Jeff Riedel is intense.

Shooting with a 4×5 on location with lights and multiple set-ups per day can be pressure enough but he has this way of shooting that requires adjusting the lights (up, up more, ok like twice that, even more, now see my hand, faced over here like my hand) and the camera position (ok move everything back I was too close) and the subject (move over 1 step left, your other left, now 1 step back) and louping the focus under the black cloth (ok hold it like that for one second) then shooting endless polaroids (polaroid, polaroid, polaroid, how many polaroids do we have left) while trouble shooting the lighting (more power, it’s at max power, it’s at max power?) until everything is perfect and then *BAM* slamming sheet after sheet into the holders until you see the right expression (close your mouth, chin up) and adjusting the body position slightly (can you put your hand on your hip, let the other one hang loose, move your leg back an inch) and making sure the goddam pocket wizards don’t fail like they sometimes do in the middle of the shot (did that fire?, no it didn’t, are you sure?, yes positive, what channel is it on?, is it turned on?, do you have a sync cord?) and then after endless calls to the assistant (film, film, film, ok polaroid) and then you wait for the polaroids to cook, no one can move, and then he compares the two polaroids to make sure nothing changed in between the first and last and then the shot is over.








I worked with Jeff on location once and he was doing another job the next day that I wanted to help him out with for fun, so the next day we went tromping through the woods with talent and crew doing various setups going through the usual intense shooting procedure for each location. At the end of the day over dinner Jeff has the polaroids which, because of his rigorous method of shooting, represent the final shot for each setup and he was brooding over them. The light here or the color there or the body position in this one was not where he wanted it to be and to be honest, I couldn’t see it. Not because it wasn’t there but because I don’t have the ability to see the degrees of imperfection in two nearly similar images. Jeff wasn’t satisfied so he rescheduled his commitments and went out in the woods the next day and shot the whole thing over again. Intense. Goddam Right.

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  1. And it’s all perfectly natural – like capturing a moment on the fly. That’s how I used to shoot still life for 15 years – same thing.

  2. Hilarious post. One of the best ever. By the end of the post, I had worked up a sweat. Like some kind of ‘Nam Flashback, feeling that feeling of standing there with a dark slide in your hand, and hoping that nobody moved since you pulled it. God, the inner dialogue of a photographer shooting a view camera, (shooting people), would come out like total jibberish if you wrote it down — one long unending sentence of fear.

    Also very cool that you tagged along and helped out the next day. I think you’ve got the Photo Mojo more than maybe you’d admit. Sure you don’t want to take a stab at shooting….? Come on in, the water is… boiling… or freezing, depending on how many days since you worked.

    Great post. Great blog.

  3. sounds like a pain in the arse.

  4. Sounds like my photographic soul mate. Except of course, my 99.99% less talent.


  5. intense, yes. time to print screencaps and reverse engineer some light as an evening pasttime. gee, thats gonna be fun, just because those are so damn perfect.

  6. Nice work. I’ve not shot 5×4 since college and I’m sure i wouldn’t have the patience now on a job!

  7. Jeff is a phenomenal talent-

  8. ‘member yesterday you wrote about cheapened, commercialized mass produced art? This is the exact opposite. Images that pull you in and keep you there. The images look as intense as his process sounds.

  9. those are some great shots. I amazed given the time constraints on celeb shots he is able to get time to do all those polaroids.

  10. Greatly enjoyed this post. Thank you for changing the taste in my day.

    Sounds like Jeff takes a page from Arnold Newman. Arnold would twist and contort his subjects. And yell. “I want your hand here on the chair , like this, and no smiling. No one smiles in my pictures.” Polaroid. And then: “You moved.” Polaroid. “You move again and I’ll moydar you.” Film. And finally: “Lunch! I’ll have tuna on toasted rye.”

    What does Jeff use for the subject line in his email blasts?

  11. Large format is why I dropped out of Parsons. No patience for that. I admire anyone who has it. Jeff probably does yoga too, right? He’s chanting OM while looking through his loupe.

  12. I love that he gets it right in “capture”, the traditional way, through discipline and careful-even obsessive-attention to detail. it’s called being professional. and given who many of his subjects are he’s often doing it under serious time constraints. bravo!

  13. Jeff’s one of the best shooters I have ever come across. Why, consistantly great images that jump off the page!!!


  14. I suppose you also worked as a photographer a long time, but i don’t know that for shure since i’m new to the bolg, so therefore the question…. don’t you miss working on the field anymore? you wrote you are in the office most of the time.

  15. I wonder how long it will be until Jeff starts shooting small format digital?

  16. I think it’s a very impressive body of work, especially the portraits section. Hats off to Jeff.

    My only caveat is that is so much of it looks so overlit. Maybe, this is just the way that contemporary editorial photography is going at the top end of the market. But, I can’t help but feel that everything in the frame has been fried, to within an inch of its life, by huge lighting rigs in much the same way that La Chapelle or Leibowitz (excuse spelling) shoots are done. It always seems a bit heavy handed.

    I know tastes change, and so on, but, for instance, there was something very appealing about those Dennis Stock photos of James Dean, taken over half a century ago with a Leica. For better or for worse, I can’t imagine those kinds of pictures being shot with celebs, of any calibre, anymore. Too many publicists, PRs, agents. F45 and be there.

  17. @ 17:

    The only exceptions to this rule, that I can think of right now: Antonin Kratochvil, and maybe Max Vadukul. They seem to be like, “Grab the Leica, and let’s go for a walk”. Or, in Vadukul’s case, let’s jump off of a building.

    I propose, on this Blog, an additional “Photo Rank”, but this time, we’ll call it, “Magazine Rank”. Pick/nominate the twenty best magazines on the rack right now, in terms of courageous use of portrait photography. Of course, NYTimes Magazine would probably lead the pack, but who would be after that? No more than twenty.

    And after we do that, don’t you know that twenty Picture Editors are going to deluged with promo cards. Not that they aren’t now. Maybe up the ante to signed 16×20, original prints, as reward for being one of the twenty best.

    Just a thought.

  18. I wonder what it was like before everybody had websites. Now, you can see every photographers book online. Is this causing everyones work to start looking the same?

  19. @17: look at Cass Bird and maybe even kareem black Kareem’s stuff is definitely lit but, it’s a lot rawer than most celeb portraits.

    I personally like the “overlit” look. Jeff Riedel has been a fav of mine for a long time.

  20. Jeff is truly a master at the highest level. Looking at his website just doesnt really do his work any justice either. His printing is so rich and lush, that when you see his actual book you can feel the image radiate off the page. I had dinner with him once and as APE described so perfectly, the man is unbelievably intense. All the great originals have their own unique style and its clear to me that Jeffs personality actually translates directly into his imagery. He is very passionate about his work and he pushes and pushes hard. I had an assistant who had formerly been employed by jeff for a year and I swear to god, this guy was one inch from having a nervous breakdown. But man was he a great assistant. After a year with jeff there wasnt anything at all that guy couldnt handle. If was fun to hear the stories too. The fact is that people like Jeff push the bar up very high and if you plan on competing with guys like him you better plan on making some pretty serious sacrifices. This guy is the real deal.

  21. I’ve done some of Jeff’s contact sheets. He’s pretty damn amazing. You’ve posted all color, but his b&w has been consistently some of the best I’ve seen for years.

  22. @20, thanks for the pointers to those other photographers. Appreciated.

  23. APE, if you’re still visiting this thread:

    How does Jeff, or a photographer of similar perfectionism, deal with the celebrity shoots where you only get the subject for a few minutes? Is all this intensity happening with a pre-shoot and then he drops the subject in, does he refuse to do shoots with very tight time constraints, or does he change his style to a different sort of intensity during them (I’m picturing even more swearing). A lot of your impressions sound like things that happen during a shoot, not just set-up.

    And either I was right about knowing who you are or all Photo Editors choose the exact same spreads when referencing a point. I’m not sure which would be more interesting. Not interested in spreading secrets, just a natural curiosity.

  24. You’re in the wrong place. Editorial photographers working here.
    Go back where you came from.

    A Photo Editor.

    Reading this annoyed me, and then reading the comments depressed me. I’ve been called a moron by people smarter than me, so I accept that possibility, but I do find it sad that anyone can look at this guy’s website and come away invigorated rather than enervated.

    You pros who whine about amateurs making things worse for you are the absolute worst. I could name dozens of Flickr sites by amateurs that I find so much more interesting and exciting than this slick shit from Riedel.

    Once you’re in the business (really, any business), you consciously or unconsciously reorient yourself to accept the nonsense of that business. Editors (text or photo) for mainstream publications need to do that to survive in a competitive industry. Not being in the business, I feel no pressure to accept a celebrity photographer as anything but a hack, no matter how smart he is. A celebrity photographer is a collaborator in propaganda, no matter how technically skilled he or she is, no matter how many Polaroids he takes, or how much of a fuss he makes at the shoot…and no matter how many documentary images he makes to balance the Hollywood dreck.

    Riedel is just another in the line of technical geniuses (Leibovitz being the most popularly known) whose product (and it is “product”) is spectacular but empty. Look at the image of Clint Eastwood. Do you really think that the photographer has captured something that could be called art? What effing nonsense. It’s a publicity pic. That Arcade Fire image? It’s advertising.

    (BTW, I am not a photographer, so I don’t have a website to plug. I’m not sure if that invalidates my presence here or not.)

  25. @24: Most people pre-light and drop the subject in if they have very little time but a lot of these guys who shoot celebs get a couple hours if not longer because of their reputation. Also, I wouldn’t send Jeff into a 15min shoot if I could avoid it.

  26. Thanks. Probably a good idea to let them work they way they do best. I’d imagine Jeff Wall doesn’t take the 15 minute shoots … or 15-hour shoots.

  27. I had the privilege of assisting Jeff several times about 7-8 years ago. He came in from NYC to shoot some editorial and commercial jobs in my town. (Washington, DC) He kept hiring me again. Back then I had never heard of him, but I was immediately impressed with him. APE’s description of Jeff shooting 4″x5″ film is dead on.

    I remember on the first shoot I assisted him on, the airlines or someone broke his ground glass. We wound up taping it together and continued to use it, but we went on a quest to find one in town after the shoot. We didn’t find one but nonetheless, the man was diligent.

    I assisted tons of photographers and Jeff was one of them that stuck out in my mind. He definitely worked diligently and intensely. He he seemed to be the one of most prodigious photographers I know but no one seems to have ever heard of him. Glad to see the post here. As the years have gone on I wondered what happened to him.. For years the guy never seemed to have a website. Now I’ve found it and I see that he has been very busy all these years. Thanks for the post APE and great blog.

  28. @ Ape: Do you appreciate this work ethic, or do you prefer work on deadline without re-shoots? moreover, when is it appropriate to re-shoot?
    sometimes things just don’t happen in front of the camera like you planned, although suitable images are made, you don’t get the frame.

    although i dont really enjoy riedel’s work, i can understand what keeps him up at night.. or in this case, in the woods. there was never any doubt that serious imagemakers everywhere are making concessions for this nasty gig, but its always nice to hear i’m not the only one.

    and i do agree with the Dennis Stock comment, although i’ll take a Jim Marshall on the rocks. cheers.

  29. […] A Photo Editor – Jeff Riedel Jeff Riedel is intense. Shooting with a 4×5 on location with lights and multiple set-ups per day can be pressure enough (tags: photography) […]

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