Madame Secretary…Madeleine Albright

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A few weeks ago…just before the entire World was locked down because of the Corona Virus…I was scheduled to shoot Madeleine Albright, the first female United States Secretary of State. She would be in New York on the first leg of a book tour and we were supposed to get a few minutes with her in a midtown hotel room for a WSJ ‘Weekend Confidential’ feature. But the day before the shoot, we got the call…

“To be cautious because of the virus, the Secretary will not be traveling to New York…could you shoot her in her office in DC?!!”

I really didn’t wanna give up the chance to shoot Secretary Albright, so at 6:00AM on March 10th, Kaz and I loaded up the van and took off for Washington…

Upon arriving in DC, we were led to a small sitting room next to her office…

Pretty tiny…but after saying goodbye to the furniture, we had just enough room to set up a couple of backdrops…

For our first portrait, we did a simple, classic, two-light setup with a 20″ Beauty Dish main light and a 5′ umbrella for fill…

When Secretary Albright looked at the laptop screen, she said, “Oh, I can do that!”…..

For my second shot, I had brought along a low-texture grey Gravity Backdrop. I had an idea to do a strongly side-lit portrait that would evoke a slightly darker mood. For our main light, we used a single 3′ strip light placed behind and to the left of where she was sitting and another 5′ umbrella for fill…

Here is the progression of how the lighting evolved…

Our first test was fine, but a little too grey and dull…

We added some warming gels to the strip light, which when white-balanced added an overall blue tint…

That helped, but we then added a couple of masks in Capture One Pro to the upper corners to create a sort of ‘reverse’ vignette effect that lightened things up…

I decided to desaturate the blue and add some more shadow detail, but we were ready.

Madame Secretary…please sit on this apple box…..

The story appeared in last weekends Wall Street Journal

9+ hour round-trip drive…25 minute shoot…done!

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…..

John Lithgow For The Wall Street Journal

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As time goes by, when it comes to my portrait work, a lot of how I judge success or failure relates to how I can connect with a subject…usually in an extremely limited time frame. Oh sure, I gotta come away with a beautiful portrait or two, but I really want to also learn a little of the people who spend time in front of my lens. So when The Wall Street Journal called and said we were gonna get ‘some time’ to shoot John Lithgow for Weekend Confidential and would I be interested, I knew that meant very little time, but I still immediately screamed “YES!!!”…cuz getting to pick his brain…and take a few photos…was gonna be fun!

Lithgow is epic. He’s an actor’s actor. I’d pay gold to watch him open an envelope! He was doing promotion for his new play, “Hillary And Clinton”, and we would be given a slot on a day that included a matinee performance followed by his appearing on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” followed by the evening performance, so I knew things had to be nailed down. On with the show…

For our first setup, I got to use a couple of new canvasses I recently got from Gravity Backdrops. They’re essentially the same…both a very low texture dark grey…and I layered the smaller of the two on top of the larger to create a bit of depth & shadow. For lighting, it’s pretty simple…just a 5′ parabolic umbrella on a boom jacked up as high as I could get it…

Gotta love one light…

I showed him a few lighting test shots of Richard and he said he understood the direction I was going towards…serious, thoughtful and introspective.

Mr. Lithgow, enter Stage Left…

In between shots, we talked about his new play, his career, his time as a student at Harvard, and a whole lot more. Then we moved on to our feature portrait, where we used two more Gravity drops and a sawhorse tabletop…lit with a 20″ gridded Profoto Beauty dish and filled by another 5-footer…

With just a bit of finesse…mostly just adding a flag camera right to throw a little shadow on the background and the side of John’s face…it looked like this…

It was the exact mood I was aiming at…

Finally, before he left, John insisted on photographing…me!

He grabbed the Hasselblad and immortalized me thusly…

All in all, it was a typically quick session…but extremely satisfying.

You can check out the final results over at The Wall Street Journal

Armie Hammer…Is Very Tall!!!

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Armie Hammer. The Social Network…The Lone Ranger…Nocturnal Animals…Call Me by Your Name…that guy! And since his new film…On the Basis of Sex…was opening Christmas Day, Ronnie Weil had me photograph all Six-Foot Five of him for a feature profile for Weekend Confidential in the Wall Street Journal…and we had a blast!

Robert was doing the heavy lifting on this shoot and we started with a simple white cyc setup…

So I just let Armie be Armie…

With a few intense closeups…

And with all of those in the bag, it allowed me to assemble a fun multi-image…

Next, we dropped a black velvet off to the side…

…that one big, soft top light gave us a nice skylight effect…

…and it allowed me to quickly move around and try a few different angles…

Here’s how it looks in this weeks ‘Weekend Confidential’

Call me by your name, Armie…

Rose Byrne For The Wall Street Journal

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Rose Byrne is in a new movie…Juliet, Naked…that’s coming out August 17th and Alexandra Wolfe just profiled her for the ‘Weekend Confidential’ feature in the Wall Street Journal. Coincidentally, we shot Ethan Hawke…her co-star in the film…a few weeks back. Here’s a look at our day with Rose…

Rose and the Glam Squad took over the back end of the studio…

After going over the wardrobe, we really liked a beautiful beaded dress for our first shot…very soft and feminine…and since the studio had a nice wall of windows, we thought of using the natural light…

…but the natural light wasn’t quite enough to rely on, so we had to improvise a bit. I added a 5′ umbrella outside the door for our main light…

…and a second five-footer clamped to the fire escape for the other window…

Those two big umbrellas gave us the consistent soft daylight look we needed…

But a third five-footer was added above the camera for some soft fill and we tweaked the color & contrast corrections in Capture One…it looked a lot better with Rose in place…

For our second shot, we dragged the umbrellas off of the fire escape and quickly positioned them into a ten foot high wall of softness against some whitewashed wood planks…

Let’s go with the white motorcycle jacket and black jeans…

For the final series, I wanted to get a bit darker & moodier, so we set up a boomed 7′ parabolic umbrella against a rough concrete wall…

As much as I like the previous shot with the white MC, the black-on-black version was really the way to go…

And for one final variation, we simply dialed in the shadows a bit…

The Rose Byrne interview is in The Wall Street Journal right now…

Thanks for the great day, Rose…

Mary Higgins Clark For The Wall Street Journal

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I recently got to spend an afternoon overlooking Central Park in the pied-à-terre of iconic author Mary Higgins Clark. She had just published her 37th novel…which, as usual, entered at the Bestsellers List at #1…and Alexandra Wolfe was featuring her for the ‘Weekend Confidential’ column. Here’s how it went…

When I described the apartment as a pied-à-terre, I wasn’t kidding. Her main residence is an estate in New Jersey, but the Central Park apartment is just a small one-bedroom she uses in the city, but it was impeccably designed and offered us a few options. We started with a simple setup in front of a painting her children commissioned of their mother 30 years earlier. And for the lighting, it was equally simple…just a 7′ umbrella with a black Gobo to cut the light on the upper corner…

For a second portrait, we just turned the camera towards the windows facing the park and swung the light…

As nice as Kaz looked, Mary’s ensemble worked a little better…

And that proved to be what the Journal was looking for…

Going Downtown With Petula Clark

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Petula Clark…an 85 year-old, still touring, Honest-to-God, 100% Legend…and Kat Malott at the Wall Street Journal asked me to shoot her! As a kid, I remember my Mom playing Pet Clark records until they were almost worn out. When she was on Ed Sullivan or the Dean Martin show, the whole family would be locked in front of the TV. This shoot brought back so many memories from when I was young. It was just great…

Kaz an I walked into the studio and were met with a wall of windows throwing all kinds of cool shadows…

Sure…why not?!!

Next, I pulled out a dark blue canvas drop…

…which let me get a little more dramatic and played off nicely with the blue top she wore to the studio…

And finally, I kinda wanted to do an homage to a very famous portrait of Christine Keeler shot by David Bailey Lewis Morely from the 60’s…

…only brighter…

Maybe not that bright…

When Petula saw what we had set up, she remarked, “This is just like that famous photo of Christine Keeler by David Bailey!”

Here’s how it looked in the Wall Street Journal

Thanks for the memories, Pet…

Steve Madden Don’t Take Shit From Nobody

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Most people might think they know who Steve Madden is. After spending an afternoon with him for the Wall Street Journal, I can guarantee you have no idea who Steve Madden is! The Journal was doing a profile on him in conjunction with the release of ‘Maddman’…a documentary that tells his rags to riches story, from selling shoes out of the trunk of his car to becoming the mogul of a billion-dollar designer footwear empire to being sentenced to prison because of his entanglement with Jordan Belfort (the Wolf of Wall Street guy) and how he’s rebuilding his empire and his life following his release. He is a nonstop bundle of crazy, manic energy and I had to corral that energy into a few portraits for the story.

When we showed up at his showroom, we immediately were presented with a Warholian wall of ‘Maddman’ movie posters…

I know right off that would make for a fun portrait. I wanted it to be punchy and for the colors to really pop, so we went with a Profoto 3′ RFI main light with a ring light fill…

…and when Steve showed up, it almost looked like he walked right outta the posters…

As we were setting up the first shot, it occurred to me that the B&W graphic wall next to us had some potential as well…

We set up a similar lighting as the first shot, but with a gridded Beauty Dish in place of the RFI for the main light…

(Robert asking Steve to remove the giant wad of cash from his pocket before we begin)

Yeah…this works, too…

Now we already had two pretty strong portraits, but I wanted to get Steve as just Steve…alone on a seamless…so we dropped a roll of white in front of the shoe racks and went to work…

it looked good…

…but something told me shooting it B&W was the way to go…

Steve told me he never let anyone shoot him without his baseball cap…

…but I put him in a good mood…

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

Tony Bennett

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Three years ago I got to hang out with Tony Bennett for an afternoon. Then a few weeks ago, lightening struck twice when Ronnie Weil asked me to shoot him again for Alexandra Wolfe’s Weekend Confidential column in the Wall Street Journal. Just as the first time, we would be meeting Tony at his art studio on Central Park South…

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…but Ronnie had asked men to not concentrate on the studio this time, but instead to go for a classic portrait. Keep it simple. Focus on his personality. So with that as my brief, off we went.

As you can see in the above photo of his studio, there is a lot of natural light to work with. The entire north side of the room is a wall of windows facing the Park, so I decided to use my brand new Canon 5Ds with my equally new Sigma Art lenses with all that light against a black pop-up backdrop. Here is my first test with Kaz…

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But when Tony sat in place, the entire mood changed…

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And as much as we liked the color, I also processed the entire series in black and white as well…and it was kinda awesome…

Tony Bennett

And the Journal agreed. Here’s the final page…

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But I wasn’t done yet. I had set up a couple of lights against a wall for a second portrait…

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Tony Bennett

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Thanks to Ronnie for the opportunity…and thanks to Tony for allowing me to hang out with him one more time!

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Say My Name

Bryan Cranston

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I’m gonna keep this behind-the-scenes look fairly short and sweet…kinda like my time with Bryan Cranston…because I think the portraits will sort of do all the heavy lifting. Ronnie Weil needed Mr. Cranston shot for Alexandra Wolfe’s ‘Weekend Confidential” feature in the Review section of the Wall Street Journal and I was happy enough to oblige. Here’s how we set up our pop-up studio at the London Hotel for what turned out to be a pretty great morning…

Unlike a lot of the hotel shoots I find myself in, the London gave us a pretty nice (and large) space to work with…nice enough that I was able to break out some of my really BIG guns…the 79″ Rime Lites…

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Here’s how things looked with Robert standing in…

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That set would allow me to do everything from full length to tight portraits, but I wanted to also have a more controlled lighting setup for another portrait, so we pulled out the beauty dish…

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Here’s Kaz posing as fast as he can…

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Alright…we’re ready to go. Mr. Cranston, you’re on!

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Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston

Next, I broke out my favorite antique posing stool…

Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston

After a very quick 5 minutes…with his publicist doing the countdown mambo behind me…we moved over to the second set…

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…and played around with the shadow and light on his face, getting progressively darker and moodier as we went along…

Bryan Cranston

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Bryan Cranston

And here is the final story as it appeared in the Wall Street Journal…

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And for you Breaking Bad fans, here’s a little Badfinger to play us out…

BADFINGER: BABY BLUE

Life is good when you love what you do…..

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Enya

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One of the best things about doing what I do is not knowing where I’m gonna be tomorrow, so when Dana Kien at the Wall Street Journal asked if I wanted to shoot Irish singer Enya, there was no hesitation when I said ‘Yes!”. She was going to be in New York to promote her new album and I could get an hour with her at her hotel between interviews and TV gigs. So Robert and I loaded up the van and drove downtown to the St. Regis Hotel…

I didn’t know what kind of suite we would have to work with, but I did know all of the rooms at the St. Regis face North, so we would probably have lots of soft window light to play with. And when we got there, the first thing I did was see how Robert looked with nothing but that available light…

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Well…that was easy…now what else can we do?!! The bedroom was pretty opulent complete with a nice, velvet wallpaper…

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…and I also brought a lavender seamless that I could drop for a variation…

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…that looked like this…

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I think we’re ready to go! And as cute as Robert was, I knew Enya would bring a bit more to the table…

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Enya

Next we pulled the seamless outta the way, added a pillow from the bed for her to lean on and pulled back a lot on the clarity to soften things up…this is how it looked…

Now let’s move onto the windows…

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Enya

You’ll notice that I got rid of those windows across the street…it just makes everything look a lot cleaner and more elegant.

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Enya

And here’s the page from today’s Wall Street Journal

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Thanks to Dana for the great shoot…and thanks to Enya for letting me turn her suite into a studio for an hour!

Enya

Lord Julian Fellowes, Rock Star

Julian Fellowes

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Ronnie Weil from the Wall Street Journal recently called me up and asked if I wanted to add Julian Fellowes to my Rogues Gallery. The English actor, novelist, film director, screenwriter and member of the House of Lords…so that actually makes him Lord Julian Fellowes…was in town for the Broadway opening of the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, ‘School Of Rock”. Lord Fellowes wrote the book for the musical. That’s right…the same guy who won an Oscar for ‘Gosford Park’ and got crazy famous for coming up with ‘Downton Abbey’ was now gonna turn the Jack Black goofball comedy into a Larger than Life Andrew Lloyd Webber musical!

So what was I gonna do?!!

He’s English…offer him some Tea!!!

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And it’s a Rock & Roll musical, so I gotta get a guitar. I shot Gabrielle Sterbenz right after she picked up her shiny, white Stratocaster and I knew it would be the perfect prop for a fine English gentleman in a bespoke suit…

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Now I just had to get prepared. Lord Fellowes would have very little time once he got to the studio. He was coming from a morning TV appearance and had an interview immediately afterwards. So Matt and I set up a couple of tastily lit portrait situations…

Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes

As good as Matt looked, Julian just added a bit more panache…

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And to my surprise, he took to the guitar idea immediately…

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Next we moved over to the full-length seamless…

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…but now we added the Tea Cup with Gabby’s Strat…

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And our job was complete!

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Thank you, Lord Fellowes…I can hardly wait to see ‘School Of Rock’…and for the final season of Downton!

Julian Fellowes

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem

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Over the years, my association with the Wall Street Journal has allowed me to photograph quite a few truly amazing personalities…Tony Bennett, Judy Collins, Penn Jillette and Willem Dafoe…just to name a few, and the string continues with my recent shoot with writer, journalist, activist and all-round cool lady, Gloria Steinem. The Journal’s ‘Mansion’ section was profiling her about the release of her book…‘My Life On The Road’…where among other things, she recalls her early life crisscrossing the country in her family’s Airstream. When I arrived, I found a pre-release copy next to her bed…complete with an editing pen…

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This was my second time photographing Gloria…the first being for BusinessWeek back in 2001…

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…and just as back then, my assigning Photo Editor was Ronnie Weil, who came along on the shoot and got to act as Gloria’s stand in…

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Where else to start but in Gloria’s bedroom?!!

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…which gave us the photo that opened the story…

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For our second portrait, we turned to her living room, where the years she spent in India shows through in her decorating style…

Gloria Steinem

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Another iconic day…thanks to Ronnie…

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…and of course, thanks to Ms. Steinem…

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Bill Nighy Is Way Cooler Than You

Bill Nighy

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Bill Nighy is cool. Throughout the meandering flow of his career he’s played a vampire, a wizard, an aging, sleazy burnout rock star, a nazi, a time traveler and even Davy Jones with an Octopus face! Whatever he’s in, he’s the coolest guy on the screen. And he wears a suit really well, too. When he arrived at the Golden Theater…where he was starring in Skylight with Cary Mulligan…for our Wall Street Journal shoot, he just oozed cool…that bespoke suit, his perfect diction, his silky smooth attitude…I thought to myself…he’s the King of Cool.

And…off we go…

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The mezzanine of the Golden had lotsa space for Julien and Kaz to assemble our pop-up studio…

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And a quick 45 degree turn to the left offered up a wonderful second shot…

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Here’s how everything turned out…

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Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy

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I wanna be cool like Bill…

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Communication Arts Award Of Excellence

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I am quite honored and humbled to announce that my portrait of Willem Dafoe for the Wall Street Journal was included in this years Communication Arts Photo Annual

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Thanks to photo editor Ronnie Weil for thinking of me such a plum assignment, art director Keith Webb for his elegant layout and writer Alexandra Wolfe for her always eloquent words.

Mr. & Mrs. Hawkeye Pierce In The Bronx

Alan & Arlene Alda photographed at the New York Botanical Garden

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Alan Alda. Academy Award-nominated actor, director, screenwriter, author, board member of the World Science Festival and a visiting Professor at SUNY Stony Brook School of Journalism. Arlene Alda. Photographer, writer, Fulbright Scholar…and just a Kid from the Bronx. Which is how we ended up at the Bronx Botanical Garden on a 20 degree day in February. Arlene has just written Just Kids From The Bronx, an oral history on what it was like to grow up in the place that bred influencers in just about every field of endeavor today, with thoughts from Bronxites as varied as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Al Pacino, Carl Reiner, Mary Higgins Clark, Colin Powell, and on and on and on. When Arlene and Alan began seeing each other, a lot of those dates took place in the Bronx, including taking long walks through the Botanical Gardens. And while it would have been great to shoot them walking the paths of the Gardens on a sunny day in May, her book was coming out now, so inside we went…here’s what we found…

While it was nice to walk among the greenery inside the Enid Haupt conservatory, it was still too early for the Orchid show and too soon for the Spring blooms…

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…but this indoor fountain area showed some promise…

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But I had also learned that the Alda’s had donated a bench on the grounds…and despite the freezing temperatures and the fact that it was buried in snow, I had to check it out…

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On the day of the shoot it was a brisk 22 degrees outside…but about 85 inside with Lousianna-like humidity. When Alan and Arlene arrived, while I waited for the sun to come out of the clouds, we did a few shots of them just walking through the galleries…

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And then Kaz and I set up our main shot at the fountain…

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…which seemed to please Alan and Arlene immensely…

Alan & Arlene Alda photographed at the New York Botanical Garden

Alan & Arlene Alda photographed at the New York Botanical Garden

Half-way through our shoot, Gregory Long…the President of the New York Botanical Garden…dropped in to get his copy of Arlene’s book autographed…

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Here’s how things look in The Journal..

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And then…because we were just getting too warm in there…Kaz and I decide that we just had to shoot that bench!

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Thanks Alan…thanks Arlene…and special thanks to the Botanical Gardens for warming us up on one very cold day!

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Suite Judy Blue Eyes

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Judy Collins…!!!

When Ronnie Weil called and offered me this one, all I could say was, “Wow!”. For five decades…my entire life…she’s been making music…beautiful music. Now Judy is recording a new CD that is tentatively titled “Duets with Guys”, an album that will feature her signing with Jeff Bridges, Jimmy Buffett, Don McLean and Kris Kristofferson, and Alexandra Wolfe was writing a profile on her for the Wall Street Journal. Here is how our day went…

Kaz sitting in for our first shot…

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Ms. Collins in the makeup chair…

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And our shooting day begins…

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We also had a Journal video crew following us around…

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Here are a couple of final images…

Judy Collins

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For the next setup, I wanted to do something dark & dramatic, and more etherial. And while it doesn’t look like much with Kaz in place…

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…once Judy stepped on set, things got dialed in pretty fast…

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Judy Collins

…and our final image…

Judy Collins

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As a little bonus, follow the link below for Ali Wolfe’s interview with Judy…

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…as well as some more behind-the-scenes from our shoot:

Judy Collins Interview & Behind-the-Scenes footage

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And Now For Something Completely Different: John Cleese

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Click on any image for Full-Size

Even considering that I’ve had the good fortune to photograph some pretty impressive people over the years, when Ronnie Weil called from the Wall Street Journal and offered up John Cleese, it really knocked the wind outta me. People toss around the word ‘iconic’ a lot, but John Cleese is a true ICON. What he and the rest of the Pythons did to comedy in the early 70’s forever changed how people laughed. He is a manic genius who…to quote a famous Monty Python sketch…is a true master of sarcasm…dramatic irony, metaphor, pathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire!

And I was getting 15 minutes with him…

Mr. Fawlty was in New York as part of a tour to promote his new book, “So Anyway”, and we met him in a midtown hotel where we set up two situations in a room slightly smaller than an average walk-in closet…

For our first shot, I wanted to do a tight portrait…just his face…to capture a range of expressions…

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We started with just a gridded Profoto beauty dish on the grey seamless…

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…then added a 4′ x 6′ Chimera over my shoulder for fill and a small strip light on the background for separation…

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But something didn’t look right…the 80mm lens perspective was a bit uninteresting…so we swapped it for the 150mm…

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Much better…now just add one Python…

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…and let the rat-faced fun begin!

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

I began calling out various characters of his and sketches he was known for and he immediately knew where to take it…

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

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And because we had a wealth of great expressions, I made the suggestion that we do a montage of them. Here is how it ran in the Journal…

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Then we turned 45 degrees to the left and played around with some 3/4 shots…

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It was like shooting fish in a barrel…

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

Then he started doin’ this…

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John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

…and like that, our 15 minutes were up. But I had a fantastic time with an honest-to-God ICONand checked off one more Bucket List item!

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

Rick Masters + Jesus + Sgt. Elias = Willem Dafoe

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Click on any image for Full-Size

As a young photographer, I had this very dreamy, romanticized idea of what it must be like to shoot celebrities. One of my early photography idols was Bert Stern, and I just figured every shoot with a celebrity might end up like his famous session with Marilyn Monroe where they locked themselves in a suite at the Bel-Air Hotel for three days with a case of ’53 Dom Perignon, a couple of cameras and a few props, and emerged totally spent but with a collection of amazing photographs. But I moved to New York a couple of decades later…just about the time when shoots like that were becoming increasingly controlled by managers, publicists, agents and the studio P/R machine. Ideas had to be pre-approved and even then it didn’t mean you would get to do them. And three days? More like five minutes after your writer got to ask his five questions, thank you very much! But if you’re smart you learn how to work the angles, you keep a few tricks up your sleeve when you don’t have the cooperation you had hoped for, and occasionally, you get lucky…

Ronnie Weil called me at 5:00PM on a Thursday and asked if I would be available the next morning to shoot Willem Dafoe for the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Weekend Confidential’ section. His new film, “A Most Wanted Man”, was coming out in a week and they were given a last-minute opportunity interview him. Now I don’t know about you, but there are very few actors that I can remember from the first moment I saw them on screen, and Willem Dafoe is one of them. His performance as the slick criminal Rick Masters in “To Live and Die in L.A.” burned into my brain. I immediately knew this was a seriously great actor. So yes…of course…just tell me where and when and I’ll be there with a big grin on my face…

The Journal likes the portraits for the ‘Weekend Confidential’ section to be all about the personality, and not prop or location-driven, and so we typically keep things very simple…seamless backdrops or locations that don’t distract from the subject. And it’s not a fashion show, either. What you bring with you is what we shoot. Willem arrived…early, I might add…alone and ready to go. He was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt and a wonderfully disarming smile. After a few minutes of me heaping gobs of fanboy praise on him and a little light grooming, we were ready to go…

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(Groomer Amy Komorowski)

Willem Dafoe was made to be photographed. He has one of the most expressive faces in the business…whether he’s playing a silent film Vampire (Max Schreck in “Shadow of the Vampire”), a Viet Nam-era Marine (Sergeant Elias in “Platoon”), a cartoon character arch-villain (the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man”) or Jesus Christ himself (“The Last Temptation of Christ”)…and I wanted my portraits of him had to capture the depth he conveys through the characters he portrays. I had a few ideas I wanted to try…and we were told Willem would give us about an hour…so here is how it went…

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I started this first setup as a 3/4 body shot, but allowed myself to move in and out as his poses and mood changed…

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William Dafoe

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Then we sat down and came in for a tight series of darker, more intimate portraits…

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William Dafoe

Now, I was already thrilled with what we had done and that Willem had given us so much time, but I kind of liked the white brick wall in the studio, so I asked him for a few more minutes to put up a fresnel spotlight and play around with the shadows…

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William Dafoe

William Dafoe

In the end, the Journal chose one of my favorites for the article…

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…and once again, I find myself surprised at how lucky I am to be able to do what I do…

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