Worth a Sub: Michael Grecco's New YouTube Channel

Celebrity / Nekkid People photographer Michael Grecco has created a YouTube page to display his many excellent behind-the-scenes videos.

Some of you may not know that he started out as a photojournalist, and began pushing the lighting envelope way back in the very beginning of his career.

The Will Farrell shoot (c. Blades of Glory) embedded above is a great example of why I always enjoy Grecco's time-lapse BTS vids. There's a lot to learn in a minute and change. Not only is he showing you the whole set build, shoot and tear, but there are several cool lighting info nuggets to be had.

Hit the jump for a some of the things you can learn from this video, a second vid and links to more.

What's to See

He is pushing on-axis fill in both segments, although in a different way each time. In the first shoot, he is using a ring flash with a softening reflector. The main light is a beauty dish, off axis. You can see the distinctive dish-with-ring-fill look very clearly in the close-up at the ~31-second mark.

Note how subtle he is with that spot on the background coming from overhead, too. He is not bringing the white paper all of the way up -- just negating some of the fall-off from the key light as you move towards camera right in the back.

In the second shoot, he has placed a large light diffusor directly behind himself to act as a sort of on-axis softbox. He's pushing two beauty dishes through that, and the effect is very soft, on-axis fill without the ring signature. Pause it at the 0:51 mark to see what I am talking about.

You can see Grecco in front of the light source, as reflected in Farrell's eyes at the 1:05 mark. Softbox camera right, a Grecco-surrounded-by-on-axis-fill dead center.

It's a very controllable look that lets you key light however you want with a lot of room for error. The background light is similarly placed to the one in the first part of the video.


Penelope Cruz

Not to sound like a broken record, but the lighting in the second video really screams "control" to me, too. He is creating base/fill with the big octa at high camera left, then highlighting Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar (c. Volver) with a gridded strip light. Another small box from back camera left creates separation.

We can't see the photog in this shoot, but -- aha! -- what's this close-up at the 0:58 mark? That looks like another big, on-axis fill light. (Some people peep pixels - I peep eyes.)

This is not necessarily expensive light, either. Stretch a white bed sheet between two light stands (or clamp to a drop-ceiling), fire a flash through it and Bob's your uncle. Don't forget to underexpose that cool fill and add a second light as a key, of course.

Love the shot Cruz gives the time-lapse camera at 0:20, BTW. No offense, Michael, but it is a lot less impressive for you to make Cruz look fantastic than to do the same for Will Farrell...

And speaking of expressions, look at all of the amazing frames Grecco pulls out of both subjects after he (er, his techs) has spent all of that time creating the beautiful light. Word to the wise: After you get your light nailed down, it is all about the subject. Ease up on the chimping.

Want more? There's an earlier video of his shoot of director Martin Scorsese which totally changed the way I used from grid spots from that day forward.

You can also keep up with (and/or subscribe to) Michael Grecco on his new YouTube Channel.

Last but not least, his book, Light and the Dramatic Portrait is one of my favorite lighting books -- chock full of great photos and no-holds-barred diagrams and notes.


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Blogger Glyn Dewis said...

Thanks for sharing this article David.
I too have been very keen on Michael's work for some time now and I completely overlooked the fact that he'd have a YouTube Channel, so thanks for the 'heads up'.

Really liking the time lapse too; great way to see the rig being put together and indeed, put away too and the rooms returned to their former glory.

Thanks again and all the best to you,

March 15, 2010 2:11 AM  
Blogger Alexander said...

Out of the blue, Mr. Grecco commented on my attempt at a shot inspired by his "NYPD Blue" shot. It's good to know that some of the pros actually read what we strobists are discussing on the site.


March 15, 2010 3:36 AM  
Blogger marco said...

"After you get your light nailed down, it is all about the subject." - I love this sentence, it looks like an Arena's LIDLIPS :) (hint hint: start LIDLIPSing you too).

Note to me: stop chimping!

It looks like the Scorsese's Video has been removed from youtube.


March 15, 2010 4:05 AM  
Blogger David said...


Thanks for the YT tip. Found it anew in Grecco's channel, fixed links.

Thanks again,

March 15, 2010 6:33 AM  
Blogger Patrick Cavan Brown said...

Awesome stuff... always loved Grecco's work! He's good at giving away "secrets"... always generous with his knowledge, a great quality of a great photographer.

Wanna see timelapses of what you can do with SMALL LIGHTS and NO ASSISTANTS?

March 15, 2010 10:13 AM  
Blogger Chattanooga Photographer said...

I love how you dissect these shoots, David! Pointing out specific second points in the time lapse was EXTREMELY helpful. Wish I could find more posts like this one. I'd like to see more posts like this.

Keep up the great work.

March 15, 2010 1:28 PM  
Blogger AdvRdr said...

I still remember the day Michael stopped by UPI Newspictures offices in Wash DC on his way West.

What are you going to shoot in L.A. that is more exciting than covering news I asked him over lunch. He talked about making portraits and challenging himself to light better. I kinda shook my head and quietly thought he was nuts ;-)

March 15, 2010 6:25 PM  
Blogger DKM said...

As a lighting beginner working through Lighting 102 now, one of the things I struggle with is trying to work in my small living room. So the thing that impressed me most about the second video was how small a room they used to achieve such great results.

March 15, 2010 9:55 PM  
OpenID Doctor said...

Hey David, have you been to fstoppers.com yet? It's a new site that just launched (heard about it over at nikonrumors.com last week) and it's devoted to behind the scenes photoshoot videos. Some really awesome information, and in one of their first videos, they do a shoot in a mega-expensive vegas penthouse with only speedlights!

March 18, 2010 2:30 PM  
Blogger Alvaro said...

Wow. Thanks for the article and links.

April 12, 2010 11:51 PM  

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