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Best of 2010 - Joseph Lapeyra


Joseph Lapeyra’s skill at creating romance lighting was the perfect touch for this rock and roll fantasy residence. Commissioned by the owner for a Florida Architecture magazine feature, a few of the home’s unique design treasures include fiber-optic “stars” in the swimming pool, a gazebo with a drop-down screen for outdoor movies and a Led Zeppelin-inspired “Stairway to Heaven” staircase. Lapeyra’s initial three-day shoot was so well received he was invited back twice to do more photography of both the home and its many custom products.

Joseph Lapeyra, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Web site: www.lapeyraphoto.com

Project: Assignment for Florida Architecture magazine to incorporate romance lighting in images of an exotic private home with a rock and roll aesthetic.

© Joseph Lapeyra
All images in this article © Joseph Lapeyra.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?
JL:
Twelve years.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
JL:
Almost eleven years.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
JL:
Architecture and interiors.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
JL:
This was a very lighting-intensive project. In a lot of ways, it was an “old-school” shoot, done the way we used to do it (waaaaay) back in the 4x5 film days. We did lots tungsten shots at dusk and at night in order to get the dramatic feel that the publisher and the designer felt this project needed.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
JL:
A good assistant. Technically, not a real piece of equipment, but I have worked with a few tools in my day — just kidding!

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: What is unique about your style and approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
JL:
I think that supplemental lighting is about the most powerful tool in my bag, but I’m really careful not to get too heavy-handed with it. I’m almost always doing a lot of lighting, but over the years as styles have changed, I think I’ve gotten more adept at modulating the “dramatic” look that I guess I’m known for, based on what I’m shooting. I like to “hide” my supplemental lighting by getting it to blend in with the available light. I want it to appear to make sense, yet give the image the “pop” it needs to keep the viewer’s eye moving. I guess one of the biggest compliments I can get is hearing a client say that my shots look “natural”, even though I’ve spent hours lighting them.

As for composition, I do a lot of planning before I set the tripod down for that first shot. Since most of what I shoot is for feature publication, I’ll usually end up with 10 to 15 images total, per project. Those images really have to work together, complement each other, and tell the story of the home in a dynamic way. I try to lead the viewer through the spaces, often times giving them a glimpse of what’s to come. I want them to feel the “ooh’s” and “aah’s” of being there, so I try to duplicate that feeling by shooting images that help the viewer connect the spaces mentally. You can’t give it all away in one shot, so I often describe a space in two or three shots that emphasize some of the subtleties of the design. I want the viewer to see a shot and go, “Wait a minute, I think I’ve seen this before,” and have them flip back a few pages to find the shot that gave them a preview of that space. In fact, I want them to keep flipping back and forth, and forget the rest of the magazine, if it’s at all possible!

But at the same time, the images need to be able to stand alone for use in ads, covers, Web sites and so on. So, my compositional approach starts with a walkthrough of the project ahead of time, where I go over all of the shots in my head, then come up with a shot list that’s varied enough to hold interest, but cohesive enough to tell the story, and dynamic enough to — hopefully — please the client, the publisher and the readers.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Who is the client that assigned you this job and how did they find you? Were there other photographers under consideration for this job or were you the only photographer in the running?
JL:
Actually, my client on this project was the homeowner. He paid for the photo shoot in its entirety, and without him I’m pretty sure the shoot would have never happened. The interior designer, Jenifer Howard, and the homeowner were both interested in having the home published. So, Jenifer approached Florida Architecture with the project. The magazine’s publisher, Olivia Hammar, did a walk through of the house with Jenifer, loved it, and recommended that I do the shoot, due to the over-the-top nature of the project. Although Jenifer uses another photographer, I’m pretty sure that I had the inside track right from the beginning. They both agreed that the project needed the dramatic “romance-lighting” that I’ve been known to produce.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Have you shot for the magazine and/or the design firm involved in this project before? If so, please describe the previous project(s), and particularly how they compare with this one.
JL:
Jenifer was great to work with. Although this was my first time working with her, she really knew her way around a photo shoot, which helped us out tremendously. I’ve worked with Olivia for many years and I’ve shot both large and small-scale projects for her magazine. This wasn’t the biggest home I’ve shot for her, but it was easily the wildest. I guess the biggest project has to be the Huizenga home that I shot for her about six or eight years ago. Coincidentally, that house is in the same neighborhood as the one I just shot. It had a pool that’s bigger than most of the other houses I’ve photographed. That shoot took about three solid weeks to shoot (all 4x5).

I have to tell you about the dawn shot of the Huizenga house pool. It was a lighting extravaganza that took me and five assistants about six hours to set up, with about 20 lights and over 1,000 feet of extension cords. Just at dawn, as I’m about to click the shutter for the first sheet of film, all of the sprinklers around the pool came on. The house manager was with me, but he can’t shut off the sprinkler system because, believe it or not, it was computer controlled by a company somewhere in the Midwest! So he had to go inside and wake up the homeowners at 5:30am in order to shut off the sprinklers. He didn’t want to do it, but after about 20 minutes I finally convinced him that if it didn’t happen at that very moment, it would stall the shoot for an entire day, and cost thousands of dollars. One of my assistants grabbed a garbage bag and bagged the camera so it wouldn’t get wet, but the lights got soaked. Luckily, I was somewhat prepared for rain by having baggies next to all of the lights to store the dimmers — the hot lights can get wet, but not the dimmers. Meanwhile, the sky is lightening and I’m panicking because I need to shoot. Finally, the sprinklers stopped and I started shooting. But everything was so wet and humid, that all but one sheet of film shifted in the holder and was unusable. I shot about 20 sheets of film like a madman, and got exactly one useable sheet of film. It took us the rest of the morning to clean and dry off all of the lights and cords and stuff. I’m pretty sure that pool dawn shot will stay on my Web site until I die — and beyond, if I have anything to do with it!

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: How much time has been spent on photography to date? Please describe your interactions with the homeowner and other related parties on this project.
JL:
The original shoot took three days, but then the homeowner liked the images so much that he had us come back again two more times, as different areas of the house got finished. Let me backtrack a bit. Because of a tight deadline with the magazine, we began shooting before the house was completely finished. When we first started, there were tradesmen of every kind working in almost every room of the house, and crisscrossing all over the place. That first shoot was pretty chaotic. Anyway, I think the entire shoot ended up being a total of seven days. Jenifer stepped in and was there for most of the major interiors. She ordered the flowers and brought in any styling props that we needed, and helped style the shots. The homeowner was there on and off throughout the shoot. He was of course a huge help. It was pretty fun working for him, because whatever we needed done around the house, he just made it happen for us.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: You mention that you were selected specifically to incorporate “romance lighting” in the space. Please describe your preferred techniques for lighting a space to achieve this effect.
JL:
For the really dramatically lit shots, I prefer to use hot lights and shoot either at night, dusk or dawn. It’s a lot easier to tweak the lights when you can see the changes happen live. But even on big shoots there are only so many dusk or night shots you can do. Plus, if you do too many night or dusk shots the shoot begins to look too heavy and unrealistic. So the challenge is to be able to do a few of those “signature” type hot-light shots and be able to hold them up side-by-side with daylight strobe shots. That’s what I’ve been working to perfect over the last several years. My preference is for the look to be seamless. It has to look like the same house, both day and night, and the colors need to ring true throughout. To me, that’s an approach that keeps the romance alive, but still looks fresh, bright and varied. I also think that approach helps the features have a wider appeal.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: What special light control tools did you use to shape your lighting, and what quantity of lighting equipment was needed for this project?
JL:
For tungsten shots I use black cloth and foam core to block out daylight and help cut down on color and light contamination. Sometimes I’ll block out an entire wall of windows in order to do a tungsten shot during the day. I use Lowell DPs and Fren-Ls, and sometimes Matthews clip-on lights. I use gels on most if not all of my lights in order to match color temperatures. I used to use a color meter, but now I just do it by feel. I attach a homemade in-line dimmer to each light, and I modify the lights with barn doors, glass diffusion, and soft spun diffusion. Sometimes I’ll make cookies or fingers on the spot using a flexi-shaft and cine foil. But I also bounce the lights off of different surfaces to get different effects. And I guess I shouldn’t admit this, but if I’m on a shoot where there are seven or eight strobe shots and just one tiny powder room tungsten shot, I’ll sometimes use the strobe modeling lights to light the powder room rather than break out another set of lights — I dunno, is that wrong? I travel with ten hot lights, plus four clip-ons.

For daylight shots I use mostly ProFotos along with a few Calumets from way back that haven’t died yet. I use grids a lot in order to get the more defined look that approaches the look of the tungsten shots. I also use diffusion, umbrellas, snoots, gels, plus I bounce the lights for different effects. In blending different light sources I try to bring their temperatures closer together. So, for strobe shots, I’ll warm up my lights, replace light bulbs in the room with blue-gelled bulbs and use a custom-color temperature on camera, and later when I process. I travel with three 2000ws packs and seven heads, plus three or four 750ws Calumet moonlights.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Your Web site describes you as having a “remarkable sensitivity to natural light.” Please talk about this sensitivity and how you incorporate this in your images.
JL:
Was that over the top? I can never tell! Yeah, I think I was having a “marketeering moment” when I wrote that. I have to admit I’m really bad at tooting my own horn and promoting myself. Busted!!!

But seriously, I think that all pros have to have a sensitivity to natural light and how it behaves. I think that I benefitted greatly from cutting my teeth in the 4x5 film days. Back then, you needed to plan a shot not for what the natural light was doing at the moment, but for what it was going to be doing three or four hours from then, when you finally went to film. You needed to know where the sun was going to arc, where the shadows were going to be, how much bounce light was going affect the shot, color temperatures for all of the light sources and so on, all in advance of actually seeing it happen. You needed a game plan based on those predictions, because once you go down a lighting path, it’s next to impossible to change course mid-stream. For example, if it’s cloudy out now, and you decide that you can overpower any daylight coming in with your hot lights, then it had better stay cloudy, or you’ll be chasing your tail trying to get more power and bluer lights into the scene. If you don’t stay aware of what the light is doing — and what it’s going to do — you can find yourself in a completely unmanageable situation, and end up having to start lighting the shot all over again from scratch. Not fun.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: When discussing aspects of lighting a space with a client, is there any one question about their needs and desires that you find to be most important or telling?
JL:
I usually do some research before meeting and working with a new client. I look at their Web site, look at what they’ve had shot in the past, and I look for areas that might need improvement. I’ve learned that you need to be a good listener, so I just ask them what they want to see, or what they like or don’t like about the images they have, and about the images of mine that they’ve seen. I just let them talk, and I do a lot of listening at first. Then I proceed to do whatever I want — just kidding … sort of!

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: How much time was needed to scout the location and make decisions on what to photograph? What input did the homeowner or other parties have on the final shoot list?
JL:
Jenifer and I spent about an hour and a half or maybe two hours doing the walkthrough and deciding what to shoot. On a project like this where there are amazing details at every turn, the question becomes what don’t you shoot? Jenifer and I discussed the shots in detail and the homeowner approved the final list. During the walkthrough I make sure to let new clients know up front that there needs to be some flexibility in initial shot list. It takes some time being in and seeing the spaces to fully process how they all work together, and exactly which shots will work best. But after doing this for a while, I’ve gotten pretty good at imagining what a space will look like at a different time of day, and under different lighting scenarios. That helps me plan the shoot and devise a good working shot list.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: This particular home is visually very busy, with a lot of design elements and technical components to feature in the images. What is your strategy for translating such a complex scene into an appealing image? Does your strategy differ when shooting in a busy space versus a space with minimal elements or d├ęcor?
JL:
Even when shooting traditional or “busy” spaces, I’ve always favored a very clean look. So yeah, there were a few pretty challenging spaces in the home, but believe me, I’ve dealt with much, much worse. So my approach was much the same as always. Keeping the other shots — or shots to be — in mind, I start by looking for an angle that separates the elements and/or minimizes the chaos in the best way. I start analyzing elements that can’t be moved in order to choose the best angle. A lot of times, if the best angle for a shot conflicts with — or is too similar to — another shot, then I’ll go back and forth analyzing both shots together until I come up with a good solution for both of them. For me, those types of challenges usually end up yielding the most creative images. I love the challenge and the problem solving — Love it!!!

Shooting modern or minimalist environments presents its own set of challenges. Although there are fewer elements to deal with, they have to be the right elements for the shot, or the shot won’t work. I think that these types of spaces are a lot less forgiving. You can’t hide a mistake in a minimalist shot. I start composing the same as any other shot, by analyzing the fixed elements in the scene — walls, doors, windows, pianos, art and so on — and settling in on a good base composition of the environment. Then I spend a lot of time “designing” the shot by arranging the elements that I can move. Since there are fewer elements to begin with, every element in the shot gains importance, including negative space, and of course, lighting. Every highlight and shadow has to look “right”, in order for the shot to be successful. There’s a fine line between a shot that’s clean, simple and elegant, and one that looks unfinished, or is too cold or austere.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: You mention that this home design project had an unlimited budget. Did these deep pockets also translate into the budget for your shoot? Please talk about the shoot budget, expense allocation and your creative fee/compensation for this project.
JL:
I wish!!! Actually, I received very fair compensation for this shoot. These days you really have to be sensitive to the economic climate that’s affected everyone. Let’s face it, a high-budget shoot is more a luxury than a life-or-death necessity, so most people are literally pinching pennies when budgeting for shoots nowadays. My initial proposal was for a five-day shoot, but that got cut back to three days. I’m guessing it was a case of sticker shock, seeing a shoot cost about as much as a decent car. Now a three-day shoot can cover a lot of ground, but in this house it left some key areas un-photographed. So after I delivered the first set of images, the homeowner decided to have me go back and photograph almost the entire house. He asked me for a price-break on those subsequent visits, which I agreed to. One of the things that helped was that right from the start I had a list of vendors that wanted to buy the photography, along with a few that wanted additional detail shots of their products just for themselves. So, in between the major shots of the spaces, I would do “mini set-ups” for some of the vendors. I did product shots of the floors, railings, countertops and so on. It extended my time on set by another day, more or less, but the increased revenue made up for that, along with the extra long hours that we dedicated to the night shots.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: What types of equipment, accessories or support staff were most important or indispensable to you during this shoot? Is there anything you wished for that could not be afforded or arranged?
JL:
Although it was a crazy shoot, it really was a team effort. Everybody did something to pitch in. There were electricians running out to get flowers, housekeepers styling bookshelves, chihuahuas nipping at your heels and so on. It was great. One of the crazy things that kept happening was that we would take a few hours to shoot a space, break down the camera and lights, and literally five minutes later someone would come in and hang a mirror, or change a fixture or add something amazing that would have been great in the shot. I’m not kidding, it happened like half a dozen times. In fact, on our last go-round we re-shot three of the spaces we had photographed on our first shoot, because the right furniture or drapes or wrought iron elements were finally in place. So, on this shoot I discovered an entirely new kind of frustration that I had never encountered before. Lovely ;-)!

But the neat thing was that if something needed to get done, the homeowner and the general contractor, Rob Slowinski, made it happen almost immediately. For example, I was all set to move into the foyer and set up the shot that looks at the front door, but the casing wasn’t finished. So they called the cabinetmaker and while we were setting up the shot, he came in, finished it off and had two coats of stain on it, ready to be photographed. I don’t care who you are, that’s pretty damn cool!

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Please describe how the photographic concepts were developed in this assignment. You describe a group of “buddies” putting together their best ideas for “an awesome clubhouse.” Was this type of brainstorming session invoked at all in planning for your photography sessions?
JL:
Absolutely. I’m sure most everyone would agree that the walkthrough is probably the single most important element in a good shoot. It’s the foundation. That’s where I get to pick the designer’s brain and we get to bat around ideas, concepts and approaches to the different spaces and to the entire shoot overall.

Most of the creative decision-making that we do together happens at this point.

We had fun with it, in keeping with the nature of the house. The lighting approach was a given, but we talked about the homeowner, what input he had on the design, what the different spaces meant to him, how the project came to be, and what working on the project was like for the designer. All of that figures to be a big part of the story, so knowing what to feature visually is important going into a shoot.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: What kind of direction and/or assistance from others did you have during shoots? Please identify the different parties on site and describe each person’s role.
JL:
Just about everyone working on the house at the time helped us out in one way or another. Jenifer spent the first few days of the shoot staying ahead of us and styling each shot.

Rob Slowinski, the general contractor, and his brother Brian, along with Shane Clarry, worked almost non-stop to finish whatever needed finishing for the shots. They were like “Team McGyver,” figuring out all sorts of ways to rig stuff for the shots. For example, some of the curtains were missing in the master bedroom shot. So while Jenifer had the curtain guy deliver some raw material, Brian rigged up a wooden bracket really quickly and attached it to the wall so we could fake in the curtains. Jenifer spent about an hour draping the fabric to get it to look good before walking away with a new appreciation for curtain makers. Then we stepped in and tweaked it for the camera and Photoshop did the rest.

Pearl Meyer — the Blonde Tulip — did the flower arrangements throughout the house, which were amazing. Sherry Santino is my first assistant. She undoubtedly has the toughest job on set. She sets up the lighting — that’s the easy part — and keeps me focused and out of trouble — that’s the hard part. What we do is such a team effort that I can’t even imagine attempting a shoot like this without a really good team of people.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: What was the coolest, most unique or most innovative element that you photographed as part of this assignment? How did you treat it photographically to show it off to best effect?
JL:
I’d have to say it’s the music room. It’s got to be one of the coolest spaces that I’ve ever photographed. I mean, a full DJ booth, a bar with secret compartments for the “good stuff,” a stage with two plasmas behind the curtain, flop-down furniture everywhere, tons of instruments, a bathroom with a urinal and a disco ball. Hello!!! It’s what man-caves want to be when they grow up! I could have easily done six shots in there, but we whittled it down to four. One shot of the stage, which we re-shot a few weeks later when the rest of the furniture arrived; two of the bar — one overall that shows part of the DJ booth, and a closer detail of the bar; and one of the crazy red bathroom. I thought that of all of the spaces in the house, this was the space where we could really get funky and theatrical. So, when we shot the stage, we gelled our lights with blue and red gels in order to play up the colored stage lights. We accented the wood ceilings, and shot it at dusk in order to get that cobalt blue color in the windows. I kept it dark around the edges in order to focus attention to the stage. I actually wanted to finish the shot a lot darker, and get it to look like you’re in a cozy loft in some nightclub at 3 a.m., but I opted for a lighter version that I knew would print better. I might revisit that at some point and do a moodier version for my portfolio.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Please describe the most difficult, time consuming shot you did for this project, and, from the benefit of hindsight, please talk about any ways this might have been made easier.
JL:
That would have to be the downstairs powder room shot with the wrought-iron sink base. That shot was born out of sheer logistics. We shot this during our first session, when there were workers finishing up all over the house. It was our first or second day, and we had basically run out of places that we could shoot that didn’t have workers in it, or was missing furniture, or flowers and so on.

I had originally intended to shoot it at night, in the opposite direction. That shot would have allowed me to set the camera outside of the room, and would have shown the draperies, the window and some of the garden beyond — which I was going to light with a sexy blue light — and might have even shown some of the fiber-optic “stars” that are part of the ceiling. But fearing that the shoot would fall too far behind schedule, I opted to press forward and black out the window, shoot it in the opposite direction and make the best of it.

I ended up taking on more than I bargained for. Since the camera was in the room and only about two feet from the vanity, distortion was a major issue. So I had to back the camera up as far as I could, which meant switching the camera around backwards on the tripod head in order to get the camera where I wanted it to be. Doing that meant that I had to think about every adjustment that I was making, instead of just naturally reaching for the head controls. That slowed things down a bit. Since there was no longer any room behind the camera, I had to go to live view on the laptop, which was in another room. So, I had to jump in and out of the room just to be able to see what I was doing with the camera position. Then, since the camera was so close to the wall, hiding the lights was next to impossible. We worked on that for what seemed like forever. I think we finally gave birth to that image after about three hours of intense labor pains. Unbelievable!

In retrospect, I probably should have gone out and had a long, liquid lunch and come back at 8 p.m. that night, fully rested and ready to go. I would have probably knocked out the night shot in less than an hour.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Judging from the number of editorial covers featured on your Web site you do a lot of editorial work. Please talk about this in relation to your business as a whole. What percentage of your business is represented by editorial assignments?
JL:
It’s probably a good 85 percent or more of my business. But I don’t work for magazines directly. I always work for interior design and architectural firms. They’re the ones who have the money to hire me. When a client approaches me with a project they want photographed, I’ll ask them if they’re looking to get it published. Magazine publishers and editors like the fact that I give them a complete photo story, shot in a way that they like to see, and clients like the fact that I have a good working relationship with the magazines, which increases their chances of getting published.

I always let my clients know up front that there are never any guarantees about being published, but I’ll also let them know if I think a project has the potential to be published. The key here is to honestly not let a client spend money shooting a project that won’t give them the exposure they’re looking for. It’s better to pass up a marginal shoot then to mislead a client into spending money that will give them little or no return.

© Joseph Lapeyra

ASMP: Do you have the ability to license your editorial images to other clients and/or for other types of use? Please describe your procedures for licensing images to secondary clients, as well as any usage restrictions your images may carry.
JL:
I do, but I don’t go after secondary clients that had nothing to do with the project. Too much risk, I think. I have secondary clients deal with me directly for image use. Before pricing an image I do a little research on the buyer. I look at the size of the company, their potential market, whether or not they use an agency and the caliber of images they’re currently using. Minimum licensing for a small-time, local company starts at $250 per image. Most of the companies — subcontractors and so on — that I resell to are local, so my average license is around $300 to $400.

© Joseph Lapeyra