Category Archives: techniques & tips

Photographing the Show-Your-Soft-Side Campaign


I love cats.  They’re the most graceful beings on the planet, and when they’re not hunting down mice or asking for a little loving, they’re hanging out in some kind of half-awake meditative state that monks surely spend a lifetime trying to achieve.  I’ve been the keeper of a few cats in my life, the most memorable of whom was Max, a mixed Russian Blue/British Short Hair who was one Big Boy.  Max was top cat, the Buddha/Emperor of the household, which meant that Jack, his adopted feline brother, lived to serve only him.  At times I did quite a bit of serving myself, but I didn’t mind, my service came with a mighty reward, for when I awoke in that darkest of hours, 3 o’clock in the morning, a time when existence is questioned and the abyss seems right around the corner, I would sometimes hear the Big Boy sleeping on his back alongside me, legs splayed in all directions, snoring, and with that comforting sound all seemed well with the world.

I’m a fan of dogs too.  If there’s anyone who lives to love and serve only you, it’s your dog, and a bond like that is a life-giving force.  So I well understand those who prefer the company of dogs to cats.  That’s what makes the world go ‘round.  Some people like PBS, some like SPIKE, and some even like the LIFETIME channel.

In our household, my wife, Annette, and I live with Sophie, a cat who’s quite content to hiss at you for no reason at all, and Ava, a Havanese puppy who lives to play play play, mainly with Annette, who Ava follows everywhere, and I mean everywhere, including the bathroom.


“I’m standing here, you make the move ….”


Given the above, when Sande Reisett of Outlaw Advertising asked me this past Spring if I’d be interested in shooting super-athletes and their pets for a poster campaign, I immediately said yes.  So what was the goal of the campaign?  Like most effective ideas, the concept was simple.  Sande wanted to show tough-guy role-models in loving relationships with their pets.  Two incidents helped spark the idea.  First, Sande told me of an incident in Baltimore City when she was about to pet a dog, only to be told to stop because the dog was being trained as a fighter.  The loving touch of a caring person was forbidden.  Second, Sande told me about Phoenix, a female pit bull who was allegedly torched to death by two brothers, Travers and Tremayne Johnson, both of whom are presently being prosecuted.

So who were we going to photograph?  Sande didn’t know, but she was working on it.  As for the images themselves, we agreed that a dramatic black background was the look we wanted.  This would supply Hanna Mayer, the art director who would design the poster, with built-in drama.  In preparation for the day Sande would call with the first assignment, I searched the internet for inspiring images of men and their dogs, focusing in particular on images showing a strong relationship – a connection, a dialogue, that intangible energy that flows between friends.  In looking, I arrived at two conclusions.  First, I wanted the faces of the subjects to be close to each other, an easy task if the dog was small, but one requiring a little more thought (and perhaps a prop or two) if the dog was a big boy.  Second, I wanted to make sure I could capture enough of the subjects’ faces to give the viewer a feeling of their essence.


I love to photograph people.  The portrait is probably my favorite genre as a photographer.  Typically, when someone comes to my studio for a portrait, the experience becomes an exploration.  We sit, perhaps drink coffee, and get to know each other in as much as five or ten minutes will allow.  Here, my goal is to establish a personal connection and make the subject comfortable.  Then we go before the lights and shoot — and look at the results – and shoot — and look at the results — and shoot  –  until we’re happy.  Both of us.  (Before we start, I tell the subject I want to be happy too.)  More often than not, by the second or third round of shooting, the subject is totally relaxed and actually having fun.  The process itself includes quiet moments as well as times when I engage the subject with questions and mind games.  I like to think of the shoot as a mind/Zen/jump-off-the-cliff experience that dissolves a person’s mask, leading to defining moments of character, joy, contemplation, and whatever else may lie within.

Altogether different is the headshot.  Whether it be a musician, an attorney, a CEO, or someone promoting their business, the goal of my headshots is usually the same:  I try to capture power and intelligence wrapped in a friendly personna.  The process is painless and quick, maybe ten to twenty minutes, sometimes a little more, but again, I ask the subject to continue until we’re both happy with the available choices.

Then there is the campaign shoot.  Like the headshot, it has a defined goal, a given look to be achieved.  And like headshot, it can also be quick, but unfortunately, not by choice.  When dealing with large companies or organizations, time is an imperative, so after your allotment, you’re done, whether you like it or not.  For this reason, I usually try to visit the campaign site on a day in advance of the shoot to play with my setup.  In addition to lighting challenges, a campaign can also present a problematic venue, a cast of contributors, less control over the final product, and a deadline right around the corner.

The shoot may also be visited by the press.  Now I realize that having the press attend a photo shoot can be very good for a campaign.  On the other hand, the more people I don’t know at a shoot, the less control I have, and if they’re shooting the shoot, well … the voltage in the room can increase to a level that easily rattles the environment.  This can result in great news footage, but lousy still shots.


In early May, Sande told me our first subjects were Baltimore Oriole Adam Jones and Missy, a Labrador retriever.  Big dog.  Very big dog.  As strong as AJ might be, there would be no carrying this dog.  We either needed a table for Missy, a sofa for the two of them, or the floor.  And as much as I wanted the shoot to take place at my studio, where I am Master and Commander, that was not going to happen.

A day before the shoot, I drove to Oriole stadium to scout out the venue.  I was greeted by a very helpful Kristen Schultz, director of Special Events, who took me on a long and winding walk that ended when she ushered me into a room which, for a location shoot, fulfilled my worst nightmare.  It was no larger than 12 by 20, with a ceiling that could send a claustrophobe running.

“Uh, Kristen … do you have a slightly larger space?”

While I’m all for improvisation, some things are impossible.  With three Elinchrom RX 600 lights, a nine-foot wide backdrop stand, and a Photek Illumnata II Octagonal Light Bank measuring 52 inches in diameter, this room was a row boat when I needed a cruise ship.  The Photek couldn’t be raised to an appropriate height, the closed nature of the room would create too much flash bounce-back, and because the subjects needed to be at least 8 to 10 feet from the backdrop, even if everything else worked, I’d be shooting them from the hall.

“How about the media room, Leo?  That’s where we hold our press conferences.  It’s quite large.”

“That will work.”

The following day I drove back to the stadium for a 2 PM shoot.  Mike Diamond, a photographer friend, met me to assist in the setup, and Sande came armed with peanut butter and toys.  With some improvisation during the shoot, the basic setup is that













which you see in the accompanying diagram and photograph.  (Simply click the images to make them larger.)  While I assumed that in the end, we might go for a “gritty” look, my goal was to obtain a gentle light throughout the shoot.  Why?  Because in Photoshop it’s easy to turn a gently-lit subject into a gritty one — particularly with the right plugin — but not so easy (at least for me) to do the reverse.  For location shooting, the Photek softbox is so effective in achieving a gentle light that it rivals the cumbersome and much more expensive 74 inch Elinchom Octa Light Bank which is permanently parked in my studio.

With the setup done, I asked Sande the inevitable question.  “Is there gonna be press?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, knowing that would make me happy.  “The last I heard, they’re not coming.”

At 1:45 PM, the press arrived.  Shortly after 2, Adam Jones and Missy appeared.  With cameras rolling, and I don’t mean mine, an odd feeling that I was in a movie took over, and way too much energy surged through the room.  I made the mistake of getting caught up in the voltage rather than tempering it down.  So while, for example, I try to


make the subject comfortable by expressing satisfaction with the images we’ve got, this time I was so enthusiastic the powers in charge cut my allotted time by a third.  This is not good.  Over time I’ve well discovered that in formal shoots, more shots lead to more choices.  It’s one of those rare exceptions to “less is more.”

As for the shoot itself, Missy was a sweetheart, but not what I’d call a trained model.  She was all over the place, and I just kept clicking, trying to capture both faces.  When the dust finally settled, I found two images that caught my eye.  In one, we see Missy licking a smiling Adam Jones, and in the other Missy and Adam are having a quiet moment face to face.  I went back and forth on these, but thankfully, Hanna and


Sande chose what I do believe is the best of the two, as shown in the poster.  For me that image works because a wide-eyed and vulnerable Missy is lovingly looking at a man whose soft touch and closed eyes completes the connection with equal emotion.  (If I could turn Adam’s face 15 more degrees toward the camera, I would, but hopefully, the angle as is doesn’t bother most people.)


A month later, Sande called me again – this time with good news and bad news.  The bad news was that our next subject, MMA fighter/promoter John Rallo, also couldn’t make it to the studio.  One of his little guys, Doobie, was ill, so we’d have to do the shoot in his basement.

“Basement?  Do we know how big it is?”


The good news was:  Doobie was a cat!  And as an even greater bonus:  this time there really would be no press.

On 22 June, with not the highest of expectations, I met Sande at John Rallo’s home at 8:30 in the morning.  As soon as I opened the door, things started looking up.  First, John was as nice as could be.  Second, the man was cut.  Third, strong face.  Fourth, perfect tank top.  Fifth, and best of all:  tattoos.  We’re not talking one or two.  If you wanted to read Dante’s Inferno as a graphic novel, John’s your man.  He had heaven, hell and everything in between all over his chest and arms – and they, along with the rest of him, would look just great under the lights – if the basement was big enough.

It was.

The John/Doobie shoot was relaxed … except for Doobie.  Unlike Missy, who just wanted to play, Doobie wanted out.  Who are these barbarians, and why is that creature with the little clicking box making ridiculous coo-cooing sounds at me?  Get these lights outta here, and take yourselves with them.  We tried various poses, and once in a while Doobie was kind enough to show his face.  Two factors saved the shoot.  First, my feather duster.  It’s a hit with Sophie and Ava, so I brought it along and finally remembered to get it out.  Second, both John and Sande suggested we do a simple pose with John and Doobie looking into the camera.  This didn’t strike me as promising as I generally find posing to be stiff, but in this case I couldn’t have been more wrong.  John is a natural in front of the camera, so when he went into his “bad boy” look, he was so good he could’ve joined the cast of The Expendables.



Equally important, as I waved the feather duster in front of my camera, I saw Doobie open his pupils and look at me like I was a mouse, albeit a big one.  He was finally on board and wonderfully doing exactly what John was doing — and there lay the connection.  Two bad boys, ready for action.  When it came time to choose the John/Doobie poster shot, nothing came close.  (Shortly after the shoot, Doobie passed on, but I’ve no doubt he went out with a fight.)

As an aside, one lesson reconfirmed by this shoot is something I try (but sometimes forget) to practice as a photographer:  listen to your subject (and in this case, Sande as well).  In other words, let the shoot become a collaboration.  People generally know what works for them.


On 17 August, Sande gave me another call.

“Hey Leo, what are you doing Sunday morning?”

“Having a couple over for brunch — long overdue.  They invited us for dinner more than a year ago.  We’re a little slow.”


“Don’t tell me, Sande.  The Ravens gave us Sunday.”

It was true.

The subjects were linebacker Jarret Johnson and his pal, Tucker.  (Double J also has a Shih Tzu.  Now that would’ve made quite a couple.)

At 11 AM on Sunday, I met Sande at the training facility of the Baltimore Ravens, otherwise known as “the Castle.”  (Sande’s husband, Don, came to assist.  The fact that he’s a huge Ravens fan and doesn’t know anything about setup is really just a coincidence.)  The room was big, I was given plenty of time to set up, and everything was just right.

Then the press arrived.

Then something delayed the Ravens practice.

Then finally, Double J and Tucker arrived.  JJ couldn’t have been more friendly and cooperative, and while Tucker was distracted by a relatively busy room, he sometimes settled down to give me a few good shots.  Again, in the final selection, a posing shot seemed best, probably because in the loving shots, Tucker’s face wasn’t as visible as we’d have liked.


I used a gentle light once again, and added the needed grit in post-processing.  While the grit and contrast of the final image is a giant step from the original, the technique used would have allowed me to go even further, to the point of unreality.  Here lies one of the great challenges of Photoshop:  it is so potent it temps you to go too far — and if I get to a point where I can see my own work, I know I have.


I’m not sure what horizon Sande envisioned when she conceived of this project, but as I write this on 4 November 2011, the “Show Your Soft Side” campaign is alive and kicking and growing.  As reported by Jill Rosen in a Baltimore Sun article, the campaign was launched during the latter part of September.  Since then, posters and billboards with Sande’s tagline, “Only a punk would hurt a cat or dog,” have appeared throughout Baltimore City, and a Facebook page devoted to the campaign has over 4,600 members.  Supportive events and additional media coverage are planned.  But more important is the question:  will the campaign have an impact?  Hopefully, it will lead to significant contributions for animals in distress.  As for the message itself, that will take some time, but one would hope that with continued support, it will eventually reach those who most need it.


main page for the Show Your Soft Side Campaign

outtakes from the Show Your Soft Side Campaign

blog entry:  Why Does Baltimore City Want to Take the Show-Your-Soft-Side Campaign from Sande Riesett?  

This entry was posted in experiences as a photographer, techniques & tips and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. Edit


  1. Posted 21 November 2011 at 3:06 pm by Renee Toenies | Permalink | Edit

    I love, love, LOVE this campaign! (I have a pick of JJ and Tucker hanging on my fridge! 8o) You have taken fabulous photos, and really captured the love between those bad boys and their furbabies. It was great to read your side of the story. Thank you for doing this!
    Renee Toenies
    Lonsdale, MN

  2. Posted 21 November 2011 at 4:47 pm by Lillie Ruby | Permalink | Edit

    The lighting of the photos in this campaign is so absolutely spot on, I feel like bawling every time I see a new photo. Sharp, clear, and flattering to the subjects but not too glossed up – so the men look rugged and real…. a perfect photographic balance of masculine sexiness and heartfelt sweetness.

  3. Posted 21 November 2011 at 8:11 pm by GABRIELA VEYRO TOACH | Permalink | Edit


  4. Posted 21 November 2011 at 9:31 pm by Debby | Permalink | Edit

    Thank you for sharing your side of the photo shoots. It was interesting to read the challenges presented to you. Your shots are fabulous and your contribution to this campaign is unmeasurable! Thank you.

  5. Posted 22 November 2011 at 11:13 am by Caroline Griffin | Permalink | Edit

    Your extraordinary talent is surpassed only by your generosity to this campaign. As the Chair of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission, you have my profound gratitude for helping the many crime victims that have no voice.

  6. Posted 22 November 2011 at 3:20 pm by Leo Howard Lubow | Permalink | Edit

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments! I’ve really enjoyed this campaign, and look forward to seeing it grow. :<)

Also posted in experiences as a photographer

how to play with shutter speed to freeze action


In August 2008, I traveled to Atanta to shoot a heavyweight bout between (then-undefeated) Roman Greenberg and Cedric Boswell.  When I arrived at Center Stage, I was immediately disappointed in the lighting.  Usually, these arenas are so bright, my Canon EF 24-104 f/4 — which is usually all you need at the apron — easily captures the action at a safe shutter speed of 250.  But this night was not like any other.  Even at ISO 3200 a properly exposed shot would click at a speed no faster than 40.  Because I’d become accustomed to using the 24-105, I hadn’t brought along my faster Tamron AF 28-75 f/2.8 XR Di — a lesson for the future.  I did have an EF 70-200 f/2.8 L, but at the apron, a much wider angle is needed.  So I chose to do, for me, the unimaginable — abandon the apron, and move into the stands.  I finally settled into a seat which was high enough to avoid intereference from the ropes, then set up, using my knee to support the lens.  Even now, though, at 80, my speed was insufficient.  This is where shooting in RAW helps. To double my speed I underexposed my shots by one F-Stop — relying on the fact that in Photoshop, I could subsequently process the image at the right exposure, with little loss in quality.  As a result, I shot the fight at ISO 3200, with a speed of 160.  To my surprise, 160 was just fast enough to stop the action in the shot below, the knockout punch.




how to photograph a concert


[note:  I receive no benefit from any party linked in this article.  The links are there solely to be helpful.]

When photographing concerts, I generally shoot jazz, preferring a small cozy club, like photography-friendly Birdland in NYC, over large venues.  Because jazz focuses so heavily on solo efforts, I find myself concentrating on single musicians as opposed to the group effort, but whether you shoot jazz, rock, pop, or classical, certain basics apply to all concerts.  With that thought in mind, and with the additional caveat that there are many paths to the same goal, below is what works for me when I shoot a concert.


Dave Liebman at Birdland -- Panasonic DMC-GH2 with Leica Summilux 35mm F/1.4 ASPH


For the small venue, I always call in advance and ask whether still photography is permitted.  Photography-friendly venues will allow you to shoot with the consent of the musician, whose permission is generally sought just prior to the performance.  Most jazz musicians have no problem being photographed, particularly the old-timers, but an unwilling few have allowed me to shoot them in rehearsal instead.  A small minority, and thankfully only a small minority, have simply refused.  If the venue generally prohibits photography, I’ll sometimes take the extra step of contacting the musician’s management to obtain special permission, in which case it’s hard for the venue to then refuse.  When asking, I always emphasize that I don’t use flash and I don’t shoot in quiet moments. I also generally stay put so as to assure I’m not interfering with the music.

In large venues, like the Wilmington or New Orleans Jazz Festivals, there’s no need to ask, as every other person in the audience is often aiming something at the musicians.


Maynard Ferguson at Glenelg, MD


A fast lens — at least an F/2.8 — is essential.   So while I have a Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS USM AF, I generally favor my faster Tamron AF 28-75mm F/2.8 XR Di LD because of the extra stop.  Under concert conditions, that extra stop can mean the difference between capturing a moment at a shutter speed of, say, 160 (1/160th of a second) instead of 80, and that one stop can mean the difference between a sharp image and one that’s blurry.  Generally, I try to shoot at a speed of at least 100, but if a musician is in a slow, quiet moment, a shutter speed as slow as 45 or even 30 may work.  As a rule, I shoot as fast as I can without making the image too noisy.  For the 5D Mark II, this means I try to stay under ISO 3200, and for the Panasonic GH2, I try to stay under ISO 2500.

One of my favorite lenses is the light and relatively inexpensive ($379)  Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 USM AF.  While a little soft at F/1.4, this lens performs well at F/2.0.  (At this aperture, the above-noted shutter speed of 160 now becomes 320, and that’s usually fast enough to freeze the face of a constantly-moving musician.)  If I can get close enough to the stage, the 50mm sees a lot of action, and as a bottom line, I always keep it in my bag.

Keb' Mo' at the Recher, Towson, MD

Given the right light and distance, I’ll also rely on the Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS USM and the Canon EF 135 F/2.0 USM (perhaps Canon’s sharpest lens).   I recently purchased but have yet to try the Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG.  To my amazement, I found this lens to be significantly sharper than the Canon EF 85mm F1.2 L II USM, a lens that cost $1200 more.  At wide apertures, both of these lenses have gorgeous bokehs, always a nice addition to an image.

As a supplement to my Canon system, I also use the Panasonic DMC-GH2, and while most of its current lenses are too slow for the concert setting, the 20mm F/1.7 (a 40mm equivalent) is a winner.  I’ve also used the GH2 with a few Leica lenses, and though this requires manual focusing, the GH2 has a zoom-focus feature that works well so long as the musician isn’t jumping around.  Most Leica lenses are as fast as can be (e.g., F/1.4 or F/2.0) as well as tack sharp, even when wide open.

One additional item that I’ll sometimes take to a concert is the Gitzo 2561T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Monopod .  It’s small (14.2 inches folded), light (11.06 oz.), and wonderfully inconspicuous.  In a club setting, when sitting at a table, I’ll often put the monopod on my chair, raise it to where needed, and lean it against the table for extra support.


While there are no set rules for concert shooting, here’s what I’ve settled into:

1.  If I’m in a venue where I can’t roam, I’ll try to select a seat that gives me a 20% to 30% angle of the musician I’m most interested in.  I find that angled shots provide a greater feeling of dimension and drama.  I’ll also try to assure in advance that obstacles like heads or a music stand will not be in the way. (If you see a music stand on the stage prior to the concert, it’s a good idea to find out where it’s going to end up.)


Roy Haynes at the Wilmington Jazz Festival

2.  I prefer to concentrate on one musician and wait until he or she reaches an ecstatic moment of visible emotion.  This doesn’t mean I tightly close in on the subject.  The resolution of my cameras is strong enough to allow me to frame a much larger composition than the one I have in mind.  In other words, I shoot with the thought that I’ll crop in post-processing.  The simple thought here is:  it’s better to have too much to choose from than too little.  Also, while I prefer relatively tight individual shots, I remain cognizant of the background, so if for example there’s a trio, I may try for a composition that equally weights the background players on each side of the subject.

3.  For me, the face is usually the most important part of the image.  As a result, I target the face using Canon’s partial meter mode.  This mode perfectly exposes the designated Focus Point by measuring a circle that extends out from the Point in an area that covers approximately 9% of the lens.  As I shoot, I often check the images to assure there are no glitches, like an accidental changing of the exposure.


Jane Monheit, The Rams Head, Annapolis, MD

I’ll also check the images to see if metering at plus or minus 1 on the face will give me a better tonal range as to the rest of the image.  I know that in Photoshop, a plus or minus one will still give me the detail I want in the face, and may otherwise help with shadows or highlights, depending on what the rest of the image shows.  While bracketing may sound like a good idea, I think constantly changing faces and action make it less practical, and more importantly, with few exceptions, I find that the above procedure gives me just the right exposure.

4.  If I need to recompose the shot after I target the face, I’ll lock the exposure with the appropriate button so the face remains perfectly exposed.  Rather than constantly exposing the face from the center AF Point (which I use as a default), I find myself sometimes changing the AF Registration Point to one that allows me to naturally “fall” on the face. The Mark II easily permits this, and as a result, I can avoid the need to constantly recompose the shot.

5.  I generally stay in aperture priority mode unless the lighting is constant and the musician isn’t highly active, in which case I may go to manual.  If my shutter speed is still too slow after adjusting the aperture and ISO, I’ll sometimes underexpose by as much as one stop to obtain extra speed.  [See How to Play with Shutter Speed to Freeze Action.]

6.  I always shoot in RAW.   ­­­


Benny Golson at Smoke, NYC

7.  As noted above, it’s helpful to have lenses that are F/2.8 or faster.  I find that unless the lighting is uncommonly good, I’m often shooting in the lowest apertures available.  This is usually fine in regard to depth-of-field so long as I’m concentrating on only one musician.   If I can get a decent shutter speed in the “sweet spot” of the lens — which is usually a stop or two up from the widest aperture — I’ll do this to get a sharper image.  Also, I always use a lens hood to avoid glare from side lights.

Finally, I also try to remember why I’m there in the first place:  I love jazz — so happy shooting, and don’t forget to enjoy the music.

More Jazz/Blue images appear at:  click here