There is no object so foul that intense light will not make it beautiful.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I went a little crazy this week and went on a personal mission to research the lighting setups and creation of popular images of today. It is something I love to do in general, so I completely lost myself in the project. Not only did I unearth some of the most breathtaking lighting setups of undeniably amazing photographs, but I was also pleased to find that some of my favorite images were very simply shot. Since this blog has been born, I couldn’t wait to share some of the results. In this blog entry I’ll take you through and compare various lighting techniques of Annie Leibovitz, Patrick Ecclesine, Jill Greenberg, Dave Hill and Martin Schoeller. Strap on your seatbelts boys and girls, it’s gonna be a long but thrilling ride. So without further ado, let’s dive right in shall we?

And who better to kick off our journey than the legendary Annie Leibovitz…


Anyone who has known me for more than a minute knows that I love Disney. So when I saw that Annie Leibovitz had teamed with Disney to create their Year of a Million Dreams campaign where celebrities posed as classic Disney characters…well it brought tears to my eyes. Okay, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but have a look at the images yourself and tell me if it doesn’t bring back childhood memories and rekindle your love for magic and fairy tales.

courtesy of Million Dream Photos Blog

Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella “Where every Cinderella story comes true”

David Beckham as Prince Charming “Where imagination saves the day”

Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gisele Bundchen, and Tina Fey as Peter Pan, Wendy, and Tinker Bell

Rachel Weisz as Snow White “Where you’re the fairest of them all.”

Tell me these aren’t the most stunning rendition of Disney art to date! LOVE! Alright before I start getting carried away and prattle on about how epic I feel these images are, let’s examine one…

Here is Queen Latifah portrayed as Ursula from the Little Mermaid. Amazingly I stumbled upon some behind the scenes photos of the set from different angles, so I think this diagram is a pretty good representation of the set up.

The Breakdown:
To camera right, a large octobank shooting through a large diffusion panel toward the Queen. Two large strip banks on either side of the camera, low, illuminating the underside of the tentacles. Two large octobanks, one above and slightly behind the Queen camera left, and the other handheld by an assistant at 45 degree angle to Queen also camera left. Another large octobank is boomed overhead, an umbrella illuminates the background, and a reflector held by an assistant camera right. Quite an impressive set up! Understandably as there are several moving parts and awkwardly twisting tentacles. Overall beautifully soft soft illumination.

Here’s a behind the scenes video you can see the whole thing in action:

How fun would it be to climb into that get-up!! And Queen Latifah makes the perfect Ursula! Beautiful lighting, amazing final image.

Another amazing Disney Dream Portrait is the Evil Queen in Snow White portrayed by Olivia Wilde, and Alec Baldwin as the Spirit of the Magic Mirror. The tagline reads “Where magic speaks, even when you’re not the fairest of them all.” Gorgeous. Let’s take a look at the different parts to this image…

The Breakdown:
This portrait was created in stages, the flaming Magic Mirror shot alone, then Olivia Wilde, and Alec Baldwin separately. Olivia Wilde was shot with a single strobe though a brolly. She had a head on the ground illuminating the smoke at her feet. You can see the setup in the video below at 0:47 sec.

Olivia Wilde light setup

Alec Baldwin was the Spirit of the Magic Mirror. He was lit with a gridded beauty reflector on a ring flash on his left and a strobe reflector gave his hair beautiful rim light to his right.

Alec Baldwin light setup

What a gorgeous final composite! The lighting for the characters in this piece was perfect for the mood of the villainous lair. Flames, smoke, deep shadows, pockets of light, all add to the mystery, intrigue and drama. This is one of my personal favorites of this series and I can’t wait for more to come!

I’ll go ahead and put my heart on my sleeve and admit that these Disney Dream Portraits evoked such emotion and nostalgia it gave me goosebumps. They resurrect the romance, imagination, and childhood fantasies that we as adults constantly are suppressing, and through such powerful visions, AL has truly found her way into the hearts of all genres. From the gritty edgy pages of Rolling Stones, to the sophisticated grace and glamour of the covers of Vanity Fair, and now the whimsical innocence of the classic Disney characters — AL once again proves herself as one of the leading and most influential artists of our time.

While I’m baring my soul like this, let me now talk about another photographer whose work also means a great deal to me…Patrick Ecclesine.


Patrick Ecclesine is not a household name like Annie Leibovitz … well, not yet. But he will be. He’s amazing. I didn’t know who he was until recently, and now any chance I get I’ll pull a shameless plug to get his name out. Why? Because I’m in love with his work. If you aren’t familiar with him, take a minute to check out his site Like, right now. Trust me, it’ll knock your socks off!

copyright Patrick Ecclesine,

Patrick shoots ad campaigns for the Hollywood studios, and like Annie he shoots for major magazines like Vanity Fair. In particular, I have a personal fondness for his book Faces of Sunset Blvd: A Portrait of Los Angeles. Really, everyone should have a copy of it. It’s so compelling it actually tied for first place with Annie Leibovitz’s book “At Work” to win the 2009 SCIBA Art and Architecture Book Award. I can speak of this book with the same teary-eyed nose dripping nostalgia with which I speak of the Disney Portraits because its contents strike so close to home for me.

Like me, he’s an Angeleno, born and raised. And like me, he loves this city. Just browse through the pages of his photo-documentary book and you’ll see what it means to live, work, grow and be in Los Angeles. He’s reached into the heart and minds of the people you pass every day — people you may or may not notice from the crack addict on the streets to the governor himself — people brought together from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, and has documented the psychology and subcultures that make Sunset Blvd the “Boulevard of Dreams”…well some argue “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”Within its pages you come to see that all the fear, hopes, and wisdom of the world resides literally just down the street (or boulevard) and all one has to do to bring their dreams to fruition is find (or create) the path that will bring them there. Then follow it. Through stunning imagery and powerful dialogue, Faces of Sunset Blvd presents individual real life moments in an intimate exploration of the steps and paths we take as we sing, dance and exist together as one…and it is beautiful.

Take a look at this photo taken at the Paradise Hotel of Nay Nay Davis and her two sons.

“I just walk the streets asking for money every day. That’s all I do until I find a job, but most people don’t want to hire me because of these kids. It’s really hard on me right because I have two kids, and I’m taking care of them, you know. I’m a single parent.

I just barely moved out here, almost a month now. I was living in a hotel room and I had no more money, so my cousin allowed me to stay over here with her, but now she’s saying I got to go, so like I don’t have no where to go. I don’t know where to turn to. It’s really hard. It’s getting to that point where I’m about ready to do anything for these kids. Well, almost anything.”

copyright Patrick Ecclesine,
excerpt from Faces of Sunset Boulevard

How heart-breakingly beautiful is this image? In this one snapshot, one moment, you can feel their day to day struggles, the pain, the frustrations, as well as the extraordinary joy they share together. And that’s what a true artist does. That’s what Patrick does.

In an interview with Digital Photo Pro Patrick discusses the lighting he chose to do for this book:

This style of photography that I’m doing is cinematic. It tells a story. It’s a moment heightened by creative use of lighting. I’m emphasizing my subjects with light; I’m bringing them out of the background, dropping the background down and making my subject first and foremost.

I believe for this particular shot, it was a simple lighting setup of a Profoto head through a Photek Softlighter. Many other great photographers like to use this “less is more” approach like Michael Muller and Art Streiber…

In this interview with, Patrick goes into more depth about the specifics:

I shot strobes throughout. Motion picture lights are not practical on the street. They’re too hot, too heavy, and require too much electricity. I started with simple hot-shoe flashes; the Vivitar 285s came in pretty handy. I liked to use them in an extra small softbox with a Lumedyne battery to keep the battery cycle time down. But I found they had power limitations, so I graduated to Profoto Pro-7bs—1200 watt-seconds, completely reliable, nothing compares.” For the big productions, like the L.A. fire department photo, Patrick got a 750amp generator to feed the 31 Profoto 2400-watt-second packs it took to provide the power for the f/16 exposure that held everyone in focus. Throw into the lighting mix a collection of softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors, and pretty much whatever else he could get his hands on and you’re ready for street photography, Hollywood style.

William Bamattre, former chief, L.A.F.D
from Faces of Sunset Boulevard

Let’s now take a look at another one of my favorite photos from Faces of Sunset. This is a portrait of William Bratton, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, with a helicopter flying into the sunset with impossibly perfect timing just as the shot was taken.

Okay I have to give Patrick mad props for pulling this one off. That’s a real helicopter! Four months of negotiating and planning to get the 5 minutes it took to take this shot. I don’t know anyone who would go to all that trouble when it would have been so easy just to add that helicopter in later in post. The saying “there’s a fine line between crazy and genius” comes to mind…I say genius. That’s just his style. Fortunately Patrick did a behind-the-scenes video for this shot or no one would ever believe him! 🙂 And as an added bonus, we are able to take a peek at the lighting setup he used!

Here is the video of the making of the Chief William Bratton portrait:

The Breakdown:
From what I can see in the video and what I can extrapolate from highlights and shadows of the photo itself, there were 4 heads used with a diffused dish as they shot into the sun. One focused on the Chief a little camera left. Another higher and further camera left to illuminate the 3 other officers. Two other heads are used camera right providing rim light on the camera right side of the officers.

So what do you think? Pretty incredible stuff huh! I could go on and on, but we’d better keep moving or we’ll be here all day. Let me just finish by saying, watch out for this guy…you’ll be seeing a lot him for sure!

So while Annie Leibovitz and Patrick Ecclesine’s style are more about realism, others are, well, not so much. Photographers such as Jill Greenberg, David LaChapelle, and Dave Hill use the ring flash as an integral part of their somewhat harsher lighting techniques. Let’s start with the famous Jill Greenberg lighting…


We all know the Jill Greenberg look! Talk about branding! Her lighting is so very distinct resulting from her signature layered lighting style in which she completely bathes her subject with light using 6 or so strobes, combined with unique post-processing. When conversing with others about the JG style, I get mixed reactions. Some love it, some don’t…personally, I do like the lighting style though I can’t say all her work exactly blows my hair back. But to each their own, I say. I can definitely respect her as an artist, creating imagery as she sees fit regardless of what others think or social norm (like superimposing panther eyes into a bear as seen in the video “Cool Hunting” below).

She uses this layered lighting technique in her series of monkeys and bears, and in her controversial book “End Times”, which “presents a rare view of pure emotion—the unadulterated rage, fear, and sadness of young children who, not yet socialized, give themselves over totally to the emotional experience. ” ( Here’s a couple examples:

copyright, Jill Greenberg. From her “End Times” series.

copyright Jill Greenberg. From “Monkey Portraits.”

The Breakdown:
A ring flash is used either in front of and above the camera or used on the camera. Two umbrellas are to the left and right of camera. A boomed overhead beauty dish. Behind the subject, two heads on either side with grids or flagged off to create the hair and shoulder rimlight. If creating a background glow, an background light would be used. 

This is the lighting schematic for this type of shot…

Thank you weighter on

 You would probably also add a background light to this diagram for the babies. Simple as that!

You can see Jill Greenberg in action and the use of this lighting setup as she shoots a bear in this video “Cool Hunting”. She also shows examples from her monkey series rocking the same light layers. Way cooool hunting…


Gwen Stefani loved this look so much she asked JG to shoot her in this style for her Sweet Escape album. I think it’s probably next to impossible to take a bad picture of Gwen, but I especially love how edgy she looks in the JG style.

You can see the action happening in this video. Here JG uses the ring flash on the camera as opposed to above the camera when shooting the bear in “Cool Hunting”:


Now, I can appreciate and enjoy JG’s work, but wait til you see some pieces by Dave Hill! He almost always uses the ring light, utilizes some of the same principles as JG, but takes it to a whole new level!


Okay, I’m so excited to talk about some of the lighting for Dave Hill. His work really blows me away! If you aren’t familiar with his style of photography, here are some examples but I would take a few minutes to visit his site and really explore.

copyright Dave Hill,

Pretty sick. As I mentioned before, he takes advantage of the ring flash, usually on camera, and often lights his subject very similar to Jill Greenberg. However, Dave Hill creates stories in his images. His scenes are often extremely dynamic with several moving parts meant to capture a climactic moment. The different elements often need to be shot in separate stages and it’s this careful crafting of appropriate light for the individual parts in order to stitch together a convincing and powerful composite that really demonstrates his creative vision.

One of the alluring things about his images, at least for me, is how literally explosive they tend to be. Within the context of the story there is often some burst of light or equivalent force of light through stars or pinholes, etc. Let’s look at the cover art for Three 6 Mafia for example. Clearly in both of these images there is light “force” emanating from behind. Both are strongly backlit to create the burst of light.

The Breakdown:
Dave uses a ringlight on camera and bounces light back using a reflector underneath the ringflash. Camera right there’s a huge octobank illuminating the subject, a strip bank camera left and behind the subject casting a well-defined rimlight on the subject’s right. A medium softbox is placed behind the subject and tilted down overhead, and one strobe plus reflector is placed in back of subject camera right. A huge scrim is placed over the entire set.
The band members are shot individually for this image and for the one to go second, the strip bank, the octobank and flash head are all simply reversed.

Here, the two musicians were shot together, again with ring flash on camera shot low. A reflector bounces light back up from underneath the ring light. Two strobes on either side in back of the boys. Softbox boomed overhead, and a huge octobank directly behind the bench they’re sitting on, pushing light through the holes.

Pretty damn sweet! Here’s the BTS:

He also did this awesome series called “Girl on an Adventure”. And as I was examining the lighting he used for the different photos, I thought I’d include three of them as an exercise in showing the subtle differences that occur in building light layers. This first image is the girl climbing a mountain lit only by a hand held octobox and an on-camera ring flash. There was also a diffuser held above them by an assistant. As you can see the light quality is pretty soft. Not the usual Dave Hill style we usually see, actually, but that may be due to the limited space and difficult terrain…who knows…it still rocks!

This next one is basically the same lighting setup as the previous, except here there is no diffusion panel and an octobox, hand held by an assistant, is boomed overhead. As you can see, the lighting is less diffuse and there is now a subtle rim light on her arms, causing a little more drama.

Finally, in this third one, there is a strobe with a reflector added, causing a strong rim light and intensifying the drama even more.

And I just thought this picture was so bad ass I had to include it! It was of course pieced together — the individual swimmers shot at different times in a pool, the ocean floor and tropical fish captured on a separate day at the keys, and even the bubbles were shot in a fish tank! Below is diagram for the lighting as the swimmers were being shot…

Are you as excited about the final image as I am?! I love love LOVE it!!! Figuring out these lighting techniques is so cool! 🙂 I feel like a kid in a candy store…it’s like Christmas! haha! Wow I am the world’s biggest nerd…but I could draw up these freakin diagrams all day long!

And just for comparison’s sake, I should mention another artist whose work is very similar to Dave Hill’s but his lighting is slightly different.

Joel Grimes is another photographer who often uses composites to generate a dramatic portrait. His lighting is usually pretty simple however, and he doesn’t use the ring light as much as his compositing photographer counterparts. A 3-light setup serves his purpose with a softbox or beauty dish in front of the subject and directly above camera, and two baffled or flagged off softboxes on either side and behind the subject for strong rim light. Check out his work at

I think it’s pretty obvious that, besides their specific lighting styles, much of that edgy super gritty look achieved by Dave Hill and Joel Grimes imagery results from the unique technique they use to process their photos in post production. Their subjects are often captured lit in their style, and then superimposed onto some dynamic background they’ve usually shot separately. Both Dave and Joel typically create their vibrant backgrounds using HDR. It is extremely effective in creating that intense dramatic mood that is part of their signature look…but we’ll save HDR for another blog topic…

I absolutely love the work of Dave Hill and I love the Dave Hill look! I know I’ll be revisiting his photography as a topic of discussion in many more blogs to come…

Now I’ve been discussing these very talented artists who tell amazing stories through their skill in extreme lighting, compositing, and post-processing. However, I’d like to end with an artist who is very much a realist and shoots with the purpose of creating “honest” portraiture…Martin Schoeller.


Martin Schoeller created a book “Close Up” where his subjects are photographed, well, close up. Taking inspiration from Richard Avedon who “has taken many very harsh portraits in his life where his subjects don’t come off necessarily very flattering”, he strives to create portraits “showing a person for who they are and what they look like without retouching, without tricky lighting, without distortion, without crazy wide angle lenses, without any cheap tricks, just straight up honest portraits.” (, 2009) Most are celebrities and politicians, and I think we can come to agreement that these images certainly don’t come off necessarily very flattering…let’s see some examples…

copyright Martin Schoeller from “Close Up”

So what do you think? Definitely seeing them in a different light eh? (no pun intended) So just how were these shots created?

Whereas Jill Greenberg and Dave Hill use the ring flash incorporated into a layered stobe lighting setup, Martin Schoeller takes advantage of continuous lighting to create his signature look.
In this interview in, Martin Schoeller breaks down his lighting technique:

I use a medium format camera that takes roll film. I light them with these light banks. Fluorescent light. Basically they look like fluorescent light bulbs but their color temperature is daylight color temperature. They’re called Kino Flos. They’re mainly used in the film industry, because it’s not a strobe light, so it’s not actually that bright. I mean they’re bright to look at because they’re much brighter than the flashing strobe obviously. But they’re for a very shallow depth of field and a very narrow depth of field which kind of also emphasizes what I’m trying to do with bringing out the eyes and the lips, where most of the expression in a person’s face is all about the eyes and the lips. I try to get my focus right so the eyes and the lips are the focus. Everything falls away so quickly because of the shallow depth of field. Everything else becomes secondary. So not only am I focusing on just the face, I’m even concentrating it more by having everything else look like it’s out of focus.

(trivia: was Annie Leibovitz’s assistant for several years)

Here’s a rough schematic from . I know, I know. isn’t exactly accurate, but I’m sure this diagram is a pretty good representation. I mean, you can see the kino flo catchlights in the subjects’ eyes and MS described it above anyway…it’s fine.

You can see Martin in this behind the scenes video from He’s shooting a woman bodybuilder here, but except for the head between the two kino flos, the setup is basically the same.

Interestingly enough, in almost the exact same lighting setup, famed LA and NY headshot photographer Peter Hurley uses kinoflos to create headshots that are very flattering to his subjects. However he uses 4 Kinoflos in a square formation, producing even shadowless lighting and generating his signature large catchlight.

I just have to throw this little tidbit in. I’ve always loved the work of Peter Hurley. He’s one of my favorite headshot photographers even if he uses the same lighting set up for almost all his subjects. Who cares. If you got a good thing, rock it. And the stark difference between the work of Martin Schoeller and Peter Hurley, despite the similar lighting I think is a testament to the person and unique creativity behind the camera. You can see some of his work at Rock on Pete! 🙂

Alright guys, I’m having so much fun I don’t want to stop but this blog has gotten to be a little long! I have like 5 other photographers whose lighting I want to dissect but I think I’ll continue on another blog…I hope you’ve found learning these lighting styles to be as exciting and fascinating as I have and not just a big snore! 🙂 haha! Until next time guys…


It’s official. I will never work for Jake again. I just finished the last assignment I’ll ever do for Jake and submitted it. It was a set to retouch that I had agreed to do before the debacle last week, and out of pure obligation, I completed it. But it wasn’t until he said that my retouching “made the model look like a drag queen” that I really decided that he’s welcome to fuck himself. Nevermind that the model had on a fishnet top over gold panties, black eyeshadow on ivory skin, and her blonde hair teased to look like David Lee Roth struck by lighting. It was my retouching.

I immediately told him to suck my toe. Well, not in those exact words. I said that I was actually getting really busy with other projects and “I wouldn’t be able to give his projects the attention they deserve…” blah blah blah. I think I’ve got the art of political bullshitting down pat. What’s so funny is he’s been nicer to me now than he’s ever been, showering me with compliments of how hard-working I am, how much help I’ve been to him, what a great job I do…gee, could have fooled me. Typical. It was so cliche, like a bad break up. I almost felt bad for him. Almost. He even said how much he’d miss me and we should get that drink we’d always talked about getting. Huh? Had anything even remotely close to that crossed my mind, let alone cross my lips? I know I’m worth more than that, and I’d rather not sell myself short, thanks. Well it’s over now and for the rest of the day I’m just gonna bask in the fact that now I’ll have more time to concentrate on myself and more important things…like blogging! 🙂 ha!

Bathroom Break!

Posted: May 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

Okay this has nothing to do with photography or being an assistant…but I came across this rad video the other day and wanted to share! Enjoy!

Bouncing back after that ridiculous episode with Jake, I need a more pleasant subject to occupy my thoughts, more familiar ground…

Here’s a subject i’m always happy to revisit: Best portrait photographers. We’ll keep this list non-celebrity and save celebrity portraiture for another blog.

1. Bambi Cantrell
2. Wes Kroninger
3. Scott Kelby
4. George Deloache
5. Jeff Smith
6. Bobbi Lane
7. Fuzzy Duenkel
8. Frances Litman
9. Fran Reisner
10. Marc Weisberg

This list will be changing I’m sure depending on what I’m feeling, but right now, I’m diggin these guys…

hmm, and to be completely honest, more specifically I actually love headshot photography. I’ll throw in some of my fav headshot photographers because really…they would be at the top of my list!

1. Natalie Young Headshots, Natalie Young Studio
2. David Muller
3. Peter Hurley
4. Kenneth Dolin
5. Michael Roud
6. Paul Gregory
7. Anthony Mongiello
8. Vaney Poyey
9. Alan Weissman
10. Vandiveer Photography

Ugh, why do I put up with this BULLSHIT!? Sitting here, outside of Costco, I’m wishing murder weren’t illegal in this country…

I didn’t take the gig from yesterday, but did accept a retouching job from Jake since it seemed harmless enough. Stayed up most of the night finishing the set, around 8 images, and was excited (though exhausted) delivering them, as I always am when I feel I’ve done a good job. Last night he’d also said he’d wanted me to come in early so that I could help with shooting a model’s portfolio. I could shoot half and he could shoot half. Sure, I thought, why not…after all he said she had some experience. 

Trudged in this morning, eager for a productive happy shooting day. Saw the model Jenna getting her makeup done–a very pretty girl. This was gonna be a cake walk. I delivered the retouched images and got to work setting up for the shoot, a location just around the building with pretty leaves and shrubbery. A location we’ve used often. After the first 5 minutes it became evident this was going to be more difficult than I’d anticipated. This girl had zero experience! Not only was she Miss Diva 2011, dissatisfied with everything from her hair, to her wardrobe, to the location, she didn’t know any poses, her expressions were lack luster…what the hell WAS this? Must be a beginning model who’s daddy had deep pockets. Of course, Jake, pawn the newbies on me. Thanks a heap.

It took about an hour of shooting to get anything worthwhile from this girl…3/4 of the time spent reapplying makeup, her hair reprimped, getting through complaints of the her getting a rash from the undergrowth…of course I didn’t mention I’d rather have that undergrowth rash than the overgrowth peeking out of her swimsuit I’d have to retouch out later. But I digress…the real horror happened when we got back to Jake’s studio and he looked over the footage.

“Melanie can you come in here.” His voice was booming, dripping with irritation. It was a command, not a request. Puzzled, I ventured into his office. He closed the door. “Melanie what the HELL  happened out there?! I can’t use ANY of this shit? Look at it! It’s underexposed, the poses are terrible, it’s so…AMATEUR! How could you guys be out there so long and you come back to me with this CRAP?! Melanie I’m so disappointed in you…!” On and on he went about how he thought he could depend on me, how they’ve paid money to make them look good, how in the end it was HIS name on the line. Yeah, no shit, next time why don’t you supervise what the hell I’m doing if you’re so worried about it! Why don’t you try directing Miss Spoiled Trustfundbaby. I was nearing the breaking point, and then he really hit below the belt…

“I can’t believe this. You’re a UCLA college graduate and you can’t even take a simple picture right…what were you messing with Sam all night that you couldn’t think straight?…” I couldn’t look at him. I was fuming! Sam, my incredibly understanding boyfriend who would never in a million years speak to me like I was stupid. Yes, I’m a college graduate from a prestigious university, yes I’m smart…and I’m putting up with this asshole.

“Melanie, you’re fired from this shoot. I’m taking over. Here, I ordered some pizza from the Costco on Olive. Do you think you can handle that?” Fuck you! Can I handle picking up a fucking pizza?! I grabbed the money and ran out, tears threatening to spill.

So here I sit, outside of Costco, letting Jake’s pizza get cold. It’s the least I could do to let him wait. He’s just spoon fed me my own insecurities and torn my self-esteem to shreds. I’ll just say there was a long line…

Choose your battles

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

Got a phone call close to midnight last night from a glamour photographer I work with quite often, asking if I was able to assist on a shoot today. It was for a French magazine with the possibility of landing the cover. Normally I wouldn’t mind these last minute phone calls and would be totally cool to come help. But I think I’m gonna pass on this one. I’ve worked with Jake several times and I’ve come to see that, perhaps in his enormous success, he’s forgotten how to treat people like people.

He’ll find things to be argumentative and hostile about, leaving the whole set feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Even if the shoot is going fine, he’ll twist a situation into something you’re doing wrong. Terrible for the morale. And he’s developed a reputation for making models cry. 

He loves working with me, though, and is constantly calling to assist him on projects. This works in my favor in that he is in great demand and has a constant flow of clientele. However, it has come to the point where it bears weight on my conscience working with him. The last time we worked together, we were working on the new Pitbull and Neyo music video and I had to help organize the featured models. They weren’t getting paid very much and one of the models came up to him and wanted to talk about pay. Maybe the number she quoted was higher than was originally discussed, maybe she was being a diva, who knows. But he suddenly exploded in furious outbursts of cursing and swearing, followed by her prompt escort out of the building by security. It was a little extreme, and short of calling his wife a cunt, I’m sure whatever she had said to piss him off probably could have been handled more gracefully. There was another model, who was very pretty but soft spoken and clearly not used to the LA hustle. She got shorted half of the amount he verbally agreed to pay her because he thought she didn’t sound like she was clear on the exact number and figured she wouldn’t notice either way. She didn’t want an outburst like the other model, so just took half the amount and left it as there must have been some misunderstanding. Not cool…

So I’m kinda torn about working with this guy much longer. It’s been a great experience in some ways, but in others, not so much. But as far as this gig for today goes…yeah, I’m cool.

Retouching woes

Posted: May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

Okay I know it’s a matter of taste, how much one chooses to Photoshop an image. And I’m not here to judge. But over the weekend one of the fashion photographers for which I assist gave me 20 swimsuit photos to retouch as realistically as possible, taking care to keep the skin textures and not to go overboard…due Monday morning.  

I spent literally at least 30 hours of my 48 hour weekend on the computer, taking painstaking care to preserve the integrity of the original capture but as swiftly as possible to complete everything by the due date. Come Monday, he takes my work and…well you can see for yourself whether my lost hours of sleep in my efforts to maintain realism were all that necessary.

Here’s an example: 


Realistic huh?  Hmph. Well as long as the client is happy I guess, and his final image does look pretty bad ass…I still like my version better though 🙂

I think the main reason I’m sorta irked about losing sleep over this is, though the final image looks amazing, it looks like it could have just been done on green screen or been a composite. If that’s the case, why bother? This shoot actually had a decently large budget so we had gone down to the beaches of Palos Verdes with trailers and crew and it was a great production. I love Photoshop, but in this case I felt like airbrushing and manipulating the images to the point that it looks fake diminishes the value of the production as a whole and the actual work put into it. But that’s just my two cents. To each his own.


The sage advice of a veteran photographer as posted on Good stuff. 


Old Geezer here. I’m the older brother of Old Yeller. Funny how a post that started about a bad tv show ended up with a bunch of college students asking advice about their future. Well, pull up a chair, boys and girls, and let Old Geezer share some of his hard earned wisdom. I envision a list, of about a hundred items, and we’d have to stop at a hundred, because we’d never remember more than that. Anyone else over the age of forty can chime in too; I’m sure I won’t think of everything.

1. In college, learn as much tech stuff as you can. This will make you more valuable as an assistant. Don’t just be a navel gazer with a 5D.

2. In college, take business classes too. You don’t want to be one of those stoner kids that just reads and ponders life. You want to APPLY what you learned.

3. In college, take as many philosophy classes as you can. Try to think BIG. Try to care about the world. Try to get a grip on the big picture.

4. In college, take a year off and drive across the country, and camp along the way. Do it with good friends that are smart; not dumbasses that just want to get high. Bring some books. Bring some audio books if you can’t read.

5. Make sure and take some acid somewhere along the way. Preferably in Monument Valley or Canyonlands. I know that sounds dumb, but everybody needs to do that once or twice.

6. When you start assisting, consider putting away your cameras entirely for a few years, and concentrate on being a servant. Get into a servant mindspace. Be in a supportive role. Trust me, it helps. This is your time to be a giant sponge and learn as much as you can. It’s not your time to shoot. (Ok, maybe with your iphone, but nothing more serious than that).

7. Think how you can be most useful to a photographer. That will get you hired, and keep you getting hired.

8. Eliminate excess Drama from your life.

9. Live beneath your means. Keep things simple.

10. Be a good conversationalist. Be well read. No one wants to drive five hours with an assistant that doesn’t have anything to add to the conversation. And it better be better than how to make web galleries from Bridge, or something geeky like that.

11. Keep your mouth shut around clients. Just be a good energy, but sure as hell, don’t offer ideas. The photographer has his own agenda, and he needs to work that out with the client.

12. Don’t be late for work. And if you are, call ahead and let the photographer know. Don’t just show up thirty minutes late, especially if it’s on the way to LaGuardia.

13. Be loyal.

14. Go beyond the call of duty.

15. Don’t order expensive drinks after the job, especially if it’s editorial. Be aware of the budget.

16. Turn off your fucking cell phone during the job. Fine to check messages during lunch, when it’s your time, but don’t be sending text messages to your girlfriend, even if nothing is going on in the job. Trust me, even though you’re not aware of it, there is something ALWAYS going on in the job.

17. Reread 16.

18. Be prompt when submitting Invoices. Don’t bitch about photographers always paying late, if you wait twenty days before you Invoice a job.

19. Be a sponge. Notice everything. Notice the way the photographer deals with the client. Notice the issues that the clients have, and be sensitive to these. You, as an assistant, are privy to a ton of valuable unspoken information; make the best use of it. Learn from it.

20. Travel out of the country as much as possible. Learn how other people live. Learn that America is not the center of the universe, and learn that you don’t need your cell phone 24 hours a day. Again, be a sponge, about how other people live.

21. Don’t show up hung over to a job. It’s just not cool. No matter how hard you worked the day before.

22. Dress well. Doesn’t have to be Prada, but try to look competent.

23. Learn your job. Learn the subtleties of a Profoto pack. Learn about the fuses in a Pro 7b. Try to learn CaptureOne, even just the basics of it. You are Support; try to know your craft. Even the geeky details. It’s the geeky details that’ll sometimes save a job. That’s when you’ll be the hero, and you’ll get an extra beer that night at dinner. (But don’t show up the next day hung over).

24. Go to the Times today, and read the Norman Mailer Obit. Try to create your life to be half as interesting as his life. If you do that, you’ll be fine.

25. Always order good Catering. That’s all the client really cares about. And make sure they get put up in a nice hotel.

26. Learn as much technical stuff as you can, because Rule Number One is, the client doesn’t really care about your vision of the world. They care about their vision. If you show one thing in your book, chances are, you’ll be called for something else. So have a good grab bag of tricks, for those days when you walk into a beige conference room, and have to shoot a fat guy on the corner of a desk.

That’s all that Old Geezer knows for now. Maybe someone older can write up another twenty-six.

Good luck with your careers, young people. God knows the world needs another photographer. With SVA and Art Center and the like cranking them out by the hundreds, soon we’ll have enough photographers to handle all those big budget jobs that we all turn down.





We know how you feel

Posted: May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

It’s rough being the support, I know! Being a photo assistant means knowing lighting and cameras, being tech saavy, heavy lifting and hours of retouching. But perhaps the most difficult part, depending on who you are working for, is biting your tongue and doing it all with a smile. Not unlike customer service, it takes a special blend of patience and optimism to remain positive amidst the challenges and insecurities. But here you can be yourself, no phoniness needed…feel free to relax, vent, and share. Hopefully you will find something useful, amusing or inspiring to take away with you and keep that smile as genuine as possible.