How I Got the Shot with Sal Cincotta | July 2015


How I Got the Shot with Sal Cincotta

This month in How I Got the Shot, I talk about the nightmares of a photo shoot gone bad. Sure, the purpose of this column is to talk about how we got this perfectly amazing cover shot. The reality is, things don’t always go as planned. Shit happens. How do we react to it? What do we do when things go horribly wrong? Most importantly, what are the lessons learned? Failure, to me, is the unfortunate side effect of creation. If you are a creator of any sort, failure is part of the process. You don’t have to accept or even enjoy it, but you should learn to see it for what it is—and grow from it.

The July Cover Shoot

Every month, we aim to put together a gorgeous cover shoot for the magazine. July is our three-year anniversary and also the anniversary of the founding of this country, so we wanted to do something patriotic. Part of the initial conversations included the American flag and a model with long, dirty blonde hair, denim jeans and boots in an open field. Sounds amazing, right? If only that had been the case.

Challenge #1: Flaky models

It is so frustrating to work with “models” who don’t take their reputation or craft seriously. (I’m sure it’s equally as frustrating for models who are responsible to read something like this.) We have had more issues with flaky models over the years than any other part of a shoot. And these are models who are being paid well and given great industry exposure.

We went through several models who fit the look and style we were going for, and were met with either no response or a cancelation two days before the shoot. Something came up, apparently.

Taylor Cincotta to the rescue. Working with your spouse is never easy, especially one who is a photographer—but she’s also a model, and there’s nothing worse than a model who now wants to art direct. Perfect, so now we had a model—let’s rock and roll. Twenty-four hours until deadline.

Challenge #2: Location

When it comes to the cover or any other involved shoot, we are very diligent about getting permits or permission before shooting anywhere. There is no “running and gunning” on these types of shoots. They just move too slowly. My right hand, Alissa Zimmerman, happens to have a friend who lives about 10 minutes outside Shutter’s home base of O’Fallon, Illinois, whose family has farmland. Perfect spot for this all-American shoot. Alissa calls the friend’s father and explains the shoot to him and asks for permission to shoot there. “Sure, no problem,” he says. It’s on!

We show up around 6 p.m. and start setting up lighting, test shots, etc. We’re waiting for the light to be perfect when, all of a sudden, a beat-up pickup truck pulls up and the woman behind the wheel starts screaming at us to get off her land: “I ain’t puttin’ up with this here nonsense anymore.” Of course, we are all shocked since we have permission already from the father. Alissa calmly walks up to the lady and tries to explain that we called and got permission, to which the irate lady starts screaming, “I don’t care who you spoke to—I want you off my land now.” Alissa, again looking for clarity, explains that we already did this and are not trying to trespass.

That’s when it all became clear. Apparently, there was a huge family falling out. The father had given us permission to shoot on property that was in dispute, and the family was no longer talking to him.

Perfect. We didn’t get the shot, we just got chased off the land and we lost about three hours. It was 8:30 p.m. when we got back to the studio. The sun was gone and we had no Plan B.


If you have been following me at all, you know my motto: As business owners, we have to be able to #pivot. Plan B was born as the team sat and collaborated on ideas. Krystal, part of my team, came up with an idea for an in-studio shoot. It wasn’t our original idea, but it was a great Plan B.

We wanted something sexy—something red, white and blue. ’Merica.

The image you see was the final edit of the shot.


We lit this shot very differently than we normally do. I wanted something moody. We used two Profoto B1’s. The main light had a Para 88 from Broncolor on it. Just gorgeous light. And the fill had a snoot with a 5-degree grid on it. She just needed a little pop of light on the shadows on her face from the main light.

Gear List

Camera // Hasselblad H5D-50C

Lens // Hasselblad 100mm lens

Settings // 1/250th @ f8, ISO200

Lights // 2 Profoto B1’s

Modifiers // Profoto Snoot with 5-degree grid and a Broncolor Para 88

Final editing was done in Photoshop CC and Alien Skin 7.


This was one of the toughest shoots of my career. Not from a lighting or posing perspective, but from a morale perspective. It is tough to be creative when so many things keep going wrong. “Keep your head up” sounds amazing in theory, but in practice it can be extremely challenging. You just want to walk off and scream, you are so frustrated, but you have to not only remain cool, but continue to be creative.

I love the final shot. Is it my original vision? No, not even close. But under the circumstances, we still created a gorgeous image of Taylor.

Team Cincotta is a brutal bunch. This image didn’t pass the team’s sniff test. Everyone rejected it for the cover. No one felt it was strong enough. It’s so important to have people around that you can trust. You may not always like what you hear, but at least you know they are being honest and looking out for you and your brand.

The image we decided to go with for the cover is one we took of Sophia on a trip last year to London. Obviously contrary to what we were aiming at for our big Fourth of July cover. We just gotta learn to laugh sometimes. Tomorrow will always be better.

Get the full story

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

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