue cast more towards cyan/green…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Here’s the Week Three cover…

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…and the opener…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

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Now if all that Photoshop geek talk hasn’t put you to sleep and you’re hankerin’ for more, you can watch the layers progressions on both cover images in these two YouTube videos…and then I promise, no more Roundtable talk for a while…..

Week Two Cover Layers:

Week Three Cover Layers:

The 2016 Barron’s Roundtable Extravaganza – Part One

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

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As anyone who has visited Damn Ugly Photography on a regular basis knows, the first week of January is when we decamp for the warm embrace of the Harvard Club to shoot the annual Barron’s Roundtable. This year was no different, and apart from there being a few familiar Roundtable members missing and replaced with a couple of new guys, the formula remains the same. We have two hours to shoot each of the nine Roundtable members…separately since they all arrive at staggered times…with the objective being that we need enough varied poses to fabricate four individual covers (three in January and one more for the mid-year report in June) as well as four feature photos to open the story with each week. We start at around 8:00AM and have to be totally done by the time the meeting begins at 10:00. If the thought of shooting nine people for four covers and four openers in two hours isn’t daunting enough, we also have to get each Roundtable member to wrap their head our concepts for the covers immediately…and remember…these aren’t models. They’re financial professionals. Trying to get them to understand the varied poses I need so that I can manufacture a cover where they all look like they’re relating to each other is harder than any of the technical tricks we work on!

So here is how the shoot for the first week’s cover went…

Our Week One cover and opener revolved around this image of a World Map…

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Using some old images of the Roundtable members from a previous shoot, I put together this comp…

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…so when people arrived, I could quickly show them a visual representation of what we were going to do…

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As usual, we have to set up multiple lighting sets for our different poses in a very small room…this time we had three individual sets…

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…everything is in the same place…hair & makeup, three sets and a very small area where people can hang out until we get them on set…

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For the cover, we wanted everyone to react to the people around them…people who weren’t there when we did the shoot…so Robert got to carry on imaginary conversations to get each persons attention aimed in the right direction…

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We did luck out once when Bill Priest and Brian Rogers overlapped, so we shot them together…

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…but for the most part, they had to wave their hands around like a weatherman in front of a green screen…

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So my raw materials from this part looked like this…

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Now I just had to pick the appropriate images where everyone looked like they were all together at the same time. Here’s how the cover got pieced together…

First, the base background image…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Next, the base image is flipped to make the floor, and I also de-focussed it so it looked more like a real reflection…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

Now I could mess with the color & contrast for the combined background…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and add a few people…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and the rest follow…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and finally, I added shadows and more color & contrast tweaks…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…which gave us our cover for Week One…

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Now I could move on to the inside feature image. I stated with the same base image layer, but I destaurated the blue cast a bit and lightened the upper area so that we could overlay type onto it easier…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The inside poses needed to be a bit more serious, due to the recent instability of the markets…

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The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

The ‘assembled’ group…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…the final image with shadows & color alterations…

The 2016 Barron's Roundtable

…and our opening feature image…

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So that was Week One. Tune in again next week to see how Adrian Delucca, Pam Budz and I put together Week Two & Week Three!

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Misty Copeland’s New Website Is Damn Ugly…

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Misty Copeland’s new website just went live, and there are a surprising number of Damn Ugly photographs taking up space…

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I’ve been working with Lisa Clayton at Starving Artist Web Design who did all the heavy lifting with the layout of the new site…especially the inventive way she Photoshopped that swirling red skirt onto my shot for the home page…Bravo!!!

848 Shots…One Final Photo

Barron's Penta Fashion - Paul Smith

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A while back, Mr. Delucca called me up and asked it I wanted to do another fashion piece for Penta, Barron’s Quarterly lifestyle magazine. The feature was on Paul Smith and he wanted to do the shoot at the Paul Smith store in SoHo. After I checked out the store, I came away thinking it would be kind of fun to do all the shots he wanted to do…but in one photo. So I put on my David Hockney hat and devised a way to shoot our model in three positions at the entrance to the showroom for a deconstructed fashion photo. After popping off 848 individual shots (and why I used my Hasselblad/Leaf back is a mystery cuz now I have over 50gb of raw files to archive forever!) this is the result…

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And here is the final image in Penta…

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