One job that I shot last summer appeared to be a “no-brainer”: Portraits of the editorial staff and the two co-founders, Ben Lerer and Adam Rich, of the very successful male-oriented e-mail newsletter and Web site Thrillist.com . These photographs are now being used for Thrillist’s PR outreach. They were featured in magazines, including Gotham, AOL, Business Insider, Forbes and BlackBook, and all over the Internet. And a few weeks, one of my photographs made the cover of Adweek.
The briefing was clear and not very complicated: Portraits/headshots, three-quarter and full-length shots in front of white. In order to capture the very different personalities of my subjects, I chose a journalistic studio approach, since it best matched the situation and my studio was built in my client’s offices.
When I learned that the editors of the different U.S. and U.K. editions were coming together only once a year, I immediately felt the urge to push the envelope and shoot an iconic group shot that would stand as a time capsule in the company’s history. Of course I was told this kind of shot was not necessary, but I was still given carte blanche to do what I intended to create.
I have always been a strong believer that no matter how simple or easy a photo session may seem, it is my responsibility as a photographer to get as much creative impact out of it as possible. Somehow down the line, this approach always ends up paying off, as it attracts other great jobs and opportunities.
Altogether, there were 25 people on staff that needed to be photographed in four hours and 19 editors for the group shot.
It was quite a feat of organization to squeeze the group shots into the workflow of the single shots and Thrillist’s director of communication, Flavie Bagnol, did a great job. But the task was not an easy one, and we missed a very important person for the group shot — the executive editor, who had to run out for a meeting. We had to add one of the single shots of him into the final shot — a job I could only trust my outstanding retouchers to do and make look seamless.
Before the photo session, I had spoken with my retoucher, Ro SantiEsteban (www.skindeepdigital.com) about what requirements were needed on set from the standpoint of post-production to make it look as seamless as possible. She understood my vision.
The creative challenge was to photograph the editor in multiple shots so the final result would actually seem to look like one shot. The CEO didn’t believe it would be possible.
There were many challenges: For starters, there were the technical aspects that needed to be kept consistent.
First, the light had to be the same in all of the shots, as well as the camera angle, distance and shooting marks. The setup was classic: two C-stand “light trees,” one on each side, with each of the two light heads with umbrellas to secure an even white background. The front was also lit evenly with an elevated Octabank, and I threw in a beauty dish light from the side just to give a little bit of punch and shadow that increases the three-dimensionality.
Keeping all these points was crucial for post-production, and, as a result of the precise work on set, Ro stated later, “Putting it together was a piece of cake.”
Secondly, and more importantly, it was very important to keep the same vibe and energy level in each partial group shot. Because there were so many people, I needed to shoot, this was a fine line to have to walk. Working in a fast and sometimes stressful pace in a good, even-tempered mood takes skill. It’s almost like surfing — you have to be there in the moment and balance the ups and downs in order to get the perfect ride. This is where the subjects become a direct mirror and a projection of their photographer’s state of mind and talent.
In the result, the viewer can always recognize the shooter’s mood. Since everyone looks very happy and relaxed, I feel it is safe to say that the mission was more than accomplished.
It was a great shoot. The guys had a great attitude and were wonderful subjects — we had a lot of fun during the shoot!
At the Thompson LES Hotel Heineken Poolside after-party, everybody was in a great mood. To me, it confirmed that a creative attitude that pushes a job further than what is expected always serves my ambitions much more. The extra mile and the creative challenge that we, as photographers, take upon ourselves will always be rewarded by outstanding photographs, and even bigger assignment and shoots that follow!