NEW YORK CITY-BASED EDITORIAL AND PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER MACKENZIE STROH says
she’s game for anything when it comes to portraits.
Whether the client needs a simple portrait on seamless or, in her words, “wacky props and styling and
locations,” she’s seen and done it all. And that experience is just what she needed for her session with
acclaimed dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov,
commissioned by UK publication The Times Magazine. Here’s the story behind the shoot.
PDN: What was the assignment?
Mackenzie Stroh: Our location was The Baryshnikov
Arts Center in midtown Manhattan. The magazine
needed two to three setups, which included environmental portraits in the dance studio and a range
of options on seamless. We were supposed to have
an hour and a half to get in and light, then about 45
minutes with Mr. Baryshnikov, which I figured would
be unlikely. As with many editorial shoots, the budget only allowed for one assistant, but I knew this
shoot would be fast and unpredictable, so I paid for
a second to make sure we could move quickly.
PDN: Can you walk us through the shoot?
MS: We were starting to load into the studio when
Mr. Baryshnikov’s assistant informed me he was
not feeling well and wanted to shoot right away.
This is when I am extremely grateful for seasoned
assistants because, within a few minutes, we were
shooting the first environmental shot. I asked him if
he would do some subtle movements with his arms
and, although he was clearly under the weather and
not keen to move around, he kindly obliged. While
we were shooting the two quick environmental op-
tions, one of my assistants was setting up the seam-
less shot on the other side of the dance studio. We
did about five minutes on each setup. Thinking back,
the whole shoot was a big blur, in part because I was
meeting one of my childhood idols, and in part be-
cause we were moving so fast to get all the shot op-
tions while he was still up for it. The last few frames
on the seamless were of him looking right in the lens
laughing and then I knew we were done.
PDN: How did you decide which shots to leave in
color and which to leave in black and white?
MS: The natural light in the environmental shot was
so beautiful at that hour—all we had to do was add a
small softbox on him as fill. So that image needed to
stay in color to capture that warmth. The portraits on
the backdrop worked well in color, but when I converted them to black and white, they became more
focused on his expression and amazing face, which
is what I wanted.
PDN: What was a major lesson you learned form
MS: Be as prepared as possible beforehand and
remove as many stress-inducing factors as you can
before the shoot so that, once that subject arrives,
you can thoroughly enjoy the interaction and em-
brace the unexpected. It might sound cheesy, but
really being “in the moment” and making the portrait
a collaboration is key.
Check out the full gallery from last year’s Faces
competition at facesphotocontest.com. The next
submission period will open in June.
MACKENZIE STROH TELLS US HOW SHE REMAINED CALM AND COOL ON SET DURING A SHOOT WITH HER CHILDHOOD IDOL.
Interview by Stacey Goldberg