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…


The back wall of the stage for a portrait…


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…


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


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…


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


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


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


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


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

Lin-Manuel Miranda

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


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…


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!


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…

Lin-Manuel Miranda

And here’s how it all turned out…





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

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Patti Smith

Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015

Patti Smith.

That’s all Rob Smith…the Art Director of Arrive Magazine…said when he called me a few months back.

Patti. Motherfucking. Smith.

I said “Yes!” before he even had time to get another word out. Are you kidding? Of course I wanna shoot Patti Smith! Besides adding to my current string of portraits of iconic women…Judy Collins, Gloria Steinem, Misty Copeland…Patti is someone I have always been fascinated by, and having the opportunity to shoot her would be a dream! The shoot would be tied in with the release of her new book, M Train. But then Rob had more to add…

No Hair and Makeup…

No Styling…

We’d get half an hour from the time she arrived at the studio…not a second more.

Fine..done…it would be a challenge, but I didn’t care…let’s get on with it!

I originally booked a studio in Long Island City because it had lots of character…but a week later Patti’s publicist nixed it saying Patti didn’t want to cross the river. She said Patti lived in the West Village and that she liked shooting at Industria. OK…less character, but if it makes Patti happy, we’ll book Industria. So more than a month goes by and it’s now about a week before the shoot date and I call the publicist and ask if we’re still on track to shoot and if we can confirm the studio…“Sure…we’re all set!”, she says…and I confirm Industria. But then a few days later…only three days before our shoot…she calls back to say that Patti now doesn’t want to shoot in a studio…she wants to do the shoot at Penn Station! She apparently had written a lot of her book while riding the Acela train and liked the metaphor of shooting at Penn Station since we were shooting for Amtrak’s magazine. But besides the fact that canceling Industria meant we would lose about $2 Grand…exactly how were we gonna shoot in the departure lounge of the busiest train station in America on three days notice?!! Without getting into detail, I’m just gonna fast-forward past the conference calls, begging and hand-wringing that ensued,  and say that somehow we were given permission. And so on an extremely hot August afternoon, myself and my crew took over Penn Station…

Patti wanted the Departure Board…she gets the Departure Board…


…but even though I lost my studio aspect of the shoot, I figured we could still set up a smallish backdrop off to the side…


The two areas were only a few feet apart, but the Penn Station folks were still kinda freaked out when they saw the size of our setup!


But I didn’t care…I was shooting Patti Smith, dammit!


Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015


Now let’s move over to that backdrop…



Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015


And then…just as we were pretty much finished…something truly magical happened…

Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015

Those kids sticking their heads around the corner might be the best happy accident I’ve ever photographed.

For one final setup, I pulled back the curtain to show the overall set and exactly where our little popup studio was…

Patti Smith photographed in the Amtrak departure lounge at Penn Station, New York City, 8/27/2015

Here’s how everything looked in ‘Arrive’…






So even though we were thrown more curveballs than I had seen in a year, everything worked out in the end…


Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland

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I’m not sure at this point if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Misty Copeland. Besides making history as the only African American soloist dancing with the American Ballet Theatre, her best-selling autobiography, ‘Life In Motion’, dancing onstage with Prince, appearing in ads for Under Armour, Dr. Pepper, Coach, The Corcoran Group and T-Mobile, and her numerous features in magazines like The New Yorker, Vogue, Elle and New York Magazine, the 32 year-old ballerina is possibly the most visible face in the dance World since Baryshnikov. And my buddy Rob Smith asked me to put her on the cover of Arrive. Here’s the behind-the-scenes from our day at Bathhouse Studios

Since we knew we would have relatively limited time with Misty, Rob and I had worked up our ideas for the shoot early on. The story was about mentors, and we would be photographing Misty with Raven Wilkinson, the first black woman to dance full-time in a major ballet company, including Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, the Dutch National Ballet, and the New York City Opera Ballet. We had to get enough for our cover, a few opening shots, a portrait of Misty and Raven together and anything else we could fit in! But shooting at the Bathhouse meant we would have lotsa space to set up everything beforehand cuz the studio is so beautifully huge!



Our setup on the cyc…and that marvelously high ceiling…


Kaz and I setting up the two-shot of Misty and Raven…


Robert and Julien sitting in for our cover…


Julien taking flight…



My stylist Karen Sherwood laying out the wardrobe…



Misty arrived just as we were about finished with our setup and went into hair & makeup right away…


…but shortly afterwards, our little dancers from the ABT School showed up…


and they quickly put on a little show for Misty…



Julien grabbed Misty to test the lighting on our first setup…



…and so started our shooting day…





Here is the final portrait of Raven and Misty…


Next, we moved onto the cyc for our opening photo of Misty with the Dance School students…









Misty approves…


…and the resulting photograph…

Misty Copeland

Now I wanted to do a series of solo shots of Misty in different positions. The idea was that I would assemble these solo images into one unified ‘group’ photograph…






And the final ‘group’ shot…


Before I took Misty off the cyc, I pulled out my vintage stools for one more idea…




Best shot of those two stools I’ve ever taken…

Misty Copeland

Oh yeah…I nearly forgot…CBS sent over Anthony Mason and a film crew to document our little shoot for CBS Sunday Morning


Now where was I…oh right…the final shot would be of Misty and Raven together for our cover. We re-purposed that ballet barre from the shot with the kids, and set up a very simple situation with a big, soft Octalite…Misty in her costume as her mentor looked on…




Our cover image…


Here’s how everything looked in ‘Arrive’…







Joking Around With Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

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I’ve had a pretty good run of celebrity shoots lately…Frankie Valli, Ricky Gervais, Tony Bennett, Spike Lee, Willem Dafoe…and I’m trying my best to catch up on the behind-the-scenes on most of them. This shoot with Seth Meyers was actually shot back in February, but it just published a few weeks ago in the latest issue of Amtrak’s ‘Arrive’ magazine. Rob Smith…Arrive’s Art director and one of my oldest friends…had a few thoughts on what he wanted to do with the shoot, and I had a couple of ideas as well, so we drove out to Queens where all the prop warehouses have moved to see if anything got us going…

Since Seth was the Head Writer at SNL, we both stopped when we came across these old desks and typewriters…

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photo 1

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Next, we brainstormed a few shots based on the idea that Seth was not only moving from Saturday Night Live to the Late Night program, but when the story was scheduled to run Seth was supposed to be taking the show on the road. Moving his stuff in a little red wagon just made sense…

photo 4

With the van full of dusty old props, we headed down to Bathhouse Studios…truly one of the nicest places you can shoot at in all Manhattan…and got to work…





Unlike the low-key shoot with Willem Dafoe last week, this time the studio was filled with multiple stylists, make-up and hair people, and more NBC publicists than I’ve ever seen gathered in one place!




And I know it might not look like much in these BTS photos…but dropping Seth into that precisely focussed spot of light against the cyc background created just the right amount of drama…it was all about Seth going out on his own…


Here are some of the final selects…

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers


Now where did we put that red wagon…



By the way…for all you lighting geeks out there…I am seriously loving the Rime Lite deep octas…as long as you know a bit about lighting, they’ll give you everything you expect out of a Broncolor Para, but for less than one-tenth the price!


Seth Meyers


And since a lot of people figured that Seth taking on Late Night was a bit of a leap…

Seth Meyers


…I thought having him stepping into the unknown kind of worked the metaphor nicely…

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers


Next, we moved on to our cover setup…




Seth Meyers

…which gave us both our cover and a pulled-back shot for the table of contents page…

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers


Seth Meyers


So thanks to the huge team it took to pull this off and make things come off so smoothly, but especially thanks to Seth for giving up his time and being such a good sport!

Seth Meyers