Zachary Scott

Posted on: September 15th, 2008 by: Zack Seckler

Final image used in White Gold campaignWritten by T.K. Dalton
Edited by Jesi Khadivi
Diagram by Linda Arredondo

Zachary Scott has always been interested in blurring the lines between photography and its older cousins, drawing and painting. He was one of the pioneers of the now-ubiquitous illustrative effect. But before art director’s desks were flooded with that style, Scott’s innovations buoyed his portfolio to the top of the stack.

“My work looked different from other photographers. I was being considered for things that felt more Americana, like a Norman Rockwell kind of style,” he says. “My conceptual skills helped. Magazines and ad agencies want to see that you can think before they hire you. Even if they have the concept worked out, they still want to hire people they think can process concepts and understand how to communicate an idea and translate it into a photograph.”

Our featured image is one such concept. Scott says he recognized an element of the absurd in the Got Milk? campaign, as well as a “soft beauty” look he planned to later emphasize during his postproduction process. At the shoot, with tiger cub and trainer, Scott set up his lighting carefully. He used four Profoto heads bounced against two white v-flats to light the blue screen background, a 5’ Octabank positioned almost directly above the talent, a magnum Overhead view of lightingreflector with grid and diffusion above the camera position, a ring flash for fill and two 1’ x 4’ strip lights positioned behind the talent for highlights. He set his highlights at an angle of incidence. “When you do that, you’re not really dealing with a lot of power in those lights,” he says. “It’s about positioning.” The final image was a composite of a handful of images all shot on the same set with the same lighting. The exposure was consistent throughout: f/16 at 1/250th of a second at 50 ISO. He admits to using equal parts knowledge and intuition when making his lighting arrangements, and swears by Magnum reflectors for their flexibility. “I don’t try to light an entire picture with one main key light source.” Though he believes people weren’t intended to spend as much time in front of computers as he does, Scott remains inspired by the “infinite possibilities” of retouching, which leads to “almost every one” of his pieces being a composite.

Art buyers and directors often want to see the personal work of the photographers they hire. In Scott’s case, there is no division. “On some level my portfolio is personal, otherwise I wouldn’t be doinOne of several images used to create the final composite imageg it,” he says. Unlike many commercial photographers, he prefers to spend his free time not behind a camera, but with his family. “I try to use editorial as an outlet for that personal work. I actually operate better when I have an assignment,” he says. “I don’t wake up in the morning and think I’m going to get my camera out and go shoot something.”

Scott was interviewed by our Editor Zack Seckler about his career and his craft:

F STOP: Let’s start with the featured image, White Gold. How did you get the job?

Scott: White Gold was a Got Milk? Campaign. I had been working with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners off and on for seven or eight years. Jenny Taich, a senior art buyer at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners knows me and I had worked separately with Brian Gunderson, the art director on the project, when he was at Templin Brink Design on a Michael Graves project for Target.

F STOP: What was the ad agency looking for stylistically for this campaign?

Scott: The look of this campaign was different than a lot of the things that I’ve worked on  with them One of several images used to create the final composite imagebefore. The assignment had this ridiculous beauty look that contrasted with our main character, White Gold. It’s an over retouched, semi-plastic romantic look.

F STOP: You were definitely working with some interesting characters, Siberian tigers…

Scott:  It’s supposed to look like a Siberian tiger, but it’s just a regular tiger.  We couldn’t get white tigers so we shot a tiger cub, which is about the size of a great dane.

F STOP: Was there just one?

Scott: Yes. Everything in the shot was a separate element. We did the whole campaign that way because they had to be so specific about their layout. The project was built around the layout, so we decided early on to composite the image later, rather than get it all on camera.

F STOP: How was it working with a live tiger?One of several images used to create the final composite image

Scott: It’s really cool, not something you’re going to do every day. The tiger trainers were pretty crazy. One guy was letting the tiger climb all over his back and wrestled with it. However, there were a lot of precautions, like you couldn’t move suddenly on stage.

F STOP: Did you guys have to drug him up at all?

Scott: No. I think they take him on little walks. They have a giant chain they walk him on.

F STOP: How did you decide to light this? Did you know before hand what you were going to do?

Scott:  I do some variations of lighting set-ups on almost every job; I just use different ratios depending on what I have to do. In this particular scenario, I think that the Octabank coming in from above was doing more than just about everything else. I raked it in front of White Gold for a few shots too, where everything else provided fill.  I brought a lot of it out through the retouching. I wanted to record everything more or less, and not have like really hard shadows, because of the soft beauty look that they were going for.Zachary Scott with his new feline friend

F STOP: Do you let your highlights blow out?

Scott: No, the only place where they usually get hot is on my edge lights.  I don’t turn them up very much. I position them in a place where I get a reflection, basically off of the subject. So I put them at an angle of incidence. When you do that, you’re not really dealing with a lot of power in those lights, it’s about positioning. In post if I feel like they need to go hotter, I just do it. My film or digital film is mostly flat before I get in there the ratio between my key and my filler. The key is usually half a stop brighter than everything else.  Often times their exposure value, the f-stop that they’re at is even less than everything else. They appear to be a brighter light because they’re reflecting off of the subject but I don’t really think about the lighting that much. I just sort of get everything out start shooting and if it looks good, then I keep going in that way and if not, we change it up.

F STOP: Do you have a standard way of lighting things?

Scott: It’s some variation of  this (what we just discussed). It’s been a little bit different lately, I might diffuse my Magnum or use more or less of my ring flash. There is some order to it, but I tend to break everything down into pieces on all my shots and adjust lighting as I’m shooting.

F STOP: How did you arrive at your general style as far as setting up lights and the types of lights and the positioning of those lights?

Scott: I’ve tried a lot of things like similar lighting sources and this just seems the most consistent and easy for me to modify. For example, I like having a Octabank above my set because it provides an overall even light to everything. I like having frontal fill coming off of a ring flash because I think that it has more of a textural quality than let’s say putting an Octabank or another giant light source behind the camera. I used to shoot like that. I like a Magnum as my key light because it’s kind of small but it An image from Scott’s portfoliocan still be a soft light. And I can position it where I want to. Let’s say if I’m shooting a subject I can get it right on their face and let it fall off on their body and let my ring light and other lights do their job of illuminating the rest of it. I don’t try to light an entire picture with one main key light source.

F STOP: Tell me a little bit about how your work in post.

Scott: Almost every one of my images is a composite. I shoot a lot on blue screen or green screen. I like having my background sharp, foreground and subject sharp. I work on everything separately. There are infinite possibilities with retouching.

F STOP: Do you do all of your own retouching?

Scott: I manage it and I prep some images if I’m not too busy.  I spend a lot of time comping and probably just as much time overseeing the retouching. I work with Satik Digital in New York. They’re aware of my process and kind of how I like things to look, but I still play an integral role in seeing the image through from start to finish.

F STOP: How long have you been shooting for?

Scott: I’ve been shooting for about 10 years. I took it up when I started art school at Art Center.

F STOP: When did you start doing the illustrative look?

Scott: I started messing around with that about four years ago. I’m not really sure where that’s going right now. I’ve always been interested in blurring the boundary between painting, drawing, and photographs. There is a lot of that out there, so it’s lost it’s appeal in some ways. I’m trying to develop some other kind of a look that’s still true to that intention. I think I want to arrive at this illustrative look through a more conventional, general mean, which just might be focusing on the art direction more.

F STOP: The market has been so saturated with the illustratative look. Has it been strangeAn image from Scott’s portfolio for you?

Scott: There were a few of us that were doing it before everybody did it. We all had a similar take on it but it looked different. Now it’s not really unique anymore.

F STOP: You’re 29 and have already been quite successful. How do you think you found success so quickly?

Scott: I don’t want to say I’m one of the first people to do what I do, but my work looked different from other photographers. I was being considered for things that felt more Americana, like a Norman Rockwell kind of style. It helped me get to a place that was unique and worked at the time. My conceptual skills helped. Magazines and ad agencies want to see that you can think before they hire you. Even if they have the concept worked out, they still want to hire people they think can process concepts and understand how to communicate an idea and translate it into a photograph. Earlier in my career I got hired by Kathleen Clark at LA Magazine, who was one of my teachers. That professional work was a segue way to meeting my agent, John Sharp. Having my portfolio in his hands opened a lot of doors for me. I think having your agent shop your portfolio keeps you on the ad agencies’ radar. Shooting for the New York Times Magazine was also crucial. It was huge in terms of building notoriety.

F STOP: What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t’ a photographer?

Scott: I’d be happy doing anything design related: architecture, interior design, furniture, anything like that.

F STOP: Is there anything that you don’t like about being a photographer?

Scott:  The amount of time I spend in front of my computer wears on me. I don’t think that humans were meant to be in front of computers this long.  I spend at least 8 to 10 hours a dAn image from Scott’s portfolioay on the computer.

F STOP: Do you ever do any personal work?

Scott: I really don’t. I spend most of my extra time with my family. I try to use editorial as an outlet for that personal work. I actually operate better when I have an assignment. I don’t wake up in the morning and think I’m going to get my camera out and go shoot something. I enjoy having the assignments, so I just kind of wait for them to come and they generally do.  If I were to change anything, I’d try to do more of it. Usually I’m booked on an ad job and I can’t put all of my time into the editorial assignments, so I have to turn them down a lot, which I hate doing. Generally I’ll lose money on it. I’ll end up using their budget and putting some of my own money into it just to make it exactly the way I want it. I really do view it as advertising for me and at the same time being a creative outlet. You don’t get as much of that in the advertising world.

F STOP: You were just talking about how some of your shoots require building a set. Do magazines always have budgets for those kind of expenses?

Zachary: Yeah, they do. Everybody has to be extremely cost effective and do what they can.  This might mean calling in favors or approaching the problem in a resourceful way.   My crew might grumble while we’re doing it but everyone seems to be happy with the work we get done. A large budget certainly helps, but doesn’t dictate how well the image will turn out.  While they don’t provide anything close to an ad budget, they do provide plenty of creative freedom.

F STOP: What kind of budget would a magazine have for a shoot where you need to  build a set? Meaning the production costs, not your fee.

Zachary: I haven’t made any money on editorial projects this year.  A typical assignment for a men’s magazine feature might include three or four images total.  Two might require large sets, one may be a An image from Scott’s portfoliostill life and perhaps the fourth might be a portrait against a backdrop. They magazine could come up with between $15,000 to $20,000 for something like that. There are generally larger budgets for multiple pictures. You might $6,000 or $7,000 tops for a single image. Up to $10,000 maybe.

F STOP: Have you noticed your advertising clients trying to get things done on smaller budgets?

Scott: Yeah, they are. They’re probably being pinched and in turn photographers are too. Everybody takes a hit when the economy is down. You’re going to do poorly as a photographer if you get stuck in an idea of what your fees are and are not willing to work with ad agencies’ budgets in a time like this. I’m working with their budgets and doing the best I can.

F STOP: A lot of times art buyers say that they care more about a photographer’s personal work than their commissioned work. Have you ever heard people say, “Where’s your personal work?”

Scott: No. I haven’t really heard that. On some level my portfolio is personal, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.

F STOP: Your pictures almost always involve people and you get them to emote in fun and expressive ways. How do you get them to perform for you?

Scott: I’m very casual about it. We have a very relaxed, chill set. I try to create a safe environment for them to act like a dork.  I shoot a lot, nonstop. It becomes a hassle when I have to go back and edit, but I like to cover a lot.

F STOP: What are some of the things that you ask people to do?An image from Scott’s portfolio

Scott: I’ll ask like a guy to giggle like a little girl. That’s probably the most ridiculous thing, I don’t know where I got that from. I want people to be natural on set. Everybody has a different style. Some people tell their talent what their motivation is.  I’ll tell them the gist of it, but I don’t get too into it because I don’t want them to over think it. I’d prefer they are natural on set. The guy that we shot for White Gold became the character the second he walked on set. I didn’t really have to say anything to him. That’s an example of just having a great actor. He looked at me straight in the eyes and put his guitar in his crotch and started making pelvic thrusts and sticking his tongue out at me. I thought “okay, this is gonna be easy.” This guy is already crazy. We don’t have to bring out the crazy.

F STOP: How did you find him?

Scott: He was cast through the production company and most likely chosen by the commercial director.   It was a full-scale ad campaign launch where they leaked the TV spots (music videos) on YouTube without identifying them as a got milk campaign, when the tv spots dropped, the website also went up and our print ads were released.   I think it was the agency’s dream to not even have the Got Milk? Logo on it.  It created so much mystery. Is this a real band? Is it not? The people would eventually figure it out that it was Got Milk? because all the songs are about drinking milk.  I think the “got milk” discovery for the viewer had a unique and tremendous impact.

Jonathan Tay

Posted on: September 1st, 2008 by: Zack Seckler

Final image used in Clorox Ad Written by JoAnne Tobias
Edited by Jesi Khadivi
Diagrams by Gil Andrei Fontimayor

If today is Tuesday, this must be Bangkok. Not that photographer Jonathan Tay wants to tour the world in 21 days or less, but when the demand for your work is global, borders tend to blur. Based in Singapore, Tay gets pulled in to ad campaigns by art directors throughout Asia’s burgeoning markets, not to mention regularly running with the big dogs in Europe and the United States.

Most recently, Tay’s unique look brought him from the production houses in China and back across the Pacific. One of the two images used in the final compositeSan Francisco ad agency DDB needed a clean, surreal vibe for its Clorox campaign. “I think I’m known as a photographer who is able to break an idea into an image,” says Tay, noting that in this global age distance doesn’t present as many barriers. “If the creative team believes in a photographer they try to get him over.”

For Tay, this means contributing to Thailand’s innovative commercial work, or riding the whiplash-fast ad scene that is developing in China. “They used to be a fairly closed market, but now they have opened up a bit and they have almost all of the big brands and big agencies,” says Tay.

A sought-after international photographer, Tay notes that each region has its unique challenges and rewards. “Singapore is a pretty open market, photographers fromSide view of lighting everywhere come to try it out. It’s a very encouraging market for younger photographers from overseas. I think (globalization) is a good interaction and a good challenge rather than a threat.”

For the Clorox campaign, Tay needed to transform urban grit into a pristine environment.
“When you imagine an inside of a train as all white it can give you an Odyssey 2001 feeling,” says Tay. Still, he needed to keep some of the train’s details in black to keep it believable. The image is a composite of two photos, one of the background and one of the talent. Tay shot both images with a Rollei 6008 using an emotion 75 digital backOverhead view of lighting and an 80mm lens. The exposure was f/11 at 1/125th of a second for the talent shot and f/11 at 1 second for the background; in both cases the camera was set to 50 ISO. Separate lighting setups were used for each shot (see diagrams).

Although Tay was commissioned by a West Coast agency, the shoot take place in Brooklyn, an urban environment he’s more familiar with. “We figured New York would be the easiest place to shoot it,” explains Tay. Not only are East Coast trains aesthetically ideal, but Tay was extremely familiar with New York.

Originally a fashion photographer in Singapore, Tay discovered he was more interested in conceptual photography. In 1999 he moved to New York and began shooting his high end advertising work. Although Tay has since moved back to Singapore, he’s still represented in New York and frequently returns.

Celebrated as a highly conceptual artists, Tay’s work resonates across several time zones. Even though each market has a different need, Tay won’t create separate portfolios for each culture. “I can’t please everyone in every region,” says Tay. “I don’t think it is advisable for any photographer to created a book to suit a certain market.”

Tay fuels his personal work by focusing keenly on whatever corner of the world he happened to have set up hisOne of the two images used in the final composite tripod. The gingerbread man series, for example, stemmed from his thoughts on Asia’s caste like system of identification. “I think the ideas came from studying my own environment. It has to be a matter that has been disturbing me or inspiring me for a while.” With this heady stew of imagination, technical savvy and a current passport, Tay has become an emerging portrait of globalization’s potential for success.

Tay was interviewed by our Editor Zack Seckler about his career and his craft:

F STOP: Who commissioned you to create our featured image?

Tay: The Clorox campaign was commission by DDD in San Francisco for press and posters in the North American region.Overhead view of lighting

F STOP: Where did you find the location and how did you execute the production of the shoot?

Tay: After we were given the visual from the agency we went to the MTA museum in Brooklyn. We figured New York would be the easiest place to shoot it. We wanted to see if we could paint or change the whole train white; we wanted to change the whole environment. When you imagine an inside of a train as all white it can give you an Odyssey 2001 feeling. We were trying to achieve a train that’s totally white and sparkling clean. We did a couple of exposures to work on different tonal values that we had, because every color that’s in the train is going to have a different tonal value when we change it to black and white. We tested the tonal values to make sure that we were able to achieve white without losing the detail and we changed the color in post. We thought it was necessary to leave some of the train details black so the whole thing didn’t look too retouched.

F STOP: How long did the retouching take?

Tay: It took my artist about 10 hours total.

F STOP: Why do you think the client picked you for this job?

Tay: I think I’m known as a conceptual photographer, a photographer who is able to break an idea into an image.

F STOP: Where are you from originally?An image from Tay’s portfolio

Tay: Singapore.

F STOP: How long have you been shooting?

Tay: I started at 18, so about 14 years. I started as a fashion photographer in Singapore, shooting mainly fashion editorial. I later switched over to advertising photography because I became more interested in conceptual work. In 1999 I switched to advertising and moved to New York. I stayed there for three years. At the moment I’m staying a lot in Asia where my production house is, but, I’m still represented in New York and do come back quite frequently.

F STOP: Are you happy that you made the switch to advertising from fashion?

Tay: Definitely. It was a good break for me when I changed to advertising. Advertising was a totally different dimension and I started doing a lot of conceptual work on a personal basis around the same time.

F STOP: So you started out in Singapore, lived in New York for three years, and now you’re back in Singapore. The world economy and advertising as a whole has changed quite a bit since then, tell me a little bit about what it’s been like to see that change from your personal perspective.An image from Tay’s portfolio

Tay: I haven’t lived in New York enough to know how big a change there was in the international scene. Asia-wise, it definitely evolved technically. I spent more than half of my career shooting on film. So I when I changed to digital it was a little bit a battle and try to figure it out. Trying to feel secure with my tool and continuing to create and benefit from the evolution of the technology was kind of a battle. At the same tine, the technological scope has expanded. Eight years ago I would not imagine that we would be able to email something over to the agency and get a response so quickly. It makes the world a lot smaller and makes us able to work in numerous countries and cultures quickly. It’s definitely been a good thing.

F STOP: Do you think ad agencies in the United States and Europe are going towards Asia more now than they have in the past?

Tay: I can’t deny that the jobs in Asia have not compared to what I’ve seen or experienced in Europe and U.S. For them to be able to use any of the agencies, I reckon they have a strong sensibility that they couldn’t find in that region. It’s about the photographer, rather than the region where the photographer is from.

F STOP: Do you think the location of a photographer matters less to ad agencies than it did before?An image from Tay’s portfolio

Tay: Well, at the moment I find that almost every agency in the world seems to have really tight deadlines. So I think that would definitely affect their decision if they are trying to use a photographer too far away, but it depends on the job. If the creative team believes in a photographer they try to get him over.

F STOP: Does most of your work come out of the Singapore market or out of other international markets?

Tay: I work a lot in my region, so Singapore work is a small percentage of what I work on. Most of my work comes from the Asian region and some of it comes from Europe and U.S. It’s evenly spread out in different countries around the world. Asia accounts for about 70% of my work.

F STOP: There has been a lot of really impressive work coming from Thai agencies, tell me what you think about that market.

Tay: I think the good thing about their ads is that they have stayed true to their own culture and are able to translate that quite clearly without trying to be pretentious, doing work that is not them or trying to be international. In Asia agencies have a tendency to stifle any creative trying to do advertisements that are local looking. In ThailandAn image from Tay’s portfolio they have they their own sensibility and culturally they are extremely strong, especially with TV commercials. The TV commercial is part of their entertainment in their daily life.

F STOP: What about China? China’s obviously changed a lot over the last few years. How have you seen your work for the Chinese market change?

Tay: I have a production house in China also, so I’ve been working quite heavily in China for about three or four years, since I’ve been back in Asia. It’s my first time in the Chinese market, because they used to be a fairly closed market, but now they have opened up a bit and they have almost all of the big brands and big agencies. There is a struggle there but over the three years things have been progressing really fast. A lot of good works is coming from there and it should be an exciting market in the future.

F STOP: Is there a lot of creative work coming out of China? It’s not the same creative that’s coming out of Thailand, right?An image from Tay’s portfolio

Tay: The Thai market has been progressive in both print and TV advertisements. In Thailand all of the top creatives are actually Thai. Unlike Thailand, China is still looking for its identity because the creative over there comes from everywhere in the world. A huge percentage of them are coming from Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and Australia. There is a lot of foreign creative that is spilling its own sensibility into another culture.

F STOP:: Do you think the Chinese market is going to continue on this track and try to find it’s identity for many years? Do you think the agencies are getting closer to creating ads that are within a specific Chinese identity mindset?

Tay: I think it will still take a few more years for them to move on. That’s also due to their large market. It’s difficult for them to pin down their target audience or what kind of ads they want to do. Sometimes I think it will take a few years, but the speed that the people are learning is surprising. It’s really hard to gauge.

F STOP: Globalization has been good for photographers like you who are very talented and who are now able to work not just regionally, but internationally for European and American agencies. Are there any disadvantages?

Tay: I can’t see any disadvantages. Singapore is a pretty open market, photographers from everywhere come to try it out. It’s a very encouraging market for younger photographers from overseas. I think (globalization) is a good challenge rather than a threat.

F STOP: Are you sometimes torn between different directions crafting a portfolio for an international market?An image from Tay’s portfolio

Tay: Sometimes. For example, in Asia many clients consider me a lifestyle photographer. But in other continents they think I am a conceptual photographer. In Asia the word ‘conceptual’ doesn’t exist for a photographer. I reckon the best thing for me to do is be true to who I am. I can’t please everyone in every region. It’s important to be chosen for your niche when working internationally. There’s no way you can do something just to please a certain market or try to change your portfolio to try to suit a certain market. I don’t think it is advisable for any photographer to create a book to suite a certain market.

F STOP: Let’s talk about your personal work. You have a lot of personal work and it’s very different. There’s a lot of different subject matter and stylistic approaches. Tell me about these bodies of work.

Tay: Let’s talk about my earlier work for Gingerbread Man. I feel that there’s a lot of caste systems here in Asia, people being defined as a certain role the day they are born. I used the Gingerbread Man as a symbol. It’s a story I keep reading to my son. It’s a simple story, from a children’s book. It almost defines the kind of situation that is around the world in certain way. In my recent work, I’m interested in urban situations. I did a shoot in Shanghai where there was a silhouette of people and the background was over exposed. This kind of character is common in Asia; you can have all these people walking around. It’s about connecting the reality of the people with the environment in China. It’s about defining a kind of distance the people have with their fast evolving environment. Another recent project was to depict a rundown church as a Sistine Chapel. I called it like the church of man. It depicts An image from Tay’s portfoliothe aftermath of man trying to be God. I feel like a lot of men try to control things that are out of their own power.

F STOP: Were the quotes on the wall done in post?

Tay: They were on the church walls, but I took out words like god. I took out any words that defined god because my subject matter is men. I used cranes to symbolize men, like men use a big machine and almost think they are God with big hands. Reconstructing, creating, feeling a part of power, of whatever they can do with the machinery that they make. It’s almost like the painting of the Sistine Chapel with the hands reaching out to each other.

F STOP: How did you come up with these ideas?

Tay: I think the ideas came from studying my own environment. The place where I live and the things that I see. It has to be a matter that has been disturbing me or inspiring me for a while.

F STOP: Is there an overarching theme to your personal work? Or is there a different message or goal with each body of work?

Tay: It’s pretty much specific to each project. But whenever I want to describe my work there’s only one point that I want to talk about. It stays simple when I describe my work, so usually if I’m thinking of a big picture of a situation I reduce it to a single subject that I want to talk about. Or even a single phrase. Let’s say I want to talk about inflation in my work, or even friends that are dying, I kind ofAn image from Tay’s portfolio filter out almost everything and try to insert the core matter inspired the part that I have and then create work from there.

F STOP: Are you working on any personal projects now?

Tay: I have a personal project that I’m working on now. I feel Asians have our own way of doing things that other people are not accustomed to. It’s kind of influenced by the contemporary artists that have been making paintings in China. Contemporary artists had the kind of work they could create dictated to them, so a lot of the work that they were doing then had to be pro-government and happy faces, always positive face. So this kind of contemporary artist started painting smiling faces. All these smiling faces were becoming famous internationally, but they were actually defining the darkness in their inner heart. The over-exaggerated smile was actually too defiant, it had the reverse effect. Now I am working on a series of Asians in cowboy suits with huge smiling faces.