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Archive for March, 2010

This was a 3 night shoot I did to use for self-promotion, as well as for the fun of it. The goal was to tell a story without words while creating photography with high production values on a shoestring budget.


I’ve been toying with the idea to produce a photo novella without words for quite a while. But it all started falling into place on a bike ride along the East River last summer.
As I was commuting from Manhattan to Brooklyn the image of a Gangster looking type climbing all wet out of the river and over the guard rail popped into my mind. I started thinking how i could build a larger story around this idea and somewhere on the Manhattan Bridge I was mapping out the basic structure of a circular crime caper centered around an object of desire.

Now is probably a good time to mention 2 movies that inspired the story.

The first one is the old anti war movie “All quiet on the Western Front” which is about a group of young German soldiers in the first world war.



If I remember right there is a great tragic scene in which the boy with the nicest military boots gets killed and his young comrade starts wearing them , since they are much better than his own pair. The camera keeps showing the boots as we see the new owner getting killed and then the next owner and the next. Pretty soon we’ve witnessed the demise of several men and all we saw was a beautiful pair of boots.

The other movie is Angel Heart. A nice piece of 1980’s film making with Mickey Rourke (pre-op) as a private detective and Robert DeNiro as Louis Cypher, the devil incognito, out to get the soul that rightfully belongs in hell. I had to steal, I mean homage, that name.


Once the general outline was in place i decided to use the slick case my digital back came in as the object of desire. Thank you Phase One.

The next step was to come up with the different killing options and the necessary props for them. What’s practical can be important. For instance we decided to use a prop rock instead of a gun, because we had the rock and not the gun. Also pulling a gun on an NYC street sounds like a potential major pain in the ass.

Anyway now production started in earnest.

First up: location scouting. We had to be able to do several shoots per night, so the outside locations had to be close together in an area that’s accessible, not too crowded, rough but cool looking. All this we found in Dumbo and Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. I went on a scout together with my girlfriend Susie, the eventual Louise Cypher and Myriam Babin, fellow photographer and office mate. We brought along the Mamiya RZ to see the locations with the camera and lenses we would be using. Susie and Myriam were the stand ins. The scout was fairly simple and we were done in an evening.

Next : Casting. Casting is super crucial for any photo shoot but even more so for one with cinematic qualities. The looks have to be right, but acting ability had to be there too. Since funds were meager I knew this had to be a friends and family production. I’m still amazed that all these generous and talented style mavens are my friends or friends of friends. But I I’ll talk more about the models later.

Scheduling: never easy with people working for food but hey, them’s the breaks.

Permits: they’re getting harder to come by every year, but still, the mayors office for film is a relatively painless operation and, as of now, still free. It’s is pretty important to have permits while shooting in New York. The last thing you want is getting chased along by a cop after you set up all your gear.

Equipment for the first 2 shoot days:

Camera: Mamiya RZ67 with a Phase One P25 Digital Back, we shot all images with telephoto lenses (mostly the 150 mm) to get a slightly voyeuristic look.

Lights: I brought my own Profoto 7B kit, borrowed another one from my good friend, photographer and Corbis AD Tobias Prasse, and rented one more from Fotocare for a total of three 7B’s and six heads. We also rented 4 magnum reflectors, a bunch of sand bags and a few c-stands.


The location vehicles were my old, semi-trusty Volvo station wagon and the minivan of my friend Pramod who also modeled as the poisoner.

Crew: The importance of the people that make up the crew really can’t be overstated. If you have a good crew even a rough shoot is fun. Claudia Hehr was assisting and working the computer and Myriam Babin was assisting and doubling as on set producer. The PA was JW Perkins who also got cast on the spot as the man with the bat.

Sabine Scheckel helped with the retouching.

Food for crew and talent was purchased at a local deli named Foragers.

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This is the first shot we did on a Sunday night:

We started right after sundown and a minor ( but stressful ) rain delay.

The models for this image are JW and Cristian ( without an “h”), both friends of Myriam Babin.

Originally we cast another Christian (this one with an “h”) as the batsman, but once we did a test exposure with JW standing in, we saw his amazing talent to look menacing and we knew he was the right model for this shoot. I apologized a million times to my other Christian friend about the switch and he graciously bowed out (probably happy he could get back to his own work).

A bait and switch is never a nice thing to do but in the end we try to create the best picture possible. And if you ever need a talented music producer…….(christiancassan.com)

I talked to Cristian about what his character should look like and we decided on a cool black suit with a white shirt. Cristian has loads of style and easily pulled off the look we were after.

JW wore what he wore, but I think it worked.

We only used two heads with magnum reflectors to get the strong, threatening shadows.

This is the second image of the first night:

The models are JW and Linh, a buddy from my wednesday soccer game.

I asked Linh to bring a variety of clothes and we did the styling on the spot. The weapon is my kitchen knife which is not as sharp as it looks.

We set up 4 lights with magnum reflectors across the street to mimic regular street lamps. I think we did a nice job on JW’s double shadow.

This is the third image of sunday night:

The models are Susie and Marcelo.

Marcelo has a photography background. He used to assist and he has a successful wedding photography business, but his big love is acting and with a lot of perseverance and hard work he is getting some juicy parts on TV these days. Anyway, this might have been the last time we ‘ve gotten him, sans negotiating with a ball breaking Hollywood agent. Since the bike was part of the set-up we decided on a Williamsburg hipster look. Not a big stretch for him.

The car in this picture was a major headache and a good example for damage control.
I was looking for quite a while for a great set of wheels that fit in our budget and finally just stumbled across it on East 6th and Avenue D one night. There was a nicely restored 69 Chevelle, red with black racing stripes and major pimpage all around. I asked some kids in the neighborhood if they knew the owner and had him located lickety-split. I told him about the project and offered him $100 to shoot his car and he was majorly excited but if something is to good to be true…… Anyways, I had a gut feeling that the barometer pointed to flakes and sure enough on the evening of the shoot I called him and it sounded like the couch had a firm hold on him. Long story short, he never showed. But because of my natural German pessimism, I had plan B ready to go. Myriam walked over to the local Limo service and negotiated a decent price for their least banged up black limo to pose for 2 shots incl. driver. I love NY.

The picture is a composite of 3 different frames. We did it this way to get both Susie and Marcelo in focus and also to get touches of ambient light in the background windows.

We tied the back tire of the bike to a c-stand positioned just out of frame.
The rest is Marcelo’s athleticism. We tried a few times until he got his one armed elbow stand just right.

There are 2 lights from the front lighting up Marcelo. 2 lights behind the car, one pointing at the building one shining through the passenger window and under the car. One light on the sidewalk up the street lighting Susie.

At the tail end of this shot is the lovely retouching work of Sabine Scheckel who dolled up the car blended the 3 frames and changed the license plate cause the devil is in the details.

This is the fourth and last image of sunday night.

This is right outside the power plant in Vinegar Hill. We had the permits in order and introduced ourselves to the security guards who immediately started giving us a hard time and tried to prevent us from shooting on a city street. We politely stood our ground and finally convinced everybody that we were not the enemy.

The models are Cristian and Susie plus the driver.

It was obviously crucial to get Susie’s diabolical look just right. She is the central character and on the cover. If she isn’t believable and interesting everything else falls apart. To get to this look we had a fun filled fashion show and some serious discussions about what constitutes a proper business outfit in this line of work.




On the day of the shoot Susie went to the hairdresser and got her do done and alright I’m not impartial but she exceeded my wildest expectations for sexy badassness.

The final image is a composite from two frames again to get everybody in focus. There is a light on the sidewalk aimed at Cristian and from the same pack at light to the left of the camera aimed mostly at Susie but with spill on Cristian. There is a light on the other sidewalk positioned to the right of the car, aimed at Susie but also lighting the limo. There are also 2 lights behind the car. One aimed straight at the camera and one aimed at the big brick wall.



Sabine worked her magic on the car again.

We finished shooting at about 3am. Packed, brought the equipment back to the apartment, backed up the files, put everybody in a cab and at around 4am tried to sleep for a few hours, which for me comes never easy after a shoot.

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This is the first picture on Monday.



We started setting up early in the afternoon. The location is Grotto, a very good Italian style restaurant at 100 Forsyth Street in the Lower East Side.
David, one of the owners is another guy I play soccer with and he also catered some of my ad shoots in the past (Monterone). He graciously let us use his place for free and provided a fantastic lunch for a friendship price.

The models are Pramod and Linh.

Linh is wearing a slight variation on his outfit from the night before.

Pramod is a good friend, a talented musician and a headhunter. His office is in Soho and he just came on over during a slightly extended lunch break. He is wearing clothes we picked a few days earlier during a closet inspection at his house.

The poison bottle I found in my kitchen cabinet. It’s actually very nice Balsamico. The original label was replaced by one I printed on a sticker.

We came to this shoot with a slimmed down kit. No sandbags, no c-stands, fewer batteries. Claudia and Myriam were on set.

The location was a long narrow room with dark wood. We positioned 2 lights in the front, left and right of camera and we pointed a third light from the back towards the models. All three lights were raised close to the ceiling. There was also a fourth light aimed at the back wall to get some detail in the wood.

Nice lunch, quick shoot, there was even a parking spot right outside the door.

Back to Brooklyn, where everybody had a nap.

This is the second picture of Monday night.



We started shooting right after sundown. JW rejoined the crew.

The models are Pramod and Ax.

Ax is longtime friend and neighbor, a fellow German and a fellow German photographer. He is also a clothes horse and we had to choose from a lot of great outfits. In the end we decided to go with lean and mean to show how tall and strong he is, which is kind of the point of this particular picture.

The location was in a long, narrow alley under the Manhattan Bridge.

There is a light to the right and light to the left of camera, just outside the frame. We also put a head with a magnum reflector on the ground maybe 20 yards down the alley and pointed it straight at the camera. All the lights in all the shots were triggered with pocket wizards, and thank a higher being of your choice these little buggers exist.

This image is very mildly stretched since I didn’t leave enough room top and bottom for the double page spread layout. Clear case of “Fix it in Post”.

This is the third picture of Monday night.



We were in the park between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo. The location was a mild pain in the ass since there were still a lot of tourists milling around trying to ignore us. But very many “Excuse us, we’re having a photo shoot here, could you move 15 ft to the right or left?”‘s
got the job done.

The models are Ax and Pierre.

Pierre is another (you guessed it) soccer buddy of mine. He’s a fashion designer and very, very nice, but on the pitch he can trash talk with the best of them so he was a very obvious choice for this shoot.

The picture is a composite of 2 frames. We shot the models with a reasonable shutter speed lit by strobes and then the background with a long exposure to catch the ambient light of the skyline. We then put them together in Photoshop.





There are 2 lights on Ax’s to the right out of frame and 2 lights on Pierre to the left out frame. The lights on each side are raised as high as possible and placed close together. There is also a
turned down strobe pointed at the boulder in the foreground.

The star of the picture though is clearly the prop (pet) rock, that Myriam actually owns.

This is the fourth and last picture of monday night.



After the shoot in Brooklyn Bridge Park we packed up and made a quick trip to the Manhattan side. We parked underneath the FDR Drive.
The reason for this location (beside the spectacular view and scary ambience) was that there is actually a little beach under the spot where Pierre climbs over the guard rail, so in case of a fall he would catch a sandy bottom instead of being swept out to sea. Also, this location implies that he actually swam the entire East River to secure the suitcase.

The bike was on loan from Tobias Prasse and the Kryptonite chain is my own.

Pierre and I picked out his wardrobe a few days earlier and we choose this light suit cause we figured it would very easily appear wet. Little did we know, that this garment was made out of some space age material that was almost completely water resistant. We poured on gallons of Poland Spring bought at retail prices and the suit kept looking drier than Chris Buck’s humor.
We finally put the damn suit flat on the ground, doused it and walked on it to get it to absorb a little bit of water. Losing the jacket also helped. Pierre, through all of this was, an excellent sport and stayed committed to the cause.

The image is a composite of 3 frames. We photographed Marcelo and Pierre separately and at a reasonable shutter speed to get them both in focus and then we photographed the background with a long exposure to catch the ambient light on the bridge and the Brooklyn skyline. Sabine did an excellent job putting it all together in Photoshop.







By the time we were done we were all a little past our expiration date and still had to pack up, go back to Brooklyn, unload and back up the files. At around 4am everybody was either in bed or in a cab.

The next day I was up early again to return the equipment to Fotocare, fill up and return Pramod’s van and straighten out the mess we left everything in.

Now Susie and I got ready to travel to Turkey for a few weeks and the the Cover shoot plus the last image had to wait for about 2 months.

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For the third and last night of the shoot I did another location scout with Susie. Originally in Prospect Park, because I was thinking one of the overpasses would make a great “gate to hell”. We rode our bikes around the park and found some promising options. But getting a permit in the park is harder than on a street and the people in charge were responding in super slo-mo to my requests. By now it was late October and we had to get a move on. Plus some of these bridges are hard to reach by car and schlepping all our gear through the great outdoors at night is not as appealing as it sounds.
So I hopped back on the bike and did another scout in Dumbo and found this great gateway in one of the pillars of the Manhattan bridge. There was a very similar one on the other side of the street and a man likes to have options.
We got a permit no problem at the Mayor’s office for film. (more…)

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