Greg Heisler BTS Series: Yasser Arafat

For part two of his four-part BTS series for Profoto, photographer Gregory Heisler walks us through his Time cover of former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

I really enjoyed this video. Not so much for the lighting tidbits, as it is a pretty straightforward photo in that regard. But rather because it exactly captures the vibe of photographers sitting around a table swapping stories. The interesting stuff is rarely about f/stops and shutter speeds, etc. It's more about what has to happen before you are in a position to make the photo at all. So, enjoy.

Oh, and Heisler has a book coming out, too.

Thought I'd get your attention with the book thing. More on that in a sec. First, Arafat:

Takeaways, for me:

1. Simple lighting. This one is all expression and geometry.

2. Carrying a piece of black velvet (easier, even, than white seamless) will always give you a fallback.

3. Four-by-five camera as conversation piece—and, possibly, what prompts the expression. A camera like that is a touchstone, especially when you have a subject old enough to remember this is what cameras used to look like. Bare minimum, a 4x5 establishes you as someone who takes your job seriously and commands attention. Kinda the opposite of your iPhone and Instagram.

But again, the process of getting to Arafat is the jewel here. I have always loved listening to these kinds of stories from people like Heisler, Dave Burnett, Joe McNally, Scotty Applewhite and others.

One of my favorites: Dave Burnett was assigned to photograph Reagan and Gorbachev's first summit meeting in 1985 during the Cold War. Noticing that their chairs were way too far apart for a good picture in the upcoming photo op, Burnett told his handler that he had to go up on stage to "check the lighting" with his meter.

While up there, when no one was looking he pushed the chairs much closer together. Are you freaking kidding me. Can you believe that in the context of how tightly things like this are choreographed today?

Made for a better photo, though, dontcha think?

Hope I am remembering this right, Dave. Lemme know if not. Looking forward to more tales like this when both these guys are hanging out at the rooftop Vista Bar in Dubai next month.

So, Heisler's Got a Book Coming Out...

It's entitled, Gregory Heisler | 50 Portraits | Stories and Techniques from Behind the Photographs, and due in October. I have only been waiting for this book for the last, oh, twenty years or so. No biggie. And Amazon doesn't even have the cover photo up (because it hasn't been chosen yet) but I just pre-ordered anyway. Because, twenty years.

I am very proud to have had a tiny part in this book finally happening. And even more so of having helped to talk Greg into putting the "AND TECHNIQUES" part into the book.

He jokingly refers to it as the "moron" section in the back, as in, "For more on the making of this picture, yada yada…"

Well, from this moron, THANK YOU FOR THE MORON SECTION. I can't wait for mine to be pre-shipped in time to arrive at my door on the actual day of publication.

Lastly, a reminder: If you are in the US, don't forget to enter to win the Profoto D1 Air kit being given away as a promotion for this new Heisler video series. Because, why not?


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Blogger Daniel said...

I bet he only shot that one frame.

February 13, 2013 1:03 AM  
Blogger David van der Want said...

For all it's simplicity it is a great photo

February 13, 2013 1:35 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Thanks for the video!

If you like those type of stories, i'd suggest you a book from a canadian photographer, Heidi Hollinger.

She started photographing russian political figures in her mid 20s and boy does she have stories to tell.

She seems to only have a french edition, but it's a amazing read (got a limousine from an elected official, photographed a elected in his underwear at his cottage, got access to the tchechene leaders...)

February 13, 2013 9:41 AM  
Blogger DGV said...

The cover image of Heislers book has been picked. ->

February 13, 2013 9:43 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Actually, the cover has not been finalized as per the publisher.

February 13, 2013 10:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The "interesting" camera thing has worked well for me on several occasions. I'm shy about asking people for permission and not comfortable 'sneaking' street shots, and everyone and their mom is wandering around with an expensive digital SLR now, so no one's impressed. But if I'm carrying my Mamiya twin-lens reflex I bought at a garage sale, people often actually *ask me* to take their picture, they get a little excited that someone's willing to go through the trouble of exposing and developing film. Many people have a story about how they used to have one, or their grandpa was a photographer, or whatever. One guy I just met on the street invited me into his painting studio and we talked for an hour, and gave me a vintage flash meter he didn't use anymore. Stuff like that doesn't happen when you just look like another creep with a digital camera. And I definitely look like a creep.

February 13, 2013 2:13 PM  
Blogger aeropix said...

Greg used a similar gambit when he did an essay for Life magazine on lawmen in small western towns. He photographed them with an old wood view camera, immediately creating a vintage atmosphere. Throughout an amazing career, he has never done the same photo twice. There is no "Heisler technique"; every portrait evokes a different approach, what he calls an "appropriate response." The only thing Greg Heisler does better than photography is teaching....although he plays a pretty mean banjo. October 22 can't arrive too soon--cover or no cover!

February 13, 2013 10:41 PM  
Blogger Tattoo Al said...

He does look a bit intimidated and vulnerable from the camera.
It gave a great expression!
My question is did these older cameras have sync capabilities with modern flashes and strobes? Always been a bit puzzled by that.
Sync cord?

February 14, 2013 7:17 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

I live in Winnipeg, Heisler came to Calgary. I drove there to see him talk for the weekend. That's 16hrs of driving! the two days were SO WORTH IT! Can't wait for the book.

February 14, 2013 7:46 AM  

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