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

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…

Enya

Enya

And by just pulling the seamless outta the way…and adding a pillow from the bed for her to lean on…this is how things looked…

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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…

Gabrielle Sterbenz

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…

Gloria Steinem Gloria Steinem

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…

Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy

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I wanna be cool like Bill…

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