Tag Archives: forbes

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;
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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