California native Joe Pugliese (aka Joe Pug) has an enviable career photographing celebrity talent for clients like Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Billboard hired him to shoot this Photo Annual award-winning portrait of singer and actress Mary J. Blige on the night of the 2017 Grammy Awards. This photograph was one of many portraits—both individual and group—of celebrity talent that he shot in a short window of time for the assignment. Here, Pugliese tells us how he pulled off this show-stopping portrait in mere moments.
PDN’s Photo Annual is now open for entries for 2019. Visit www.pdnphotoannual.com to learn more and enter.
PDN: Can you describe the circumstances of your shoot with Blige?
Joe Pugliese: This portrait was one of many portraits I took of a single artist that night. Later, I photographed them as a group for Billboard magazine. It was taken on the night of a Grammy party hosted by music legend Clive Davis.
PDN: What was Billboard’s vision with this shoot and how did you bring that vision to life?
JP: This portrait was an additional shot during a much bigger shoot with multiple talents. The objective is always to make something introspective or impactful with the little time I have with each talent. Billboard photo director Jenny Sargent has very good taste and I know she’s always looking for the most interesting choice in the edit, so I try to concentrate on those moments in between poses where the subject is most relaxed and authentic.
PDN: Can you describe your lighting setup for this photograph? What things did you consider because of the shooting conditions?
JP: When I have to shoot a large group photo, as well as singles in the same space, I design the light to be forgiving so that I do not have to make the subjects stand on a specific mark. For that reason, this was lit with large sources for coverage and to make it suitable for single portraits on the set.
PDN: Did this setup differ from how you usually work?
JP: The general studio lighting look was made to be very simple so that the subject, wardrobe and posing would stand out. In other scenarios, I like to play with light and surroundings to add depth and texture to the portrait.
PDN: How was this powerful pose created? Is it reflective of your typical interaction with celebrity subjects?
JP: The circumstances of managing a group photo dynamic that also involves individual portraits really changes the way I interact with the subject. The main reason is because time is so limited. In this case, I was responding to some of the poses Mary was naturally doing, and would ask her to stop in that moment or make small changes while also letting her be herself. I try to connect with the subject on a human and respectful level, while explaining exactly what I’m trying to accomplish, even if it has to happen in a matter of minutes. A calm and confident approach and lots of eye contact can go a long way!
PDN: What’s next for you in 2019?
JP: I will continue to work with editorial clients as well as some entertainment, advertising and commercial work. I will be spending a lot of time working on a specific personal project I have planned in Los Angeles as well.