Archive for the ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Category

Top Ten Rules for Hiring a Kick-Ass Photo Crew – Part 2

TOP LEFT: Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney Kardashian for Kardashian Kollection / Sears. Photo by Nick Saglimbeni © Slickforce Inc.
TOP RIGHT: Lighting Test: (L to R) Karina Guerrero, Joyce Park, Cindy Maldonado. Photo by Nick Saglimbeni © Slickforce Inc.

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.


Top Ten Rules for Hiring a Kick-Ass Photo Crew – Part 1


TOP PHOTO: (Clockwise, L to R) Natalin, Kim Lee, Nicole Narain, Suelyn Medieros. Photo by Nick Saglimbeni © Slickforce Inc.
BOTTOM PHOTO: Lighting Test: Anthony Dwiers, Ashley Deonne, Cherry Gardner, Christian Arias. Photo by Nick Saglimbeni © Slickforce Inc.

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.

See Part 2 of this list here.


BELOW: SlickforceStudio Crew Portrait at UltimateGraveyard. © Slickforce Inc.


Lighting Setup 2.0 – Chris Andersen, Queen Esther & DJ Megan Daniels


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 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.

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Unreleased behind-the-scenes from Mallika Sherawat for WMB 3D


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.

WMB 3D: Mallika Sherawat scorches the desert from Nick Saglimbeni on Vimeo.

Mastering Lighting: Volume One – Now Available for Pre-order

As an art-house, the SlickforceStudio team takes a lot of pride in just about everything we produce. But every few years, a project comes along that requires unprecedented levels of attention—an all-consuming energy beast that galvanizes the team and challenges us to power-up our skills and work together to break new ground.

Ever since the release of Mastering Retouching, my inboxes have been filled with requests for a lighting tutorial. Producing five PhotoKamp workshops provided me an incredible opportunity to work side-by-side with up-and-coming photographers and learn which teaching methods stick. Aspiring artists want to know how to create the worlds that have existed only in their minds…until now.

I’m proud to announce Mastering Lighting: Volume One, available for early pre-order now and shipping in early January. Taught in classic SlickforceSystem style, we’ve combined hundreds of your questions into a revolutionary new teaching tool.

In Volume One, I’ll take you through some of my biggest shoots, completely reverse-engineering the lighting setups. I cover our most highly-requested topics, such as redirecting the sun, working with fog, balancing artificial and natural light, finding the right composition, motivating your light sources, and much more. Best of all, you’ll get to set up the shot and light right alongside me, thanks to the incredible first-person perspective experience created by our visual effects team.

And since more than half of our customers preferred the library-quality Collector’s Box Set for Mastering Retouching and Mastering Compositing (artists like awesome tangibles, go figure!)… well, we’re just going to have to top ourselves on this one. The first 250 customers that order Mastering Lighting: Volume One will received a FREE Softbox reference light toy. I’ll elaborate more as we get closer to launch, but trust me, you’ll want this one on your shelf.

I am indebted to the wonderful Slickforce team who worked so hard to make this series a reality, and a very special thanks goes out to YOU for all of the questions, feedback and support you’ve sent us over the years. You’ve helped us create a fantastic new way to learn about lighting and photography. And I can’t lie… this one was just a little too fun to make. If you don’t believe me, check out the official trailer above.

Special early pricing ends November 30, so pre-order now at!

Make-A-Wish Grants a Dream Shoot at SlickforceStudio


It’s not everyday you get to be somebody’s wish. A few months ago, Make-A-Wish called our office. They received a letter from a girl with an inspiring story—Danielle Dietrick was fighting bone cancer, and her dream was to shoot with me at SlickforceStudio. How could anyone say no to this?

Last week, Make-A-Wish flew Danielle to Los Angeles to grant her dream shoot. Danielle is as beautiful on the inside as she is out, and she is a natural on-camera. Her unlimited energy kept our crew smiling the entire day.

I couldn’t have done this without our incredible team, many of whom donated their time and services. Stunning glam was provided by makeup artist Therese Williams and hair stylist Daniel Blaylock, and our wardrobe stylist Tara Wiliams brought racks of amazing clothes. Together, the team transformed Danielle and brought out her inner star. We captured so many different looks throughout the day, each one both beautiful and fun. Special thanks to Bec & Bridge who gifted Danielle her favorite dress at the end of the shoot.

We deeply admire Danielle for her strength and positivity, and we are inspired by her courage. It is our honor to welcome her to the SlickforceStudio family. Thank to you to the wonderful volunteers at Make-A-Wish America for the great work they do, and for making so many wishes come true!

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