Interview: Fashion Photog Stephen Eastwood

© Stephen Eastwood

This article has been published first in "Publish" - Courtesy of Edmund Ronald - The 4 pictures of Stephen Eastwood's work have been added to the original article to illustrate some of the looks Eastwood is known for.

August 16, 2005

Opinion: The inimitable fashion photographer reveals his techniques and extensive experience with everything from digital cameras to makeup to raw file conversion.

Today we bring you an interview with an edgy New York fashion photographer, the incomparable Stephen Eastwood . I was lucky enough to visit his studio last week.

How does a top digital shooter work? What has changed in the move from film to digital? Fashion photographer Stephen Eastwood has earned wide acclaim for his arresting beauty shots and is also renowned as a master retoucher who is generous with advice. I talked to him at his New York studio in Queens.

Eastwood's studio fits compactly into the second floor of a suburban home. The actual shooting space is small, with a surprisingly low ceiling. Long shots including full-height standing pictures can be taken through a doorway facing the backdrop. A separate makeup room wallpapered with Eastwood's signature imagery lets models sample his style and get into the mood for the shoot. The dressing room has a well-appointed wardrobe, of the style appropriate to his imagery. We talked in the computer room/study. Samples of Eastwood's best work are everywhere; a TV monitor hooked into a DVD player cycled through his shots. Excluding the makeup room, the studio space is lit dimly.

I had a long conversation with Eastwood, here are some highlights:

© Stephen Eastwood

An extensive net presence
Eastwood's photography sites get about 60K to 70K hits a day, which is understandable, given the quality of the images. However, this traffic generates about 2,600 e-mails a day. Eastwood employs the services of four people to sift the avalanche of messages. About 100 to 185 are forwarded on to him every day, rising to 250 to 300 when he is involved in a casting call. While the Web provides Eastwood with publicity, he does indicate that an educational process is necessary in order to get clients to pay reasonable rates. He indicates that less than 15 percent of his shots are now commissioned specifically for the Web, although nowadays every shot ends up on the Web, somehow.

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His Expertise
Eastwood defines himself more as a beauty photographer, rather than as a fashion shooter, targeting cosmetics, or "anything that needs a pretty face". He says that beauty imagery is "about the mood and about the girl" while fashion is either catalog "show the clothes", or editorial "show the mood" so that the reader will "wanna be in those clothes." He adds "what's making her feel like that? It's obviously the clothes she's wearing." I like his nutshell summary, it explains succinctly why so many fashion editorials display so little of the clothes, their main topic.

On Transitioning from Film to Digital
"I bought a Canon D30 because I wanted to Polaroid with a digital camera. Within three weeks I had stopped processing the film. That was five years ago." Digital allows him to experiment, to do things he couldn't have done before. As an example of novelty that the digital workflow allows, Mr. Eastwood's cites his current very harsh lighting, with intense sidelights, that "create shadows emphasizing every nick, touch and flaw in her face". The roughness can be Photoshopped away, allowing for a dramatic effect in Beauty shots.

On Makeup
Mr. Eastwood says that digital still needs a "nice smooth foundation, even in tone; the blending needs to be better [than for film], no shadows". When I query him about skin color mismatches which invariably occur, often between say the face and the hands, Mr. Eastwood demonstrates that he will select the affected areas in Photoshop and adjust the color manually, by eye.

© Stephen Eastwood

On His Camera Technique and Lighting
Eastwood currently shoots a Canon 1DsII with a 35-350 Canon lens stepped down fairly far. He uses a lot of different light modifiers, and indicates that there are between five and eight different lights employed in each. He continues to use gels as a creative aid, gelling a subset of the lights so as to achieve coloration in a specific subject area. The lighting I saw him employ was strongly directional, with grids on reflectors and thin and slim gridded softboxes.

My own portrait of Eastwood taken with the modeling lights of his studio setup demonstrates the dramatic nature of his lights:

On Computers
Eastwood employs PCs, not Macs. He views images both on CRTs and LCDs, stating that "all of the flaws that the CRT smoothes out show on the LCDs". However, noise will show on the CRTs, and Mr. Eastwood still won't rely on LCDs for color.

On Workflow
He sets his camera to save "Raw+Large Jpeg" files because he found out that when a flash card is corrupted the Jpeg format files are easier to recover with most commercial recovery software. As soon as a card has been exposed, the "Downloader Pro" software from Breeze Systems is used to copy the files automatically to two separate drives. "Breeze Browser" is used to browse, view and rename the files, and to create web galleries.

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On Raw File Conversion
Eastwood indicates that he currently uses Adobe's ACR converter for 90 percent of his work, and the other 10 percent is spent in EVU, DPP, Rawshooter and Capture One. He notes that when a client happens to like a camera-generated preview Jpeg file written by his 1DsII, then Canon's EVU is the only software that can reproduce exactly the same effect as the camera settings which were used to generate that Jpeg file in-camera. As for camera color-matching, Eastwood regularly profiles his 1DsII with a Colorchecker and the Photoshop script authored by Thomas Fors.

On Printing
Eastwood is pragmatic. He prints much of his work at Costco, on Noritsu machines. He states that "if it comes off an RA4 they [the client's print process] should be able to reproduce it."

I must agree that his prints look gorgeous — Mr. Eastwood really knows how to make women look beautiful. Strikingly beautiful.

Edmund Ronald has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, and he is currently on a sabbatical as a photographer in Paris.
Edmund Ronald's blog can be found at www.monitor-calibration.net.