Category Archives: editorial

Sequoia Capital photo shoot, aka herding billionaires

Well, hello there. It’s been so long. Perhaps you think the blog’s been quiet because there’s been nothing to report? Quite the contrary, my friend. There’s been too much. Let’s start catching up.

So, I recently did this giant, crazy shoot for Forbes up in the Bay Area. It’s out on the cover of this year’s Midas List issue right now. (aphotoeditor also picked up the shoot for its headline article today. You can read our interview and all the details in their “Weekly Edit” feature.) I’ll try to give you the best tidbits here.

handsome group

The billionaires that had to be herded, all founders of companies originally backed by Sequoia venture capital

1. Count up the people on the cover. Do you count 12? There were only supposed to be 12 (and figuring out how to arrange 12 people vertically was sort of hell). Imagine my surprise when it was all over and I counted 14. No wonder we ran out of apple boxes to stand people on. I have no idea who the extra two billionaires are.

2. Doug Leone, head of Sequoia Capital and a very interesting and enjoyable guy, refused to stand where we planned. He was supposed to be front and center, the leader of the pack. But he wanted it to be about the founders, not him, which I get. We compromised on second row, just off-center.

3. We had about 35 minutes to do two big setups. And half an hour feels like five minutes on a busy shoot. After a variety of cover shots, we ripped away the background — yes, literally ripped away the gray paper — and shot them with the Tesla Motors factory behind them. An amazing place with shining car bodies and sublimely beautiful, sort of creepy robots.

Billionaires just want to have fun.

Billionaires just want to have fun.

4. I wish I could say I got to know them and learn from them. They were all very nice, and short on time, and toward the end a couple of them started grumbling about needing to be somewhere. Of course they all stood around and chit-chatted when it was over. I wondered if anyone would just toss a spare million dollars my way, since a billion is a thousand million, and no one person could spend all that. Didn’t happen.

5. Still, it was a lot of fun. I fielded a surprising number of questions beforehand about what they should wear.

6. Next morning, 4 a.m., we arrived across the Bay to do this:

7. Those are the venture capitalists from Sequoia. They rented that Formula One car, plus a NASCAR car as back-up. These guys do nothing halfway. They even became decent actors for the shoot. Except maybe the guy in the top right corner. He’s not really selling that jack he’s on. These are the things you see in the files afterwards.

Still, he’s trying.

8. Before I make too much fun, this shoot would not have happened without a ton of help from Sequoia. They coordinated the founders for the cover, they helped fund and produce the shots, and they were game for whatever we wanted to do. You can’t ask for much more than that.

4. I ran out of gas on the freeway in the middle of scouting all these locations and producing the project. With all the texts, emails and phone calls coming and going, I forgot the fuel gauge was past E.

I need to thank my very hard-working, talented crew: first assistant Brad Wenner, second assistant Jonah Podbereski, prop stylist Shannon Amos, makeup/hair stylist Dawn Sutti, retouchers Rebecca Bausher and Gretchen Hilmers. Plus Bob Mansfield and Meredith Nicholson at Forbes for bringing me on board and giving everything the green light. Special thanks to Andrew Kovacs at Sequoia for co-producing this odyssey.

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John Matherly is watching you

watching you

Well, he may or may not be, but he could. As could anyone with a little know-how using the search engine he created, Shodan. I photographed him for the latest issue of Forbes, whose entertainingly lengthy article title puts it best:

The Terrifying Search Engine That Finds Internet-Connected Cameras, Traffic Lights, Medical Devices, Baby Monitors And Power Plants

With this search engine, you can literally view the feed of closed-circuit cameras. Or turn off remote-controlled lights in homes. Or link into the world’s online devices in other, more nefarious/creepy ways.

Matherly, however, a mild-mannered and intelligent gentleman who lives with his girlfriend outside of San Diego, is likely not spying on you. Still, once we arrived and saw that he runs the search engine from this little suburban condo, I knew I had to do something combining that quiet existence with the voyeurism of the search engine. We set up a lot of lights and had a great time.

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Forbes portraits

Boring title, I know.

I love coming up with creative titles for my blog posts, but I also love shooting for Forbes. In this case, every clever title seemed to suggest:
A) that the business world is boring;
B) that the people I’ve been shooting are boring;
or
C) that I don’t value my Forbes assignments.

None of which is true. Yes, the business world can be dry, but so can artists and actors, and that unpredictability is what forces you to step up your game. Find the life-sized hot rod at Mattel. Wallpaper Shonda Rhimes’s office in purple. Get the tech-startup CEO to yell at the camera. Not surrounded by jaded celebrity publicists, these are all real people often open to trying something different.

Take this guy, FreedomPop mobile co-founder and CEO Stephen Stokols. When your company has a populist message of defiantly bringing free Internet to the people, you’re going to get asked to do this. Well, buddy, let’s see it.

Then there’s the impossible-to-schedule Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal.” We loved her desk but not the wall behind it. The desk, however, was completely tethered to the floor with cables and electronics. So we simply covered the wall in purple and did some redecorating. When you get 30 minutes with her at the end of the day, the busiest woman in show business is pretty fun.

At Mattel, once we made it through security, signed confidentiality agreements and registered every piece of camera and lighting with their photo department, they let us have the run of the place. And once we found the life-sized Hot Wheels car, I knew we had to stick the big guy in there.

On shoots like these, there’s always a risk that you’ll spend two hours setting something up, only to have the subject shoot it down in about two minutes. Fortunately, Mattel CEO Bryan Stockton is both very busy and very nice. He showed up, took a look at what we were doing, climbed in and went to work.

And Tim Kilpin, who’s been there forever and is their brand king, is just one of the nicest people I’ve met on a shoot. This is a long wall featuring decades of their catalog covers. I chose a section whose aesthetic roughly matched my 1970s childhood, and we had a great time reminiscing about the toys of long ago.

There are more Forbes shoots to come, but we’ll have to wait until they’re out in print.

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The flying Wear brothers

Got to shoot the amazing David and Travis Wear recently. They’re the UCLA basketball stars who, as twins, take every class together and spend an average of only 30 minutes apart every day. Get them to dribble, and the balls will end up in unison. Stand them next to each other, and they each lean toward the other at identical angles. Ask them a question, and they’ll finish each other’s sentences.

They do wear different shoes. Size 16.

 

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Machiavelli comes to Orange County

Suzanne Evans with the previously unruly family she decided to whip into shape by applying Machiavelli’s principles of leadership. Then she wrote a book about it. Smart woman.

Shot for The Wall Street Journal, then quickly picked up by London’s Sunday Times and Italy’s Myself magazine.  They love them some Machiavelli, the Europeans.

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Just another day in a 40,000-square-foot house

Well, hello there.

Recently shot Joan Behnke, interior decorator to very wealthy people, for Forbes in the 40,000-square-foot home of one of her clients. What does it mean to shoot in a home that size? It means scouting takes an hour, and you end up not sure if you should shoot in the massage parlor, the beauty salon/barber shop, the poker room or the movie theater. It means safety comes second, because not knocking over vases and sculptures comes first. It means very little time passes between walking on a carpet and that carpet being vacuumed. The housekeeper kept vacuuming our staging area.

And when you eventually decide to shoot in the giant living room, it means using every light you’ve got, even though you recently bought more lights.

Isn’t she just a doll? Loved working with her.

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The Scrabble King

I know, I know … it’s been so long. And I feel guilty, blog, for neglecting you. It’s not that there’s been nothing to say. It’s that there’s been too much. This year ended up extremely busy, and the ride is finally coming to a stop for the the holidays. So let’s start catching up.

First up, one of my favorite shoots of the last few months:

The boss will see you now.

This is Carter Fortunato, in an outtake from a shoot for The Wall Street Journal. He is as dry-witted and intelligent as he looks. Once in a while you get a gift when you shoot editorial, and this was one of those times. So you step up to the plate and make it a much bigger production in terms of lighting, styling and set design. Thanks to the Fortunatos for allowing me to make their son the star.

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Homes. Sweet Homes.

Shot three home-magazine covers recently. First, a little background.

For years I’ve shot homes and their owners for editorial: about 30 for The New York Times, 20 for The Wall Street Journal and 50 for Angeleno and Riviera. Long, hard days, but with enough thought and lighting and effort, in nearly every home you get a gift. By that I mean shots like these:

The harder you work, the more gifts you get. And once in a while I shoot a cover — a much larger, more collaborative effort. I’ve shot the latest three covers for Angeleno Interiors and Riviera Interiors, gorgeous, oversized magazines here in Southern California. Have a look.

#1: Spring 2012: a home in Beverly Hills:

#2: Summer 2012: another home in Beverly Hills:

#3: Summer 2012: down in San Diego:

What always amazes me is the openness and trust of the homeowners. They let us move around all their stuff. They head off to work and leave us alone in their homes for 10 hours. They feed us. One couple asked us stay for their dinner party. Another gift.

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Do you feel lucky?

Well, do ya, punk?

Guess who:

If you said, “a young Clint Eastwood” with a little swagger, this is not your lucky day. That’s his son, Scott, whom I shot recently for an editorial spread. Nice guy. Funny (in the article, one of his dislikes was, “people with celebrity parents.”) A quintessential North County (San Diego) surfer bro. And a good actor.

How crazy is that? It’s like time travel.

He didn’t like my beach setup.

I think “portrait on a beach” immediately sounded cheesy to him, as it probably should. Still, he put up with it. Thanks, Scott. And thanks to Gillian Flynn at Riviera San Diego, the take-no-prisoners editor who has hired me everywhere she’s been since we started working together seven years ago.

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Bollywood comes to L.A.

In late 2011 Los Angeles Magazine commissioned me to shoot Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor, who played the game-show host in “Slumdog Millionaire” and the Indian tycoon in the latest “Mission Impossible.” He’s also starred in 100 or so Indian films, which must be awesome. Anil has a fantastic range and was a joy to work with.

I pulled out all the stops for this shoot, scouting for two days beforehand, gathering props, hammering out concepts. Throughout a long day with six separate portrait setups, Anil was game for everything I could throw at him. The longer we shot, the more he ramped it up. It was one of the best collaborations I’ve ever had on a shoot.

A few things you might like to know:

  1. While we had makeup artist Veronica Sinclair on hand, Anil seemingly brought his own groomer from India. “Deepak,” he’d call, and this nice Indian man would pop up to do some primping.
  2. That’s my grandfather’s ancient Colt .38.
  3. That’s also my banjo.
  4. I think we scared the publicist out of her wits, having Anil waving a gun and an American flag on camera like a maniac. Like I said, he was game for anything.

Thanks to the talented Amy Feitelberg at LA Mag for the shoot.

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Welcome, plus goats

Way back during the great Internet bubble of the late ’90s, when people were registering domain names then selling them for wads of cash, I snared this hard-to-type, ironically inconvenient URL. Once it was clear that no one was dying to purchase it, I figured I’d hold on to it anyways. Starting a carpet-cleaning business? Passionate about short-term money loans? You never know when valueandconvenience might come in handy. Well, I’ve had it for about 11 years, and I finally realized — Criminy, what a great place to start a blog.

Thus, welcome to this special place where I’ll be sharing not only what I’ve been up to but what I’ve found share-worthy out in the world. I hope you will comment, debate, complain, subscribe, unsubscribe, read with detachment, rant about kids today, et cetera.

For starters, here’s one of my favorite portraits from 2011.

This is Kevin Beckers, a Westminster High School student who tends the goats on the school’s eight-acre farm. This is the goat at its calmest. You don’t realize it, but he’s got that goat clamped between his legs and in a death-grip at the collar. Unless we were feeding them, the goats stayed as far from my lighting setup as possible.

Thanks for joining me.

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