As New York City fashion photographer Michael Biondo sees it, being a successful fashion photographer takes more than stunning subjects, great equipment, and technical expertise. "Fifty percent of the job is being a director and 50 percent is being a photographer. You're not a great fashion photographer if you're not a great director."
Biondo likens a fashion shoot to a mini movie. "We have eight to 12 people at the shoot, including a hair stylist, fashion stylist, makeup artists, the model, me, and everyone has assistants. I often bring two or three on a job," he says. "You must make sure you don't overwork them. Everyone needs to be happy. If the model is stressed, it will show in the pictures." Biondo also makes a point of asking everyone on the set for their input, so everyone is part of the image-making process.
Although he doesn't usually select the models when he shoots for Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus, he does choose the site. "Whenever I drive anywhere, I look for great locations. I love places with great architecture and interior design."
At film shoots, Biondo's camera of choice is the Hasselblad 503CW with a 60mm lens. "You never need a backup," he says. "I drop it, and nothing ever happens to it. He loads his Hasselblad with Kodak E100GX, "the best chrome film I've ever worked with. It provides great flesh tones and fantastic contrast."
More and more, his digital shoots are outnumbering his film shoots. I'm thrilled with the 1Ds. It's tremendous for editorial work.
A closer look at Biondo's images reveals different aspects of his character and craft. Start with the Saks Fifth Avenue image that appears as misty background on this page. He shot this image on film in Montauk, New York. "It was a cold, windy day. I wanted an image that was representative of the heartland. My inspiration was Andrew Wyeth, an American realist painter, who once painted a picture of woman looking up in a field."
The image of a woman in a brown tiger stripe top (left), also shots for Saks, was an exercise in resourcefulness. "We were supposed to take that picture outdoors in Shelter Island, New York," he says, "but the weather was awful. I remembered doing a shoot in Greenport at a big boat warehouse years earlier. We drove there in a Winnebago, banged on the door, and the owner answered. It took 45 minutes to set everything up. We had a painted canvas background in case something like this happened. We actually found the wheel in the warehouse."
The image of the model wearing a Lazaro wedding dress on a couch (below) became a spread for In Style magazine. Recalls Biondo, "Lazaro, a bridal gown designer, wanted to be sure to see the details of the dress, because that's what separates them from others. They were so pleased with the image, they messengered it within the hour to meet a deadline."
Despite his distinctive flair, Biondo claims no trademark look or technique. "Most of my photographs are purely intuitive. I don't create fashion. I photograph it."
Biondo's fashion sense doesn't stop with fashion shots. He has photographed music stars Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Run DMC, and designer Yves St. Laurent. He recently returned from Mexico, where he photographed Latin pop star Paulina Rubio for Elle Mexico in an old Spanish colonial cathedral. "I was looking for a hacienda feel," he says. He spent the next day shooting the pop diva for this 10th anniversary issue, and wound up depicting her lying on a sofa covered with pillows and Persian rugs. "I wanted to strip away the veneer of celebrity, and give the image a feeling of intimacy."
That's pure Biondo.
For more Biondo images, visit www.michaelbiondo.com.Michael Biondo's Gear Box
Hasselblad 503CW with 60, 80, and 100mm lenses with hard shade
Contax 645 AF with f/2.8 45mm, f/2.0 80mm, and f/4.0 120mm lenses
Canon EOS 1Ds with f/1.8 85mm and f/2.8 28-70Lmm zoom lens
Kodak Ektachrome E100GX
Kodak 160 NC
Fuji FP100C instant
Minolta Light Meter IV
Sekonic Light Meter
Profoto Pro-7s and Pro-7b systems
Chimera (several sizes and shapes)
Kino Flo 4' X 4-Bank and 2' X 4-Bank systems
Kino Wall O' Light
4'X8' foamcore B&W "V" flats
Apple Mac G4 PowerBook
Apple Cinema Display 20"
Epson 2200 printer
Epson Premium Luster paper
Hahnemühle Photo Rag
Adobe Photoshop CS
Phase One Capture One
GretagMacbeth Eye One
Gitzo monopods and tripods
Boom box with iPod adapter
Trec Rentals in New York City