At a turning point early in his career, veteran celebrity photographer Brian Smith had a brazen (and slightly cringe-worthy) encounter with John Huston, the famous movie director. He got away with it–just barely. At the time, Smith was a staff photographer on assignment for the Orange County Register. He was trying to take his career to the next level, and the shoot with Huston was an object lesson in how to do that, as he explains in this video. (Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and author of Secrets of Great Portrait Photography.)
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Nothing is more important on a celebrity shoot than engaging your subject, says photographer Brian Smith. “The lighting, the locations, and the props all matter, but if you’re not actually making a connection with the subject, the pictures really fall flat.” Smith, the author of Secrets of Great Portrait Photography and other books, has been photographing celebrities, athletes and executives for more than 30 years. In this video, he explains one of his best strategies for connecting with a celebrity on set.
PDN Video: Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Portrait Subjects (Even If You Are Shy and Bumbling)
PDN Video: Brian Smith on How to Take Your Career to the Next Level
How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits
As another fascinating year in the world of professional photography comes to a close, we look back on the stories that drew the most interest from PDNPulse readers this year.
From manipulated news photos, to photographers arrested for doing their jobs, to collaborative efforts between photographers and an interview with one of photography’s most influential star makers, these stories capture some of the highs and lows of the photography business today.
Photographers’ injury lawsuits against pugilistic celebrities and their bodyguards are too commonplace to count as news these days, but a report about the case of photographer Sheng Li v. actor Sam Worthington caught our eye because of the actor’s defense. Call it the serves-you-right defense.
According to a Radaronline.com report, paparazzo Li is suing the star of Avatar and his girlfriend, Lara Bingle, for $10 million in damages. Li alleges they caused him a shoulder and wrist injury during a scuffle on a New York City sidewalk, presumably after Li tried to photograph the couple without their consent.
Worthington’s defense, according to Radar, is that getting attacked by celebrity subjects is an occupational hazard for the paparazzi. Li “knew the hazards,” he argues. Therefore, he’s responsible for his own injuries.
Worthington is partly right: getting attacked by celebrities is a well-reported risk of paparazzi work. But assault, even against annoying people, is still illegal. And unless that changes, getting sued for outrageous sums of money will probably remain an occupational hazard for celebrities, or at least hot-headed ones.
Many PhotoPlus Expo goers will know Ben Folds from his day job as a multi-platinum selling singer/songwriter, touring solo artist and leader of the eponymous Ben Folds Five. What you may not know is that Folds is an avid photographer, enamored of his darkroom and a devotee of both film and digital techniques.
PDN’s Technology Editor Greg Scoblete interviewed Folds about his photography ahead of his PhotoPlus Expo keynote on Saturday, November 1. What follows is an edited transcript.
You’ve said that you became an “obsessive freak” about photography when your kids were born. That’s probably true of a lot of parents, at least in the infant stages, but yours turned into a more enduring passion. Why?
Ben Folds: I wasn’t happy with the glut of ‘evidence’ photographs. I wanted something enduring and archival that could be framed or touched for years. In order to do that I needed to learn to print well, and I needed to make decisions about what spoke of their childhood… In the process, I became obsessive about the materials—the film, the cameras, the tools.
I know you keep a fully packed schedule between recording and touring. When and how do you work in photography? Is it a part of your daily life?
Ben Folds: It’s like a break. I can work without working. I find it relaxing to go through my shots on a plane or in a hotel. I’m always surprised how ‘productive’ I remain about photography.
A more prosaic question: what do you typically shoot with? What’s your photographic process look like?
Ben Folds: These days I shoot three ways: color with my Sony digital camera, which I generally convert to black and white; black-and-white digital with my Monochrom and black-and-white film with my old Rolleiflex.
I can develop my film in the bathroom, or more often with my schedule, I send it to a lab [where] I’ve had good results for a couple years. I just stay on the lightly ‘overexposed’ side and have them ‘pull’ the film and I get a good grey printable negative generally. The negatives I really like, I have scanned. I may soon invest in a crazy good scanner, but boy that is an investment. I don’t have a darkroom at the moment—it’s all in storage. I miss my darkroom.
On your photography website you write that archival prints that would last generations are a more eloquent representation of your children’s youth “than digital folders full of snapshots.” Beyond the longevity, what do you find compelling about prints?
Ben Folds: They are real. Life is real. We do live online a lot, but we’re still creatures of the Earth. Printing and prints means something you can hold—and there’s limited space and time so you have to make a decision. You can’t be in two places at once and while you can keep a million files on a hard drive, they’re not really there until they’re printed.
There’s seems to be a similarity in the way the business models of photography and music have been impacted by the Internet and digital technology. What was once scarce is now plentiful and what was once a high barrier to entry is considerably lower. Are you optimistic about the ability of future artists — be they photographers or musicians — to earn a living?
Ben Folds: I think we can earn a living. I don’t think we can expect to be rich at it.
You’ve written that you photograph things on the upbeat rather than the downbeat. What do you mean by that?
Ben Folds: The downbeat is where we all land. It’s predictable. It’s not that I don’t shoot the predictable, I just find that I’m drawn to the photos that were shot between the moments—between the poses, and between the subjects, somehow.
I’m no master of that, but I can feel it when I see it and I try to be spontaneous enough to hit the shutter before I even know why. That [approach], somehow, was easier with film. I know that’s weird, but something about knowing there are a limited number of exposures on a roll made me feel more dangerous.
Anyway, at the end of the day, it’s just about telling a story—you can make that more interesting in the way you tell it, when you tell it and how you frame it.
Photographic artist David Armstrong, who first made his name as a member of the “Boston School” with Jack Pierson, Mark Morrisroe and Nan Goldin, and eventually shot for Vogue, GQ, and other fashion clients, died October 25, in Los Angeles, from liver cancer. He was 60 years old. Vogue.com reported that Armstrong’s agent, Jed Root, had confirmed the news.
Born in Arlington, Massachusetts, Armstrong was also very much of New York City, his long-time home. With intentions to become a painter, he attended the Boston Museum School and Cooper Union in New York. He received his B.F.A. from Tufts in 1988.
Along with fellow “Boston School” contemporaries like Stephen “Tabboo!” Tashjian, Armstrong and his friends made art of their lives in the counterculture. He first met Nan Goldin as a teenager, and their work was first shown together at PS1’s “New York/New Wave” exhibit in 1981.
Armstrong is often cited as having had a significant influence on Ryan McGinley, who also turned an interesting life with beautiful young friends into photographic art. Much of Armstrong’s work features lots of natural light, and his gaze is unmistakably erotic. Throughout his career, he made sharp-focused portraits of beautiful young boys, but he also made cityscapes in soft focus, especially after moving to Berlin in the early 1990s. His work was included in the 1995 Whitney Biennial.
Armstrong ushered into the universe of fashion by designer Hedi Slimane, who first commissioned him to make backstage photos of his work at Dior Homme. He would go on to be published in the French, Italian and Japanese editions of Vogue, Arena Homme+, GQ and Out, among other magazines, and counted Ermenegildo Zegna, Kenneth Cole, Burberry, Puma and Rodarte amongst his commercial clients.
Over his career he published several books, including a 1994 collaboration with his old friend, Nan Goldin/David Armstrong: A Double Life; he also published1997’s The Silver Cord, and a 2012 pressing of 30-plus-year-old photographs called Night & Day. His final monograph, 615 Jefferson Avenue, is comprised of bright portraits of male models taken at his house in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
In a conversation with old friend Jack Pierson about his process and motivation, published in Out magazine in 2011, he said, “I always think you want to come away with some beautiful, beautiful picture of the person, the boy, that’s really everything you want to express about them. Or, at least something you can rub one out to.”
Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?
The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.
Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.
“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”
So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”
“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”
As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.
They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”
“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.
The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.
Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.
One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.
Having landed some of his first assignments on the strength of personal work, photographer Elton Anderson has been working on a personal project featuring his favorite celebrities and entertainers to attract the notice of more clients. Anderson and actor/comedian Cedric Antonio Kyles (aka Cedric the Entertainer) share a common goal–to be featured in GQ–so they recently collaborated on a photo shoot they called “The Road to GQ” to get the magazine’s attention.
Anderson explains that he was able to approach Cedric by enlisting the help of a friend who was working on digital marketing for Cedric’s TV Land sitcom. Cedric and his team, along with stylist Apuje Kalu and Anderson, strategized ways of incorporating three things that are important to the comedian – fashion, comedy and family – into the shoot. It took place in April 2014. Box Eight Studio in Los Angeles provided a mix of outdoor and indoor locations, and Anderson’s wardrobe stylist brought in a ton of props. Anderson says they were able to shoot six looks in about four hours. “Cedric was funny (of course) but most of all he anticipated what I needed from him as a subject,” says Anderson.
Though the shoot has yet to lead to an assignment for GQ, Anderson says the results are encouraging. A few GQ editors gave Cedric some social media shout-outs, and Anderson says Cedric has had a few email exchanges with the magazine. “If anything,” Anderson says, “the images have strengthened my portfolio by leaps and bounds and allowed me to set up meetings” with other potential clients, including TV Land, BET, BONOBOS, Essence, Walmart, and Capitol Records.
Anderson, who would like to shoot more musicians for editorial and commercial clients, also recently photographed his favorite rapper, Kendrick Lamar. Anderson had only five minutes with Lamar, but says, “It’s really fun to take a celebrity and bring them into your world for a minute. I end up making really cool friends along with great imagery.”
And it’s a a good way to move your career forward. “Personal work is the fuel that keeps me growing creatively and professionally,” says Anderson, a former pharmaceutical sales rep who moved to Los Angeles to pursue photography full time in 2012. “Potential clients tend to gravitate heavily to the work I cooked up in my brain and executed versus something I got paid to do. I actually booked my first big jobs with Disney, Monster Headphones and Walmart because of my personal work so I’m motivated to shoot for myself on a more continuous basis.”
Former football star Desmond Howard, the subject of a well-known photograph and a defendant in a copyright claim over the use of that same image, will end up owning the copyright to the image as part of a settlement with the photographer who shot it.
That photographer, Brian Masck of Linden, Michigan, is still pursuing infringement claims against Getty Images, Sports Illustrated, Nissan, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and others.
Masck confirms that he agreed yesterday to settle his infringement claim against Howard by transferring copyrights to the image over to Howard. In exchange, Masck got “a very generous royalty agreement on [Howard’s] uses of the picture, including at [public] appearances by Howard,” according to his attorney, Tom Blaske.
“This allows [Howard] to use his favorite photo of himself and make money on it,” Masck told PDN. Blaske adds that Howard “has more resources to best use this historic photo” and thereby ensure that it “remain[s] part of the cultural currency.”
The photo in question shows Howard striking an iconic Heisman Trophy pose after scoring a touchdown against Ohio State University, when he was playing for the University of Michigan. Masck shot the image in 1991 as a freelancer, and licensed it to Sports Illustrated for publication.
SI allegedly never returned the original 35mm transparency to Masck; it ended up in the Allsport archive, and finally in digital format on Getty’s web site around 2005. From there, it “traveled through sports memorabilia channels” onto merchandise sold through retailers, Masck says, and it also appeared in Nissan ads published in Sports Illustrated.
Masck sued in January, 2013, claiming infringement against Howard for unauthorized use of the photo on Howard’s website. Masck claimed unauthorized use by other defendants for distributing the photo and using it in ads without permission.
But Howard counter-sued Masck for unauthorized commercial use of Howard’s name and likeness on a website called TheTrophyPose.com. Masck used that site to sell products featuring the image, including framed prints and life-size, cut-out stand up. He splashed Howard’s name all over the site, confusing visitors into thinking Desmond Howard was behind the site and its products, according to Howard’s counter-claim.
Masck says he’s prohibited by the settlement agreement with Howard from disclosing the financial details. But he says Howard, a TV football commentator who uses photos for publicity and marking, wanted to buy all rights to Masck’s photo several years ago. “At the right price and right terms I was ready to entertain that,” Masck says.
They couldn’t reach an agreement, however.
“What spurred the lawsuit was, after I had sent Howard a print [during their early negotiations] as an example of what the picture could look like, and he took that picture and put it up on his web site,” Masck explains. “That picture had some tells in it. I digitally altered it so I could track it.”
With a trial date approaching, they resumed negotiations and finally reached an agreement.
Meanwhile, Masck is trying to negotiate settlements with Nissan, Sports Illustrated and the other defendants before the case goes to trial. They tried unsuccessfully to have Masck’s claims thrown out on the grounds that he hasn’t done enough over the years to assert his copyrights to the image.
(Editor’s note: This story has been altered from its original version, which included two quotes from Brian Masck that he has asked PDN to remove.)
Now that another model has come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against photographer Terry Richardson, his clients face a difficult question: What ethical obligations, if any, do they have to take a stand?
Over the past several years, reports have periodically flared up that Richardson has manipulated some models to engage with him in unwanted sexual contact during photo shoots at his studio. The models have described the incidents as casting couch situations that occurred when they were students or aspiring models, not established models working on set for ad campaigns or editorial shoots.
The allegations surfaced again in recent weeks after former model Charlotte Waters published a graphic account of a shoot with Richardson that spiraled out of her control. “I was completely a sex puppet,” she recounted anonymously in a post on a Reddit thread. The post has since been removed, but after her story was widely circulated, Waters identified herself as the author.
She has spoken to New York City police, according to Styleite.com, but she reportedly never said “no” to Richardson’s advances, and she isn’t pressing any charges.
In the hot seat of bad publicity once again, Richardson issued an angry denial to all the allegations in a letter to the Huffington Post, calling them “hate filled, libelous tales.” In the letter, he painted himself as the victim of a “witch hunt.”
Richardson says in the letter, “I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work.” Overlooking the disparity in power between himself and the models, he adds, “I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do.” (more…)