"We need to ask ourselves if we are doing enough for our clients, and if we can do more for them."
—Steve Giralt, from his blog
Business savvy and work ethic aside, Giralt is one helluva photographer. After all, he competes in New York on everything from slick still life to natural lifestyle and portraiture. You have to be talented to master that gamut. What he initially thought of as a unified travel portfolio that showcased a wide variety of skills in fact worked better as several different portfolios highlighting a few different specialties—food, people and places. Thus, the generalist is born. The consistent thread running through his work, he says, is an obsession with making subjects appear as natural as possible. He accomplishes this with meticulous attention to lighting detail.
"I have been told," Giralt says, "that there's indeed a common feel to lots of my work. Obviously, there are exceptions, such as slick studio still life, but otherwise there's similarity. I think in any genre it's good to show a bit of your range. Just as I diversify what I shoot, I diversify a bit in how I shoot each specific genre. I'm the guy that shoots a lot of different stuff, but I feel I shoot most of it with a very similar approach and feel."
That similar approach is defined by light. Giralt strives to make the most natural-looking illumination in order to fight the inherent artificiality of so much commercial photography.
"I'm obsessed with light," he says, "and very often I'm the one creating all the light in my photographs. My greatest obsession for years has been mastering the creation of the feeling of daylight. This goes for food, interiors, portraits and more. Lots of the work on my site that looks like it was shot with natural light is indeed artificial light. This means sometimes using two lights or sometimes using 12 lights; it all depends on the scene I'm shooting. There are obviously infinite kinds of daylight, but there are some aspects of light that just feel natural. I find people can instantly tell you when the light feels fake, although they can't really tell you why it feels fake. This feeling of light absolutely goes across all my subject matters. As an example, the way I shoot interiors absolutely effects the way I shoot food or people in an interior environment because, to me, they're all tied together. It's almost as if I want the viewer to feel like the photographer isn't present in the way the shot is lit. I want the picture to be believable."
Giralt continues, "Re-creating daylight with strobe will be an eternal challenge for me. I have experimented with many different techniques and have learned a few rules. Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions, as daylight has infinite forms, but these are good general rules to follow. First, daylight is often made of both specular and diffused highlights, so I always mix soft light with hard light. I might mix a straight head with another head bouncing into a foamcore coming from the same location. For it to feel real, most of the 'main' light needs to come from a single direction. Catchlights need to be somewhat irregular, as daylight doesn't usually come in the form of a rectangular softbox. Fill light should be soft and come from behind camera. Most of the time things go wrong it's because of the fill light, so extra care needs to be paid there. If the fill light is off, then the daylight feels fake."
Daylight was only the tip of the iceberg when Giralt found himself shooting for the summer issue of Kraft Food & Family.