Magazine Article


Eye Appeal

Eye Appeal

The Witty, Beguiling Digital Imagery of Steve Grubman

Text by Erin Harrington-Plonski
Images by Steve Grubman

When Steve Grubman moved his studio into a circa-1890 fire station 15 years ago, the doors literally opened up a new career path for him and Grubman studio.

By occupying the ground floor, the studio-outfitted with large, overhead doors-enabled him to shoot just about anything in his new space. So while he had been doing primarily still life up to that point, the new digs freed him to go after jobs closest to his heart: those involving animals and autos.

Within weeks of the big move, Grubman was herding in elephants for a Samsonite luggage campaign. (Actually, they walked right in.) Since then, he's photographed a veritable menagerie-alligators, cobras, kangaroos, orangutans, lions, tigers, bulls, pigs, horses, goats, donkeys, giraffes, even mites-for projects of all kinds.

For most animal shoots, Grubman uses his custom-made flash assemblies, which require extremely short flash duration.

Most of the time on animal shoots goes into the preparation and pre-lighting. The shoot itself can be over in minutes.

In between animal visits, Grubman started revving his auto work, shooting a brand-new car portfolio with his friend's cars.

"With one of the few studios in Chicago that could fit a car inside, we were busy immediately. As it happened, Nissan was running their 'Dogs Love Trucks' campaign, so I was able to combine animals and automobiles for them in the same imagery." Heaven.

The studio's trademark engaging, witty creative style has caught the eye of a broad-based clientele. Among them: Proctor & Gamble, Kraft, NEC, Dr. Pepper, Ralston Purina, Eli Lilly, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Dell, Philips Electronics, BMW, Citicorp, and Schweppes.

"The current trend of clients hiring a photographer who's already done the shot they're being hired for bothers me although I understand it's largely an economic issue. I like being hired for my ability to solve a problem or create an image, on time, on budget. I'm challenged by shooting in a few different areas, still life one day, people another, cars another. It keeps me fresh."

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Hasselblad EL and H1

Deardorff 4X5 and 8X10 w/Schneider lenses

Phase One H20

Speedotron, Broncolor, Mole-Richardson

Apple Quicksilver G4
Dual 800 MHz, 1.5 MB RAM
Apple G4 Firewire 800
Dual 1.4 GHz
Apple G4 700 MHz
Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 22-inch monitors
Scanmate 4000 Drum Scanner
Microtek 8700 Flatbed Scanner
Wacom Tablets
Photoshop 7.0
Live Picture 2.1
Metaflo plug-in
Freehand 10.0

Various Kodak and Fuji films

A big shovel (analog) for the animals!

Primarily a medium- and large-format film shooter, Grubman will capture digitally if the client requests it and if he feels there's a good reason for it. "I'm really comfortable with film, but we've also had some situations where digital has been the way to go. We've had good success with a variety of systems. The one I use most is the Phase One H20 digital back on our Deardorff-for most of our automotive work-or with the Hasselblad-which we use almost exclusively for our animal jobs."

Whether digital or film, he tries to create as much as possible in-camera. "It would be easy to get lazy and say, 'We can fix that afterward.' But there's nothing like getting it as close as you possibly can in-camera and then taking it the rest of the way digitally."

Grubman enjoys when clients or prospects look through the portfolio and can't tell which aspects of an image were done digitally and which weren't. "We try to blur that line as much as we can," he says.

Today, regardless of capture method or subject matter, virtually every Grubman image has some digital imprint on it, whether it's subtle retouching or dramatic special effects. But he always aims for a natural, unmanipulated look.

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