Anatomy of an Editorial Shoot :: Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent

I was hired by Harvard Business Review to photograph Muhtar Kent who is the CEO of The Coca-Cola company . I thought I’d post about the process of an editorial shoot from start to finish instead of just showing the photos.

The art direction for the shoot was to photograph Mr. Kent at the headquarters building in Atlanta. The editor asked for two portraits. One was to show some architectural details of the building. “Maybe with a bank of windows or something in the background.” The other shot was to incorporate something with Coca-Cola branding. The name, the Coca-Cola red, a bottle, etc. After that I was free to grab anything else I had time to which, on a job like this, means anything I can grab with the extra thirty seconds I have to work with. An editorial shoot is usually a few hours of standing around and a few minutes of taking pictures. You’ll regularly spend more time emailing with the editor then you will clicking the shutter release of your camera. I was also instructed that while they wanted a mix of vertical and horizontal images, they used a lot of square crops as well so the images needed to work well 1:1. The full process after the jump.

Once you get booked for the job you begin the scheduling process. Sometimes the client has handled that part and you’re told when and where to be. A lot of times though the scheduling is handed off to you. You’re given a contact name, number, and email address and the deadline the photographs need to be on the desk of the editor. Photo editors typically have a million things going on and the more you can handle for them the better. As the CEO of a massive international company, Mr. Kent spends much of his time circumnavigating the globe so scheduling a shoot in Atlanta between his trips and still hit the deadline was challenging. I ended up having a 24 hour window to complete this assignment and meet the deadline. He had just returned from Turkey and was leaving for China the next day. Luckily for us, the folks at Coca-Cola were extremely helpful and accommodating. We were slotted for an 11:15 am shoot and we could arrive at 10:00 am to scout and set up.



In addition to scheduling you also need to begin your research on the subject. Also ask the editor if there is a specific topic getting covered in the story. There are times the photos need to illustrate the article and there are times you just need a strong set of portraits. For this shoot I was just concentrating on portraits. I did my research on Mr. Kent and found out as much as I could about his history, his work, hobbies, etc. It’s important to have this information because it gives you insight into who your subject is, what their temperament may be, how to pronounce their name (very important detail here), and most importantly it gives you things to talk about during the shoot. You have to build rapport and trust immediately on jobs like this and knowing a few key things about your subject allows you to ask pointed questions. I knew he was just returning from Turkey which is where his family is from and where he first began working for The Coca-Cola company. I then did a little research on Turkey. I watched interviews with him to see his temperament and how he looks on camera. This all leads to questions to show your subject you care about who they are and you are genuinely interested in them. They’re not just another guy in a tie in front of your camera. It also let’s you start pre-visualizing the images you want to create days or weeks before you create them.

My conversation started something like…. “I hear you just got back from Turkey. I know you were born in New York but Turkey is where your family is from and you started working for Coke there. Did you get to see family while you were there?” “I watched your interview last year with so-and-so and you were saying your outlook for the company was such-and-such. Seems like you were right and those goals are getting met now.” “You’re going to China tomorrow? Wow! You must live by your own internal clock, etc, etc. That market must hold huge potential. I’d love to see China. I hear it’s a fascinating place to go. I’ve been to the Middle East a few times now and love the region. I’d love to explore more into Asia.” That led to Mr. Kent asking where I’ve been in the region which led to me getting to share a bit of what I do with my life. If I’m feeling comfortable with the client I’ll ask a pointed personal question because A) I am really interested in hearing their opinion and B) I don’t want to just be seen as a guy who read a wiki on the man and I’m just regurgitating it back to him. So I’ll ask, if I feel I can without pushing bounds, “I know you’re a family man, how do you handle the balance of a crazy travel schedule and family life?”

These questions fill the space. They build relationship. They gain trust. I love my job because I love meeting new people who have stories to tell. Too many people want to complain and gripe about “big business” or “corporate America” but the people who lead these companies are usually fascinating characters who have great stories to tell. Someone who holds the responsibility of an international company, travels the world as a day job, and manages to love and provide for his family is someone I want to know and learn a thing or two from.

So… blah, blah, blah. Job is booked, scheduled, researched, pre-visualized, etc. I needed to get to the Coke HQ and find a bank of windows or other such architectural detail, something that visually communicates the Coke brand, and hopefully pull something off of my own. Walking into the job I knew I wanted to shoot Mr. Kent against a white back ground with a beauty dish. It was this job that set the lighting for my Faces & Spaces personal project.

Dan and I arrive in the lobby at 10:00am to set up for the scheduled 11:15 shoot. We were told beforehand that 11:15 was approximate and conservatively set on the early side. We may have to wait around a bit. Our contact, Steve, met us and escorted us around the lobby area and up to the executive offices. I could photograph pretty much anywhere I wanted to except the roof. (yes, I asked) The first thing I wanted to know was where would Mr. Kent be coming from for the shoot and where did he need to be next. This let me plan the shoot linearly so that we could navigate a few levels of the building and not tie up any more of Mr. Kent’s time then we needed to.  Once I had the lay of the land I started test shots with Dan.


I tested the light in this spot and took note of my settings. These would be my starting points once Mr. Kent was in place. I knew I was at least an hour, if not more, from actually shooting there so the light in the lobby would be different by the time I got back there. I just needed it roughed in. We were allowed to keep our gear there while we set up in another part of the building for a different look. This rig is an AB800 with a 22″ white beauty dish (with sock) on a C-Stand. (The rig in the first photo of this post).

Next we went to the area near the elevators that Mr. Kent would be coming downstairs in. I could have shot in the executive office but I felt it wasn’t my best option, it seemed “typical”, and we would have spent more time traveling between one place several floors up to another place in the lobby. Also remember I wanted to get my shot and once I started shooting I’d only have about ten minutes to get the job done. No time to be waiting on elevators.

Coca-Cola had just celebrated their 125th anniversary and there were a number of little Coke bottle details around the building. I was drawn to these decals on some glass doors.



Dan started the ever-so-fun stand in process. Since I left my AB upstairs, I decided I’d either shoot available light here or use a small hot shoe flash in a 28″ Westcott Apollo softbox. I ended up using the flash. I needed to find the right angle that framed Mr. Kent well, showed the bottles, and have as clean of a background as possible. If I blew the bottles out of focus too much they’d be lost as an element but if they were too sharp then they would be distracting. I shot every angle from inside to outside. I really like the reflections of the outside in the glass but I knew that it might not print well. Maybe it would work. Maybe not. I didn’t have enough time to shoot two different angles here so I went with the safe route. I knew that on a monitor it’d be fine but once it goes to print you can lose detail and contrast so I decided the safe route was the best route.  These are some of the angles I tested with these doors.



We were all set and were soon told that the interview Mr. Kent was in was running long and he’d be down “soon”. That could have been five minutes soon or an hour soon. You never know. As we were waiting Dan spotted some large frosted glass doors and wondered what it would look like if we backlit them with the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle in the shot. Around the lobby were a number or recycling containers shaped like Coke bottles as well as some 125th anniversary plexi decorations. We either had five minutes or an hour so we ran around like chickens with their heads cut off to see if we could pull the idea into a usable photo.



I feel there was a shot to be had somewhere but I needed another light, some glass cleaner, a boom, and fifteen more minutes to really dial it in. I had none of those things so we ditched the idea, re-set the window decal shot just as Mr. Kent stepped off the elevator. Good thing we didn’t spend any more time on that. Fired off my test shot as he stood in.



Since I was worried about reflections I had Dan hold a large Impact reflector with a black cover on it behind my head to kill the reflections from outside. An aperture of 3.2 on the Canon 85mm got me to the right mix of the decals being out of focus but still retain their shape. I went ahead and shot the reflections but then I ended up getting in the shot so I only shot two frames and moved on. I had used nearly half of my time once this look was done and needed to get moving to the next spot. This is what the same scene looked like without the reflector.



We walked from there to the upstairs window location. I had my 24mm on one 5d2 body and an 85mm on the other. I didn’t want to waste a moment switching lenses so I kept both bodies on me with each lens I needed. The 24 was going to include more of the environment and expand the perspective.


I then switched to the 85mm to compress the perspective for a second option of this location.

There wasn’t a single clean white wall in the building and I still wanted my white background shot. So we took the black cover off the large reflector and I had Dan hold that behind Mr. Kent. We pre-staged a small flash on a short stand at this location so all I had to do was get the window shot and then move Mr. Kent and the main light about five feet forward and have Dan drop the short stand behind him and hold the reflector in the background.


The above was shot with the 24mm. Once I pulled the 85mm up it compressed the background enough to get this shot.



THAT what the shot I wanted the whole time. A strong business portrait on a super simple background and in black and white. Lucky for me the editors at HBR liked this shot as well. This is how the story ran…




From my research I figured Mr. Kent was going to be a breeze to work with and he was. He accommodated all of my requests and the folks working with him could not have been kinder or more professional. They allowed me to do my job without breathing down my neck or making demands. It was a great shoot.

To summarize.

• Research • Pre-visualize • Get there early • Plan your shoot as though you have zero time • Take care of the editor’s request first • Do what you can to get your shot too. It sometimes ends up being the one the client runs with.

If you have any questions let me know in the comments.



ETA- A number of people have asked in the comments below about why I didn’t shoot this job with the PhaseOne or the Einsteins. When I do a magazine assignment there’s usually an agreed upon time that the publication has exclusive use of the images. Sometimes I can share photos as soon as the magazine hits the stands. Sometimes it’s 30 days after publication. Sometimes longer. Then there’s the whole “Oooo, I’ll get around to blogging about this shoot at some point.” That “some point” might be six months later.  So… I shot this before I got those lights or that camera.


  • PsiModuloQuadro said on February 21, 2012

    This post is amazing! Makes me dream about commercial/editorial photography! The portrait is awesome as usually…thanks for sharing!

  • damien said on February 21, 2012

    Nice work! That B+W final image is absolutely killer.

    Really appreciate the complete walk-through too, very informative.

  • mike Drzal said on February 21, 2012

    great work. you see him becoming more relaxed with each shot. thanks for sharing the process. very inspiring.

  • Jean Labelle said on February 21, 2012

    Awesome work Zack! Thanks for sharing.

  • rebekah tozer said on February 21, 2012

    Love this! wesome post! thank you so much for not only sharing your thought process but also for showing exactly how much time, equipment, technical knowledge and professionalism went into that editorial shoot! Gives me something to aspire to!

  • Dennis Stempher said on February 21, 2012

    Hey Zack, thanks for walking us through this shoot, highly educating! One question though: very often you shoot the wider shots with the 35mm, but this time you chose the 24mm (on of my fav lenses actually, for a few reasons). Was that just because of the amount of perspective expansion you needed or also extra sharpness? Cheers, Dennis.

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Dennis – Yes. The 35 wasn’t wide enough for the shot I wanted so I went with the 24. You have to be careful though due to distortion. I kept him fairly centered in that lens and kept the camera level as much as possible. I didn’t think added distortion to this portrait would be a good thing.


  • Jon Uhler said on February 21, 2012

    Love this write up. Great insight to the doings of a working photographer!

    Also…I love how often you use the “Just act like you are washing your hands” pose! It seems to be your calling card!

  • Paul Rowland said on February 21, 2012

    Loved reading this post Zack. I agree with everyone else…that black and white image is awesome.

  • Stephen Coombs said on February 21, 2012

    Wow! Thank-you so much on posting this Zack! You are always a great educator, and your photos – simply amazing!


  • Stephen said on February 21, 2012

    Very cool… thank you for sharing this. Really like how bold that last shot is.

  • Gary said on February 21, 2012

    kick ass portraits and a thorough explanation………..this inspires me to learn and improve!…….thanks for sharing !!

  • Juan Rodriguez said on February 21, 2012


    This is amazing! And yes, these corporate assigments are interesting. Unfortunately there’s no telling sometimes how early you can get in. Once I came 45 minutes early to a job and their previous meeting ran short so the guys that I needed to photograph were ready and I was just getting there… (45 minutes before the scheduled shoot).

    I do have an interesting question though… there are always mixed ideas on what to wear when you go to photograph important people like Mr. Kent (or any other business people for that matter), some said just to be yourself and some others (Joe McNally) said that you must suit up… I saw Dan but not you… Not saying that your day to day clothes are bad what would be the standard recommendation for this scenario?



  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Juan – I was in khakis and a black polo shirt. That’s about as suited up as I get. If I had to photograph Mr. Kent at a black tie event then I’d suit up. A fifteen minute portrait in the lobby then I’m going to go with “business casual”. We have a half ton of gear to load in and out, carry up stairs at times, etc. I’m not going to show up in shirts and a graphic tee but we need to be able to move in comfort. That’s my attitude. It’s never worked against me so far.


  • Ben Fulerton said on February 21, 2012

    Great post, Zack!

    That final tight portrait is awesome. And what’s more, I love the use of the pop-up to get a studio style shot on location. Usually, it’s too easy to fall into one mindset or the other, and be just shooting studio style shots in the studio, or location style shots while on location. But to use that technique and get the variety of both a location look and a studio look out of one place, and essentially one setup, is genius. I’m totally going to use that, thanks Zack!



  • Karen Thaemert said on February 21, 2012

    Wow, thanks for posting this process. You are an inspirational photographer!

  • Phil (Feel my Balls) Ball said on February 21, 2012

    Loved this Zack. Love the B&W at the end, it screams your style, what an awesome crop. I always enjoy reading Brad Trents blog and this had a very similar feel to it, only without the ring-fill and the color checker cards. Really appreciate it when you post these walkthrough storys with the whole creative process.

  • michaelJ said on February 21, 2012

    Thanks for sharing the experience Zack,great mix of technical detail, planning and a feel for what’s going through your mind during the prep. I hope you do more like this. I know there’s no short-cuts when it comes to experience, but the little things are hopefully ones we’ll all remember if on a similar shoot. Hopefully coming across a shot with glass involved, something in the back of my brain will trigger and remember “ah yeah, impact reflector”.

    I’d be interested in your recollections on similar shoots where things haven’t gone as smoothly as this, any big ticket items to watch out for?

    Keep up the good work


  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @MichaelJ – Nothing comes specifically to mind at the moment other than all the times I did these jobs with only hotshoe flashes… wishing I had more power.


  • Simon Ouellet said on February 21, 2012

    I like that kind of B/W signature shot you have. It’s clean, crisp and right to the point. And Dan makes a great stand-in !

    My question might sound dumb/repetitive/useless, but I’ll throw it in anyway. How did you get into the editorial world ? How did you manage to go from 50 bucks band shoots to shooting VIPs for magazines ? Did you send your portfolio to ADs and photo editors ? Or did they find you through your work with music artists ?

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Simon – First you build a book from your $50 shoots. Those get you to the $200 shoots. Those get you to $500 shoots. Etc. You then take half the work you’ve done for your clients and go shoot another half on your own that matches the type of work you really want to do. Then it’s all shoe leather, phone calls, and promo material from there with lots of follow ups, tenacity, and patience.


  • steve simpson said on February 21, 2012

    Excellent breakdown of the shoot Zach, very informative. Since our meeting at GPP 2 years ago I never stop learning from you and your posts. Thanks eternally and please however busy you get don’t stop producing quality instructions like these they really do make your followers happy



  • Simon Ouellet said on February 21, 2012

    Oh and by the way, thanks for this great post ! I just love when you explain your thought process about a specific shoot. I especially appreciate the bits about knowing your subject. It’s something I love about editorial work : you get to meet people you might not meet any other way. Let’s use this time to have a chat and get to know him (or keep him busy while I sweat bullets…).

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Simon – “or keep him busy while I sweat bullets” — Exactly! :)


  • Mary Anne Morgan said on February 21, 2012

    Thank you for this. Amazing shoot and even more amazing that you took the time to explain it to the rest of us. You are a teacher, through and through, who also happens to be a brilliant photographer. I am truly grateful.

    p.s. I met Mr. Kent at a Chilfila Leadercast that I covered last year. He is very personable, but I am pretty sure I would have been a pile of spaghetti if I had to do what you did here.

  • Laura said on February 21, 2012

    From a photo editor perspective, I love seeing how this went down! And it sounds like you would be great to work with – you were on time, prepared (both technically and with your research), you gave the publication what they asked for and more. Ideal! Great job.

  • Randy Curtis said on February 21, 2012

    What power were you at to get the look for the B&W headshot . I noticed the leg stands behind your subject as well,would love to see a lighting diagram of it. Also when you do have control of scheduling how far ahead do you like to schedule for lighting test and recon of the area your going to shoot in?

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Randy – I don’t know. Whatever it needed to be at is the short answer. If you look at the photo you can draw a diagram. Hotshoe flash on a stand behind him firing at a white reflector. Beauty dish on a C-stand flying over camera in front of him. Hotshoe flash had to make the background go white so it was probably up in the power range. If a HSF was 1.5 stops over the main that means the main must have been lower in its power range. Maybe 1/8th or something. Not sure. Can’t remember.

    As far as timing, at least an hour. It depends on how much production I think the shot is going to take. Some editors ask for natural light specifically so I don’t need as much time. If I had to photograph the entire board of directors then I’d want four or five hours.


  • Gary Roberts said on February 21, 2012

    I loved seeing the process behind, and I agree early as possible is always better. I had a shoot on Friday where the shoot was 10:00 the details were easy, I was going to be there at 9:30 to setup had my day on track to arrive at least 10 minutes earlier just for safety when the person scheduling called and said she was sorry she had set the shoot for 9 am not 10 and forgot to tell me. Luckily I was ready enough that I arrived on time and at worst was 5 minutes behind schedule.

    Lastly I love the b/w it makes me think of some of the work of Platon that I love.

  • suman chakravarthy said on February 21, 2012

    wow…. thanks.. This is just amazing. and I just love the headshot.

  • Chris Stutz said on February 21, 2012

    Great write up as always,
    how much gear did you actually take? were there things that would of made your life more easier if you had them or not?

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Chris – We walked in with four bags.

    A roller bag of camera gear (ThinkTank Airport International).
    A light stand / modifier bag (Lightware 48″ roller)
    Lights & Grip bag (ThinkTank Logistics Manager)
    Beauty Dish case (Adorma brand Flashpoint 22″ case)

    Then we were carrying a C-stand with an arm on it and a sandbag.


  • Jen said on February 21, 2012

    Wonderful meticulous breakdown! Love the result, too.
    Q: Would an AB1600 have worked in this situation? (Just wondering, because that’s what I have.)
    Thanks for continually putting your work out there, Zack!

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Jen – Yep. It’s just one stop more powerful than a 1600. In fact, I don’t know why we didn’t have a 1600 on the stand. I think it may have been in use on a product set back at the studio. A 400 could have done the job most likely. Great seeing you this past weekend!


  • Carrie Holbo said on February 21, 2012

    Zach, I love that you are willing to share your process on projects like this. I saw your Creative Live session, too, and walked away with so much information, and inspiration. I don’t pretend to understand all the technical aspects of your work (although I’m learning!) but especially hearing about your prep work and the detail you put into planning your approach is so helpful. Congrats on a great shoot/shot! I love that b/w portrait….

  • Kelvin said on February 21, 2012

    Great work and generous sharing of your work flow. More importantly its the trial and error thing you share. Great read!

  • Jeff Powell said on February 21, 2012

    Love this kind of real insight. Thanks for blogging this, very interesting.

  • Nasir Hamid said on February 21, 2012

    Thanks for the detailed info and bts shots. Very insightful. Why not use medium format for this shoot? Too slow?

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Nasir – I did this shoot before I got the Phase. When I do a shoot for a magazine to the time I’m free to show them on my own can be anywhere from 30 days to three or four months. I shot this job last year.


  • Don Lupo said on February 21, 2012

    Brilliant shots, and the behind-the-scenes discussion helps tremendously. Thank you, Zack!

  • Ivan Boden said on February 21, 2012

    Zack – EXCELLENT job!!!

    Our CEO is camera shy and impossible to get him to do a photo shoot.

    I’ll share your BTS of this shoot with our marketing team as an example of great work. Perhaps it’ll help us convince the powers that be for a future shoot!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Ivan – Let me know if you need a photographer. :)


  • Andrew said on February 21, 2012

    I adore the black and white shot. It has a wonderful, simple elegance. On a shoot like this how much do you end up coaching/working with the facial expression of the subject? Do you have a set idea of the expression you want before hand or do you see what they have and try and tweak it? What did you say to Mr. Kent to get the black and white shot?

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Andrew – I am constantly coaching / directing. Smile! Now a little more serious. Just a bit of a smile. Just a grin. Relax your shoulders just a bit. Good. That’s awesome. Tilt your head just a bit this way and turn that shoulder to me just a little. Awesome. Great. Etc, etc, etc, etc.


  • Chris Stewart said on February 21, 2012

    Very well done. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ken Yau said on February 21, 2012

    Thanks for that, it was an interesting read to see what goes through your head during a job. I’m struggling with even finding $50 jobs at the time to get started. As an artist, I guess I always have self doubt, maybe I’m just not good enough. But at the same time, I feel like I’m playing it too safe. Did you ever have to take a leap of faith and risk financial stability in your jumps from $0 to $50 to $200?

    While I’d love to quit my day (and night) job to go and do what I love, I don’t want to starve to death either haha!

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Ken – Oh yes. There is always a knot in my stomach as I take a price jump. I used to have a manager when I was shooting a lot of bands. He took me from $250 for a 1/4 day to $350 overnight. 60 days later he took me to $450. He was getting a percentage so the less I made the less he made. I was so nervous when he did that but I stayed busy. I had fewer jobs but was making the same money. I had a 1/4 day, 1/2 day, and full day price schedule for bands. One day he called me to let me know he had booked another $850 half day. I looked at my schedule and realized I had not shot a $450 1/4 day job in a month. I congratulated him on doing so well with the 1/2 days. He informed me then, and only then, that the reason I had not shot a 1/4 day shoot in a month is because he stopped offering it a month prior! I nearly had a heart attack.

    If it weren’t for him I’d still be shooting $250 jobs. Then my last manager, Sherri, grew me some more. She taught me the importance of the numbers and how to run them. I’m not rolling in cash but I am running a profit instead of losing money at the end of the year and for me the only way I could get to this point was getting help from people who weren’t as tied to the “art” of photography. Put someone on commission and they’ll figure out how to get your rates up. :)


  • Ken Yau said on February 21, 2012

    Thanks Zack! I’ll think about finding someone to handle the business side of things. I get so uncomfortable talking about money. I’m still learning my craft so who am I to ask people to pay? I feel like as an artist I’m always chasing after something more, having constantly raising expectations towards myself, and never satisfied with where I’m at. Thanks again, hope to read more about your future jobs.


  • James Hazelwood said on February 21, 2012


    I’m not going to bore you with silly flattery, but…..

    Dude, you are one of the best photography teachers going right now. Yes, Hobby and McNally have done tons for the learning curve, but you help us to see the simplicity of lighting, yet you also push it in such a way that makes it a step or two beyond what one would expect. And I think the key difference is the way you develop report with your subjects.

    I’m not sure one can tach how to connect with your clients, cause it is such a personal thing. And you do it well.

    Thanks again


  • Mars said on February 21, 2012

    Zang dan it Zack!

    Have a good look at the oz version of the 2012 oxford dictionary. Your name is defined under the word ‘Inspirational’

    Kudos to u Zack, you’re a legend!


  • drew said on February 21, 2012

    Zach – in less than 20 paragraphs and 30 images, you just gave us a masterclass in kicking ass. Thank you.

  • Ben said on February 21, 2012

    Really great post Zack!
    This might be a dumb question, but I am fairly certain you own Einsteins so I am curious as to why you would bring the AB800 instead?

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Ben – As I stated in an earlier comment this was shot last year. When I do a magazine assignment there’s usually an agreed upon time that the publication has exclusive use of the images. Sometimes I can share photos as soon as the magazine hits the stands. Sometimes it’s 30 days after publication. Sometimes longer. Then there’s the whole “Oooo, I’ll get around to blogging about this shoot at some point.” That “some point” might be six months later. I’m currently sitting on a dozen or more shoots that I could blog but haven’t gotten to “some point” yet. :) So… I shot this before I got those lights.


  • Javier Sanchez said on February 21, 2012

    Hey Zack,

    Congrats on an amazing assignment. I mean seriously, Coke?! So the big questions is, DID you learn something from your time and conversation with Mr. Kent and would you be willing to share?


  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    Javier – I did. One thing I learned is he can travel more now that his kids are getting older. He also takes as much time as possible to spend with his family away from work. Get this though, this is how much he travels… Out of full year he can be sitting in a plane for one full month of time. Seriously. He works very hard. What I really learned that I respected is that he’s all about relationships thus his need for travel. He comes across as a guy who won’t just sit in an office and email and call people or have his people call people. He’s a boots on the ground kind of leader but he doesn’t come off as a micro manager. I really liked that about him. I also like that he’s just a normal guy. Not the “Hurry up because I’m important.” kind of guy.


  • Joe Pyle said on February 21, 2012


    this was a ton of great info that a lot of us needed to hear/see. Great job “splaining, too!


  • Carl Spring said on February 21, 2012

    Surely the burning question is did you get free Coke while you were there?

    Great job Sir.

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

    @Carl – As much as I wanted. They have the coolest huge touch screen coke machines at HQ. I should have taken a photo of one of those.


  • Iden Ford said on February 21, 2012

    I love the whole thing. But what I love the most is your process. Tell me, why did u switch out of Nikon to Canon? Whatever post u do on these images is barely noticeable.
    Thanks for sharing the process

  • Zack said on February 21, 2012

  • Adam Malcolm said on February 22, 2012

    Thanks for this Zack, it’s a wonderful insight. Hopefully we’ll see some more in the future like this.

    I’ll be doing some CEO/Chairman portraits soon for the company I work for, and the simple plain white background is what I’ll be aiming for too. I secretly hope to do some next to some aircraft in the hanger (we’re an airborne survey company) but the airfield chaps might not like it.

    I don’t know what it is though about doing portraits of busy businessmen, maybe it’s just because it’s my first portrait session in a long time and I feel very ‘green’ again, but I feel as though there’s more pressure on me than ever before to pull it off perfectly. I’m guessing that it’s because they’re so busy and I don’t want to waste their time, though I know they have more time for me than you did with Mr. Kent it’s making me incredibly nervous still!

  • Daniel Bird said on February 22, 2012

    Zack, I really enjoyed reading this, though I don’t think I want to do editorial, I really enjoy reading/watching/learning about other genres of photography, and there is bits and pieces I can apply to my baby and family portraits that I mainly do… :)

    BTW, when are you going to do some classes on Kelby Training? 😉

  • Ian Tjong said on February 22, 2012

    Really appreciate you sharing your work details step by step Zack, very generous of you!
    Just one question, why did you choose beauty dish over soft box for the final shot? Was it just for the circle reflection on the object’s eyes or for the quality of light? Can I get the same result with my 28″ Westcott Apollo?
    Thank’s a million Zack!

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Ian – The 28 is close to a beauty dish but there’s just a certain “something” the dish has. For me its the look more than the catch light.


  • James said on February 22, 2012

    For the window decal shot the one they used isn’t the one you posted, did they pick one that wasn’t your favorite? Do you know why they picked that one over the one you posted?

  • Fabrice said on February 22, 2012

    Amazing post with amazing pictures, thanks for sharing your process, loved it

  • Tim Roper said on February 22, 2012

    Great post, especially where we get to see the results in print.

    It may not be quantifiable like aperture and lens selection, etc. but I say it’s the research that really shows in these portraits. Probably the work on “Faces and Spaces,” too. Sure, they’re “corporate,” but there’s something extra there that make them stand out.

  • Justin Van Leeuwen said on February 22, 2012

    Thanks for taking the time to lay all this out there, it’s great to see the steps and know that what I’m (currently) doing for my clients is all on the same track as a big-bearded talent such as yourself 😉

  • Tai said on February 22, 2012

    Dear Zack,

    I’m interested to buy one beauty dish for my portrait shot.
    May I know what brand of Beauty dish you are using for this commercial shot ?
    Can you comment which size of beauty dish is more useful 22″ or 28″ ? If you can only choose one.

    Thank you for sharing ! You are simply the BEST.

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Tai – Beauty dishes are a personal preference kind of thing. One of the main reasons I use the 22″ white dish is because… it was the only one I could afford at the time. :) It’s the Alien Bees model. I’ve used others since but I really like my white 22″. Silver is far more specular which some love. Some don’t.


  • Charlie H said on February 22, 2012

    Zack, I loved the way you described the details of your work. I would like to know if I could post a brief part of this with a link back to your site? I have been following you and your work for a bit over a year and have learned several things that I could not grasp from others. One being the inverse square law. Keep the teaching up…

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Charlie – Sure thing.


  • Matthew Druin said on February 22, 2012

    It’s crazy how complicated it all can seem, but how simple you make it. Great work as always sir!

  • Dave P said on February 22, 2012

    Great BTS, Zack. Thanks for sharing. The nuts and bolts of this work are priceless.

  • A. Jessup said on February 22, 2012

    Thank you, Zack, generous as always. I’ve been doing this kind of photography for about 20 years, same type of client, same type of situations.
    But I never have had the gift of gab that you have (and i mean that in a good way, a really good way,) so I’m happy to see you imparting your wisdom.
    To me this stuff seems routine but of course it isn’t — there’s always a twist, whether it’s a pushy PR contact or a subject who is rushing to a meeting or a location that just gives you nothing at all.
    And there’s always that location that you find that you can really work IF ONLY YOU HAD THE TIME, like that one you abandoned which could have been awesome.

    Question — you’ve blogged about nikon/canon and PhaseOne — have you ever shared your thoughts about AlienBees vs Einsteins?

    Thanks again

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Jessup – I know what you mean! If only you had more time… Anyway, I have not specifically shared my thoughts on the Einstein. I should at some point. Suffice it to say that I was looking at Elinchrom and Broncolor. Tried the Einstein with the new Vagabond mini and that was that. I’m good. I love these lights.


  • ATLDOC said on February 22, 2012

    I hope you are making Dan a huge print from this! He looked dead serious in your first picture. Could you please have Dan tell us what he was thinking at that exact moment.

    Great post by the way…

  • Clyde said on February 22, 2012

    Hi Zack, great post here! I really appreciate you sharing your work process here with the business portraits on limited time to shoot. i see you used two bodies with an 85 and 24 attached. Would you have been able to pull the shoot togetehr with the same quality of shots, perspective and depth of field with a 24-105mm and zoomed to 24 and 85? most of your shots look like they’re stopped dowm so maybe the f4 would not be an issue? Thanks! I’m building my lens line-up 17-40/4 (2nd hand) 85/1.8 and a 5Dc (2nd hand) thinking of getting a 50/1.4 and 35/2 when it can be justified…

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Clyde – Yes. I could have done it with a kit lens I’m sure. The fact is I don’t own the 24 – 105 so…. that’s why it wasn’t shot with that lens. :) It could have been done with a 28 and a 105. A 16-35 and an 80-200. The list goes on with what lens it could have been done with. I own a 24, a 35, an 85, and a 135. So those are the lenses I do most of my work with. Well, I do have an 80-200 as well but I only use it when I need the 200.


  • David Ferebee said on February 22, 2012

    Great portrait. Sometimes simple is best. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tammy said on February 22, 2012

    Awesome share, Zack! I love that you took us through each step then brought the shoot back full circle to something more typically YOU and it worked so beautifully! Great shots, love the black and white and wish you guys had had time to pull off the frosted glass shot.

  • Broderick said on February 22, 2012

    Love this post. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes insight on this job & working with the client

  • Matthew Finnigan said on February 22, 2012

    Zack love the crop on the b/w head shot made me think about Peter Hurley’s video.


  • Jason Cook said on February 22, 2012

    Zac – Really informative article and really interesting. I’m planning to start a portrait photography business myself soon and you’ve given me some great tips in planning/executing a shoot! I had my first shoot last weekend and it was a good learning experience for me.

  • Justin Gill said on February 22, 2012


    For as long of an article as this was, it was thoroughly captivating and informative. Great shots, and appreciate not only BTS visuals, but a little insight into your thought process.
    It’s no wonder you can land gigs like these. Thanks!

  • Harvey said on February 22, 2012

    Hey Zack, Long long time follower of yours. I have a quick question.

    I feel like my skills have finally started to come together (or at least I’m trying to trick myself to believe that). I find the same $250 day rate thing you had going on to be true here. A manager would really help me but I don’t know where to find one in a fairly small market (1 million people). Any tips on where to start looking? / How to convince them to actually do it?

    Thanks Zack. Huge appreciation for all you do for us.

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Harvey – So far business folks have found me instead of the other way around. I know that doesn’t answer your questions but that is my experience so far with the two I’ve had. Don’t look into the photo industry to find someone. Look around to the people you know. You need someone who is excited about the work you do but doesn’t really need to know how to be a photographer themselves. They need to be personable, organized, and have a knack for sales. You’ll pay them anywhere from 15 to 20% of what they book for you. Having someone connected in the industry / genre you are trying to work in helps as well. Someone around you probably has these skills or can learn them quickly and would like to make some extra money. You send all your phone calls and emails to them and let them take it from there. It frees up a lot of your time to go out and market, shoot, and do other things.


  • Girish said on February 22, 2012

    That’s one of the best walkthroughs for a editorial shoot or matter of fact any shoot. You have precisely mentioned all the important points. Thanks a ton for this. Really helpful.

  • Jason said on February 22, 2012

    Hiya Zack,
    Thanks for your article, it is very interesting. Nice shots too.

    I read in the comments you did not have the Phase One when you shot this assignment.
    Now that you have the choice is this the sort of shoot you would use the Phase One for?

    Thanks and thanks for sharing your world.

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Jason. Probably. At least that last shot.

  • Andre Theelen said on February 22, 2012

    A very interesting behind the scenes article!
    It made me think about the famous Ansel Adams quote “You Don’t Take a Photograph, You Make It”. Thanks for taking us with you on your creative process.

  • Ian said on February 22, 2012

    A top quality article Zack, a blog as a blog should be

    I really enjoyed reading this; reading it, not just scanning it.

    Many thanks for taking the time to write and post it, and your time to answer comments and questions

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Ian – Glad to be of service. FYI – My blog’s spam filter snagged you and I just happened to catch it. If you comment on blogs regularly and wonder why they don’t show up it may be your IP address or something.


  • Harv.! said on February 22, 2012

    Hi Zack how are things ?
    I noticed there was a black border around the image in the first double page spread shot, did you add the film rebate like border or did the magazine do this ?

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Harv – The magazine added that.


  • Doug Logan said on February 22, 2012

    This is a great post Zack, I really enjoyed it and the photos of Mr. Kent. Thanks!

  • Tello said on February 22, 2012

    That BW shot is superb! It is interesting how typical feedback loops on the internet would abhor such an image because a piece of the forehead is cut off… meanwhile in the real world, it creates such connection and ACTUALLY gets used :D!

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Tello – NEVER listen to the Internets! :) Watch TV and Movies and count how many times foreheads are cut off.


  • Tim said on February 22, 2012

    Great job! I’m glad they chose the b&w. It is definitely the best image.

  • alepse said on February 22, 2012

    this is absolute gold! thanks for the insight! i hope you’ll keep posting stories about your work, ’cause i feel like taking a photography course by ZA.

  • Patrick said on February 22, 2012

    Brilliant post as always… it’s really great to see the work that goes on behind the scenes – shows the reality of what work goes into producing great shots – rather than just the technical lights and camear setting side of things… and your enthusiasm for what you love doing is infectious…

    Do you still get the same satisfaction from being published as when you were starting out??

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Patrick – Yep. I get more satisfaction though when I get the job. It’s an honor knowing that with so many talented photographers around I get some jobs as well. It’s a positive feeling of pride when someone who has not hired me before takes a chance to trust me and then is happy with what I deliver. When I say “pride” I don’t mean “ego”. Know what I mean?


  • Porsche Jones said on February 22, 2012

    Thanks for posting! I’d love to transition to more editorial work some day. The timeline was very informative.

  • Laurie said on February 22, 2012

    Hi Zack,

    I saw your name and shot of Kent in our magazine and had to find out who deserved the kudos for making the smart choice to hire you :). I sent her the link to this blog so she can enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve been a fan for a while now, so it was a nice surprise to see your work in HBR and really interesting to read about the background for this shoot. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    Thanks Laurie! You all were great to work with. Looking forward to working with HBR again!


  • JP Manninen said on February 22, 2012

    Hey, Zack — wondering if you’d like to share your BW conversion process for the shot that ran. I remember the quick&dirty 9-times-out-of-10 Lightroom BW conversion from your workflow video, but I suspect it wasn’t your tactic here. Reason I ask is because I struggle with getting rich BW images. I use a DSLR with hot shoe flashes in soft boxes and umbrellas, and so I’m sure a strobe in a beauty dish has a lot to do with this look, too. Do you use plug-in software for your BW?

    All best,


  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @JP – I still use the same technique. Desaturate then boost contrast where needed. Good B&W images (IMHO) have strong contrast. Nice bright highlights and solid shadow areas. The problem I see most people have are lacking contrast in their B&W images.


  • Bryan Leighty said on February 22, 2012

    Heya Zack – Excellent work as always (photos and blog post!). I really liked the fact that you showed a “potential” shot that you had to ditch due to time/equipment resources/whatever. That final image of Dan in the Coke bottle silhouette will likely be hijacked by another photog (or maybe Absolut will issue a cease and desist notice). But really – I can see an amazing photo there but the reality was that you didn’t have time to fine tune it. Obviously the worst thing you could ever do is waste Mr. Kent’s time. You spent some time on trying to work it, but you had to make that immediate decision to move away from it entirely. I think that element of the work is very fascinating.

  • claude etienne said on February 22, 2012

    Hi Zack,

    Great job! Thanks for sharing the process with us. I’m surprised you didn’t go medium format for this job. Is it because you don’t feel comfortable enough yet with the system for such a big job, or was it because the light you were working with was better suited for your Mark II?

    Again, great job. The pictures look fantastic.

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @Claude – I shot this before I had the Phase. Search “phase” with the find feature in your browser and you’ll see my reply about having to hold images.


  • Jacob Venard said on February 22, 2012

    Excellent read Zach. I love the description of the thought process.

  • Jon C said on February 22, 2012

    Great insight Zack. How many shots did you deliver to the client? Was it just three clean, processed shots? Or do you give them everything you shot untouched? Also, what are the general rules when it comes to retouching when its a magazine client? Can they do whatever they want or are there certain restrictions that you require?

  • Zack said on February 22, 2012

    @JonC – I think I delivered about 25 photos from this shoot. I always deliver with color correction, contrast adjustments, etc, etc. For this job I delivered the native aspect ratio as well as a selection of the same shots cropped to square so the editors could see how I pre-visualized the square crops. I’ll also throw in some B&W’s as well. Take a look at the frosted door shots above. If I had shot there I would have retouched the door handles out of the shot. For initial delivery I would have only retouched my favorite one of the shots and added a note that if they pick another shot, I’ll be removing the handles as I did in the example. Make sense?


  • Sissel said on February 22, 2012

    Hey Zack!

    This post is fantastic! Really great story and great advice. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Lluis Gerard said on February 22, 2012

    Love it! love it! love it! Very informative and as always, you put my inspiration at work.

    Last week I taught a basic photography class for the very first time, and I have to thank you because, besides it was in Spanish, I always had in my mind how well you teach and share your knowledge with others, tried to do the same in my class but in my own way and my own stuff and it went very well, so thank you!.

    Love the B&W strong contrast keeping information on grays, very nice :)

  • D.A.T. Pascua said on February 22, 2012

    Thanks for sharing such an informative and illuminating post. It is greatly appreciated when a photographer of your expertise shares their experience, knowledge and insight to the rest of us who aspire and want to pursue similar photographic endeavors…

  • Mikhail Glabets said on February 22, 2012


    Awesome article- great shots and super awesome insight- I could totally relate to this yesterday. I had photo session with the Deans over at MIT Sloan in Cambridge, I ran around like a crazy person trying to open up some window light, block off the elevator to get some room to shoot a group shot- when 2pm hit, i had 5 min to take the photos. This post will now serve as a pre-gamer for future corporate photo shoots! Thank you, as always!

  • Kieran Wagner said on February 22, 2012

    Great post… thanks.

  • Anthony said on February 22, 2012

    Thanks, Zack! I’ve learned a lot from the information you’ve shared in blog posts and your Creative Live presentations.

    I’d like to cast a vote for a post on your lighting kit and recommendations/suggestions you have for those of us about to take the plunge into studio lighting gear.

  • Marc said on February 22, 2012

    Zack, you mentioned you delivered around 25 images to the client. Was wondering how many you actually shot…

    Good stuff man. Thanks!

  • Zack said on February 23, 2012

    I probably shot about 60 images. Not at my main machine to answer with an exact count.


  • Megan said on February 23, 2012

    I am in love with your post, your transparency, your photographs & just how inspiring this is. It’s truly amazing to watch it come together. I never thought to break down a shoot before, more for myself than anything else! You’ve inspired me to get back to it, camera in hand, and go for it. It’s long overdue! (day jobs really cramp your style. :))

  • Sree said on February 23, 2012

    As always, love the post with all the set-up detailed info. Wonderful insight into how a shoot like this works. And I LOVE the B&W portrait!

  • Bryan Mitchell said on February 23, 2012

    Hey Zack, This post reminds me of what I tell people who ask or students in my class. Pushing the button is the easy part. So many people, some new photogs included, don’t quite get what goes into a shoot like this and how little time you actually get with the subject. My fave is when you are told you get 15 minutes, then 5 and then when the subject walks up you are told you have about 3 minutes. Having two spots set up ahead of time is the way to go. Nice job at walking through the process. Thanks for giving back to everyone.

  • Julián said on February 23, 2012

    Awesome article, as always, i had a couple questions but everything you answered already, thanks again Zack!

    you’re an inspiration, as soon as i can i’ll travel “way north” and book one of your courses.

  • TimSnowPhoto said on February 23, 2012

    Fantastic write up, I absolutely love hearing how other togs work. Pre-visualization is such a integral part of my work, even if the shoot turns out nothing like I have planned, it helps me feel more prepared and poised on location.
    I love how this shoot indirectly inspired the lighting template for Faces and Spaces! I started a new personal project a few months back and it too came out of a commissioned shoot!
    Keep up the fantastic and inspirational work,
    Tim in Montreal

  • Ed said on February 23, 2012


    Brilliant post. Part II on the financial/contractual aspects of a shoot like this would top it off. There seems to be a lot of correspondence above about how you jumped in prices over the years but it’s more interesting (to me at least) to see how you negotiate a price, regardless of what that price is.


  • Ahmad Al-Joboori said on February 23, 2012

    Zack, I know there are big big names in the industry, and I know I shouldn’t say this, BUT YOU ARE THE BEST. you’re the reason why I am now carrying my camera with me on a daily basis instead of using it just to shoot my wife and kids birthdays :)
    nice post
    great blog
    cheers mate.

  • Mazhar said on February 23, 2012

    Zack, thanks for the great post. You put us into the shoes of a pro!! As an amateur photographer I read your posts like a child reading spiderman and imagining jumping from one building to another :) I felt the same when you mentioned about “running headless chickens” :)

    I have a few questions,
    1- I see that you use studio strobes for the beauty dish. I have only speedlights and wondering if it is possible to use beauty dishes with speedlights, what will be the drawback?
    2- Is there any specific reason why you used “the sock” on the beauty dish? Maybe softer light for woman?
    Did you try the same shot with and without sock? Or, I presume you want to keep the lighting consistent, incl. diffusion for all the photos in your faces&spaces project.
    3- Why you didn’t use your new baby (I mean Phaseone)? Because of limited time frame for shooting, need to tether etc. But your phaseone works without tethering… or maybe you didnt want to risk missing the focus?

  • Zack said on February 23, 2012

    @Mazhar – 1) A beauty dish really needs the bare bulb of the flash to get the best results. Hotshoe flashes have their flash tube incased in plastic and it doesn’t give the same even spread inside the dish as a strobe or other bare bulb capable light does. Folks have made dishes for flashes but at the end of the day, IMHO, it’s a cheat with compromises.

    2) The sock helps spread the light a little wider and gives a solid catch light in the eyes instead of the “donut” catchlight. In close portraits like the B&W above you only notice the difference in the catch light and not so much in the quality of light.

    3) Please see the last paragraph of this blog post. I shot this job before I got the Phase. Details above.


  • Evert said on February 23, 2012

    Great insight and behind-the-scenes post; thanks for sharing Zack!


  • Sam Fifer said on February 23, 2012

    Very cool, Zack. Thanks for sharing. Once again, you show that simple lighting is the best.

  • Rio Hernandez said on February 23, 2012

    Simple lighting, great results. As you say,do the shot the way the editor want, and them work on your idea, my experience had bee that 7 out 10 at the end they chose the ones I create, and maybe the other 3 don’t, because ego from editors and art director.
    Thanks for sharing the whole process with us.

  • Daf said on February 23, 2012

    Interesting – thanks for sharing. For those of us on the cusp of Pro/Semi-pro the processes you go through are very interesting.

    From similar posts by others – it seems High-end business people / Celebs tend to fall into 2 brackets:
    – Pain in the arse – “I’m more important than you”.
    – Great – they know you have a job to do and will help you.

  • Zack said on February 23, 2012

    @Daf – Very true. I’ve also come across folks who are fine but it’s their handlers that want to make things more rushed and dramatic than they need to be. I know some folks who do a lot of celebrity work and they have some stories. I know of one celebrity whose publicist will send photographers approved lighting diagrams and they can only be shot at certain angles, with certain lenses, and under those approved lighting conditions. What’s the point at that point? :)

    I love Platon’s stories. He talks about shooting with that fish eye on his Hasselblad for that “look” he’s so well known for. Instead of asking his assistant for his fish eye he asks for his “portrait” lens. Everyone knows what a fish eye is and people would walk right off the set so he came up with a code name for it. :) (So the story goes)

    Mr. Kent was a straight up regular guy. When we took a look at the executive offices he offered us drinks and chocolates. Really nice guy.


  • Drew said on February 23, 2012

    Zack, I’m not yet into AB + beauty dish territory and would love to emulate some of what you do above for personal family projects. Any recommendations to someone with a couple of speed lights on a soft box or alternative that would produce the same kind of light that you get from your rig above?

  • Zack said on February 23, 2012

    @drew – Try getting a small 20″ something umbrella. Maybe a silver one like this instead of a beauty dish. A C-Stand with an arm or a regular stand with a small boom can get it over your shooting position.


  • Gladys said on February 23, 2012

    I really appreciated this post. It was insightful to learn how great portraits of great people are achieved both technically and conversationally. It shows the process may be high stress, but not necessarily overly-complicated. Thanks for this!

  • Zachary Long said on February 23, 2012

    Thank you so much for sharing, very informative post. I loved how you walked us through the mental process of figuring out the locations and why some would work or not work based on the client needs. Great to see this is where the lighting inspiration for your current project came from. That pop up reflector trick is great :)

  • gtc said on February 24, 2012

    Thank you very much for this post. Picked up a lot of tips and great job on the portrait!

  • Brandon Shane Warren said on February 24, 2012

    awesome post Zack, I have a question , which stand and boom arm is that, I am shopping for a location boom setup that will work and this one you have seems to have a small footprint, looks like some sort of manfrotto?

  • Zack said on February 24, 2012

    @Brandon – It’s commonly referred to as a C-stand with an arm.

  • Priti Shikotra said on February 24, 2012

    Great article Zack :) *thumbs up*

  • Jorge Ledesma said on February 24, 2012

    Zach, amazing post. I was feeling gitty just reading it I scrolled down. Talk about the pre-visualizing and pre-planning and off course improvising. Excellent narrative and a great learning tool. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mari Kadanik said on February 24, 2012

    Thank You SO much for sharing all Your experience, Zack! Here and elsewhere. I’ve studied art and worked as a graphic designer for years and last years also as a photographer, until now I’ve photographed mostly with natural light. I’ve learned a ton from You and Your American colleagues via Creative Live. Some secondary, but practically extremely important details, such as using reclectors on site, is very useful to learn. Also it is good to learn about the general management and relationships. If possible, share more details like that with us in the future, too!

  • Gramma J said on February 25, 2012

    Did you you nail the assignment? That’s a resounding yes! Beautiful headshot–relatively serious, but there’s a touch of humor evident. You have the ability to give a portrait a video-like quality; I get an impression of what his expression might have been before the shot and what it might have been after; that can tell a lot about the subject. I’m sure that this type of blog entry is time consuming, but it’s instructive and enjoyable. Anytime your schedule permits, love to see more.

  • Rick Lewis said on February 25, 2012

    Tremendous blog post! When I saw who your subject was I couldn’t wait to read the post. I have admired Mr. Kent from the first time I watched an interview he gave on a business news channel. You are right on the money (no pun intended) about his professionalism and character.

    Thanks for a great post Zack!! I love how you broke this down for us. It truly helps those of us who aspire to be better at our craft!

  • bsmitty said on February 25, 2012

    hey zack! great post i enjoy seeing and reading about the behind the scenes action.

    i noticed in a comment you talked about your 1/4 day and full day… for you what did you consider a 1/4 day? and how long do you consider a “full day”?

    hope you keep posts like this coming!

  • Zack said on February 25, 2012

    @bsmitty – A 1/4 day for me back then was about 2.5 hours. A full day was more than 6.


  • Paul Bowers said on February 25, 2012

    Zack, I have looked at b/w Kent photo everyday since you posted it. I was going to say something, but I was… speechless. And if you knew me, that is quite a feat. But, I finally figured out what was capturing my attention. It’s two things. The eyes and the slight smile. My wife just said, “Classy”.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Zack said on February 25, 2012

    @Paul. Thanks. I appreciate that.


  • Neil said on February 25, 2012

    Zack – You continue to give of yourself and your knowledge for no logical reason whatsoever. I continue to appreciate it! You’re a gem, sir.

    (This stuff is like pure gold on the internet…like finding full episodes of Breaking Bad on youtube. Why would that person take so much time to make that available for me? I don’t know, but I’m glad he did!)

  • Zack said on February 25, 2012

    @Neil – At least my posts are legal! :)


  • Barry Thoms said on February 25, 2012

    You are an amazing person. Not only are you creative, knowledge, down to earth and intelligent you are also willing to share what you do and how you do it. Thank you and as an actor once said “live long and prosper”

  • Drew Kimble said on February 25, 2012

    I am eating up this behind the scenes action and commentary! This post is inspiring and motivational. I am shooting toward becoming a solid commercial photographer, and this sort of post is what I love, something I can engage and go back to.
    Well done!

  • Richard said on February 26, 2012

    I am so glad you are getting work like this. Fantastic post. I’m honestly just more happy for you than anything.

  • Tim Allen said on February 26, 2012

    It’s funny how seeing just one single photo (the last one, the B&W portrait) can make me want to try shooting a portrait again. A stunning photograph.

  • Carey said on February 26, 2012

    great write up Zack and I know everyone appreciaties your honest and sincere approach to any shoot and any client. I once had ten minutes with the CEO of Syncrude and I remember planning and preparing for two days prior for one shot that was merely a headshot from a reclamation project. This is wonderful and a great piece for all of us to enjoy. Love your work man and hope to meet up with you at some point!

  • Chris DeAngelis said on February 26, 2012

    Fantastic work Zack. Thank you for sharing you thought processes and set up shots as well as your images! Cheers!

  • Malinda Hartong said on February 26, 2012

    I love using SB Nikon flashes on stands, especially with pocket wizards so it doesnt have to be “line of sight”. I also like the Alien Bees and White Lightnings for “studio” work, plus the AB on location is quick & easy. In addition, the pocket wizards work with the studio lights too! Gotta luv it! So a few SB800’s, 2 camera bodies, basic prime lenses, an Alien Bee, and 2 reflectors, you’re “studio” can go ANYWHERE! The best part is being able to ZOOM the nikon flashes to concentrate the light just where you want it! Luv that! Plus I’ve just purchased the same Westcott Softbox for the SB’s! Seems we think alot alike you and I! Shoot fast, pack light, make your subject feel great, be easy to work with, and the images speak for themselves! Great job on the images as always Z! Cheers!

  • Mark Sass said on February 27, 2012

    Congratulations for that job (well both – the blog post and the shooting)! Well done.

    So you did a smart thing: first shooting the photographs you were hired for and THAN shooting the ones YOU wanted. Seems obvious of course, but the point is, you’re not only over-delivering, but also are more likely to get better shots on that one, because your subject is already in “shooting-mode”. NICE!

  • Bimal said on February 27, 2012

    A huge thanks for sharing this awesome walk-through of such a high peformance pressure shoot. You are such an adorable master. I loved reading your mind and knowing how u kicked out some ideas and stuck to others. If i wish to be a beginner in this line and start with shooting local heroes (within my town) about whom theres not much available on the web, is it advisable to talk to their family or to the subjects themselves for the research part? I love knowing people and wont mind meeting them days before shoot. Any advice Zack?
    Thanks again for all the knowledge sharing ZA! Respect!

  • Mark Dunlap said on February 27, 2012

    Hey Zack, a little different question than what you’ve been getting. For an editorial shoot like this, do you run into any particular issues with licensing of the photos to the client and if so, could you share some details? What kind of difference do you see between licensing arrangements for advertising use and editorial use of images?

  • Zack said on February 27, 2012

    @Mark – Typically magazines have their own rules for licensing and you take it or leave it. If they really, really, really want to work with you there might be some room for negotiations. HBR is awesome to work with. They have a good day rate and they don’t take your rights. I can now re-license these images to others in the future.


  • Kevin said on February 27, 2012

    Hey Zack – as a former grip I gotta point out that your c-stand is not set properly. The weight of the beauty dish is trying to loosen the grip head which could end with broken gear and possible an injured subject. A great rule is “little knuckles on the left, big knuckles on the right and the weight over the big leg.” This way the weight of whatever you are flying is trying to tighten the grip head not loosen it. A sandbag on the big leg always helps too.

    Otherwise, great write-up. thanks.

  • Zack said on February 28, 2012

    @Kevin – You’re totally right.


  • Mark said on February 27, 2012

    Hey Zack!

    Thanks a lot for sharing this editorial shoot step by step. I really appreciate how you prepare yourself in advance (Biography, etc.). Thank you for that inspirational post and for the great courses on creative live. Your quote “Head in a clean spot” is fixed in my head forever!! :-)

    Greets from Austria


  • Nathan Rennard said on February 28, 2012

    Awesome! Thank you for writing this Zack! It is very insightful.

  • Mike said on February 29, 2012


    Great shots (love the final B&W shot) and thanks for sharing.

    One question – Generally how much retouching, if any, is done to your shots? If so, is it the “get-the-zit-outta-here” retouching or the “I want 2,999 eyebrow hairs instead of 3,000” retouching? Just asking. :)


  • Zack said on February 29, 2012

    @Mike – I do very little re-touching. A few blemishes here and there and some fly away hairs and that’s about it.


  • Remi Andrei said on February 29, 2012

    Hi Zack, That’s a great story. Nice to see you up an running still in the photo business since I’ve got the impression that you’re about to move to video or something :-).
    Only by following you Seamless Whites tutorials on the old blog(by the way I also posted on the old blog a comment) I’ve got to simplify my life. Check here out what I’ve got using the knowledge you’ve shared with us:
    Do you have a plan to come by to Romania? Please do so. I think there are plenty of people that want to get to know you. I know I do.
    Thanks so much,
    Remi Andrei

  • Len Moser said on February 29, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful insight into setting up a location portrait shoot. The black and white is stunning! It almost looks surreal. What kind of corrections did you do in photoshop to make it look so good?

  • Paige said on February 29, 2012

    great article. love the b&w image. really informative post…

  • Jordan Buzzy said on March 1, 2012

    Wow, found this post days before doing an editorial shoot for an alumni business magazine by pure happenstance. I hadn’t been on the Z blog in a while and came back to see what was what and fond this. I just took a revisit to this article and will be heading out in an hour to set up for the shoot.

    Thanks for the knowledge:
    -Jordan Buzzy

  • Jordan Buzzy said on March 1, 2012

    Found this post days before doing an editorial shoot for an alumni business magazine by pure happenstance. I hadn’t been on the Z blog in a while and came back to see what was what and fond this. I just took a revisit to this article and will be heading out in an hour to set up for the shoot.

    Thanks for the knowledge:
    -Jordan Buzzy

  • theon said on March 1, 2012

    Hey Zack,
    I was wondering what the aperture was on the b/w headshot? You mentioned that you shot this a year ago and there is so much detail throughout the photo. It seems like your recent headshots on white have a much shallower depth of field. Was this because of a change in shooting philosophy over time or rather corporate headshot requires more detail?

    Your work is truly inspirational! If I can ever make it to Atlanta I plan on dropping by with a case of Newcastle!

  • Zack said on March 1, 2012

    @Theon – I can’t remember what it was shot at as far as aperture. Prolly f4 range. I shot this about 4 or 5 months ago.

    Lately I’ve been shooting medium format so the larger the sensor the shallower the DOF.


  • May said on March 1, 2012

    Wow! very impressive, start to finish!

  • Nathaniel said on March 1, 2012

    Sweet article, Zach! The behind-the-scenes shots, back end info, and insight are much appreciated! Keep rockin’!

  • david said on March 7, 2012

    What an opportunity!

  • Zack,

    This is incredibly helpful. Here is what I’d like to know. This is maybe a bit rude of me to ask, and if you want to answer in an email and not in the comments here (or not answer at all) I understand.

    How much did you get paid for this job? How many assistants did you use, and how much did you pay them?

    Also, did you offer full release of all rights?

    Alex Schoenfeldt

  • Zack said on March 8, 2012

    @Alex – It’s unprofessional, IMHO, to publicly state day rates you get on a specific job. HBR is on the higher end of editorial work. I had one assistant who is Dan and he get’s paid a monthly salary type of thing. Usually assistants make around $150 – $250 a day.


  • Steve said on March 12, 2012

    Zack, u truly are my biggest inspiration in photography ever. The honesty in yr photos is what i aspire too, not fake or posed, gritty real life expression. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your exposure of your techniques. Im humbled to even send u a message u might read.
    Thanks so much, hope u will make it to Australia one day.

  • Eric said on March 12, 2012

    Hey Zack, not sure if I missed it somewhere in the comments above, but how do you approach white balancing a shoot like this. Are you an auto white balance kinda guy, a colorchecker passport kinda guy, or somewhere in between?


  • Zack said on March 12, 2012

    @Eric – Flash WB setting on camera. Tweak a bit in post. Done.


  • Missy said on March 12, 2012

    Brilliant Artist!!! Speechless .

  • wushi said on March 13, 2012

    Hey Zack, thanks for all the detailed info (for the 1000 000th time ehhehe)
    Just wanted to say that it’s very cool for you to hand out knowledge to ppl that might even compete in the same market as you. Very altruist of you.

    Been a fan since One Light DVD through WhiteSeamless post and Creative Live videos.
    I read on hobbyist photographers FB page that you were their “man crush” eheheh kudos to that!!

    Props from Mozambique!

  • jeff said on March 13, 2012

    i was just curious as to which c stand you were i am looking at getting one in the future. and also great work as usual

  • Bryan Scott said on March 19, 2012


    One thing I never see addressed is how to actually build these relationships and land the bigger jobs. I know that’s a loaded question but perhaps you could discuss a little how you were approached about this job or perhaps how over time your relationships with the client developed to where you were chosen for the shoot.

    Great stuff!

  • Nasri said on March 22, 2012

    Hey Zack,

    I really love and appreciate the work you’ve done man. My jaw literally dropped when I saw the b/w.

    Anyways, you mentioned we should work our way up from $50 shoots to bigger ones. What kind of gear (eg. body, lenses, flashes, modifiers) do you think is absolutely necessary to begin shooting $50 jobs? As a newbie I don’t have much of a budget so I need to know exactly what’s necessary and what’s not.

    Also, is a crop sensor like a 60D alright for such work, or should I sell mine and get an older full frame?

    Thanks a million Zack


  • Zack said on March 30, 2012

    @Nasri – It’s not about the gear. I just completed a more-than-$50-job for Land Rover and shot most of it on the X-Pro1. Not about the gear.

  • Carina Martins said on March 22, 2012

    Excellent! Thanks a lot for sharing this!!! Your the best!

  • Kevin Geary said on April 1, 2012


    Amazing post brother. I wanted to ask you about the black and white final. What was your post processing on that — it has an amazingly “silverish” quality to it.

  • Zack said on April 11, 2012

    @Kevin – Desaturate plus boost contrast. Nothing super complex or anything. His skin tone combined with the lighting gives it that tone.


  • Eivind Rohne said on April 4, 2012

    Very well written blog post, both enjoyable and inspirational. And I love the pictures, especially the b&w one. It’s a real classic! Couldn’t agree more with you about the importance of planning, timing and getting everything ready before the subject shows up. I’ve met guys who haven’t (or imagine they haven’t…) even got time for you to change your lens, so you better be prepared.


  • Wendy said on April 11, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Zack, great post!! I could see the selected shot as a Sunday NY Times Magazine cover.
    The stand you had behind with a small flash was used just for separation between the subject and the background,background being the reflector, how did you have that flash head ( which direction) positioned?
    Thanks again!!

  • Max Almonte said on April 20, 2012

    Very good Thorough explanation of the shoot Zack. What was your first reaction when HBR contact you? LR? Also you said, “take care of the editors request first.” do they have a certain criteria when it comes to portraits like this? I also like who you don’t waste time with your shoots, I guess that the pre-visualization of the shoot you talking about. Right?
    Secrets are secrets, but how did you get hire by HBR and LR?

  • Zack said on April 20, 2012

    @Max – Both of those jobs came through Wonderful Machine. They’re a production/rep sort of company I’m listed with.

  • Mathison said on May 24, 2012

    Yo Zack, keep coming back to this post, love it!

    Do you just bring in extension cords or how do you power your flash units? Any recommendation for mobile power?

  • Zack said on May 25, 2012

    @Mathison – I use a combo of cords and the awesome Vagabond Mini 2 battery packs. Love those things.


  • Matthew said on July 16, 2012

    G’day Zack,
    Gotta say “thanks” for another excellent post…

    You planning, thought process and insight is far more inspiring to me compared to the…
    “light placed here, subject stood here, settings were yadayada….” posts that are found on other sites.

    I, for one, am really appreciative of the time, knowledge, and HONESTY you so freely offer without abandonment.


  • Alan Frank said on September 18, 2012

    Excellent job and description what a WORKING photographer really does. Plus, sometimes you get lucky. Big time CEOs came be big time PITAs. Having met Mr. Kent I know that he is first a caring family man who has done an excellent job as CEO of one of the most iconic brands in the world (I know because of my holdings). Second he can be tough, but obviously you did your job. You know, the one before pushing the shutter button. Thanks, for showing all the wannabes that being a photographer is about being a professional person first and gearhead last. Regards, Alan

  • sigfried baterina said on October 2, 2012

    nothing beats the real thing…coca-cola!

    i mean, nothing beats a good read, with a bunch of tips,tricks and inspiration.

    thank you sir!

  • Lester Barnes said on October 5, 2012

    You are truly skilled photographer! You know how to handle any situation thrown your way and get the results you want. I loved your workshop at creativelive! You have a brilliant mind!

  • Si Young said on October 22, 2012

    That’s the way to do it, some cracking shots there.


  • Kate Appelman said on December 26, 2012

    This was *so* interesting and helpful. Learned a lot in a short read – and the visuals are terrific. Terrific, really terrific.


  • Tim Bowden said on December 30, 2012

    Great post and always great to see how fellow pros approach their shoots!

  • Nigel Howard said on January 8, 2013

    Just a big thank you for so generously sharing your expertise in achieving such brilliant shots. Fan…tas…tic!

  • Brian Murphy said on January 19, 2013

    Should have had him take the twist Capp off the coke bottle… It was set up to make him look like he was enjoying a coke, but the cap was on…

  • David Burke said on February 21, 2013

    Really interesting read – love the B&W final photo.

  • Takeshi Nakagawa said on March 27, 2013

    I appreciate your business minded tactics. You really care for your craft as well as providing the best experience for your clients. Thoughtful and detailed. I’m just starting out, and loving it! Thank you for the motivation!

  • jimmy said on April 29, 2013

    Actually, the cap has been removed from the Coke Zero bottle. Only looks a little odd because there is a white liner which you can see once the cap is removed.

  • Colin Nicholls said on May 15, 2013

    Really awesome Black at white portrait at the end, thanks for sharing!

  • Pete said on June 27, 2013

    Nice work and thanks for sharing the process and the insights. I’d imagine shooting a high profile subject like this is quite pressurised (even though the subject may be very accommodating), basically you have to come up with the goods and take good strong shots. Do you use a relaxation technique to get in the right frame of mind or just work with the buzz of the job?

  • Zack said on June 27, 2013

    @Pete – It might sound odd but I listen to a lot of hip hop on my way to shoots like this. Brother Ali for this job specifically. :)


  • Harry said on July 28, 2013

    Really awesome job. Do you think you could have achieved the same result if taken with the fuji’s, x1 pro or x100s ?????

  • Zack said on August 1, 2013

    @Harry – I would have had the same result with an equivalent focal length on the X-Pro1. As far as image quality between the cameras they are neck and neck.


  • Frank said on August 15, 2013

    Hey Zack

    I’ve actually met Muhtar Kent. I’ve shot the Clinton Global Initiative a few times where he was a guest panelist.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post. I like your whole approach. In your post, when your talking about shooting through the windows decals you mentioned you were going to shoot natural light and then decided to shoot with a hot shoe flash. It appears to me based on the modeling that you mounted that flash camera right at about 45 on a stick. You probably used a pocket wizard or other remote to fire it. Is that correct? you make no mention of where that light was placed or power. Can you give me the info on this. I’m curious.


  • Zack said on October 19, 2013

    @Frank – You are correct.


  • Matt said on October 7, 2013

    Fantastic work and great lighting. Brilliant write up and insight in to editorial work :)

  • Girish said on August 23, 2014

    Nicely done. That b/w is a winner for sure.

  • Tré Voir said on August 23, 2014

    Zack I know this is a super oldddddddddddddddddddd (oldddddddddddddddd) post. But I’ve got a question and hopefully you can help. Wayyyyyyyyyyy up in the comments you spoke on when you took on your first manager and you had 1/4, 1/2 and full day rates. For the types of clients that I work with ( no magazine work yet ) I think the day rate scale would be perfect for me. My question is how do you come up with the deliverables as pertaining to each rate? Again I know this is super old and you don’t use this system to charge clients like this anymore, but anything you can remember from these days and relay to me would be super super super (and another super) helpful. Thanks man!

  • Zack said on August 23, 2014

    You have to fly by the seat of your pants on this kind of pricing thing. For a 1/4 day you get “some” photos. 25? 50? You set it. For a half day you get more. For a full day you get more. The more you pay the more you get. There’s no easy answer to it. Sorry.


  • Mauro said on August 29, 2014

    I see no fujifilm camera for this work but…only 5d mark II. is fujfilm not good for this type of work? thks

  • Zack said on August 29, 2014

    This was a shoot done before I moved to Fuji. I’m cleaning up my blog here and removing a lot of stuff and pushing some things back up to the top.


  • Mauro said on August 29, 2014

    thnks for fast reply (before photokina 2014 show)

  • Bashar said on August 29, 2014

    why not fuji Zack?!

  • Zack said on September 1, 2014

    This is an older post I bumped up as I’m cleaning up my blog here.


  • Matt said on November 24, 2014

    Great Post! I know its from a while ago, but its new to me :) Love seeing the process and that black and white shot is amazing. Thanks for posting this and sharing your experience.

  • John said on January 1, 2015

    Hey Zack. Wondering what your rule of thumb is regarding flash and reflections showing in background windows… In your leading shot, the background window seems far enough away, but I run into this problem on the odd times I shoot office environmental portraits. Space is often limited, and my softbox will often show up in the background glass. Not sure if this is an angle of incidence situation, or my subject just needs to have more distance between themselves and the glass.

  • Frank said on January 6, 2015

    Hey Zack,

    i found your blog few days ago and i’m very impressed and thankful that you took the time to explain your work to the rest of us. For sure your detail infos will help me for my next jobs here in Germany!

    Thanks a lot! Cheers! Frank

  • Chip Quinn said on January 14, 2015

    What they say is right about the last picture (roll over Yousuf Karch) and thanks for doing this.

  • Chad said on April 6, 2016

    Just found and read this article. Thanks for sharing. A lot to learn from this. Kick a$$ portrait as well!

  • DeaJay said on April 12, 2016

    I am a novice photographer. My instructor, Neil France at Long Beach City College, introduced his class to editorial portraits.

    I googled info about this topic that is new to me. After having viewed many articles and posts, I LUCKED up on your article.

    I thank you for laying out your plan from the beginning to the end (in writing and by pictures). I thank the posters who shared information that will be helpful to me and to my classmates.

    Your article is exactly as titled “An Anatomy of an Editorial Shoot…”.

  • Bo said on May 3, 2016

    Thanks for sharing your work and step by step. Great inspiration

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