Lifestyle photographer Denise Crew was approached by the producers of Netflix’s Queer Eye about a book they were producing that had a very quick turn-around. It typically takes 18 months to publish a book from start to finish and they needed to do this book in 6 months. For those of us who haven’t written a book before, I’ve been told it’s immensely difficult to do in 18 months let alone 6! Crew wasn’t able to read the final manuscript until she was on the plane heading to Kansas City where the show was starting production of its third season. In advance of that, she was working closely with her client, the producers of the show, and the book’s designer at Clarkson Potter. Her mandate was to help create something that would be a gift to the fans and her personal goal was to capture them authentically without any pretense. Inspiration images and ideas were shared, and she got to see two sample layouts — the art direction the producers had used to show the publisher, and a rough art design and layout the publisher did to set the tone for the book.
There was a shot list that was split up by each of the guys, by chapters in the book and by group and mini-group ideas. It was multi-page long and was constantly being adjusted.
When asked about equipment and team, Crew replied, “Budget didn’t allow for an assistant or any other production resources, and the amount of time I had in each location didn’t allow for any setups with lighting equipment. I brought an on-camera LED light, a flash and a reflector but I didn’t end up using any of it. On the first day, the client agreed to hire a local assistant and by happenstance and magic, I met and hired Alex Rhoades to assist me for the first week of aggressive shooting. We were also able to use the show’s hair and makeup artist for a few setups if some of the guys wanted grooming.”
Crew and her team had some blocks of time scheduled with the guys, but mostly they had to be flexible to shoot at a moment’s notice when the production schedule allowed. They typically shot all day and tried to catch up on production and file management in pockets of downtime in-between.
Crew then shared sample screen grabs of each setup she was able to capture in a group text that included the publishing team and her client so they could see how the book was progressing and give feedback. After each full day of shooting, she then downloaded and backed-up cards to multiple drives and sent a set of drives to the publisher every other day so they could work on designing the book while she was shooting it. She also needed time to maintain my equipment and prepare for the next day of shooting so each day was about an 18 hour workday.
The shot list had an important element that was called “tight opening portraits.” This would be the section that she would share more about.
Her directive was to shoot each of the guys in a tight portrait and the images would most likely be processed to black and white for the opening of their chapters.
The book was going to be almost square — 9x9.5 inches — so she had to compose her shots knowing they’d be cropped in post production. The heat index in Kansas City was nearly 110 degrees that day so she knew they had to shoot indoors. It’s difficult for a shoot to go well when everybody is uncomfortable and sweating in the heat! Crew found a floating wall that had a soft dappled quality with a giant north facing windows about 15 feet away to camera left. She needed to shoot each of the guys in multiple ways — looking at her, and looking away and in sharp profile in both directions.
“I also needed to capture a variety of expressions so I directed them through each setup to capture each shot I needed to check off my list. I knew it would be a challenge to get the side without the window light to be attractive so I put most of my attention where the light looked the best but got the less flattering angle just in case it was needed in the final edit.
I also had to expose for all skin tones since each guy is quite different. We also had limited time so I had to shoot all five guys in about 10 minutes capturing about 350 frames in total for the setup. I used my Canon 70-200mm lens at f5 at 1/125 with a 2000 ISO. They each sat or leaned on a bar stool positioned a few feet in front of the wall and I stood on a step ladder directly in front of them.”
This isn’t just a story of how great looking photographs were taken but also a story that even in chaos and lack of time, a good photographer is still able to bring out great results. Sometimes the conditions we are working with don’t permit us an ideal environment to get what we think is the perfect shot. It’s really on us as photographers to work with what we have and more often than not what we have is more than enough. These photos came out looking spectacular and all involved should be very proud of the final results.
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 24-70mm
- Canon 70-200mm
- Canon 50mm 1.2
- SanDisk 64GB cards
- LaCie 1TB rugged drives
- MacBook Pro
Rob Eric, Creative Director & Executive Producer
Joel Chiodi, Chief Marketing Officer
Alex Rhoades, Assistant
Kristin Kent, Grooming
Ian Dingman, Book Design
If you’re interested in more behind the scenes, do check out the InstaStory Highlights labeled “QUEER EYE” at Crew’s instagram page, @denisecrew!
All images used with permission of Denise Crew.