March 20th, 2011

Make Up Ad Brags About Being Photoshop-Free

Posted in digital editing, portraits by Greg Benson

The web site Jezebel has an article about a cosmetic ad that exclaims that it is the first unretouched make up ad. We are so used to every advertising photo being photoshopped that to stand out an ad has to tout its lack of retouching. Note the model’s imperfect arm contrasted with her professionally made up face.

February 16th, 2011

I Hate Having My Picture Taken

Posted in books, portraits by Greg Benson

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “I hate having my picture taken,” I could take an extra week’s vacation each year. As a portrait photographer I strive to calm subjects’ anxieties. Nervousness about having one’s photograph taken is not a new worry.

I was paging through a book of Ogden Nash poems recently and ran across this poem written in the 1930s.

Waiting for the Birdie
by Ogden Nash

Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon,
I hate having my picture taken.
How can your family claim to love you
And then demand a picture of you?
The electric chair is a comfortless chair,
But I know an equally comfortless pair;
One is the dentist’s, my good sirs,
And the other is the photographer’s.
Oh, the fly in all domestic ointments
Is affectionate people who make appointments
To have your teeth filled left and right.
Or you face reproduced in black and white.
You open the door and you enter the studio,
And you feel less cheerio than nudio.
The hard light shines like seventy suns,
And you know your features are foolish ones.
The photographer says, Natural, please,
And you cross your knees and uncross your knees.
Like a duke in a high society chronicle
The camera glares at you through its monocle
And you feel ashamed of your best attire,
Your nose itches, your palms perspire,
Your muscles stiffen, and all the while
You smile and smile and smile and smile.
It’s over; you weakly grope for the door;
It’s not; the photographer wants one more.
And if this experience you survive,
Wait, just wait till the proofs arrive.
You look like a drawing by Thurber or Bab,
Or a gangster stretched on a marble slab.
And all your dear ones, including your wife,
Say There he is, that’s him to the life!
Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon,
But I hate having my picture taken.

February 8th, 2011

Look Out

Posted in portraits by Fernando Gaglianese

Penn students observe birds at Morris Arboretum

For a location photographer it is always exciting when assignments take you to unusual places. Making environmental portraits inside a birdcage the size of a tennis court was a unique experience.

University of Pennsylvania animal behaviorist Dr. David White leads a course called Research Experience in Animal Behavior. He supervises students as they do hands-on research.

In the photo above, Greg posed the students to show them engaged in their research.

Dr. White speaks with students at the aviary in Morris Arboretum

In a past issue of the Penn Arts & Sciences magazine the publication ran an article focused on one of Dr. White’s student groups who observed the behavior of cowbirds. Greg was asked to visit the research group and their professor at their aviary in the Morris Arboretum just outside of Philadelphia.

Cowbirds have an unusual reproductive strategy, termed brood parastic. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, and those birds end up raising the baby cowbirds. The fledgling cowbirds are nourished by the host parents at the expense of their own young.

Cowbirds in Dr. White's aviary at Morris Arboretum

The location for these environmental portraits of Dr. White and his students gives the photos a rich sense of place.

Dr. White and research students in the aviary at Morris Arboretum

December 15th, 2010

Recognize Achievement

Posted in portraits by Greg Benson

Josh Jalinski of Jalinski Advisory Group, Tom's River, NJ.

We photographed two of the nominees for Senior Market Advisor magazine’s “2010 Financial Advisor of the Year.” As with every environmental portrait assignment, connecting with the subject and finding a strong visual are keys to creating a successful image.

Josh Jalinksi in his office.

It can be a challenge to photograph people who are not models. Models are used to being in front of the camera. Getting the subject to be relaxed and confident is part of carrying off the assignment.

Bill McLaughlin in his office in Wall, New Jersey.

Bill McLaughlin with historic stock market graph.

December 1st, 2010

Leslie Neilsen RIP

Posted in portraits, technology by Greg Benson

Leslie Neilsen speaking at Penn Law School about Clarence Darrow in 1999 © Greg Benson

Actor Leslie Nielsen died at age 84, on November 28, 2010,  of complications from pneumonia. He was a late bloomer. His comedic roles in the movies, Airplane and the Naked Gun series gave him fame and fortune in his later years.

In 1999, I had an opportunity to photograph him when he spoke at the Penn Law School. Nielsen had a serious side and used his Hollywood earnings to present a one man show on the early twentieth century lawyer, Clarence Darrow. Darrow is famous for defending a teacher on trial for teaching evolution in the 1920s Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee. Darrow was also against the death penalty and defended many people in capital cases including Leopold and Loeb, wealthy Chicago teenagers who kidnapped and killed a younger boy.

Retrieving the 1999 image of Nielsen from my archive is illustrative of how much the technology of image making has changed in eleven years. The original is a color negative that was in a job jacket in my studio attic. Once I found the negative, I scanned it, a process that took me around fifteen minutes. A digital original would have been much quicker to find, view and post.

At the end of the day, technology only matters so much, Nielsen’s deadpan comedic delivery brings laughs or groans, whether on film, DVD or youtube.

Neilsen in spoof of Vanity Fair photo of Demi Moore


First full page print ad for Minwax.

Earlier this year we were approached about photographing two print ads for Minwax. Their agency sometimes builds sets to shoot their print ads. This time they envisioned shooting on a location that would have the sort of ambiance that is difficult or impossible to manufacture. An ad campaign of this size requires well produced photographs shot to a tight, pre-determined layout — it required we set up our studio on location for the day.

Photograph for full page print for Minwax ad.

Each of the ads would showcase a different piece of custom furniture and a model playing the part of a satisfied DIYer showing off their efforts in their garage/basement/workshop. The furniture, its beautiful grain and finish, would be the hero in the shot and needed to be beautifully lit.

Greg sits for a lighting test at our studio.

In preparation for the shoot and using the ads’ layout as a strict guide, we spent a day at our studio running through several lighting options that provided beautiful, glare-free light for the furniture but also would flatter the modeling talent.

Our bucolic location.

Lighting set up in an alternate set at our barn location.

On the day of the shoot we descended on the beautiful barn that had been selected as the location. Representatives from the client and the ad agency were on set all day to oversee the shoot and approve images. The rest of the team included a prop and wardrobe stylist, a makeup and hair artist, the two models, a carpenter (to tweak last minute details on the furniture and set), and our photo crew.

Reviewing images on location.

As well as all of the lighting and grip gear, we also brought along two computers. Using the a wireless transmitter hooked up to our cameras, we displayed the photographs on a large monitor immediately as they were being shot and got continuous feedback from the agency. This set up is invaluable to the client and art director when working on shoots where a tight layout dictates the composition of the photograph. We were able to overlay the layout over the images soon after taking a shot.

Second full page print ad for Minwax.

June 16th, 2010

Doctors and Nurses

Posted in portraits by Fernando Gaglianese

For an annual report assignment we created these photographs of doctors and nurses.

Surgery Team

Nurses on the move.

Doctor with thoracic stent.

Doctor with AV display.


April 8th, 2010


Posted in portraits by Fernando Gaglianese

The Penn Law Journal, an alumni magazine, wanted a cover shot featuring six graduates from the class of 2009. The group photograph was shot for the cover of the magazine. The article on these students also featured a photograph of each of them with their families. The families were only available on graduation and both the group shot and the photos with the families had to be shot on the same day.

Cover of Fall 2009 Issue of Penn Law Journal

Cover of Fall 2009 Issue of Penn Law Journal

The day of Commencement we were under a time constraint and in a crowded public space where we had to create the high production value group portrait. The group photo was scouted with the art director and planned prior to the event. The art director helped select and approve the best view that would show six people in black gowns in the ornate setting of the Academy of Music, where the graduation ceremony is held. Because there was an event before the Law School graduation, our time to set up and shoot was limited.

Coordinating with each of the students and their families, we set times and locations to meet them.

Taking into account everyone’s schedules and also allowing time for each setting, locations were chosen at the Law School and near the Academy of Music.

The settings switch from indoor to outdoor and because they were shot during different times of the day, a range of visual variety was possible.

It is worth noting that the Law Journal’s piece succeeds in being a testament to the diversity of students that the school attracts. Each of the family groups is so different. While at different stages of their life’s journey, all of these graduates are commencing their careers at the same time.

To read more about these students see the online version of the Fall 2009 issue of Penn Law Alumni Journal.

February 15th, 2010

Going Big

Posted in portraits by Fernando Gaglianese

It is always helpful to have the final use of a photograph in mind during the planning stages and during a shoot. For instance if images are destined to only be used on the web, simple compositions shot in landscape format often work better.

For a much larger size like a billboard some of the same considerations, like simplicity, are relevant. In addition, quality and resolution are important factors in producing a photograph for a billboard. Format and orientation are often prescribed by an existing layout. Billboards are large budget projects and the client will typically already have approved the final design by the time we get involved in the project.

For an on-going campaign we have photographed some of Saint Joseph’s University’s successful alumni. This billboard campaign, created by Articus Ltd. , features tight portraits of notable alumni.

Named as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009, Sister Mary Scullion is cofounder of Project H.O.M.E.. Project H.O.M.E. describes itself as a program that “empowers people to break the cycle of homelessness, address the structural causes of poverty, and attain their fullest potential as members of society.”

The most recent billboard shows Dr. Ray Washington, class of 1991. For Dr. Washington, playing for St. Joseph’s demanding basketball team and simultaneously pursuing a pre-med major, made medical school easier by comparison.

August 20th, 2009

Back to School

Posted in portraits by Fernando Gaglianese

Earlier this year we were hired by the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania to photograph students and teachers interacting during class. Over the course a day we sat in on half a dozen classes ranging in subjects from film, Japanese studies, economics, history, and philosophy. We listened in on many interesting and informed discussions–all without having to worry about studying for any tests!

The above shot is from a discussion in Professor Simon Richter’s film class. The classroom lights were dimmed and the windows were blacked out to allow him to screen movie clips for his students. We set up a minimal amount of lighting to mimic the effect of natural light streaming in through a window.

Not all the classrooms required setup lighting, Professor Struck’s Religion and Literature class was held in a room blessed (fittingly) with a tall, cathedral-like window. The image of the professor jotting down notes from an ongoing class discussion benefits from that natural light mixing with the classroom lights. His gesture and the lighting have an easy, natural candid feel.

Professor Eudey’s Economics class was held in a darkened lecture hall as she projected powerpoint slides as visual aides to her lesson. Here flash would have been a distraction. About a third of the students were armed and ready with laptops, their faces bathed in the glow of their individual computer screens adding mood to the more general glow of the larger projected screen at the front of the room. While some aspects of the college experience (the lecture hall) remain constant, other things have changed (note taking on laptops).

The glow of the projector sharply cut the contour of one side of Professor Kano and soft window light defined the other, while she discussed Japanese identity in a modern, post-isolated world.