Michael Ripoll (Studio Guitarist)

A few weeks ago I was asked by the music-media company Big Fish Audio to do a photo shoot for one of their upcoming releases. The company makes audio loops and samples that musicians can use in their own productions. Each product is a bit like a record company album release, although the content is more a tool for musicians…not something you’d put on your ipod. I did a shoot for them a few months back, featuring Hip Hop Producer Keith ‘Clizark’ Clark (blog link here).

This time around, the shoot was for an amazing studio guitarist named Michael Ripoll. He had just gotten back from touring in Japan with R&B artist/producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds when we did the shoot. He’s also played or recorded on projects with Carrie Underwood, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, India Arie, Vanessa Williams, Natalie Cole and The Pussycat Dolls, to name a few.

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The idea for the product cover was a collage, since the product features loops in a variety of different styles, played on a variety of guitars. Diversity was the name of the game! So I instructed him to bring as many guitars as he could manage (apparently the eight or so guitars he brought were a small portion of his total collection!), and a few wardrobe changes too. The client needed a lot of close up shots of his hands on guitars, as well as a few environmental portrait type images. So rather than pose him, I just sat him on a chair, and had him play and chat with my assistant (Jon Beal, who happens to be an excellent guitarist and musician as well). While he played and talked, I ‘recorded the conversation,’ so to speak. I also constantly moved around, changed the lights, and shot a lot of frames. So it’s hard to give technical info about the lighting, since it evolved as the shoot progressed.

Two examples of the close up shots I was getting:

I used a lot of hard light for the shoot, as I wanted contrast and something of an on-stage spotlight look. This was shot in a small warehouse, and the umbrellas were splashing light around too much. So mostly I snooted a couple of small strobes, moved them in close, and occasionally bounced a strobe off a back wall if I needed some fill. I also used some CTO and blue gels for split color looks. Basically, I tried everything I could think of. And a lot of it worked!

The first close-up above, you can see I’ve geled it. I think I put a CTO on the strobe from camera right, and the fill on the hands at camera left is straight. Then I adjusted my white balance to tungsten, to give the fill a cool blue look, and the main light looks ‘white’.

Below, more snooted strobes. The splash on the backdrop (which was white), was probably from a hairlight strobe. Although I don’t know if I turned it around to hit the wall, or if this is just spilling from the side of the strobe. I don’t see a whole lot of hair light on Michael here. So who knows what I was doing? But it worked pretty well, as the bright spot on the wall is behind the dark side of his head, giving defintion to the edge of his hair.

And as we got out new guitars to play, I arranged the previously used ones (with cases) on the floor around Michael. It eventually got difficult for everyone to move around, but it gave a nice environmental feel to what was essentially a white-seamless studio shot.

Near the end I did force Michael pose a little. I like how I caught his smile between his fingers below. Either a CTO main with ungeled kicker, with a tungsten camera setting…or a ungeled main and a blue-geled kicker with strobe white balance. No idea! Note how the main strobe is in close though, as the fall off from the snoot is dramatic. It just kisses the top of his guitar. Getting in close was necessary, so I could dial back the ambient to almost nothing. This warehouse had a skylight right over it, so there was a certain amount of ambient to work with (fight!).

And for the image below, I intentionally caught a flare from the strobe, to give it a live-performance look. Looks like I might have used a small umbrella as main light, but I don’t remember.

This was the most relaxed studio session I’ve had a in long time! I couldn’t have done it without my assistant keeping Michael talking and playing.

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