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

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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