Behind the scenes with Michel Leroy and George Saunders

With all my portraits I try and create an authentic connection that reveals a level of comfort and vitality shared amongst friends. With author George Saunders it felt like we had been friends for years the moment we met.

I’ve been following George’s work in The New Yorker and love his short stories so it was a huge honor when the editors at Poets and Writers Magazine reached out with a cover assignment to photograph author George Saunders for the release of his new (first) Lincoln in the Bardo, “Lincoln in the Bardo”.

George was instantly approachable and a real pleasure to photograph. It doesn’t matter if I’m photographing an NBA legend or Steelworkers, the insight and humanity needs to read in their face for a portrait to really connect and George was ready the moment he walked into the teeny-tiny hotel meeting center.

The magazine needed a cover, spread and content photo plus behind the scenes for the web. We wanted to create a narrative that would connect all the images and show multiple sides of his complex personality. As with most celebrity shoots we had limited time but everybody was accommodating and none more so than George himself, allowing us to knock out all the shots in a half hour with laughter and good humor throughout.

It was the dead of winter in New York city but I wanted to the images to feel casual with a natural light look. The room we were photographing in was about 10×10′ with a large table and four huge chairs taking up 90% of the room. Slow golf clap for hotel room design planners. I’ve shot portraits in smaller spaces, even an airport utility closet once, but that’s another story.

To achieve large soft lighting I selected the LastoLite by Manfrotto HiLite Backdrop and used it as the main light instead of the backdrop. It’s designed as a flawless high key white backdrop but I mix it up and use it as the main light all the time. When you turn the set around, and use the LastoLite as the main light, it acts like a huge softbox but is only a few inches deep and fits anywhere. I was using two Bowens monolights in the HiLite to fill the room with an even window light effect. The entire kit with the LastoLite magnetic background support fits into the trunk of a taxi cab and takes just minutes to setup and tear down – perfect for location photographers.

For another shot, literally an arm’s length away, I had George sit on the window ledge and used the LastoLite as a fill. I put an orange gel on my lights then color balanced off the Bowens to give the window light an overall blue cast.

Equipment List:
Canon EOS Canon 5D Mark III DSLR Camera
Canon EF Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II Lens
Hero shot of George Saunders shot at ISO 100, 1/125s at f4
LastoLite LastoLite HiLight 6×7′
Lastolite LastoLite Magnetic Background Support Kit
Bowens Gemini 500R Bowens Gemini 500R 3-Light Kit
Tether Tools Tether Tools TetherPro Cables & Phase One Capture One Pro Tether software.

For more celebrity portraits and advertising photography check out the latest work by Michel Leroy Photographer. All photos by Michel Leroy.

George Saunders
George Saunders
George Saunders
George Saunders
George Saunders