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Smile and Nod

We were photographing Ivana Trump back in her “The Donald” days, when she was running the historic Plaza Hotel in NYC. I had the bright idea of photographing her atop one of the horse-drawn carriages. It was February.

I shot a few frames and she looked over at me and said, “Dahhhling, don’t keep me out here too long. I don’t want to catch ammonia!” Subjects sometimes say some pretty nutty things, and my advice is always just to smile and nod, and keep shooting.

I didn’t bring her out in the freezing cold for no reason. Nor was the horse-drawn carriage an accident. In New York, the historic façade of the Plaza is instantly recognizable, and that hotel and the Central Park horse buggies go together like pastrami and rye, Frazier and Reed, Empire and Chrysler. They are inseparable, quite unlike Ivana and the Donald ultimately proved to be.

Like most celeb shoots, especially those where the famous subject is shivering, it was over in minutes and consumed less than a roll of film. She’s standing in shadow and the building is in hot light. I put up a mid-sized umbrella on camera left, bumped her exposure up by at least three stops to bring her in register with the sunlight up above her, and blasted away.

Coulda kicked myself later, though. Shoulda used a softbox. The umbrella is lighting her okay, but also heating up the shiny surface of the carriage on the left of the frame. A more directional light from a softbox would have cured this a bit, as I could have then feathered it off to the right. (Feathering is basically rotating the light source right or left to direct the bulk of the light away from a potential hot spot. Nowhere near as effective a technique with an umbrella, ‘cause an umbrella scatters light much more broadly than a softbox.) A flag, cutter, or GOBO would have helped, too. Or a winter jacket. Or a newspaper. Stick just about anything between the strobe and a shiny surface and it will help take some of the heat out of it.

I didn’t do it, of course, I was moving too fast. I didn’t want to catch ammonia.

Smile and nod.

  • “Stick just about anything between the strobe and a shiny surface and it will help take some of the heat out of it.”
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