Crash Taylor Interviews Michael Grecco

This week Crash Taylor interviews Michael Grecco. Michael is a photographer who has inspired me big time throughout my short 4 years as a professional photographer. He regularly shoots magazine covers for Entertainment Weekly, ESPN, People, Time and others. His celebrity portrait subjects have included Martin Scorsese, Lucy Liu, Will Ferrell, Rene Russo, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Bill Murray, Jet Li Joaquin Phoenix, Rene Russo and countless others. He has definitely mastered the art of lighting and the ability to capture the emotion as well as the appearance and realness of his subjects. A few years ago, I read his book Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait, the Art of Celebrity and Editorial Photography which, was awesome and taught me many techniques I use today. I highly recommend you read this book. His latest project Naked Ambition: An R Rated Look at an X Rated Industry takes you into the world of the Oscars of porn. More on that below. Enjoy the interview and I look forward to reading your comments.

Hi Michael,

Where is home?

Santa Monica, California

If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?

Well, I would have three houses, Santa Monica, New York and either Paris or Tuscany

What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?

Busy working in the office, trying to handle 20 questions from staff and finish your interview!

What sort of work do you specialize in?

Celebrity portraiture

Did you go to school to study photography?

I went to Boston University and studied Journalism

How long have you been a photographer?

Since I was a little kid, over 30 years

What or who got you started in photography?

I learned the darkroom in summer camp and got hooked on it.

How would you describe your style?

Conceptual portraits with dramatic lighting.

How many commissions do you average per year?

Many assignments

Can you share some recent images with us?

What type of cameras do you shoot with?

Leaf Back and the Canon 5D Mark II

What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?

My Dyna-lite strobes

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?

The Canon 24 to 70 mm zoom, because it’s so versatile.

What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?

6 Dyna-lite 2000x packs, 8 heads and chimera softboxes with their egg crate grids

Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a shoot?

I mostly use flash to light with and control the ambient light with Sunbounce silks and reflectors.

What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?

Photoshop CS4

How important is Photoshop in your final images?

I use it to control the color and process the raw images and retouching, but my concepts usually do not depend on Photoshop. I try to use location, props and styling to create my concepts, not Photoshop.

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?

Nik Sharpener Pro

Are you a MAC or PC lover?

MAC all the way. What’s that other computer you mentioned?

Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?

No, in this economy you should be trying to save your money and not buy too much equipment.

I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow; can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow?

I use a digital capture company named Image Mechanics to either come on the shoot with me or process the images and upload a web gallery for my magazine and advertising clients. I don’t do anything myself. The only thing I do is manage the color for all my displays, etc with an X-rite EyeOne calabrater.

How do you feel about cropping an image?

Crop if needed.

I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?

Looking at art, other photographers imagery, architecture, whatever I can get my hands on.

What has been your most memorable assignment and why?

That’s too hard to say. I have been very lucky and done some amazing things. OK, the Spielberg cover of Time, probably, because of the importance of it. It was the only interview he did for his movie Munich and the world’s eyes were on that cover.

If you could shoot an assignment with someone who would it be and why?

Jordan Brewster because she is so hot!

Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on assignments?

Depending on the shoot I have used anywhere from 1 assistant up to 4. I never shoot without someone handling the lights and gear. It’s not my job, I have to be creative with the client and take care of the talent.

What are your favourite images you have shot recently?

I like the Will Ferrell and Steve Martin portraits for the concept and humor.

How many images do you average per shoot and how many do you usually present to your clients?

It depends on how much time I have, but I have done as little as 100 on a very fast shoot up to 3000 per day. That’s about my top speed.

Where would be your dream destination assignment?

Europe, I love Paris in particular.

How do you make your clients feel relaxed in front of your insert camera?

Well, since I shoot for ad agencies and magazines my clients are not the subject. That said, I try to talk to them about things that interest them, to be down to earth and be a good listener.

Have you ever had anything go wrong on a shoot and if so, how did you handle it?

Of course, you always smile and make everyone thing everything is ok. Then try to subtly fix it. Never let them see you sweat!

What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing clients?

Again, I don’t photograph clients, most of the people I shoot are professionals. The tough part for me is that they have their own ideas that might conflict with what it is I would like to do.

What do you think of the photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?

It’s shrinking in the commercial markets and going to go more to video.

It’s almost that time of year for a Grecco family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he/she took my portrait?

Annie Leibowitz

The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?

Helmet Newton, love the work.

The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?

Mine at the Julia Dean photo workshops in LA.

Do you conduct your own workshops? If so, can you tell us about them.

No I work for others.

What photographic organizations do you belong to?

I am the National Vice President of the Advertising Photographers of America.

How important is an awesome website for your business?

I think it’s thee most important thing a photographer can do

If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a Formula 1 driver. What would you have been?

An architect or a chef. I love both cooking and architecture.

Lately I have wanted to shoot the cover for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition in Hawaii. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?

I want to shoot David Bowie.

When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue photography?

Work hard and stick to it, it’s a tough market out there.

We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?

My yoga teacher and my yoga classes on the weekends

Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?

Yes, but you cannot relive the past. If so, I would be the richest man in the world (or close to it).

Can you tell us about your book and the movie Naked Ambition?

I decided to do a portrait study of everyone at the adult video awards, which is the Oscars of porn. The movie is about the making of the book. Check it out on the Naked Ambition website.

Can you share with us some images from the book and is there a trailer for the movie?

There is a trailer and the book are on the www.NakedAmbition.com website.


Michael Grecco


  • An excellent interview.

  • Excellent interview, amazing photo's and very interesting project.

  • Brilliant interview as usual Mr Taylor! Michael Grecco's work is inspiring, I'll be looking up his lighting book in the very near future! Thanks to you both for taking the time to do this!

  • Crash, this was THE INTERVIEW! And Michael is THE PHOTOGRAPHER.
    You believe in coincidences? If not, just listen to this: this morning I just received THE PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK that I oder from Amazon.com three weeks ago:
    "Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Celebrity and Editorial Photography" written by, guess whom, Michael Grecco himself.
    Spooky, huh? :-)

  • Another great interview Crash, really enjoyed it :)

  • Crash another brilliant interview with another brilliant photographer. Thank you for bringing Michael to my attention, I'm definitely going to buy the book you recommend, amazon here I come. My lighting can get all the help it can. Thank you both and especially you Crash for inspiring me big time and keeping me going through these tough times.

  • Thank you so much for making this information available to all - remaining inspired by such talent is so important and Michael is one of the best photographers out there... Crash, thank you for sharing, great work!!!

  • "Work hard and stick to it, it’s a tough market out there." - such a true statement. Michael's work just bleeds talent. I love these images. The shot with the cigar is inspired. Thanks for getting us close to his work Crash. Amazing stuff.

  • Wow - what an inspiration - great interview - great photos - great people! What great stuff again!!!

  • This interview is off the hook. Michael's images are major brilliant. Crash you have done it again. Thanks.

    Time to order the book and check out the porn stars. 😉

  • great interview as usual crash...

  • [...] style that always seems fresh and the interview gives a nice peek into his world.  Make sure you read the interview and check out the great images as well (caution, some brief nudity near the [...]

  • Great interview Crash. Love the Naked Ambition series. Keep them coming. Very inspirational.

    David S.

  • Very inspiring excellent portrairs loving tarantino, lucy liu and the shot of the footballer.
    i will be browsing his book next time i am in Waterstones..nice one mate

  • Hi Crash, You are really stepping it up a way notch with this interview!!! Great job.

  • Cheers Crash, another great photographer brought to my attention.

  • Cool interview- very insightful- a little sneeky peek into the celeb pro photographer thanku