F. Scott Schafer

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

Written by T.K. Dalton
Edited by Jesi Khadivi
Diagram by Brandon JonesFinal image

“Photography is like a marriage,” says F. Scott Schafer. “To stay excited and in love, you need to keep pushing yourself.” Following his own advice, he has pushed himself for years, through junior college and art school, landing a job after graduation and never looking back. The lifelong music lover snuck a camera into the metal shows he attended growing up in San Francisco. As a professional he has shot Velvet Revolver, Outkast, Motorhead, Aerosmith, and, in our featured image, DMX. The shot we’re featuring was a double-page advertorial assignment commissioned by Suzuki motorcycles for an auspicious edition of Rolling Stone―the magazine’s 1,000th issue.

Shot under the West Side Highway in Harlem, Schafer used a location that was spacious and free, something that’s often hard to find in New York. That free factor proved crucial, allowing him to afford a water truck to wet the streets. This detail sealed the nocturnal mood he’d been aiming for, in which he could frame the A selection of images used to make the final composite imagesubjects in a rich, dramatic setting. The lighting, seven Profoto lights powered by a combination of battery powered and generated electricity (see diagrams for more technical info), complemented the nocturnal background, and the water accentuated Schafer’s effects equipment (gels, fog and practical fire) to create a texture that virtually shimmered with verisimilitude. Schafer placed the camera in two different positions to capture the talent and the background plates for this composite image. The exposure was f/16 at 15 seconds for the background and f/16 at 1/60th of a second for the talent. All of the images were captured on a Mamiya RZ with a 65mm lens and Portra 400 film. He got the most out of it by shooting with film, rather than digital, using Polaroids to gauge the page placement and exposure composition.  He is equally comfortable with film and with digital, but saw advantages to film in this case. “When you shoot film you have more latitude in many ways, certainly in regards to highlights,” he says. He began compositing long before Photoshop, and he says he has “always treated Photoshop as a glorified printer.” Digital innovations have allowed photographers more freedom, he says, but that freedom makes it harder to distinguish yourself. To fight this, often looks turns to another medium. “I always look at movies, a lot of photographers do,” he says. “We’re always looking back and reinventing what’s next.”

Schafer has undergone his own fair share of reinvention in his distinguished career. He has worked with countless celebrities. At first, he was nervous, but not anymore. “I’ve reached a level of maturity where I can handle the big job now. We did a half a million-dollar job this year and I felt comfortable doing that. When I shot an album package for Aerosmith in ’96 for $70,000 I could not sleep for months, it just consumed me,” he says. Now, he says, ten minutes with a cinder block wall and Allen Iverson can lead to a great shot. “That just comes with experience and time and confidence.”Lighting diagram

He shot an anxious Sarah Silverman for a Maxim cover. “My job was to reassure her and to lighten up the mood. I have a particular amount of experience with comedians. They tend to be really intense people, actually,” he says. His solution is simple. “I just try to be the total regular dude. I’m not a personality, I just try to make it easy.” In some ways, he says, he has the easiest job, one that’s not unlike the stars in front of his lens. “I’m on stage. I’m a performer,” he says, adding that others on the shoot can worry about budgets and timeframes. “My job is to have fun and take pictures.”

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

F STOP: Let’s start discussing the featured image you did of DMX and the Ruff Riders.

Schafer: The advertorial was for Rolling Stone/Suzuki for the 1000th issue of Rolling Stone Magazine and Polaroids shot on location that were cut and pasted together for reference (for creating the composite in post)the anniversary edition of the motorcycle. They wanted DMX in it and this motorcycle crew, the Ruff Riders. We scouted locations in New York for the right kind of urban, night vibe. We were able to get a location in Harlem for free, which helped our budget quite a bit. I pitched the idea of shooting a cool evening shot, hanging out on the street and proposed wetting the street down to get a nice ambient vibe.
I have a pretty good relationship with Rolling Stone and they trust my ideas. We’ve had things come out well before, so they let me do what I want.

F STOP: Tell me about how you this shot this.

Schafer: I always shoot with Profoto. I had a Honda 5600 [generator], which you can only run with two packs. Everything else we ran with [battery operated Profoto] 7Bs. I think you can run a total of 40 amps off the Honda 5600, so you can run two packs at full power without it clicking off.We had them [7Bs] up on high highboys to light up the bridge and used narrow beam reflectors that are like flat reflective pans. They spread light well. We set the high-boys behind the giant pillars of the bridge overhead and we gelled it up with green and blue to emulate a fluorescent mercury vapor vibe. The light behind DMX is a strobe that we gelled to mimic the street lights to the right of the bridge. We also had a water truck and used a smoke machine. It’s nice to use them outdoors because it dissipates quickly and you can get nice effects.An image from Schafer’s portfolio

F STOP: Why did you decide to wet down the street?

Schafer: It’s an old movie trick:  wet down the street, especially if you’re shooting at night, because it picks up the light. It’s like adding another light source. Dry concrete does not look as exciting as a wet concrete.

F STOP: How many pieces were composited to make the image?

Schafer: It’s a composite of four images. Two vertical shots of DMX and his crew shot at the same time that lined up. We went back and forth on two cameras. I shot the background as well, so we had to plate the background in two verticals. The camera stayed stationary but we had to do multiple pops with the strobes to the background.  Even with the 7Bs cranked up all the way it was a lot of distance to get the bridge lit up. We did about 20 second burns with multiple pops at the same time to get good [background] plates. We had to do a lot of backlighting to keep them separated. Obviously, if [the background] goes black it becomes quite difficult to separate them, so the smoke and backlighting helped cut an edge for us to composite. But there’s also no way I could ask those guys to sit there for 15 second burns, they’d just go crazy. I barely had DMX for ten minutes before he got restless.

F STOP: How long have you been doing compositing?

Schafer: It’s always come up throughout my career. I did a ton of music in the ‘90s so art directors were always doing head swaps with my stuff, but I was never in control of that. Art directors are savvy at compositing things on the post-end, probably more than most photographers. We’ve been compositing as early as 2000. I’ve done a lot of composites successfully, without shooting digitally.

F STOP: Obviously digital makes it easier. Is there anything you had to account for differently now with digital when you are shooting film?

Schafer: I come from a background where I mastered all the techniques of exposure and processing, like most photographers did before going digital. Digital isn’t more relaxed, it’s just different. When you shoot film you have more latitude in many ways, certainly in regards to highlights. If I shoot [film] and overexpose a bit or my highlights are blown, then I can bring it back to a certain degree. I have that luxury with digital. When I got my own scanner and started doing everything in-house I started getting control back. My printing skills came in handy when I startAn image from Schafer’s portfolioed adapting to the post-end Photoshop. I’ve always treated Photoshop as a glorified printer where I could control my dodging, burning and color balances.

F STOP: How did you get started?

Schafer: I grew up in San Francisco and was a big metal fan. We used to sneak our cameras into big rock shows. I took a fine art photography class in junior college and I started to work for a lab owned by an Art Center graduate. He taught me hand-line processing, E6, E41, printing, color printing, duping, 4X5 copy work, and small product work, and introduced me to Art Center. I would not have known anything about going to art school without him. I got into Art Center with a lot of technical prowess, but without a creative background. By the time I graduated I was already working. [Now] I’m 42.

F STOP: Where do you see things going trend-wise?

Schafer: Trends are a catch-22. You need it because you want work, but it ends up being the death of you eventually because people will typecast you or pigeonhole you.  I think now people want to go back to Terry Richardson’s flash on-camera point and shoot look. I love Mert and Marcus and Steven Klein. Those guys are very diverse and they still shoot a lot of film. For or me the trend has always been film. I always look at movies, a lot of photographers do. We’re always looking back and reinventing what’s next. With digital, everyone is on the same playing field now technically. Although everyone  has their own style, Sascha Waldman and Jim Fiscus have an incredibly trendy advertising look.

F STOP: How long do you think trends last?

Schafer: I don’t really gauge it by time. I always feel like the trend goes like this: it fires up in editorial and then it ends in advertising. What I mean by ‘advertising’ is the ad companies that will catch up like three years later. You start working hardcore in editorial and can’t get anyone in advertising to hire you to actually get any money. Once you get to do it in advertising, it’s already dead editorially. Today, I don’t really feel I’m thrown into a typecast anymore. I think I’m in a different place. My work had broadened and I don’t feel like I’m as stuck.

F STOP: When you were more pigeonholed, what was it like?An image from Schafer’s portfolio

Schafer: When people are hiring you it’s great. I don’t think I can only shoot one thing.  Variety keeps everything interesting. I tell students that photography is like a marriage and to stay excited and in love, you need to keep pushing yourself. If you only get hired to do the same thing over and over again and don’t do anything different for yourself  it will end up going away. That’s a scary place. It can be very frightening. And I’ve certainly gone through that. I had to break out of it, so I did a complete 180.

F STOP: How did you change?

Schafer: I didn’t purposely make a change, a change happened. My agency closed. I was coming off one of the best years of my career and then all of a sudden it just all came to a grinding halt.

F STOP: So how did you get through that?

Schafer: I had to get back in there and do it myself. I had plenty of interest from agents, but I didn’t want to make the wrong decision. In that period I had gone through two different agents. I was with one agent for ten years and then I left her and went to Art Mix and that didn’t work well. I left Art Mix for Korman and it went well until they closed. I was left with “now what?”

F STOP: What did you do during that do-it-yourself time?

Schafer: I wasn’t inspired by my work anymore. I needed to work, but I needed to feel good about what I was selling. I also had to be patient. I couldn’t just pull the trigger on anything. I ended up paying my producer an agency feAn image from Schafer’s portfolioe to put me together with bidding and stuff when jobs came and I began doing a lot of network stuff that started to come up. Things got lean, but I never had to go get a job. Someone introduced me to my present agent out of the blue and I really liked him. Things fell into place.

F STOP: Did your style actually change?

Schafer: To a certain degree. I don’t think I’m a definitive person stylistically, like say Jill Greenberg, David LaChapelle, or Terry Richardson.

F STOP: What do you think set you apart then?

Schafer: I think my diversification and my ability to do both simple and complex work. I’m also really good at lighting. I work with people that I don’t know very well and am able to make them comfortable. I think there is a lot to being a photographer, a lot more than being able to light well and make a cool picture. You need to work with a lot of people. You’re a director.

F STOP: Do you think there is any similarity between photographers and Hollywood actors when they’re typecast in their careers?

Schafer: I’m not an actor and don’t know what they go through but I think it’s a creative process. Sixteen years later I feel like I’m getting better, I don’t feel like I’m falling off. I feel like I’ve reached a level of maturity where I can handle the big job now. We did a half a million-dollar job this year and I felt comfortable doing that. When I shot an album package for Aerosmith in ’96 for $70,000  I could not sleep for months, it just consumed me. I’ve reached a point where I am comfortable with what I do and how I do it. I can just be thrown into a room with Alan Iverson for ten minutes and just a cinder block wall and I can come out with something beautiful. I can do both. And that just comes with experience and time and confidence.

F STOP: Tell me about working with high-profile people. How did you get started?An image from Schafer’s portfolio

Schafer: I started working with Entertainment Weekly. At the time, magazines gave you a lot of freedom. There were sometimes when I would be art directed into a corner, which seems to be more what’s going on now where photographers are chosen to shoot a predetermined concept. It used to be like, “you’re the photographer, you’re going to shoot this person, what are your ideas?” Which is great, and scary. All of a sudden I was shooting up and coming celebrity stuff.  Front-of-book stuff. I didn’t get features for a while.

F STOP: How do you like working with your high profile subjects?

Schafer: Usually the people aren’t that difficult. Women are a little trickier than men, I do a lot of men. Women are more insecure. They need to have great hair, great make-up, all this styling stuff, and by the time they get to you, half the work is done, put some nice light on them and usually it’s okay. My book has become more male-oriented and comedic over the years. When we shot Sarah Silverman for a Maxim cover she was very insecure about showing her body. Maxim had a specific way they wanted her to be, which automatically can make someone insecure and defensive. My job was to reassure her and to lighten up the mood. I have a particular amount of experience with comedians. They tend to be really intense people, actually. I just try to be the total regular dude. I’m not a personality, I just try to make it easy. I’ve learned over the years that they don’t want to be there. Generally, these press shoots are on a big tour to promote a movie or album. They don’t want to wait around for your technical BS, it’s like pulling teeth for them.

F STOP:Has the talent ever shot down one of your ideas?

An image from Schafer’s portfolioSchafer: Always. There’s always something. You’re always fighting. And sometimes it’s not the talent, it’s the art director. You’re trying to convince the art director and talent is fine with it. It’s a lot of scared people I’m dealing with. It’s a fear-based kind of world when it comes to this. It really is. I’m dealing with people’s fears, their ultimate fears. A Publicist’s job is to be afraid, period. I’ve had some really bad experiences with publicists that has made shooting uncomfortable. I’ve also had wonderful experiences. When we shot Seth Rogen, his publicist said, “if you can get Seth to do it, fine by me,” because Seth is the master of his deal. So it’s my job to say, “Okay, I want an image of Seth humping himself. How do I convince him?” I did a quick composite of my assistant humping himself and didn’t say anything to him. I simply said, “come over here, take a look at this.” When I showed Seth the picture of my assistant he laughed and said, “Well, I guess I have to do that.” It was easy enough. Other times they say no, so you need a backup plan. When I shot Flight of the Conchords Brett refused to take his shirt off and lay on a bear skin rug, claiming he had issues with animals. We did the crate picture first and two hours in, after we were having a great time, I was able to convince him to do the rug. It’s about being a diplomat. People want to be reassured, like “Can I see this before it goes?” And that’s a very touchy thing, because the magazines don’t want to show the images sometimes.

F STOP: Do you feel like you have to be a certain way around people?

Schafer: I’m on stage. I’m a performer. I don’t know if it’s the power of being the guy charge, but it’s almost like becoming someone else. Whatever fear or insecurity I have all gets funneled into the energy of the shoot. I become really outspoken, kind of cliché, a little Austin Powers-like, but not. I’ve become incredibly foul, for humor’s sake. But you say things to get reactions and put people at ease. The crew can be around freaking out aAn image from Schafer’s portfoliobout the budget or the time, but my job is to have fun and take pictures.

F STOP: Can you give some examples of stuff you say?

Schafer: It seems wrong out of context. We were shooting a young Santa flying in a sleigh for Palm and I said, “Tell f-ing Rudolph to f-ing go shove that f-ing red nose up his a**.

F STOP: And nobody ever takes offense to it?

Schafer: It’s only as foul as necessary. You can just drop a bomb and the person you’re shooting usually understands that you’re making a joke. Everybody relaxes.

F STOP: Have you ever had a problem when some says, ‘I don’t like that foul language?’

Schafer: The only time was when I photographed Toni Morrison. I wasn’t being filthy, only a bit disrespectful. She’s a very dignified black, female writer and I was calling her ‘honey’ and ‘darling.’ She didn’t say anything to me, but she said it to my assistant, who happens to be black. He pulled me aside and said, “you can’t say that to her, you’re talking to Toni Morrison, you can’t talk to her like that.” I apologized immediately and she was really sweet and cool. My mouth has gotten me in trouble, but it’s never been so bad that people storm off the set. The toughest times I’ve had have been with rappers.  They just don’t get me. I’m a skinny white guy that’s definitely not from that world. They’ll dig my work, but they’ll look at me and just think I’m a funny white guy.

F STOP: Some people have the conception that photographing celebrities is very glamorous. Has it had an impact on your personal life, do you find yourself hanging out with any of these people you photograph or developing friendships?

Schafer: There’s been a moment or two, but not much. With some photographers it’s part of their image. I’ve An image from Schafer’s portfoliobecome friends with a few. I’m shooting Andy Sandberg’s crew next week for a record, The Lonely Island. I think he picked me because we did that shoot together at Newsweek, but we never hung out. I’ve photographed Offspring for the past ten years, doing all of their publicity since 1995. That’s the most glamorous thing I’ve done because they’ve taken me on tour all over the world. I’m not in the clubs with Lindsay Lohan or anything like that, however. It’s a job, and when we’re done and they leave it’s the happiest part of the day for me. It’s over.

F STOP: Should still photographers be worried in the current environment?

Schafer: Photographers will always be needed. When advertising budgets are low or we hit a recession and everybody gets panicky, rates will begin to drop down below where they should. It ruins it for everybody else. It’s our responsibility to keep an established rate. I think the music industry is a perfect example of that. It is definitely hurting, but the amount of money it has come down to it really insulting, especially for buy-outs. It’s ultimately about you as a person. The work needs to be there but, like one of my professors told me, it’s 80-20, it’s 20 percent your work and 80 percent you—your business skills, your personal skills, how you sell yourself, and how you market yourself. It’s a business.

To see more of Schafer’s work visit his website.

Mark Zibert

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

Written by JoAnne Tobias
Edited by Jesi Khadivi
Diagrams by Anne Smith

Final image created, but not used, for Adidas campaign

Sometimes 24 hours is all the advance warning a photographer receives to pack his bag and head halfway around the world.  The Adidas campaign, shot in Beijing, held a myriad of such last minute challenges for Toronto-based photographer Mark Zibert.
“I had almost no idea that this huge thing was going to happen until the day before,” said Zibert, explaining that the campaign had been called off after months of bidding, conference calls and negotiations.  On the day he returned from shooting a Nike ad in France he got the go-ahead. “We ended up leaving the next day for China for three months to shoot this Side view of lightingcampaign.”

Landing in Beijing, Zibert and his crew encountered the project’s first, nearly fatal obstacle.  “We brought our own gear and it all got held up in customs. You had to pay a $150,000 deposit which you only got 75% of back. I lost sleep on this job!”

Luckily, a light-footed digital operator saved the day.  “Our digital operator basically walked into the office and grabbed our camera system and snuck out with it,” says Zibert. “It was pretty ballsy. He ended up getting it out and they didn’t notice. Thank god, because we couldn’t find the right cameras out there! He saved our asses.”

Overhead view of lightingDespite such an inauspicious start, Zibert and his crew went on to deftly manage the Herculean task of fashioning a mob of 20,000 out of 300 extras- without any post-production cloning.  “The first two rows of people are pro or Olympic athletes and then everyone in the background is part of the 300 mob,” said Zibert. “We ended up just shooting crowd plates for two days straight. We were just moving these people around and shooting them. It was really grueling work and they were 16-hour days.”

There were myriad lighting setups for the dozens of crowd shots and then for each individual athlete so we’ve chosen to focus on the details behind one crowd shot in this article (the behind the scenes images we’ve included should also give an idea of how some of the other images were lit). The crowd image we’re focusing on involved dozens of people and was shot with the sun high in the sky. The sun was the main light source in this shot but mother nature needed a bit of modification to be featured in this highly polished image. In order to soften the harsh shadows created by the sun Zibert and his team erected a large silk 20’ over the entire crowd and then used three bare Pulso G heads connected to Broncolor Grafit A4 packs to add fill. An additional Pulso G head equipped with a beauty dish added more frontal fill. Zibert used a Hasselblad H3D wVarious behind-the-scenes images from the shootith a 35mm lens and an exposure of 1/500th of a second at f/5.6 and 100 iso.

And all for an image that was never run.  “This image isn’t going to end up running at all because the clients felt it didn’t have continuity with the rest of the campaign,” says Zibert, explaining that the other campaign pictures show a crowd supporting an individual.

Repped by Corbis Artist Representation, Zibert worked with the Shanghai branch of TBWA and 180.  He assumed that he was chosen among the five bidding photographers because his portfolio held plenty of action images. “Also, the fact that  I do my own retouching was a big part of my sales pitch. My commitment helped too. I was willing to relocate,” says Zibert.

For Zibert, relocating is part of daily life.  Although based in Toronto, he rarely shoots, or even spends much time there.  He’s found instead in New York shooting editorial assignments, or around the globe doing advertisements.  His personal documentary work, too, takes on an international flair:   Zibert does pro bono work for NGO campaigns across Africa. “They basically just fly me out and I go out and shoot for them. I met Right to Play the first time I went to Tanzania, and then a year later I went to Rwanda, and then Uganda and Sierra Leone,” said Zibert, noting that he grants the organizations the rights to the images so they can use it for all their fundraising and promotions.

As if international editorial, advertising and documentary photography were not enough, this 31 year old photographer is also making a name for himself directing commercials.
Currently working on a couple of McDonald’s commercials, an 86 commercial as well as an editorial shoot for ESPN magazine, Zibert blithely notes there’s not much difference between stills and film.  “After you do one or two spots, you start realizing how it is very similar to still shoots,” says Zibert.

Although he’s adept in both mediums, Zibert is not looking to make a permanent switch.   “For me, it’s totally creatively driven. If an okay commercial came up at the same time as that Adidas campaign, I’d do the Adidas campaign. I want to do whatever the best project is.”Another image Mark Zibert did for the Adidas campaign (this one ran)

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

F STOP: So how did you get to be a part of this wonderful, highly praised ad campaign for Adidas?

Zibert: I was repped globally by Corbis Artist Representation. The layouts for the campaign came through their Beijing agent. The initial idea was to feature individual athletes with massive crowds supporting them and the featured image was supposed to be the big finale image. However, this image isn’t going to end up running at all because the clients felt it didn’t have continuity with the rest of the campaign. Originally, I was supposed to shoot these athletes individually and then they were going to hire an illustrator to draw the entire crowd sequence behind them. I convinced them to shoot everything, which made me more interested in doing the campaign. We ended up bidding against 5 other photographers. We had to submit a treatment and there were numerous conference calls back and forth.  Eventually we won the job, but then the job died. There were calls back and forth about it while I was shooting a snowboarding job for Nike in France. The day after I got home from the Nike job I got the call that it was back on again. We ended up leaving the next day for China for three months to shoot this campaign. I had almost no idea that this huge thing was going to happen until the day before. It was about a three-month commitment. Once we got there we started figuring out how we were going to do it. We were supposed to piggyback a lot An image from Zibert’s portfolioof this stuff on TV, but it just didn’t really work. We did a location scout for three days and  ended up figuring out how to do it on our own. We had to crowd plates (background images) for six shots total. We ended up with 300 extras and we paraded them around the location for each shot so we wouldn’t have to do any cloning. It was all cutting and pasting. Like people standing in the front row were then moved to the back row. We didn’t want to have like a cloning effect. It had a real genuine look because we moved them around. It looked like we had 20,000 people there.

F STOP: So is everyone in the shot a real person, nobody was illustrated?

Zibert: The first two rows of people are pro or Olympic athletes and then everyone in the background is part of the 300 [person] mob. We ended up just shooting crowd plates for two days straight. We were just moving these people around and shooting them. It was really grueling work and they were 16-hour days.

F STOP: Was this an outdoor location?

Zibert: Yes, a stadium.

F STOP: How did you get the light to match up? You were obviously dealing with natural light.

Zibert: We were pretty lucky. We were hoping for overcast, but it was easy sun. Once the people start getting really far away they more or less become these little blobs and the light wasn’t a factor. We made sure to get all the foreground plates of people within an hour window so the light matched and there was some forgiveness. We added that haze in post which hides some of the mix-matching in the light.

F STOP: Did you have your camera locked down for the entire three days to shoot all these people?

Zibert: No, we did three days of tech scouting, measuring angles, and planning the location because we had to know where all the foreground people were going to be. It was only two days of shooting crowds.

F STOP:: That sounds like quite a production.An image from Zibert’s portfolio

Zibert: It was crazy. We shot the crowds first and that dictated the lighting for when we shot the athletes in studio. The crowds are totally isolated and we had to fill them in a little bit to get them looking better.

F STOP: How did you light all the athletes?

Zibert: We shot them in the studio and matched where the lighting was coming from and then filled in shadows.

F STOP: Can you give us a rough idea of the equipment you were using.

Zibert: We brought our own gear and it all got held up in customs. We weren’t allowed to bring any of the gear with us, but our digital operator basically walked into the office and grabbed our camera system and snuck out with it. It was pretty ballsy. He ended up getting it out and they didn’t notice. Thank god, because we couldn’t find the right cameras out there! He saved our asses. We didn’t end up getting any of the equipment out. We had to send it all back. The first week was totally chaotic. We lost the location and our gear. Everything just kind of went to hell. We had to scramble. We were randomly calling photographers in China because we couldn’t find the gear we needed. The studio we rented had three Broncolor packs, so that was our kit the whole time we were there.

F STOP: The end result was definitely worth it, they’re incredible images. Did you do anything else with the athletes while you were shooting the campaign? Portraits?

Zibert: In hindsight I wish we did, but there was just so much going on.

F STOP: What were the athletes like?An image from Zibert’s portfolio

Zibert: They were cool. No prima donnas. Overall, it was pretty easy to make these guys look good and athletic. We actually got to play ping-pong against these two ping pong guys during lunch. That was actually a highlight.

F STOP: How’d you do?

Zibert: Smoked. They were just [messing] around with us and it was no problem for them.

F STOP: How did post production go?

Zibert: I worked with my first assistant on post and we started working on it when we were there. We would do retouching in our downtime.  We rented a bunch of machines and set up in our apartment and started building. Then we flew to Shanghai, set up in a hotel to work with the agency for a week. It was back and forth for about 5 months and continued when we got home.

F STOP: How many hours do you think went into post?

Zibert: A few hundred hours for sure.

F STOP: So this image would have been black and white if it had run?

Zibert: No, this one was supposed to be color. If you go into Ads of the World you can see the ones that ran. And they ended up doing one other shot after that. They hired a different photographer to do it because he was in the country already.

An image from Zibert’s portfolioF STOP: How were the agency people at TBWA and 180 to work with? Were there any communication issues?

Zibert: Everyone spoke English. The art buyer had a lot of production experience. They were very open to ideas. For example, they let me shoot the entire crowd rather than just the main athlete, which was the original plan. It cost more to do that, but they supported the approach on it.

F STOP: What do you think made Adidas pick you for this campaign?

Zibert: I had a lot of action in my portfolio. Also, the fact that I do my own retouching was a big part of my sales pitch. My commitment helped too. I was willing to relocate.

F STOP: How long have you been shooting for?

Zibert: I’m 31 now and have been shooting for eight years. I went to Sheraton College in Ontario. I assisted for about a year after school and then I started shooting.

F STOP: Did you jump right into advertising or did you shoot editorial first?

Zibert: I pretty much jumped into advertising.  I went to see an art director fresh out of school and he told me to assist for awhile and work on my book. I went back to him about a year later and he gave me job.  I did a few small jobs and then I got lucky fairly early when I was about 23 or 24. I shot a Nike campaign and that changed everything. It really got the ball rolling.

F STOP: Did you study retouching when you were in school?

Zibert: A little bit. I kind of learned retouching on the go. On my first jobs I would spend days and nights figuring it out as I’d work like on an actual running job.

F STOP: Do you enjoy it?

An image from Zibert’s portfolioZibert: I’m starting to do less and less of it because shooting is keeping me fairly busy, but I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t want to do this alone because there is are a lot of tedious aspects of this kind of retouching, like the close cutting and all that stuff. I still usually set the final look on most of the campaigns. I’ll get a retoucher to build it and play around with color, but then I’ll take the final high-res file and tweak it.

F STOP: Your color palette seems to change quite a bit throughout your body of work. What factors influence your color palette when you get an assignment or try to conceptualize a shoot?

Zibert: The final mood of the image plays a big part of it. Advertising it’s pretty simple. If you shoot an ad for McDonald’s it’s not going to be a moody image. But for personal work or editorials, it all depends like on the subject matter. I gave this campaign a bit of a warm tone. It has a bit of a revolutionary kind of feel to it, as far as the people coming together, so I thought that the black and white for the rest of the series worked really well. It just gives it a richer, epic kind of feel.

F STOP: Do you prefer black and white to color?

Zibert: Again, it depends on the image and the mood you’re going for with it. I don’t think about it too much.

F STOP: How did you get involved with documentary? Is it something you still do or was it something kind of from the past?

Zibert: I still do it. I started working with the NGO, Right to Play. It was started by this ex-Olympic athlete to support kids in Africa and other Third World countries. They use sport and play to promote fitness and health and the fight against AIDS. They have athlete ambassadors that they bring to the refugee camps and then they go back and promote the NGO and drum up support to help these guys out. An art director I’d worked with regularly sent me to Africa to shoot an image for one of their campaigns. Through that trip I met a lot of contacts and then I ended up just getting other jobs on my own. All of the documentary work I do is pro bono. They basically just fly me out and I go out and shoot for them. I met Right to Play the first time I went to Tanzania, and then a year later I went to Rwanda, and then Uganda and Sierra Leone.An image from Zibert’s portfolio

F STOP: So it’s pretty much personal work?

Zibert: It’s personal work, but they get rights to the images and they can use it for all their fundraising and promotions.

F STOP: That sounds like a great thing to be a part of.

Zibert: Yeah, it’s amazing. Even if I were to fly out there by myself I wouldn’t get this kind of access and support.

F STOP: Do you find that being based in Toronto has any impact on the types of jobs you get?

Zibert: You’re better off living in New York for editorial because that’s where most of [the magazines] are run. We still fly for editorial and I do work in New York as a local now. For advertising you can pretty much live anywhere in the world, if you have the right agents.

F STOP: Do you shoot in Toronto very often?

Zibert: It’s been a while. There’s good and bad aspects about it. It’s pretty exciting to travel for work, but at the same time it can be a little hard on commitments at home.

F STOP: Tell me about your personal work.

Zibert: I just shot something, but it’s not finished yet. I try to treat editorial more like personal work where I’ll kind of do a lot of the conceptualizing and choose the approach. For example, the Hayden Christensen spread. The magazine wanted a white background. My stylist and I made some calls and Hugo Boss gave us a bunch of clothes that we could trash. So it ended up being this Hugo Boss white world story with Hayden Christensen.

F STOP: How did you do the image where he looks like he is making a snow angel?

Zibert: We built a water tank in studio and bought like 80 liters of milk or something ridiculous. The pool wasn’t super deep so he was lying there and would bring his arms and legs and head all down at the same time.

An image from Zibert’s portfolioF STOP: In addition to your still photography you direct commercials too, how long have you been doing that for?

Zibert: About three years. I signed on with this great production company called Sons and Daughters in December last year. They did a really big push selling me as a director and then the campaigns just started coming in. Now I’m doing about 50-50.

F STOP: How does a still photographer get involved in directing commercials?

Zibert:: I was shooting a campaign about three years ago for an agency called John Street and I was working directly with the creative director. I suggested it might be a cool TV commercial and he agreed and gave me a shot to do the spot.

F STOP: Was it a difficult transition?

Zibert: I have a really good camera assistant and a gaffer and a key grip. I explain lighting and sometimes shoot photo references and they help me figure out what equipment I need to make that possible. With TV we might have over a hundred on set. That was a little daunting at first, to say the least. After you do one or two spots, you start realizing how it is very similar to still shoots. It’s just a moving picture and the productions are bigger, but at the end of the day I feel they are actually very similar.

To see more of Mark Zibert’s work visit his website, his reel or his rep.