On Set with Photographer Will Wu
Photo by Patrick Le, Will Wu behind the camera
In every issue of MOXI MAG we will go behind-the-scenes with young creatives who are hustling their way up the steep and windy ranks of artistic industries. For our inaugural BTS, we go behind the camera & in the studio with photographer & photo assistant Will Wu.
Since graduating from ICP (The International Center Of Photography) in May of 2016, Will has immersed himself in freelance work as both an editorial and documentary style photographer, as well as a photo assistant to some of the most prestigious photographers in the industry, namely Mark Seliger.
In this first edition of BTS, Will sheds light on the inspiration behind some of his documentary work, reveals pro tips, and gives us a window into high production editorial shoots on set with talent like Missy Elliott, Lorde, Emilia Clarke and Jerry Seinfeld.
Photo by Will Wu
First, we go on assignment with Will Wu – the documentarian.
Please enjoy the opening statement of his project “Hello Bed-Stuy” below:
Bedford-Stuyvestant, or Bed-Stuy as most call it is a neighborhood undergoing changes. Historically, Bed-Stuy has been an epicenter for African America culture – it was one of the first neighborhoods in New York where black families owned property. Now, new residents are moving in and its landscape and culture are changing; it is being gentrified. This project shows gentrification in Bed-Stuy from all perspectives through portraits and quotes from residents of the neighborhood. It aims to find connections between the two sides of gentrification and bridge the gap that is often left open.
Photo by Will Wu
“This photo was shot in April 2016 in Bed-Stuy where I was living at the time,” says Will. “I was walking down the street around three or four in the afternoon and saw a boy sitting on his stoop. I asked if I could take his photo and he said yes. I was working on a project about gentrification in Bed-Stuy so I asked him what he missed about the old Bed-Stuy. He said barbecues. He said his block used to have barbecues on their porches all the time. The whole block was friends with each other. When new people started to move in, they didn’t like the loud music or the noise so they would always complain. I think the problem was just a difference in cultures. It was a simple, but powerful perspective coming from a kid who is living through the gentrification process.”
View “Hello Bed-Stuy” HERE.
Now, we go on set with Will Wu – The editorial photographer.
Pro Tip – Using colored gels to create a dramatic portrait
Photo By Will Wu
“This photo is from test shoot I did with a model from New York. I used color gels - translucent colored sheets - and two strobes to light each side of his face. To black out the background, I set up v-flats next to each strobe to block any light spillage.”
Last, but certainly not least we go in the studio with Will Wu – the photo assistant.
Photo by Will Wu, Cover Shots by Mark Seliger
After spending the last few months bookings gigs as a photo assistant to photographers like Peter Hapak, Steven Visneau, and Mark Seliger, Will has a pocket full of stories and some important tips to share.
During Will’s first week on the job as Seliger’s second assistant, he found himself on set with Missy Elliott and Lorde assisting on back-to-back cover shoots for ELLE Magazine’s Women in Music issue.
“Those were the first two shoots I had ever been on with Mark Seliger,” says Will. “I picked up some of his crew from airport on a Sunday, they were coming back from a Vogue shoot in Madrid, and the next day we had the ELLE shoot.”
As a photo assistant, there’s no time to get comfortable. You’re thrown in the fire and forced to think on your feet, read the room, and get to know the photographer – quick.
“Mark is pretty chill while interacting with talent on set,” says Will. “I was always intimidated by him mostly because he is Mark Seliger. But he has been working in the industry for decades, so everyone knows him. For him it’s like going to work with your friends while creating amazing images and content for some of the biggest publications in the world.”
Though Seliger may be relaxed on set, it’s still a high level operation.
“And as a photo assistant who has never worked on a production of this size,” says Will, “you have to learn as you go along. Always anticipate what’s next, keeping your eyes and ears open. Always say yes to any task they need you to do.”
While on a Rolling Stone cover shoot with Emilia Clarke, Will was put to the test to say YES, albeit it inconvenient. Seliger shot Emilia in film that day, but the team didn’t bring enough. Will was asked to go get more film from Seliger’s studio in the West Village. Unfortunately for Will, the Rolling Stone set was in the Bronx, about an hour away. When he returned with the film, the team needed another piece of equipment – back at the studio in the West Village. Will said yes and hopped back in the car.
Even when being an assistant isn’t a glamorous gig – like when you miss a day of shooting with Khaleesi – paying your dues is never overrated. Will’s work with Seliger led him to meet one of his idols Peter Yang, a LA based photographer who Will sites as his inspiration for getting into commercial work. Will reached out to Yang via email and cited the fact that he had been assisting Seliger. Yang’s response? He invited Will to coffee at his home in east LA.
Being a photo assistant can also score you a private tour of Jerry Seinfeld’s home and some of Jessica Seinfeld’s pasta – if you play your cards right.
When both Seliger and his first assistant were out of town, Will was sent to scout Jerry Seinfeld’s home on the Upper West Side. Later on set, Jerry’s wife Jessica Seinfeld, who is a New York Times bestselling cookbook author, made pasta for the shoot and shared it with Will and the crew.
Whether it’s scouting a celeb’s home or driving for hours to get more film, a photo assistant is essential to any successful shoot. Duties include handling equipment, keeping inventory, and assisting both the first assistant and photographer with anything he or she may need. “It’s the assistant’s job to keep the flow going smoothly,” says Will. “The schedule is tight. You just want be ready for anything that could go wrong.”
There’s another thing - do what you know. Ask what you don’t.
“Don’t be a hero,” says Will. “At first I didn’t know all the terminology, but when you’re on a high production shoot with an A-list celebrity it’s intimidating to ask questions on how do something. But, you have to own up to what you don’t know and be better prepared next time. It’s much worse to pretend you know what you’re doing and mess it all up. You don’t want to be in that position.”
And though humility and etiquette are key, an ambitious photo assistant also needs to know when and how to stand out.
“On smaller sets don’t be afraid to offer ideas when given the opportunity,” says Will.
While in the studio with Kevin Hart and photographer Steven Visneau, Will suggested adding a light on set. Visneau was impressed and asked Will to join him for three additional days of shooting.
“It depends on the production,” says Will. “Know your boundaries, but also prove yourself where given the opportunity.”
But what’s the most important tip Will has for a photo assistant? Get ready Millennials… take a deep breath.
“Don’t use your phone,” says Will. “Especially in front of the photographer because he or she may never hire you again. As an assistant, you are representing the photographer so put your phone away and stay engaged in the shoot, always.”
Will even scored a job once, just for putting his phone away. The photographer was impressed and said to Will, “It’s been three hours, and I haven’t seen you on your phone once.” He then asked Will to hop on another one of his shoots because of it. Listen up kids! Be present.
In today’s culture the idea of apprenticeship is often overlooked. Yes the role of a photo assistant is utilitarian in nature, but in truth it’s one of the closest comparisons we have to an apprentice in modern day capitalism. MOXI respects the investment and sacrifice it takes to hone a craft. We want to celebrate the milestone moments, but more importantly we want to recognize the hours and the work it took to get there. Will is doing just that. Putting in the hours. Learning from the masters. Making the investment for his art. MOXI is cheering you on Will. We can’t wait to see what you continue to create.