John Pluska, on Shooting for Lands’ End

 

First things first. How did you get started as a photographer?

I always remember having an interest in photography. Our high school had a pretty good photography program and those courses picked up my interest even more. I also hung with a group of friends that were interested in photography and we would pick a location or destination to go to and shoot pictures and then later compare our images. I remember going to different locations in and around Chicago including O’Hare Airport.  O’Hare was a great one; I loved going there to shoot, back then you could go almost anywhere without worrying about security. This was great fun and I was always amazed at how we would all be at the same location and yet create such different images. I also worked in a couple of darkrooms at photo labs and hated it so much it prompted me to go to school to study photography so I could be on the camera end of things. I enjoyed working on my own photography in the darkroom, but not for eight hours a day working on someone else’s work. I got a job as an assistant in a photo studio in Chicago and eventually started shooting catalog, advertising, location and industrial. I learned a good amount of knowledge at this studio working with a photographer who was a real SOB. I mean no other assistant wanted to work with him because he was such a rude ass, but this guy was a master at lighting, and I kind of got along with him, well mostly. We did get into arguments, and one day a disagreement led to settling matters in the alley out back of the studio. We got out there, you know like guys sometimes do and started throwing punches at each other until we heard some woman yell at us to quit fighting because she just called the police on us. That was the end of that dispute and we promptly returned to the studio and got right back to work. Our lighting was mostly tungsten and this guy was meticulous and compulsive about his lighting. I am glad I had the chance to work with him. I then worked freelance for a number of years both assisting and shooting projects of all kinds, big and small before I took a position with Lands’ End to help start up their photo studio. It’s been such a good gig for me that I’m still here.

Wow, what a story. Tension, throwing punches.

Tell us, how would you describe your photo style in 4 words or less?

Masterful, ingenious, compelling, stunning…Ok, just kidding! Style? What ever the art director wants is my style – oops that’s more than 4 words. I can’t win here. Actually I see my style as ever changing and continually developing, at least that’s how I feel. I tend to leave this to the viewer to decide my style.

 

 

Are you “self-taught” ?

Yes. From the subtleties of each and every light modifier I use, whether it be a bare bulb or a dish or a scrim, learning how all these things act and respond is important. Also learning to communicate effectively with other creatives and my team is essential to me and helps stimulate the energy and creativity of a project.

Name one photographer who inspires you, and tell us why.

Dennis Manarchy (www.manarchy.com/) is a photographer that inspired me early on when I was an assistant. I loved his work then and still do today. He was super hot in the 80’s and early 90’s and he was a well-known Chicago shooter. I was pleasantly surprised to come across his name recently in an article about a project he is working on. He is building a 35-foot long camera and will be hauling this thing across the country on a semi truck photographing portraits of vanishing cultures. (http://thefpac.org/). As I navigated to his website it was great, looking over his portfolio I see images that inspired me years ago along with newer images, all inspiring!

Has anyone given you advice that really “stuck” with you?

A really great photographer and my boss at one time kept telling me that he wanted to be:  “ The laziest photographer in the world “. Well, at the time I guess I had all these ideas when we were working on a project together, and I remember him turning to me and looking me straight in the eyes and saying, “ I’m trying to be the laziest photographer in the world here”. I finally realized he was not trying to be lazy but work as efficiently and effectively as possible. In other words make a great shot but also don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Another bit of advice I like for photographers that I originally heard from an editor that hires photographers is “ Don’t **** things up”. So two things I try to keep in mind is 1. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be and… 2. Don’t **** things up. Good advice.

Name one place that inspires you and your work.

Well I love going to New York City. I love the energy, it’s inspiring and it revs me up and the creativity and ideas are never ending. I always come back from New York energized and full of new ideas and techniques I want to try. Of course I would love to go to Paris for obvious reasons. I have never been to Paris, but doesn’t everyone want to go there?

You know what they say about regrets. Do you have any?

No regrets, no looking back. I have a lot to do yet and don’t have time for it.

That’s a good motto to live by. If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?

Probably selling hot dogs on a street corner somewhere. Actually I still keep this open as an option. (!)

 

What is your workflow typically like?

At Lands’ End, we are a large company with a great creative team here, so I have a lot of support other photographers may not have. Ideas, themes and layouts are produced and brought to the studio where we then elaborate on these ideas and start constructing the image. The constructing part includes merchandise being sent over to the studio and getting prepped and readied for the shot. I work closely with a stylist and art director to produce the final image. Oh yes, lets not forget a key player here, my assistant. My assistant helps me with everything. After we get a final image the assistant files this image adding all metadata and product information and any requirements we may have for retouching. Our files are then sent to our high res. Dept. and final preparing of the image takes place. We as photographers are doing little retouching ourselves as we really don’t have the time, the next shot is usually waiting. It works, it’s not always the perfect process but that’s why it’s creative.

What do you think makes or breaks a picture?

With what I do it could be the response in the catalog or how much of a particular piece of merchandise sells. But really it has to be composition and lighting, this is very important whether its catalog photography or fine art.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I wish I knew the answer to this. Truly I can’t see that far, I can barely see the f-stops on my lens.

 

LEARNING FROM THE PRO:

 

Describe the picture/animation you’ve created.

It is a stop motion animation based on a time frame of approximately ten frames per second. Part of the attraction of stop motion is the choppiness of the video, so that’s where the ten frames per second comes in. We started with the complete image of all the product in the shape of the USA map. We made a script of how everything would start to move and finally end up. This was a key part of the formula. I would say more thought than work went into this project, but my stylist would not say that. We then moved each product and made a photograph. Moved each product and made a photograph, oh did I say that already, we did that a lot. 170 photographs producing approximately a 17 second video. Putting all the images together and reversing the clip it appears to build the map.

(animation available at the top of this post, or here)

How did you learn to do this? What inspired you?

We put the map together, lit it and shot it. That’s what our layout called for. The inspiration was there, right in front of us after we did the initial single photograph of the map. With video content so popular and always on our minds we thought this would make a great piece. I like to think that I’m learning something new with every shot I do and this project was no different. We took what we knew and applied it to this situation and made it work. I think my stylist, Linda Candella, (http://www.lindacandella.com) with whom I have worked with for many years really had the hard part of the job, moving all the items and styling them between each frame. Thanks Linda.

What tools are you using to make this image?

Sinar p3 camera with a 54 back. All broncolor lights including Pulso G2 and Unilite heads and Scoro A4s power packs.

What features of the equipment that you use make it easier to do your job?

The amount of control the photographer has with lighting is unsurpassed and unavailable with other lights/ power packs. One-tenth increment power adjustments, adjustment of color between packs and flash duration control including the short 1/8000 sec. flash duration which I use many times photographing moving objects like water. The cameras are of the highest quality and the software is user friendly, so I can concentrate on creativity and getting the shots that I envision. The shots I do require the benefit of a view camera with live image function. I need the swings and tilts for most shots and the live image view is also helpful to the stylist setting up the shot.

Did you use competing products in the past? What made you change?

We have used different cameras and many different lighting equipment. Our studio was equipped with all Speedotron equipment and we got to a point where we were expanding our studio and looking at new lighting equipment to be more effective, efficient and good enough to give us a creative and noticeable edge in quality to propel us into the future and help our imaging needs and generate more sales. We brought in and tested the leading competing products on the market and the Sinar cameras and broncolor lights fit that need. Actually nothing really compared to it.

John Pluska Photography

 

4 replies
  1. Marty Croak
    Marty Croak says:

    Great article/great photographer. Very interesting and informative. Keep up the great work John!

  2. TonyJ
    TonyJ says:

    Great story–always have enjoyed the photography in the Lands End catalogs so it was great to learn more about the source! Thanks.

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