Magazine Article


From Down Under to New York

Keate's Images Are a Hit on Two Continents

Two things set commercial/still-life photographer Keate apart from the competition: His extensive experience in retouching and his digital knowledge.

"On a typical shoot, I will be combining elements as we shoot to make sure all elements will merge seamlessly and I'll also shoot multiple shots of the same image with slightly different lighting techniques for combination later in the composition," he says. "Working digitally in this way is the ultimate in creativity, as you can adjust and compose on the fly."

Keate (known by just one name) grew up in Australia, where he completed a degree in photography, and received his first jobs from Sydney's leading fashion film labs. He learned the retouching trade Down Under, studying with Matthew Supple. "Under his guidance, I learned many of my Adobe Photoshop skills," he says. "My skill improved from being a 'Photoshop filter jockey' to learning the subtler techniques of color and good skin retouching. In my opinion, retouching skin is one of the hardest things to do well in Photoshop."

After a great response to Keate's work, he decided to try his luck in New York. He moved to the United States two and a half years ago. Today, Keate's editorial clients include Oprah, Real Simple, Child, and People magazines. His corporate clients include Absolut, Bliss, Covergirl, Givenchy, and Nokia. Keate always uses his Hasselblad H1 with a Valeo 22WI back. He says the Leaf back is "currently my pick as the best all-around back." Keate can't wait for the Valeo Aptus 22 to be released. That is tops on his "to purchase list."


If retouching and digital knowledge are the building blocks of Keate's success, then lighting is its backbone. "Lighting is the biggest player in any still-life image," he says. "Bad lighting is often the culprit when people say images look digital, have no depth, etc. So if you have good technical understanding of how to control the light and achieve maximum dimension while still making an image photographically interesting, you are doing well. Part of the process of good lighting is the choice of tools and obtaining good quality of light. As many of my images are made of multiple elements, I'm always planning ahead to make sure the source light, direction, and balance all blend together."

The images of lipstick dripping from leaves, two martini classes intertwined, a fork lodged in lipstick , and a hand clutching ice cream , all portfolio photos, all reflect Keate's expertise. To achieve the perfect lighting for those shots, he used Profoto 7A 2400 packs and Chimera softboxes and frames.

For the nail polish dripping from leaves image, "I had to blend many elements to create the image," he says. "I had a concept sketched out beforehand and knew I wanted to keep it clean to really focus in the drips. For the drips, I rigged up a bottle of nail polish and just kept pouring to capture different drip elementsvarying lengths, various size droplets."

As for the champagne glasses, "the stems, bottoms, and tops of the glasses were all shot separately. The beauty of shooting digitally for this image was that I could really fine-tune my perspectives and make sure all the elements came together perfectly. "

The fork image was built around an idea that cosmetics look so good you could almost eat them. "So I had someone take a bite out of the lipstick (not me thankfully)," he says. "The bite wasn't perfect, so there was a bit of smoothing out and accentuating of the teeth marks in the lipstick. Then in the second shot, I punctured the lipstick with a fork to get the realism where the lipstick starts to spurt from the side of the fork prongs."

For the ice cream image, "Of course she got cold!" quips Keate, referring to the model. "She had just sat through a long session at the beautician to get the fake long nails applied and then she had to hold the ice cream for an hour or more. We did break in between to get the blood circulating for her again though."

Keate does most of his work in a studio. When shooting on location, he is more reliant on reading histograms and working with numbers to make sure he is holding detail throughout an image. "Lighting conditions can change so fast while on location, but once you have set your lighting and exposure in a studio situation you don't have to be as fanatical about reading the histograms after every shot," he says. "I also double backup when on location straight away to make sure no images are lost along the way."


Keate's Gear Box

Medium-format Camera
Hasselblad H1

Digital Back
Leaf Valeo 22WI

Profoto 7A 2400 packs
Chimera softboxes and frames
Sekonic L558 Light Meter

Digital Darkroom
Apple Dual 2.5 PowerBook
with 20" Cinema Display
LaCie hard drives and
CD/DVD burners
Adobe Photoshop CS
Leaf Capture Suite
Epson 4000
GretagMacbeth Eye One
Photo Calibrator
Wacom Tablet

Noho Productions in New York City

Rental House
Fotocare in New York City

Keate has built a tremendous trust among his clients. During recent shoots, he prepared to entertain a large number of clients and agency representatives. However, the art director along with Keate's assistant and stylist tend to be the only ones at the shoot. Most of Keate's interaction with clients is done via conference calls and meetings prior to the shoot, and he welcomes the art director's suggestions during the actual shoot. For complex layouts, he composes images on screen during the session to "really illustrate how the finished image will come together."

Once the shoot is completed, Keate delivers final images to editorial clients via a high-resolution CD with RGB Tiff files and RGB Epson reference prints. For advertising clients, images often go to a post-production house. So he usually supplies a high-resolution CD with layered RGB PSD files and RGB reference prints.

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