Alexvi reveals how he created a cover for GQ magazine

13 August, 2018

Written by: Alexvi

Alexvi is a well-known Chinese photographer. He is the photographer with whom Ang Lee most frequently cooperates in China, and he documents the daily life of Ozzy Osbourne. He has also shot for directors, actors, singers and most celebrities in China.

Alexvi, born in 1984, is a Profoto China ambassador and a master at balancing art and commerce. He collects inspiration from his daily life, which makes his work with diverse perspectives silent but profound. In a sense, he can be regarded as an artist rather than a fashion photographer.­

He is the founder of ASTUDIO and has shot covers for several fashion and art magazines, such as Chinese GQ, Esquire, Bazaar Art, ELLEMEN and Traveller.

In 2015, his photo book “Lonely Planet” won the Photobook Awards Martin Parr Edition at Lianzhou Foto Festival, and in June 2016 his project “Peking Apartments” won the Fine Art Photography Awards in London. In addition to his work as a photographer, Alexvi is also a director and director of photography. In 2016, he curated an exhibition at UCCA, one of the best known art galleries in China. The exhibition involved nine influential Chinese artists.

The cover for GQ China’s September issue

In June of this year, GQ magazine commissioned Alexvi to shoot the cover of GQ China’s September issue. Those who have seen the documentary “The September Issue” will know that it is the largest and most important issue of the year. For photographers, it is also great recognition of their professional ability. 

Since the first issue of GQ China, it has been a tradition for the September cover to feature ten of the current year’s most compelling and powerful individuals from the world of business and entertainment. It can be quite a challenge to get all these busy people in one room at the same time.  

In the past eight years, GQ China has tried many great compositions and themes for its covers, but capturing a frame such as the classic group photo that Annie Leibovitz shot for Vanity Fair is not easy to achieve.

Getting the shot

Vicson, the creative director of GQ China, came out with a fun and bold idea – the ten people in the photo are standing in a circle, and they are all looking down at the camera. Due to the different distances between the subjects and the camera, there would be an overlay relationship between the models.

To test whether the idea was feasible, they arranged ten staff members as models to simulate the shoot and identify potential problems. The lighting setup was designed to imitate the natural sunlight from behind, while the subjects' faces also needed to be lit.

The whole image would be folded twice and thus divided into three sections while avoiding broken lines on the subjects' faces. At the same time, the full-width image had to be well composed for the fold-out.

Since the image had to look real – creating the sensation that all the models were captured in the same frame – Alexvi had to figure out the best focal length to compose them all differently while ensuring that the perspective looked right. The final image scale would be approximately 1:2, so he referred to the perspective relationships from the image samples by Hasselblad Xpan.

Alexvi could have mimicked the bird’s eye view by adjusting the lens distortion and camera angle, allowing the models to be standing up straight. However, after some thought, he decided to lie on the ground to create a more dramatic effect with the subjects looking down at the camera. When looking at the cover, we see the great image that it is, but what the people at the actual shoot saw was a huge “sandwich” comprised by a photographer and a reflector.

The lighting setup and “the sandwich”

After several experiments, Alexvi and his team designed this unique shooting method: one Pro-8a from right above, one 3x3 m sun scrim and one RFi Softbox 5' Octa to make the light softer.

To ensure that the figures were lit, they put a white board reflector on Alexvi and cut a 10 cm square for the camera. As you can see in the lighting setup, the whole setting looks like a sandwich.

The project needed to shoot 18 people standing in different places, so the studio had to be movable. Sometimes the space was not high enough, so Alexvi used two lights to illuminate a white backdrop and let the light reflect evenly. At the same time, he put an LED light on the ground to help with focusing. 

It was a three-month shooting period during which Alexvi spent several days lying on the ground while shooting. He then told us, “The most unforgettable feeling was that once you have experienced shooting lying down, you will feel uncomfortable shooting standing up.”

Alexvi’s tips on how to become a better photographer

If there is a complex project that you want to try, make sure to do a round of practice shoots before getting into the actual shoot. When working with people that are short on time, they would rather not be the photographer’s experimental subjects. So, make sure to be prepared.

Do not be restrained by what you have seen or experienced. Take inspiration from every aspect of your life and create something new, something that resides in your imagination. A lighting setup in the shape of a huge sandwich is not the most common way to create a portrait, but it makes perfect sense when you see the result. Your shooting methods should not be limited by the references taken by others. See what others do and go beyond that. Be bold and innovative.

And remember: big softboxes or softlight accessories can help to imitate cloudy light. If you don’t know too much about lighting, think about sunlight going across the clouds, and try to imitate it.

 

Written by: Alexvi

Products used in this story

ProHead Plus

A classic head delivered with a Zoom Reflector

RFi Softbox Octa

Ideal for flattering portraits

Air Remote

Syncs and manually controls any Profoto Air light