Archive for the ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Category
This is an excerpt from a recent interview I did with Rebecca Britt for Fstoppers. Read the full interview here.
Fstoppers/Rebecca Britt: I’m always fascinated when a photographer uses their talents for a greater cause than themselves. SlickforceGirl is a commercial and creative pinup brand that helps raise awareness for women’s causes and breast cancer. I recently had the opportunity to review creator Nick Saglimbeni’s Mastering Lighting series, and I wanted to sit with Nick to discuss his SlickforceGirl campaign and how he uses the techniques taught in Mastering Lighting within the campaign.
FS: I’ve been a fan of your SlickforceGirl brand for a couple of years now. Can you explain to our readers what started the idea of a SlickforceGirl?
Nick Saglimbeni: I originally created SlickforceGirl because I found myself at a crossroads in my art. My career first gained traction in the urban glamour market, an arena which boasts huge fan followings but very little recognition outside of that world. The models are gorgeous and every bit as talented as — and in some cases, more hard-working than — their “mainstream” counterparts, but because they are curvy, or ethnic, or short, they are historically limited to roles such as “music video girls”.
I’ve always seen color, curves and shape as assets rather than hindrances, and I think I instinctively knew how to photograph these women in a way that was different from what had been done before in that world. I wanted to create a diverse universe full of strong female characters for a new generation that isn’t used to every character just being tall, skinny and white.
FS: The scale of your Astronaut Vanessa character looks massive, it looks more like a movie. How did you choose your location and why?
NS: Visually speaking, Vanessa’s story was the most logistically difficult to shoot, but it’s also the most excited I’ve ever been on set. It felt like we were making a feature film, and we all turned into producers trying to find ways to get feature-film production value into a photo shoot budget. I’ll never understand this new era of just compositing everything onto a stock photo background. Being on location is at least half of the fun, and it changes the energy of the shoot dramatically.
We found a huge spaceship set that was built on a sound stage for a sci-fi movie, and they hadn’t broken it down yet. It was architecturally perfect, but aesthetically very gray and drab. I wanted a very stylized color palette for our pop version of deep space, similar to the bioluminescent scenes in James Cameron’s Avatar.
One of the ways we achieved this was through costume and glam. We originally planned on putting model Vanessa Veasley in an actual NASA Mercury suit, but quickly discovered they were so bulky that it was impossible to shoot anything even remotely sexy. So we had her space suit custom-made, and used fabrics with a reflective sheen to capture the “monitor glow” around the spaceship.
FS: How did you approach the lighting for this concept?
NS: For the cockpit scene, we had two lighting motivators — the interior glow from the monitors and bridge controls, and the exterior glow from the stars. There’s really no manual on lighting for outer space, so I looked at old American Cinematographer articles on Armageddon and Terminator 2 for inspiration.
I didn’t want to deal with the spill from green-screen, so we built two 12×12 white griffolyns outside the cockpit window and fired 4 heads on two 2400w/s packs into them. Compositing is much easier in stills than in motion-picture, so you can use whatever color you want to end up with. We then created “nebula hits” by pointing a couple of strips and softboxes with pink and purple gels directly at Vanessa. The trick with making outer space ambience look believable is to let some of the scene fall completely to black, so we were very careful not to overlight the cramped space. For the interior cockpit glow, we placed small double-silked strip lights with steel blue party gels around the ship and behind camera.
This scene was shot at ISO 100 on a 50mm lens (medium format). Even though we were wide, the biggest challenge is carrying the depth of field at that speed because theoretically both Vanessa and “the stars” needed to be in focus. Ultimately, we were able to get the light barely to an F4/5.6 split, and then I set the lens to F8 and let it underexpose a stop-and-a-half, except for a few highlights on her suit. It would have taken too much power to get our ambience higher, and if there were really stars outside that window, the light that reached the ship would be perfectly believable a few stops under key. Also, blues and purples saturate better at a darker luminance than warm colors so it ended up working in our favor.
(Read the complete interview on Fstoppers here.)
— My thanks to Rebecca and the Fstoppers team for a great interview!
Welcome the newest hero in the SlickforceGirl universe, Desert Mechanic Jessica. Word on the street is that she can fix anything, including your incorrect opinion.
Model Jessica Burciaga graciously stepped in to bring this rough-around-the-edges savant to life, and she was nice enough to let us cover her in dirt. Check out the making of Jessica’s shoot in the video above, as well the final campaign images and a BTS gallery from the shoot below.
If you missed Part 1 of this post, see it here.
5. There is such a thing as too friendly.
I mentioned before that a positive attitude is key, and this is absolutely true. But even the best qualities can be overdone. It would be hard to find fault in someone who smiles all day, but you certainly don’t want something who can’t stop talking. Some people are just excited to be on set, but you are all there to focus and make great art. Avoid those who talk incessantly to the crew and models all day, especially during critical shoot moments. It distracts everyone from their job, and in the end, your art will suffer the most.
4. Phones stay in pockets and on silent.
Ah, the age of social media. Everyone’s life is more exciting in their phones. But you and your team are here to do a job. Sadly, I’ve been on too many shoots where team members can’t put their phones down, and they usually don’t get called back after that. This tends to be even more prevalent with glam squads—hair, makeup and wardrobe—who are often instagramming pictures and booking their next job right on set.
As the photographer, you are the visionary for the shoot, but everyone should be equally involved in helping you get there. Just because the model is dressed, that doesn’t mean wardrobe’s job is over, and your hair stylist shouldn’t be waiting to be told there’s a hair in your model’s face. Everyone should be watching the monitor—or the model—and nothing else. There is plenty of downtime during a shoot day, but when the model is in front of camera, everyone needs to be on their A-game.
3. Look for people who want to grow with you.
One of the biggest issues any growing brand or company faces is finding people who believe in your vision. We’ve been extremely lucky at Slickforce to attract such quality, driven people. But even we’ve had a few that just weren’t a match. At the end of the day, you didn’t become an artist to be stressed out at work. Don’t be afraid to let someone go if they are causing more problems than they are solving. Just make sure it’s not your own ego making the decision.
That said, there are plenty of people who enjoy being part of a team more than working alone. When you are fortunate enough to find these people, ask them what their goals are, and find ways to grow that are mutually beneficial. Everybody wants to like their job, but not everyone wants the pressure and responsibility that comes with being the boss.
2. Hire people that are strong where you aren’t.
Hands down, one of the most exciting things about building a team is that there are people who are really good at things that you are not. What a gift! Too many artists have fragile egos, and try to hire people they can control. These people shouldn’t be in charge of anything.
No business can thrive with a team of yes-men. Look for people who are excellent where you are average, because in all likelihood—they are working with you for the same reason. During the first photo shoot I ever produced, I didn’t have a team yet, so I asked for referrals to find the best hair and makeup artists around. Fortunately, they knew way more about glamming out a model than I did, which allowed me to focus on lighting. And it turned to be one of the smartest moves I ever made—almost 15 years later I still work with the same team.
1. Money isn’t the only form of currency.
I know some of you are thinking that you too would have a great team if you could spend lots of money. But when I started out, I had almost nothing to spend. Like, less than $300/month, seriously. I rented a dirt-cheap space in a building on Skid Row, which I split with friends, put a vinyl sticker on the door and called it “SlickforceStudio.” I couldn’t afford pro assistants so I asked friends to help—most of whom all had office jobs and thought being at a photo shoot was cool. Once I began to shoot for low-budget magazines and built a portfolio, I hired interns and film students.
Lots of people are willing to learn and help out—they just don’t want you to add stress to their lives. After more than a decade of owning and operating SlickforceStudio, I can tell you two things: a) no amount of money turns a bad team member into a good one, and b) positive emotional experiences are the greatest currency we have in life. So go out and build an exciting, professional, and reputable brand, and people who want to be part of the same will gravitate toward you.
Okay, that’s going to wrap it for our list. If you liked this or want to see more posts of this nature, please leave a comment below.
With the release of Mastering Lighting, so many of you have been messaging me, sharing your shooting adventures as you advance into the wild world of professional lighting. One recurring theme in your questions is in regards to putting your crew together. A reliable team is essential for pulling off larger-scale productions, so here are my top ten rules when I am considering hiring someone to join the Slickforce crew. (Part 1 of 2)
10. Look for people who enjoy working on a team.
This may seem obvious, but one of the most common issues with hiring an artistic crew is that artists often have a difficult time embracing a supporting role. But anyone who truly seeks knowledge understands that you always learn more from experience than from thinking you already know all the answers. A team player should make everyone on the team look good, and take pride in knowing how much they are helping, rather than by how much their ego is being stroked.
My first entertainment job was interning for director John Woo (The Killer, Face/Off, Mission: Impossible 2). During that time, I made lots of copies, delivered packages, and picked people up from the airport. Even though I wanted to be in the director’s chair, I knew I was there to be helpful to others—and that nobody hired me for my opinion. I was just so excited to be around a talented team I could learn from. And boy, did I learn a lot.
9. Professionalism comes before talent.
We live in an age where everyone thinks of themselves as an artist on some level, and that’s a good thing—mostly. But let’s face it, sometimes artists can be flaky. All too often, calling oneself an artist is just cover for “I resist any form of structure” or “I can’t be bothered to work on your schedule (bro).” These people give artists a bad name. A real artist knows that his or her reputation is everything, and unless you’re a one-person show, people need to be able to rely on you. Being on time is critical. One person being late can completely derail a shoot’s momentum.
In terms of skill level, some artists are talented right out of the gate, and others develop their talent over time (being around a positive, focused team does wonders.) But I’ll tell you this—no amount of talent is worth an inflexible ego and a disregard for others’ time. Talent may get you your 15 minutes of fame—being a professional will keep you there.
8. Strong attitude is better than strong muscles.
I said it in Mastering Lighting, and I’ll say it again: most of our Slickforce team is female. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some quality male assistants, but overall, I find women to be better collaborators than men. The women we’ve worked with—who are each incredibly gifted artists in their own right—genuinely enjoy both being on team and having access to a greater network and resource pool than they would alone.
On top of that, when you’re in the business of photographing beautiful women, I find that female assistants just make the models more comfortable. And that is always one of our top priorities. The men may come with a bit more muscle, but a positive, team-oriented attitude goes much further in helping produce a successful shoot. Besides, photography gear really isn’t that heavy, so let’s not be dramatic. It’s mostly plastic and aluminum, you’ll survive.
7. Never hire anyone who doesn’t prioritize safety.
One of my favorite things about attending film school was the repeated focus on safety. We were working with heavy, powerful, electrical equipment, sometimes on rooftops, or in the middle of a road, and if you didn’t know what you were doing, it could be your last shoot. Don’t delude yourself, there are a million ways to die or get injured making art. Very rarely are you sitting in a room painting a canvas. Educate yourself aggressively on safety, because you owe it to everyone on your team to create a safe working environment where you can realize your visions. Your team should follow your lead—or better yet, they’ll come equipped with new knowledge that you didn’t already have. Now everyone is learning.
6. A good assistant should be anticipating your next move.
Too many times, an assistant will wait to be told what to do before moving. And this is fine—in fact, preferred—if the person is brand new. However, if someone has been with you for more than a few shoots, then they should start to get a feel for your routine. The right assistant will be listening more than talking, and enjoys being productive and helpful. If you mention something isn’t working, they are already thinking of solutions to the problem. If you really hit the jackpot, they are anticipating your next setup and solving problems before they even occur. In that case, I recommend taking pictures for evidence and handcuffing them to the radiator immediately.
With the release of Mastering Lighting, I’ve been getting lots of messages asking for similar lighting breakdowns of specific images we’ve featured at NickSaglimbeni.com. One of the most requested is this shoot above, which has generated a ton of traffic over the years—it’s currently in the Top 5 most viewed posts of all-time on my blog.
NBA star Chris Andersen and blonde beauties Queen Esther Hanuka and DJ Megan Daniels certainly make this shoot an eye-catcher, but the majority of questions and comments revolve around lighting set-up and how to achieve this look. So, I’ve diagramed it out in detail for you below in what I call… Lighting Setup 2.0. (I mean, seriously, look at all that color.)
I was commissioned by Rebel Ink to photograph this cover concept and 10-page editorial for the magazine. If you haven’t guessed it already, the inspiration was Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit video. Without all the usual bells and whistles, SlickforceStudio’s industrial layout worked great as a raw space, so we showcased the exposed concrete floors and threw up a textured muslin and a backboard behind our models.
Knowing I had three blondes dressed in black guaranteed a stark color palette for the shoot, and I knew backlights would work brilliantly on their hair, so I pegged them from both sides, hiding the light stands behind the barrels. I keyed from camera right with a medium chimera and wrapped around the fill with a 74″ Octabank. I shot this on a Hasselblad 503CW at F4 on a 180mm lens to compress the space and make all elements powerful in the tight frame. And finally, we wet down the concrete for reflections, and I added a third backlight on the floor shooting straight at camera—but hidden behind the models—to add super-highlights and create maximum contrast.
Now, let me ask you: if a 7-foot tall athlete and a pair of gorgeous inked blonde superstarlets walked into your garage, how would you shoot it?
If you liked this and want to see more detailed lighting breakdowns, check out Mastering Lighting: Volume One here.
With the upcoming release of her new film, “Dirty Politics,” we are reminded of the time we dragged Bollywood’s Mallika Sherawat out to the desert for the second issue of WMB 3D: World’s Most Beautiful. If you missed it the first time, here’s a flashback with never-before-released behind-the-scenes images (and video below) of our scorching starlet in 100+ degree heat.