Music Photography Blog

by Adam Elmakias

Warped Tour Alternative Press Cover Composites

My assignment was pretty straightforward. I had to shoot a total of 8 different front men and composite them together on two different covers. The theme was “We Are Warped” and I would be shooting the artists in five different locations on five different days. In addition to each front man’s cover image, they also had to have two interior images for their article.

This was my first full composite I had ever done so I had some research to do. I say full because I composite body parts and people into images regularly- however I have never constructed an image where every part of it is pulled from a different image. I had a few calls with Alternative Press so that we could figure out the details.

First we figured out how we would present two contrasting covers that would represent the theme- We Are Warped. We came to the conclusion that we would keep the images simple, straightforward and powerful looking.

Next we figured out a schedule for the shoot. We knew that getting everyone together at once was not an option- but we tried to group as many together as we could. Keep in mind these shoot dates were not figured out all at once, it was about a month long process. I shot the first two without really knowing when the others were going to be shot- or where. Just had to go with it.

April 18th/ Chicago Illinois
Mike of The Devil Wears Prada – shot towards the end of press shoot i had with The Devil Wears Prada

April 19th / 20th / Hollywood, California
Danny of Asking Alexandria- shot from 12:50am-1:30am right after they finished their signing at Sound Check Hollywood in the back area of the shop.

April 30th / East Rutherford, New Jersey
Jordan of The Ready Set – shot from 12:00-1:00ish at his hotel during the 2nd day of Bamboozle.

May 5th / Brooklyn, New York

Soupy of The Wonder Years– 10:00-11:00

Jake of August Burn Red – 11:00-12:00

Maika of There For Tomorrow – 12:00-1:00

Jordan of Go Radio– 1:00-2:00

May 20th / Troy, Michigan
Dave of We Came As Romans – May 20th

I shot Mike’s images during a press shoot I had with his full band in Chicago. We shot some images of him with his dog at his place. I used a speedlite through an umbrella for some of these images, and then a few were natural. This one was natural.

I shot his cover images and some more portraits of him at the studio.

I needed to decide on a lighting set up for this first day as I would be shooting every other image so that it would match this one. I also had to figure out my focal length, f/ stop, distance I would be from the subject, and angle I would shoot at them from.

For distance, I think I decided on something like 50 inches. It was close enough that I could have the subject fill up the majority of my sensor, but at the same time have some room around their body.

I shot at 35mm from about 3 feet off the ground. i don’t know the exact distance, I just bent in the same way every time I shot and it ended up being close enough. My aperture was set to about f/10 – f/11and my shutter speed was 160th, but it didn’t really matter as I didn’t use any ambient light- just couldn’t be too fast for sync reasons.

My lighting was one Alien Bee 1600 shot through an octabox from camera left , and then two Alien Bee 800s with grids from back left and right as rim. It is really important to me that rim lights don’t grace the majority of the front side of people’s face. I feel it becomes really distracting and it doesn’t give the image a very clean feel. I used an extra two lights with boxes for this set up to light the background. This wasn’t necessary but it definitely makes removing the subject from the backdrop a lot easier in post. It didn’t actually light my subject at all so If I didn’t have five lights for my other shoots, it wouldn’t be a problem. The octabox was a few feet from Mike’s face and up a tad, again tried to keep that uniform throughout the shots as well. I overshot Mike’s cover images because I knew I would make most of my mistakes first time around and I wanted to have a good selection to choose from.

I shot the portraits from a bunch of different angels in a vacant facility next door to the studio. I lit these with a speedlite through an umbrella.

I flew home to San Diego from Chicago the next day. My flight was direct, which was awesome cause that kinda thing never happens. Our flight landed about an hour late and I had to run out the port to catch a cab asap. I had a rental car that was supposed to be waiting for me at the Enterprise Airport location. However I got an e-mail from the company last minute saying they had to switch my rental to a different location downtown as the other one was sold out. This meant I had to take an actual cab because the shuttle didn’t go to the downtown one. The cab guy was speedy and when I arrived at the rental place the nice lady behind the counter told me they gave my car away cause I was over an hour late. Shit. But I wasn’t too worried, they told me they had one car left- the Mercedes. I guess I could settle for a Mercedes. I was stoked, I never drive nice cars, heck I never drive-except for when I rent. I love getting nice cars cause its only something like 20 bucks or so more usually- and it’s worth it. I got the Mercedes and drove back to my apartment. I packed up all my shoot gear and loaded it down the stairs and into the rental. Next, off to LA. I left my place by around 7:00pm and I had to be in LA by around 9:30. I was right on schedule.

I took care of some phone calls while I drove up to LA and Asking Alexandria’s publicist called me somewhere in the mix. Long story short- the band would be at least an hour late. Oh well, works for me, just means more timer to set up.

I found the store I was supposed to be shooting the guys at, and parked up a nearby hill in a parking lot. I went into the store and tried to find the manager/ my day of contact. It was really packed and busy in and around the store with about 100 -200 fans. The guys were doing the signing there shortly so everyone was lined up. I eventually found my contact and he showed me where I would be shooting and where I should set my gear. The store was tiny, and the space we were shooting in was even tinier, this was going to be a rough one.

I loaded all my gear from my car, down the hill, across the street, and through the kids that cluttered the sidewalk. It took me three trips total and by the end I was sweating. After I got everything inside I started setting up what I could in this small back room he had. I set up as many things in the area we would be shooting in so that I could save time later- but I could only do so much because the band was doing the signing in there. After I got everything set up I went and got a bunch of computer work/ e-mails done in the back room while I awaited the bands arrival. They got there around 10:30 or 11:00 and signed until 12:15. After they were done signing I rushed and set up all my gear so we could get this shoot going. I had a long day and was exhausted by this point.

I shot the cover portraits first. I measured how far I should be from him, and marked his spot with some tape on the floor. We were really cramped, I was crouching down on a couch crammed up against a wall for most of these shots. While I was shooting the images on the backdrop my parking guy came and found me in the store and asked if he could drive my car out to the front of the store and give me the key. I told him sure, that would rule. Turns out he wanted to end his night early and I was the only car left.

We shot his interior images on the couch to the right of the backdrop…

shot out behind the store

We finished shooting by about 1:20. My clean up took about 40 minutes and I was stoked that the car guy had brought my vehicle over early- saved me so much time.

After the shoot I wasn’t feeling like I could do the 2-3 hour drive home. Luckily the band was staying in the area and their Tour Manager was a good friend of mine. He let me crash on his floor. I napped from about 3:45-6:30. Come 6:30 I snagged some coffee from the lobby and got my car out of the parking ramp. I really like driving in the early hours, not sure why, it’s just refreshing. I enjoyed the drive back to San Diego. When i got back I took advantage of my rental car and ran some errands- got a new desk, a plant for my porch, and some shelves. IKEA for the win.

By 4:30ish I took my car back to the rental place and then they dropped me off at home. I felt productive that day!

My third shoot was 10 days later and a couple thousand miles from the 2nd one. I went out to Bamboozle to shoot a bunch of random stuff (read about it here). I shot The Ready Set during the morning of the 30th. But lets backtrack a little bit here. When i travel I barely ever bring all my gear with me as its expensive and risky to fly with it. Plus we all know airlines suck at making sure your bags get to your destination in a timely manner. Anyway, I had my friend Jesse DeFlorio stop by my hotel the night before and drop off some gear for me. Two lights, some stands, an octabox, and a 4 and half foot backdrop. I put all the gear on a coat rack thing and quietly put it in my room. I caught a limo service/ sedan thing from the hotel to another hotel. My driver’s name was Louie and he was awesome. He had an accent and was very friendly. I talked to him a bunch on the way over and he gave me his card. He said if I ever needed a ride anywhere to just give him a ring and he would make it happen. I guess he only lived a few blocks from the hotel I was staying it. Basically, Louie was the man. Once I got to the hotel we were shooting at, I loaded all my gear into a conference room I had reserved and set it all up, took some test shots, adjusted lights so on and so forth. I met Evan Perigo that day, he’s a good dude, great work as well. Scope it!

Three light set up, that reflector was there as a flag for the left kicker. One of Jesse‘s lights didn’t work and the other was some kind i had never used. I ended up using a 580ex for one of the kickers.

For each cover I had the main subject (Mike of TDWP and Jordan of TRS) hold their hands up above their waist. This gave the composite a focal point and helped bring the viewer’s eye to them first. It feels very off if the person you are looking at first is missing their hands, you just go straight to looking at their chest, and that’s not very interesting. You will see what I mean when you view the finished product at the end of this post.

After getting Jordan’s cover shot done, I took him outside and shot some candids, here is my favorite edit that went to print.

I caught a cab ride back cause I felt that Louie was a bit pricey. But the dude charged me the same amount, shoulda gone with Louie. I unloaded the gear at the hotel and quick hopped another cab to the Bamboozle festival grounds and go to shooting my daily assignments.

That night I went out at like 3:00am or something. I put Louie to the test and gave him a ring- he took me to and from my destination. What an awesome guy.

I went back to Madison WI for the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th. Come the 8th I had planned to fly back to San Diego, but I ended up scheduling four shoots for the 9th in New York. I booked my flight and hopped on a plane the night of the 8th. I think I got to Jesse‘s house by about 1 or 2am and slept for a quick few hours. We had to get up at 6:00am so we could get breakfast and drive to the studio in Brooklyn. We arrived at studio around 9am, set up for an hour and started shooting by 10am. I had four artist to photograph, basically swapped it up every hour. These times are loose, but this was our ideal schedule. Someone was late, another early etc etc, but by the end of the four hours I had shot a cover shot for each artists, and a few different set ups for the interior images.

Light tests with my assistant Jesse. I usually start out with just the kickers, so I can see exactly where they are hitting.

rim light
add main light
He grabbed one of me as well
Shooting Soupy in studio
on location

Shooting Jake of August Burns Red

Maika of There For Tomorrow in studio.

And here is a video Jesse shot for AP.

Untitled from Jesse DeFlorio

After we finished shooting all the bands Jesse and I packed up and headed out for a well deserved meal. We went to some awesome place by his house and I forgot what I got exactly but it was happy hour and it was cheap and it was good. By 5 or so I took a train from his place back to New York city and met up with Jon Bregel. My train left around 6:00 or so and I ended up getting to Jon’s by 8:00. I was never all that great at NYC public transit, but I get some practice runs in every few months when I visit the area. I hung out with Jon for the night, had a few beers and came up with some fun project ideas. Good dude, he let me crash on his couch and then took me to the airport the next day. I was so ready to go home!

My connection was in Denver, however our flight couldn’t land due to weather conditions. So we had to overshoot our airport by about 30 minutes, land at a smaller airport, and then fly back to Denver after about an hour of sitting on the plane. Not fun. We ended up having to stay at the Denver airport overnight. I was so hungry, I hadn’t eaten since we had taken off and by the time we landed everything was closed- so I had to wait about 20 hours in total to get some food. By the time I had gotten everything sorted and figured out the airport itself had cleared out for the most part. I took my shoes off and sock skated around the hard floors for awhile. Desolate airports are pretty rad. After that I did some good ol’ Skyping with some friends and eventually got tired around 3:00am. I didn’t have much with me so I ended up sleeping under some chairs and using my coat for a blanket. The days when I used to tour in a van gave me some good practice on how to sleep on really hard junk that you probably shouldn’t sleep on. That being said I could only steal about four hours of sleep before the airport started up again in the morning and there were people scattered everywhere making noises.

When I woke up I went and got some food from Panda Express. I don’t eat meat or anything but they have this rad deal where you can get half chow mein and half vegetables for three bucks or something ridiculously cheap. I took advantage of this deal, twice. The deal is so good it isn’t even on the menu. For an airport that is really cheap, in the real world I think it costs more like two bucks- either way, good deal! I was on standby for a flight at around 9:00am, but it was full and I didn’t make it, plus there were like 10 people in front of me on standby as well. I ended up getting out of the airport by 4:00pm and getting home by 7:00pm. It was a waste of a day but I mostly just glad to be home.

My last shoot was in Detroit. I flew out the day before and grabbed a rental car when I arrived in Detroit. I had been to Detroit four times before, but each time was on tour so I never got to really drive around the city. First stop after getting my SUV? Best Buy, I had to get a cable for my iPod so that i could play it while I drove. By far my favorite part of having a rental car, listening to my music really loud. I don’t own a car back in San Diego, so renting a car is a treat for me. After Best Buy i drove to Aaron of Stheart‘s place, I had never met him before but my pal Jesse gave me his contact so I could borrow some gear from him. I snagged some gear and got Noodles & Company for dinner with him. Such a good place to eat. I dated a girl in high school who worked there and she got 70% off or something ridiculous, I had it for dinner quite frequently back then. Aaron was nice, it was my first time meeting him but he was cool. He is a young entrepreneur with a pretty badass clothing line, I respect what he does. After dinner I dropped him back off at home and drove to a nearby hotel where I got a room and started writing this blog post. It took me awhile to finish though, haha.

The next morning I drove to Dave’s house and photographed him there. I needed a studio like area for the cover shot, so we used his garage.

garage interior
The rest of the shots were for the interior, all natural lit. We shot them on his lawn and in areas close to his place.

After the shoot I went and got some awesome food at Falafel King, my friend Rorkuhs suggested it, so I tried it out. It was so good, I love Middle Eastern food. Returned my car, caught my plane and I was on my way home again. The bad part about flying out of and/or connecting in Detroit is that they are always behind. Okay, maybe not always- but I have been there a handful of times and for the most part they are late. We took of late and because of this I landed in Denver (we meet again) late. I literally sprinted to my next flight. It was in a different terminal so I got my ass moving as fast as I could. When I was getting off my flight I ran into one of my friends that I went to high school with in Madison, Wisconsin. So random, I gave him a hug and then sprinted away. He understood I was in a rush. About halfway through my sprint I ran into a business man who was sprinting to the same flight. We decided it would be fun to race. So we raced down the escalator, got on a tram to another terminal (can’t really race in a tram, you move at the same speed), and raced back up the next set os escalators. Once we got to the top we high fived and kept running, he was a cool dude. We got to our flight with two minutes to spare. I was so winded, I had my suitcase and a backpack on the whole time it wasn’t the easiest run. Apologies if you came to my blog expecting to learn a little something about photography, I mostly just talk about food and meeting people.

So yea, that sums up my shoots. Five phone calls with AP and hours of editing later I had two covers ready to go. Here is how they were composited….

I masked each person out of their background using the quick selection tool and refine mask. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be.

Then I had to find a backdrop to use, I used this sky shot from Warped Tour last year. Then I put them all together in one document and positioned them.


Same goes for the other cover


Here are what the covers looked like when they hit shelves.

AP cover one of two
AP cover two of two