The Real Story Behind Rudy Giuliani's Time Magazine Photoshoot

For many photographers, taking portraits of celebrities, athletes, and government officials seems like the pinnacle of a successful business. Sometimes, however, those jobs require an insane amount of work, risk, and safety precautions to pull off the shot. In today's Story Time With Monte Isom, we look at how Gregory Heisler captured Time's Man of the Year cover with NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The year was 2001 and Time had selected Mayor Giuliani as their Man of the Year recipient for his work in Manhattan during and after the horrible terrorist attacks on September 11th. The main hero shot needed to show the mayor standing above New York City with the ruins of the World Trade Center in the background. Heisler and his team, in which Isom was the main assistant, picked the top of the Rockefeller Center after scouting dozens of rooftop locations in the city. 

As Isom describes in the video above, the observation deck on the Top of the Rock had not been opened yet to the public and none of the security features had been added to the building's 68-plus story rooftop viewing deck. During the scheduled week the shoot was planned to take place, the winds and rain from a series of bad storms made the shooting location less than ideal for a dignitary let alone the actual mayor of New York City. Isom and the rest of Heisler's team decided to build a standing platform to not only help support Giuliani but to also remove any feeling of vertigo that one might feel standing on the edge of a 70-story building. You can see the test shot Heisler took of Isom alongside the final portrait of Giuliani below.

Monte Isom poses for the test shot of Gregory Heisler's iconic Time cover.

If the shooting location wasn't stressful enough, Heisler wanted to capture both the mayor and the recently destroyed site of the World Trade Center in sharp focus. One might think you could simply set your camera's aperture to f/22 to render everything in your scene sharp and in focus but to make the situation even more difficult, the photograph was planned to take place at dusk where ambient exposures could possibly run for seconds if not minutes.

To solve this problem with exposure times and depth of field requirements, Heisler decided to shoot the entire session on 8x10 film. By using a bellows system which ultimately acts like an extreme tilt-shift lens, Heisler was able to change the depth of field so that it ran parallel with the lens instead of perpendicular. This created an insanely shallow depth of field that allowed both Giuliani to be in focus along with the Empire State Building and the former spot of the Twin Towers. If you are curious about how this photograph was lit, I highly recommend the video below where Heisler explains exactly where and how he placed his Profoto lights to create a realistic and compelling scene for Giuliani to stand.

If you enjoyed this episode of "Story Time With Monte," be sure to check out all the videos from this series on our YouTube Playlist and subscribe to our YouTube Channel for even more photography related videos. If you are an aspiring commercial and editorial photographer who wants to learn all the secrets to making the most money possible, check out Monte Isom's "Making Real Money" tutorial where he shares everything he has learned about the business of photography. You can can check out the trailer for this educational series below.

Bonus: As a reader of Fstoppers, use the discount code "save10fs" to save 10% off the purchase of this full video tutorial.

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15 Comments

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

Thanks for the share! I'll subscribe. I like hearing stories behind images. I also read Heislers 50 portraits and it had a lot of good stuff in there.

Patrick Hall's picture

Yeah it's an amazing book. The stories plus the technical information is worth its weight in gold.

For a rundown of more Heisler portraits from his book "50 Portraits" including some discussion of personalities, check this video: https://youtu.be/rZ42PeHtqfo

Spy Black's picture

It's a great shot, but I guess that all that liquor had him romanticizing about the smouldering remains of the WTC buildings in the background, of which there was none in that shot.

Patrick Hall's picture

The fires finally stopped burning around the end of Dec and I believe this photo was taken before then, maybe around Thanksgiving or Christmas. So yes, there isn't a plume of smoke in the final image but if you lived in NYC at the time (both Greg and Monte did) then you would have known about the burning.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/dec/20/september11.usa

Spy Black's picture

I saw the first plane hit. I lived through it. However I'm merely referring to that image. Great shot, but there are no plumes int he background.

Looking at the test shot of Monte and the final image of the mayor, I can't help but notice the gap in the ledge that they are standing on. Same ledge obviously, but why is the gap so much wider in the test shot of Monte thus making his stance wider?

Patrick Hall's picture

You know, I aligned the two images in photoshop a while back and was noticing that too. In the test shot, Monte is having to stand really wide while in the final shot Rudy gets to stand with his feet closer together. Considering this was done in 2001 on 8x10 film no less, it does make me wonder how they accomplished that retouch and how they were able to get Rudy to stand that way. I'll ask Monte if he knows

Craig Mitchell's picture

The answer is this is a composite shot with the portrait shot indoors then blended with the background shot. It's described in the Heisler 50 Portraits book on page 167 (2nd column, last paragraph: "I directed the Mayor to his perch on our mock parapet" ) The ledge is a set piece that was constructed and shot indoors. Hope this helps. I noticed the inconsistency in Monte's version when I bought the tutorial.

if it's a composite, then why all the trouble to shoot 8x10 and changing the plane of focus? you could just get two in-focus shots and focus stack it.

if i understand the article correctly, they created a fake stand to take the shot at a safe distance from the actual ledge. So, Rudy is on the observation deck, but safely surrounded by the floor on all sides.

Patrick Hall's picture

Rudy is actually standing on the ledge but in order to remove the feeling of vertigo, they built a platform in front of him. He actually stood there. Watch both videos and you can hear Monte and Greg both describe this.

Craig Mitchell's picture

(EDITED) In the book "Gregory Heisler 50 Portraits" he clearly states that due to weather, the final shot had to be moved indoors to a set they had constructed as a back up option. Its not the same ledge, it is a plywood ledge. I have the book right in front of me. Pg 167. During the test shoots earlier that evening, they were on the actual ledge, but the final shot is from the indoor set due to weather. Screenshot from book attached:

Craig Mitchell's picture

It's not the same ledge. Its a set piece shot indoors.

Patrick Hall's picture

Clearly the ledge has been altered in post some way but Rudy was most definitely standing on it. Both Monte and Greg talk about him standing there in their separate videos.

Craig Mitchell's picture

(EDITED) This is not correct. In the book "Gregory Heisler 50 Portraits" he clearly states that due to weather, the final shot had to be moved indoors to a set they had constructed as a back up option. Its not the same ledge, it is a plywood ledge. I have the book right in front of me. Pg 167. During the test shoots earlier that evening, they were on the actual ledge, but the final shot is from the indoor set due to weather. Screenshot from book attached: