How I Got the Shot with Sal Cincotta | November 2015


How I Got the Shot with Sal Cincotta

This month for the cover shoot in Los Angeles, we got to work with the beautiful Mahlagha. Most of you probably haven’t heard of her, but she is a bit of an Instagram sensation. You see, Mahlagha has 1.2 million followers. Yes, the M is for million. She is not only beautiful; she is a sweetheart through and through. We had an awesome time with her, and couldn’t have asked for a more professional model.

We also worked with iconic L.A. fashion label Stello. They provided us with some wardrobe from their unreleased line that was being unveiled at L.A. Fashion Week. Again, an incredible partner to work with. Visit our Instagram page at for behind-the-scenes pics.

Hair and makeup, meanwhile, was provided by the always-on-time and incredibly talented Sabrina Bates-Whited out of L.A.


The concept was simple for this one: killer model, killer wardrobe and killer location in downtown Los Angeles. We had rented an apartment with a view of downtown, a perfect backdrop that offered some amazing natural light.

I wanted to ensure I was on my A-game while working with a pro like Mahlagha. She has worked with some of the best photographers on the planet, so the pressure was on, and I wanted to outshine them all.


This proved to be pretty unsettling. First of all, you would think with a downtown urban oasis, I would be in heaven. But with my run-and-gun style of shooting, my concern was that I would run into a constant battle of permits.

There were so many great locations and shooting opportunities, but I had to make smart choices. The city has an impressive number of helipads on the tops of skyscrapers. (As a native New Yorker, I use the term skyscraper with a bit of a smirk on my face. Regardless, these helipads were pretty badass.)

Then we had the typical street shooting and unique architecture. I also wanted to shoot the Disney Concert Hall. And finally, we had our apartment with amazing views and north light. It wasn’t about where, it was really about how the hell am I going to shoot all these fantastic locations? Sometimes, I find that too many options can be a distraction. I like to go into shoots with one or two locations in mind so I can focus on the task at hand.

This particular day, my biggest challenge was going to be my ability to focus—figuratively and literally.


We used everything in the bag. We used natural light. We used a reflector. And we used Profoto B2’s.

For this shot, we used natural light and a reflector, camera left. The best part about it is the fact that we had no intention of taking it. We were in between looks and getting ready to go to another location outside the apartment when Alissa, my assistant, insisted I take at least one shot to see how it looked. As you can see from the behind-the-scene shot, there was nothing there. Great light, yes. But we were shooting into the kitchen—so a very noisy and cluttered scene. Now, after taking a test shot, my mind was racing. I saw incredible light and incredible opportunity.

We needed to block out the background, so we took the painting off the wall and used it as a backdrop for the image, adding great color to the shot and really working with the red of her lips. The hat was an added bonus. This was Alissa’s hat, not something we had with us for the shoot. So, yet again, the ability to pivot and improvise created something extremely beautiful for us.


Profoto silver reflector

Canon 1DX

Canon 85mm 1.2

1/320th of a sec @ f1.2, ISO 200

Closing thoughts.

I have highlighted this over and over again. You have to be open to what any particular scene is giving you, and be open-minded about the possibilities. Sometimes, the first shot you see isn’t always the best shot. And in this case, had I not listened to Alissa, I would have missed a golden shot. This shot is a result of creative collaboration.

Ego gets in the way for a lot of people. There is a huge difference between ego and confidence. I am a very confident photographer, but I am not an egomaniac. I listen to the ideas and creativity of the people around me—and, quite frankly, sometimes they are damn better than mine. I am honest when I say I am not insecure, nor do I feel like I am any less of an artist because I listen to those around me. Good collaboration helps the creative process. That’s how you build a great team. And great teams accomplish great things.

This was a day of incredible shooting opportunities. These opportunities were a direct result of planning and collaborating with an incredible group of people. Mahlagha, Alissa, Sabrina and I worked together to create some amazing imagery—some of which you can see in the article. There were too many to write about this month, but look for future blog posts about those images and how we got them.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the November 2015 magazine.

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