04 March, 2014

A Study

I was recently asked by a new client why I pre-scout shoots, and was told it was very rare. Maybe it's because I entered this field after having practiced Interior Design for 16 years and during that time would never have created anything with out first drafting a sketch and then a plan for which to build from. Though I think there is more to it than that. So since I haven't blogged in over four months, here we go...

When a great painter sets out to produce a masterpiece, they might typically start with a sketch which evolves into a study. The study is primarily used to work out an important element of the larger painting. When I photograph an Architectural Project, I first start with a scouting visit. I do this primarily because it allows me to discover great compositions without the hinderance of the tripod or the limitations of shooting a certain amount of images in an allotted time. Moving through a home with the camera in hand, provides a tremendous amount of freedom to allow my eye to wander and discover truly great photographs. Architectural photography is very different than say how a photo journalist might approach a composition. With a journalist the magic of a great image is the culmination of being at the right place at the right time and having the innate ability to anticipate what might happen and of course being ready to capture that fleeting moment in just the right light. For them their world is in a constant flux, while an Architectural photographers world never moves. It is the photographer that is moving to precisely align that balance of Architecture and Design into an image that inspires and transmits the experience felt within that space, that Design narrative. 

If you've ever watched the behind the scenes of an Annie Lebovitz shoot or any sort of commercial shoot with an expected outcome you'll notice the tremendous amount of forethought and control that goes into creating great photographs. Imagine a photographer working for a commercial client and just running around shooting willy nilly (always wanted to use that phrase). 

I've been asked to give a talk about this approach to Architectural Photography during Boston Design Week and take you behind the scenes in the making of truly great photographs that grace the pages of major market Design Magazines. So for a more in depth discussion, please join me on March 26th at Jill Goldberg's Hudson in the South End. Please follow the link below to RSVP as space is limited.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/discover-the-secrets-of-interiors-photography-with-michael-j-lee-tickets-10557019329

Warm Regards,

Michael

25 November, 2013

Thanksgiving for a Room to Dream

Several years ago I'd offered to photograph the finished rooms for an organization called Room to Dream. I was inspired by my friend Joanne DiFrancesco's passion for the organization and was completely out of my element on that very first shoot.

The reveals typically take place on a Sunday and as I pulled up to the house, I saw almost a dozen cars parked in front with volunteers going in and out of the house, always carrying something under their arm. I was shown the room and told the family would be home in about 45 minutes and could I get as many shots as possible before they get home…

In my world it takes 45 minutes just to set up the first shot, never mind take as many as possible? Inspired by the tireless enthusiasm of all the volunteers around me we took about 12 great photos and then I started to pack up. One of the members of Room to Dream asked if I could stay and take a few shots of the family as the room was revealed. I hesitated and then said yes of course. I got out my flash and positioned myself in the room waiting for the signal that the door would open and for me to capture that moment, that split second when a child would see their Room to Dream in for the very first time. I could hear someone say that the family had returned home, then through the commotion I thought I heard someone say, "he's going to walk in unaided…"

Then the signal and I don't really remember what happened after that, I just kept pressing the shutter button. I cried the whole way home and when Isabella saw me she asked what was wrong. I said, remember how you are always asking me if you can go to work with me? Well, the next time I have a shoot on a Sunday, you are coming with me, ok? She smiled and gave me a big hug. 

This past year, I was blessed to have hid in a room six times (with Isabella, most times), waiting for the signal to capture the moment when a very special child realizes their Room to Dream is a reality.

Isabella helping me photograph, Ethan's Room


I want to THANK Stefan Nathanson, Jodi Petrillo, Gail O'Rourke, D. Michael Collins, Joanne DiFrancesco and the countless numbers of Volunteers, Designers and everyone who have allowed me to hide in a room and capture a moment that will live with me forever.

Brendan seeing his Room to Dream

Ethan seeing his Room to Dream

Maeve seeing her Room to Dream

Stephen seeing his Room to Dream

Sabreena seeing her Room to Dream

Sean seeing his Room to Dream

Happy Thanksgiving!

Michael


23 October, 2013

Clone Stamp

If you've ever been on a shoot with a photographer than I'm sure you've had the conversation about getting rid of something that is a distraction to the shot. Have you ever wondered how photographers get rid of distractions? Clone stamp, which is probably the most used function for me anyway in photoshop. Basically to get rid of something, you have to replace it with something, kind of like "copy and paste". However most times it's not that easy and can take almost an hour in certain cases. My least favorite rooms to get rid of things in are all white rooms, because all white rooms vary diversely in degrees of white and while white maybe the absence of all color it certainly takes on varying hues depending on what is near...

So I thought I'd show you some examples of clone stamping that I'm really quite proud of.

In this first instance, the light switch and thermostat just completely distract from the beauty of the moment, of course the rivets in the Phillip Jeffries paper make this quite a complex process.


In this next example, the high gloss cabinetry in South Florida with 15' glass walls across from the kitchen made this kitchen almost impossible and I think it took close to two hours to remove all of the reflections. Normally I would have draped the glass to prevent any reflections in the cabinetry however the sheer scale of the glass wall made it impossible to do so and I had to deal with it in post production.



This last example is me just not paying attention and learning my lesson, mirror can be very very tricky! After getting all of the styling and everything just right and after having combed the image to make sure it was perfect, I then typically take around 5 different exposures and sometimes will blend those later in Photoshop. Well in this instance everyone cleared the room (or so I thought) for me to take the last set of exposures. Look at the feet reflected in the mirrored night stand...



Warm Regards,

Michael


03 October, 2013

Boston Home Magazine

Today I had the opportunity to hear Boston Home Magazine Editor in Chief, Rachel Slade talk about her favorite projects over the years to celebrate Boston Home Magazine's 10 year anniversary. I was very eager to hear what elements, design aesthetics and style Mrs. Slade liked. I had also hoped to get the inside scoop on what types of projects Rachel is drawn to. What I learned (Rachel Slade was an Architect) was that Rachel appreciates good design, period. Not just appreciates it, but respects and celebrates it. More importantly though, she recognizes it, whether it's a meticulously restored antique that exemplifies everything that we think about in New England or a mountain/lake house that was conceived in the manner of Frank Lloyd Wright, where every solitary object is custom designed and produced for that space. It didn't matter if the project was black and white, full blown color, ornately carved plaster or contemporary hill top modernist wooden sculpture  the unifying feature in all of these homes was good design, period. 

Then to my surprise one of the projects that was included in her selections of favorite design projects, was a project I'd photographed. Which brings me to my main objective for writing this post. Kitchen Designer Rosemary Porto had invited me to scout a recently completed Poggenpohl Kitchen in Boston. The below image was a hand held scouting shot and as you can see right there are all of the ingredients of good design. Number one (something Rachel pointed out today) the Kitchen cabinetry is intricate to the design of the space, the cabinetry doesn't stop shy of the ceiling line, it is part of the architecture. Then, how can you not love, I mean love the antique gilt dolphin mirror reminding the double ovens that this home has a past...


My excitement of the home grew exponentially as I learned about the homeowners, their respect for the past, their travels and the fact that they where the designers (and that is not what they do for a living).

I asked to see more and in conjunction with writer Jaci Conry we submitted this home to Boston Home Magazine for consideration. The project was picked up, we photographed it and the rest is history.

Well almost, I'll include a few of the shots from this project below but first, here is my plea to all of you. Please, Please, Please vote for this project under the "Urban Residence" category by following the link below:








Warm Regards,

Michael


25 September, 2013

Boston Design Home

I often times post photos through social media of me sitting in a bathtub or standing on a rooftop or car top or rocks at low tide. Often times I end up in these precarious positions so I can use the longest lens I can, which ultimately minimizes any sort of distortion in tight spaces, which is why I'm seen in more bath tubs than anywhere else. 

Sometimes though I have to get an entire building in a shot, not just a 10 plus thousand square foot home but a luxury 14 unit building. That specific task was recently accomplished for Boston Magazines' Boston Design Home for 2013. So the first step was to get as far a way from the front of the building as possible, which put me here:



The next step was to use a prime 17mm Tilt Shift Lens. I captured this photograph at a 50 ISO, with an f-stop of 22 and a shutter speed of 1/6 sec...


















This is my second year photographing the Boston Design Home for Boston Magazine and rumor has it I'll be back for 2014. Want to see what this years Boston Design Home looks like? Well there are only a few weeks left and trust me the build quality and design of this years Boston Design Home is simply perfect! So follow this link to arrange for tickets:

BOSTON DESIGN HOME 2013 Tickets

You won't be disappointed.

Warm Regards,

Michael

09 September, 2013

Design New England Cover

At some point during every magazine shoot I do, someone, usually the stylist or art director, will say (while everyone is deeply focused on one shot, usually a vertical),  "I think this should be a cover try..."

Your heart pounds, you eyes squint, you over analyze the shot to the point that your head hurts and then and then and then...

Nope not the cover...

Someone told me once that if you are not on the cover but one of your photos is used near the table of contents, well that's the "second cover". I think that was made up, just like "it's good luck if it rains on your wedding" or "it's good luck if a bird poops on you"

Let's be honest we want the cover, not the second cover. Nobody remembers the second cover ;-) 

In April of 2012, I was hired by the Design Firm of Wilson/Kelsey Design to scout a 1670 Home, that they had beautifully restored for their client. This was one of the hand held scouting shots from that day:


The collection of scouting shots where then used to "pitch" the project to Design New England Magazine. Once the project was selected and it was determined which issue it would run in, the shoot was scheduled. The shoot took place in mid-July this year, it was 96 degrees with 100% humidity (at least it felt that way) and being a 1670 home, there was no A/C. The Designers John Kelsey and Sally Wilson are a wonderful team whom excel at meticulously detailed historic homes. They spend countless hours learning the history of the homes they work on and truly take to heart every decision that is made in an effort to maintain the integrity and soul of the homes we are so lucky to live with in New England. 

John and I had been anticipating the heat (we each had brought our own fan to the shoot) and decided to post a little Facebook fun at our photo shoot attire and have a best legs competition. 


I think John ultimately won, though I personally think the socks where a "cover" good luck charm and John should wear them on every future magazine shoot.

About 3/4 of the way through the shoot, the "cover try" was discussed. We spent quite a bit of time moving things around on one shot to make sure their was space for Design New England's Name at the top and keeping other areas clear where their would be text that would be printed on the cover. 

Well after six years, I've personally stopped even thinking about the cover, since well if you do think about it (statistically that is), there are only six Design New England Magazines a year and in six years, there has only been 36 covers out of a possible 144 features. Which means there is a 25% chance of a cover on any given issue...

OK OK who am I kidding, I think about ALL THE TIME :-)



The irony is the cover shot, it's a cropped version of a horizontal shot. When I first saw this I was completely surprised and thought how perfect this was, thanks in large part to the brilliant Art Director, Jenna Talbot whom I can imagine sitting in front of her computer with the crop tool to find the perfect cover for their renovation issue. What's interesting to me (and this happens more than you may know), when the cover is taken from a horizontal it gives the magazine the opportunity to use the image again in it's full horizontal version as the opening image of the feature story. It's really quite brilliant, because if you think about it, those vertical "cover tries" are never seen within the article, only on the cover.

To see the rest of this beautifully restored home by Designers Wilson/Kelsey please pick up the September/October issue or follow this link to the online version:

http://digital.designnewengland.com/designnewengland/september_october_2013#pg105

Oh and in case you are wondering, the "cover try" image was used in the article, can you figure out which one it was?

Warm Regards,

Michael


26 April, 2013

Magnolia Tree

A few weeks ago I received a voice mail from a woman with the most charming accent. In her message she told me, I was highly recommended by Charles Spada and could I contact her immediately to discuss photographing her Tulip Magnolia Tree. Intrigued, I called her right away and she told me the most delightful story about the tree and how it only flowers for six days in April and she was about to sell the family home and she wanted to document the very last time she would get to enjoy her Magnolia Tree. We spoke several times over the next few weeks as she watched to see how the weather would influence when the tree would be in full bloom and once she'd established that very short window, we made a date. 

Pulling up to her driveway, I could only keep thinking, ok where is this tree, nothing was really in bloom yet as I glanced around the front of her home. I was greeted at the door by the most marvelous lady who was so excited for me to see her tree. She lead me through a beautiful antique pine paneled study to a large window perfectly framing her Magnolia Tree. It was at it's height and I noticed one bud had already fallen to the ground. I went back to my car to get my camera as she opened the back gate. I set my camera on tripod and then she and I walked around the yard discussing many things, she was very proud of her home and I think with a sadness in her heart, highly anticipated the documentation of the Magnolia's last bloom for her. I was struck by how all the other trees, had almost decidedly remained bare, giving full glory to this Magnolia. We determined the best angle and luckily the sky was slightly over cast with pools of light breaking through in just the right places. 
I have never been so moved by someones' love of home and as I left I wondered if the next homeowner will love and care for this Tulip Magnolia Tree as much as this family has...


Warm Regards,

Michael

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