Pro's Choice; Showing People In The Best Light; Andrew Eccles Makes Celebs, Dancers, And Everyday Folk Shine With His Lighting, Attitude, And Style

“I can trace my roots in photography back to when I was a student at the Ontario College of Art (Toronto),” Andrew Eccles recalls. “But there was one problem: back then, I found it intimidating to approach people with the camera, so I avoided photographing them.

“Then I came to New York and started studying magazines such as Rolling Stone, and, through a fortunate set of circumstances, I ended up assisting Annie Leibovitz. It was as if somebody had turned on a light bulb. Now I realized that photographing people was what I wanted to do. I worked with her for three years as her only assistant. After that I freelanced with a number of people, including Steven Meisel and Robert Mapplethorpe. It was a pretty remarkable assisting experience.”

Client: Young Frankenstein (Theatrical) Producers
This shot features the talented Mel Brooks in a promotional campaign for the Broadway production of Young Frankenstein. For these types of photo shoots, it doesn’t matter whether it’s for Broadway, TV, or a feature film, there are usually two parts to each shoot. One is advertising; the other publicity. “They need pictures that they’ll put out on billboards to advertise, but they’ll also need pictures that are shot with editorial placement in mind,” Andrew Eccles points out. This picture was used in TIME magazine. Since Eccles was shooting single actors as well as large groups, he assembled one large light bank from Elinchrom Octabanks adjacent to each other on a crossbar above the camera, tilted so that they’re facing the talent. This was shot in the lobby of the theater. (Agency: SpotCo Design.)
© 2010, Andrew Eccles, All Rights Reserved

He continues: “Annie Leibovitz had an enormous influence on my shooting style when I first came out of the starting gate—and that influence is still there. I learned a ton in those three years—how to work with people, control the situation, make smart decisions, and devise conceptual portraits that spoke to people. It was a tall shadow to crawl out from under, and I eventually started to figure out my own ways of doing things. But for the first few years, I would always think: what would Annie do; how would Annie solve this problem? Thankfully, in my 25 years as a professional photographer, I did develop a signature style all my own.”

Client: Psychology Today Magazine
This was shot for a cover story titled “The Love Fix.” It was about bringing out the best in your partner and in yourself and dealt with fixing relationships. The tag line underneath this picture read: “The expectations trap.” Andrew Eccles comments on this shot: “I love shooting for this publication because they understand photography and create elegant layouts to match the images. It’s an opportunity to do some really interesting, surreal, and creative imagery. I’m particularly proud of this picture, because in a day and age where everything is composited, this is actually one of those pure images—produced entirely in camera—which are my favorite kind.” Featured are the extremely talented dancers from the Pilobolus Dance Theater. Eccles used three Elinchrom Octabanks situated as one large light source, each with a bi-tube head driven by two packs that were set to low output to exploit the short flash durations needed to freeze movement and deliver apertures in the f/16 to f/22 range. There was also a light on the background behind the door for added separation. This was shot at Splashlight Studios, New York City.
© 2010, Andrew Eccles, All Rights Reserved

While he often shoots in Los Angeles, Eccles ( is based in New York City. He is noted for his portraits of celebrities, sports figures, and dancers, but Eccles devotes equal time to photographing everyday people for his editorial and commercial clients.

From Analog To Digital
His first medium format camera was a Mamiya RB67, which he bought used, along with a 110mm lens. He eventually moved up to the RZ67, finding it more practical, and that paved the way for his transition to digital, adding a Phase One back, also used, and currently a P 45+. But that transition did not come lightly. “I was dragged by wild horses into the digital world about seven or eight years ago,” he reminisces. Occasionally he’ll shoot with his Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a 24-70mm zoom, “but my bread-and-butter shots are made with the RZ.” Other lenses that he owns for the Mamiya include the 65, 90, 127, and 180mm (which rarely sees the light of day). “However, on shoots I always have my digital tech bring a 50mm lens, as well as a 75mm that we rent.”

Eccles prefers Phase One’s Capture One software for Raw conversions. For digital retouching, editing, and compositing he works exclusively with Industrial Color (, which is located in New York and Los Angeles. His current full-time assistant, who has been with him for about four years, is John David Raper.

Client: TV Guide
The TV Guide cover story focused on reality TV, was titled “Reality TV Attacks,” and featured actress Denise Richards on the cover. This was shot in Los Angeles at Smashbox Studios. The concept, in keeping with the story’s title, borrowed from the campy cult movie Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. Shooting to a tight budget, Andrew Eccles had to produce this as one shot (although the magazine did later add the figure of a desperate man held captive by Richards). At the heart of this shot was maintaining a realistic feel in the lighting, taking direction from the sunset backdrop. A prop stylist introduced the buildings, which were painstakingly positioned in perspective, along with the ensuing chaos and helicopter (suspended from fishing line that was retouched out). The lighting was complex with setup taking place the day before the shoot. After throwing an even splash of light on the painted backdrop, Eccles paid special attention to each building, ensuring none was left in strong shadow, adding warming gels to suit the sunset feel. Then Eccles carefully lit Richards with a small Plume Wafer softbox, with a fill card for her legs.
Photos © 2010, Andrew Eccles, All Rights Reserved

Lighting Big
As a young photographer, Eccles was focused on affordability—so for his lighting he started small, literally turning to a Dynalite 1000 ws pack and two heads that he bought, along with a medium Plume Wafer softbox. These days, Profotos take center stage for him, although he rents these lights. “When I was assisting Annie Leibovitz, Profoto came onto the scene and through another set of fortuitous circumstances I was introduced to this lighting system, which has proved itself time and again, staying in step with the frenetic pace of my shooting.

Client: Psychology Today Magazine
This was shot for a story on jealousy and envy, hence the green motif. Everything in the picture was green, from the props and background to the makeup used on the model (except that the tongue was digitally painted, for obvious reasons). Andrew Eccles made use of a 12x12-foot silk, with four umbrellas in a semicircle, including two that were above his head. There was glitter in the makeup, so the lighting picked up on that. Eccles adds: “To get some additional light on her, for a more heightened glossiness, I hit her with backlights—namely, two medium softboxes, placing them back far enough so that they didn’t hit the front of her face and edge of her nose.” The background is green seamless, lit with spill from those two medium banks.
© 2010, Andrew Eccles, All Rights Reserved

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Since the beginning of history of photography it has been admitted that it is primarily important. - Michael Courouleau