Jacob Getz: The Master of All Photo Trades

January 22, 2016

By Jacqueline Tobin

Jacob Getz is one of the most versatile photographers working in New York City today. He’s honed his craft for over 30 years and worked with everyone from Jerry Uelsmann to Francesco Scavullo, Hashi and many, many more photo legends. He works tirelessly to integrate multiple mediums across creative platforms when approaching advertising and personal artwork, which has become the base for his 360-degree creative workflow.

When Jacob Getz was growing up his father told him, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” 

Enrolled as an undergrad in a pre-med program at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Getz, who always had a passion for science and the technical, found himself at the time gravitating more toward his minor—photography—under the tutelage of his professor and mentor, world-renowned fine-art photographer Jerry Uelsmann.

“Being mentored by Jerry [who himself had been a student of Minor White’s and who once took a workshop with Ansel Adams] was life-changing,” says Getz. “From there I went on to assist for many big names in the industry at that time, including Hashi, Barbara Bordnick, Francesco Scavullo, Rebecca Blake, Joe Toto and many, many others.”

“I live and breathe photography,” Getz declares. “I’m shooting when I’m on vacation, when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I can’t sleep or when I’m just walking around the city. It’s in me and I see it in my mind’s eye, and I then use my science training to take my images to the next level.” 

Early on he did it all—working in the Zone System, coating papers, scanning negatives, shooting with everything from Holgas and Hasselblads to pinhole cameras—whatever he could find. “I haven’t shot film in a while but one of my passions lies in alternative processes.” 

These days, Getz seems to reinvent himself every couple of years. His current workflow is centered on what he calls a 360-degree workflow, which means he integrates stills, video and other mediums into projects so that his clients get all their needs met in one place.  

“No one sees what I see,” Getz says. “My images are very labor intensive and very specific. It all goes back to my days of trying to be a perfectionist.” In fact, he’ll often spend days on set to get a shot right, so “I can do most of everything I can in camera. My post-production can take days as well, and weeks in some cases, depending on the client. My photographic style allows viewers to experience the world through my lens.”

While it’s his lighting, technical acumen, and ability to stretch the limits of photo and video techniques that lands him countless jobs (he’s shot everything from jewelry ads and hair products to compelling portraits and street scenes), it’s his never-ending passion and creativity that keep him continuously moving forward.

For an ongoing personal project called “Perseverance,” Getz focused on depicting different types of personalities who love to fight in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (also known as cage fighting). 

 “These guys will fast and train for months in order to make weight and compete in their weight class,” he explains, “and many of them come from every background imaginable—one is a math teacher, another a Wall Street trader, a former gang leader, a policeman...”

Getz’s concept centered on capturing the MMA fighters before a weigh-in and then immediately after the fight (on a black background). 

“I photographed the weigh-ins on white to depict their ‘hope’ the night before and then chose the black to seize the transparency of one’s joy of victory or agony of defeat after the fight.” (Getz only had about 1 to 2 minutes with each fighter on fight night and had to sculpt the light before they arrived.)

Getz’s Perseverance Project Workflow:

• Getz set up at the weigh-in 24 hours prior to fight night with 12-foot super white seamless, and two medium umbrellas on left and right sides aimed at the background. (The umbrellas were stacked one on top and one on bottom on the same stand to light the seamless.)

• A 4 x 8-foot piece of foamcore faced toward the subject on each side blocking spill from the umbrellas and white background. Getz says this created a window of black in the extraneous light spilled out of the camera frame. Left and right strip banks were aimed in 45-degree angles from the back of the subject toward the fighter for rim lighting. 

• A 30-degree grid spot was aimed toward the subject in the area that Getz wanted to bring attention to. “I love to paint with lights and darks, and grid spots allow a focused light while still softening the edges and quality. The more you pull back, the larger the spread, but I like it around 3 feet from the subject for a face.”

• Getz used a Broncolor ring flash as his  fill to soften the shadows for definition in the darker areas. “With the ring flash I can control the power of the fill without the scattering that a white fill card would give.”

• The next day Getz set up a 12-foot black seamless near the fighting cage so he could get the fighters as they came out of the ring. “I wanted to get them with their shirts off to show their physicality before and after the fight.“

• The lighting setup was the same on the fight night as the weigh-in, except that Getz did not put umbrellas on the background and had to bring up the ring flash fill a little due to the black seamless and the large space that had less bounce than the smaller weigh-in rooms. “I also had to worry about all the sweat that could burn out especially on the darker-skinned fighters.”

Camera: Shot on Hasselblad with PhaseOne back 
Lens: HC 120mm f/4 Macro, manual focus  
Software: MacBook Pro tethered using Capture One Pro and hooked to an EIZO monitor that was color calibrated for the room

So what’s next for Getz? In addition to continuing to push the envelope on techniques that create what he calls an “ultra hyped reality,” he is currently working on developing an optical system for even more intriguing photographic results.  

(Check out the February edition of Rangefinder to find out what equipment Getz uses to perfect his craft when we feature his very extensive gear list in the “What’s in Your Bag?” section of Focus.) 

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