Julia Roberts November 2018

I hope Julia Roberts has this picture hanging on her wall. It’s such a joyful, “everything is going to be ok” moment captured by Alexi Lubomirski. Just looking at the image makes me happy. There’s a warm connection between Roberts and Lubomirski, but it’s Elizabeth Stewart’s styling that I love this picture for.

Photographer: Alexi Lubomirski, Model: Julia Roberts.

Why I Love This Picture

Known for beautiful pictures of A-list celebrities and royalty, Lubomirski is the go to photographer for Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Aniston. His images aren’t particularly challenging or edgy but they always show the subject in their best possible light. They are always upbeat and always beautiful.

The picture shows good composition, gorgeous lighting, a model who looks engaged and genuinely happy, but it’s the styling that makes it. The Giambattista Valli dress is completely over the top. It’s huge. There must be acres of tulle in the skirt. It’s the sort of everyday extravagant fashion we loved Carrie Bradshaw for. And it’s pink. Not neon, but a strong pink that hits hard. I tend to fall for black and white pictures but this image is all about colour.

The Dior trainers are perfect. While all the pieces matter, it’s her shoes that tie the image together. Roberts is loving being in them and it’s believable. The Dior trainers and Giambattista Valli dress are an inspired combination. They lighten everything, making the picture fun and providing its narrative. Looking at a fashion image we see both the frame and the scene that came before. Roberts’ trainers still have dirt on them. She really has been running around in the desert. It’s a lovely detail, showing photographer, stylist and retoucher all working together. Her laces have been tied in neat bows. Should they have been left undone? That might have made Roberts look carefree and added a little swagger but it wouldn’t have convinced us that she’d really been running about in them.

I would have preferred lighter eye makeup. She’s smiling, closing her eyes up and making it difficult to pick out the detail in them. This would have been a good portrait to do with no, or minimal makeup. The soft, reflected light is flattering as is, and I suspect the makeup was put together with bright sunlight in mind.

Roberts is a serious actress. Of the generation before social media, she’s no Anna Kendrick, you’d not find her goofing around on Instagram. My perception of her is in complete contrast to the cover image. This is a Jennifer Aniston picture, not a Julia Roberts one, and I love it for that.

Another image from the shoot is of Roberts hanging from a cliff (the sort of ridiculous challenge Tyra Banks would have models do on ANTM). I suspect she wasn’t actually far from the ground, but it is an elaborate setup nonetheless. There’s nothing wrong with that picture, it’s fun to see Roberts in that situation, and credit to her for doing it, but it doesn’t have the punch that the simpler portrait does. I used to love the extravagant setups that fashion magazines would put together. The crazier the better. The more I’ve seen, the more I appreciate the simplest pictures. The cliff photograph is more about the scene than Roberts. It doesn’t have either the connection or sense of fun that the portrait does.

Photographer: Alexi Lubomirski, Model: Julia Roberts.

What order were the pictures were taken in? I suspect the portrait came at the end of the day. Roberts is relaxed, maybe because she’s gotten all the difficult shots done. Charged but relieved, both Lubomirski and Roberts are relaxed now. They know they’ve got good pictures in the bag and anything else is a bonus. You can see the spark between them. It might be the stress of doing the cliff shot is what led to this portrait. It could also be that Roberts is just that good of an actress.

There’s an easy familiarity between Roberts and Lubomirski. Portrait photographers like Avedon and Rankin have, on occasion, deliberately chosen to make their subjects uncomfortable. It’s an effective technique, Rankin’s pictures often have an edge to them. You see the rumbling confrontation between subject and photographer. His portraits of Heidi Klum are amazing, partly because she takes his attitude and gives twice as much back. You wouldn’t get the Roberts portrait with that approach. Lubomirski is a good guy, it comes across in the photograph.

This picture is complete, everything fits together. The lighting, pose and the connection between Roberts and Lubomirski alone make it a great image, but the styling sets it apart. I have a soft spot for many actresses’ fashion pictures (hello Emma Watson, Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley), though Roberts isn’t one of them. But she looks so cool. It’s impossible not to love her in this picture. Lubomirski has given her a soft, playful edge. This is not the Roberts we think we know, it’s the one we’d love to know.

*Photography Nerd Notes

This picture was shot digitally, likely on a 35mm SLR. I don’t think any artificial lighting was involved. There may have been some large reflectors, though Lubomirski could have relied on the surrounding sand to do that for him. The picture was taken on a bright day in the shade. Sometimes photographers use a large canopy to create shade (often called a scrim) - which has the advantage of allowing some light though.

The retouching in this picture is excellent. There’s a recent trend to overly smooth skin. The Jennifer Lawrence “Joy” and Kristien Stewart “Gabriele” perfume adverts are both particularly egregious examples. They don’t look perfect, they look weird, like some kind of Instagram filter gone wrong. The Roberts cover picture is an example of how a skin retouch should be done. It’s heavily edited, there’re no imperfections but Roberts skin texture and freckles remain. It still looks real.

Hello.

Darren here. I work in technology at Net-A-Porter, but my real love is for fashion, beauty and portrait photography. I spend my spare time writing about pictures I love and trying to emulate them. I’m always happy to meet models, makeup artists and stylists. So if you’re interested in working together, get in touch by email or find me on Twitter or Instagram.

Contents.

Simple and natural, stripped back Sophie

One of the hardest working models I know, Sophie and I have shot together many times. For this shoot we did something simple and relaxed, not worrying too much about slow shutter speeds and making the most of some gentle film grain.

Dimples, blur and grain with Eric

Another blurry, grainy shoot with Eric. Another chance for her to work those dimples.

Jennifer Lopez

Anyone could take a beautiful picture of Jennifer Lopez. I love that Camilla Akrans and Harper's Bazaar didn't settle for that.

Beyoncé

It's our loss that Beyoncé doesn't do magazine photo shoots any more. In the early 2010s she graced some of the finest fashion stories. Out of all these, it's Alasdair McLellan's cover for The Gentlewoman that I love the most.

Rainy Saturday with Eric

The two of us did this shoot on a rainy Saturday morning in late 2018. My favourite pictures of Eric are always the in-between ones, where she’s laughing or just finished delivering some witty put down. I know the pictures will look great as soon as you start to see those gorgeous dimples showing up.

Fierce and Freckles with Gemma

Gemma is one of the easiest people to shoot with, her natural swagger always comes across in the pictures, but she’s also funny and doesn’t take herself too seriously. This shoot was from 2014 with Rachael Kent doing a perfect job of keeping the makeup low key and letting Gemma (and freckles) shine.

Julia Roberts

I hope Julia Roberts has this picture hanging on her wall. It’s such a joyful, "everything is going to be ok" moment captured by Alexi Lubomirski. Just looking at the image makes me happy.

Emma Watson as Belle

The pictures I love are stripped back. The simpler the better. I don't like props, themes or elaborate production. All things that Tim Walker is master of. I shouldn't like his Vanity Fair portrait of Emma Watson and yet I love it.

Cara Delevingne

I get butterflies looking at Peter Lindbergh's portrait of Cara Delevingne. Cara's hard to read emotion and the simplicity of the lighting against her pared back makeup make it timeless.

Carey Mulligan

When I play fantasy fashion photographer my model shortlist is Emma Watson, Keira Knightly and Carey Mulligan.

Palm Tree

Jake Michaels is a serious photographer with high profile clients and a beautiful portfolio. As a sideline he also goes under the name Joke Michaels, sharing many of his street pictures and changing my mind about humour in photography.

Nautical Alessandra Ambrosio

This is the second Boo George shoot with Alessandra Ambrosio that I’ve written about. If I had to pick the perfect fashion picture this would be it.

Make Love Not War

Steven Meisel has been responsible for many of Vogue Italia's most controversial shoots. His 2007 Make Love Not War shoot was described by the Guardian as "the most nauseatingly tasteless fashion pictures ever”. Controversial and difficult, but ten years on they still stand out.

Window Lit Zoë Kravitz

Zoë Kravitz is having a bit of a moment, she is in every photo shoot. This Stas Komarovski photograph of her is a picture I’ve tried (and failed) to take many times.

Rainy Oxford

There are plenty of London street images, but it’s more unusual to see them from other towns and cities in the UK. Robert Viglasky’s picture of the women in the window was taken in Oxford.

Pregnant Alessandra Ambrosio

Alessandra Ambrosio has done everything from the Next catalogue, through Victoria’s Secret shows, to high fashion. In this image, Boo George was able to do something different.

Heidi Klum is a Cat

Why I love this Rankin series of Heidi Klum pictures that made me want to learn to take portraits.

Has Roger Federer Perspired?

That Roger Federer does not sweat had become ingrained thinking, the sort of idea we were looking to challenge. Was it real or just a lazy cliche? We had IBM’s Wimbledon match data for all the top players and using Weather Underground we pulled in temperature data for those matches. This let us see the number of matches played by player and temperature.

Experiences of Innovation in Emerging Technology

I work in a part of IBM called Emerging Technology. One of the group's responsibilities is to help clients with innovation. We do this by explaining technology, running workshops and helping prototype new ideas. We're often asked how to be innovative. I don't think we have an answer to this, but we do have lots of experience of what has worked and hasn't worked for us.

Kappa Architecture on Bluemix

Over the last three years I've been responsible for helping the US Masters, Roland Garros and primarily Wimbledon understand how people are engaging with the events on social media. Their requirements have led to a messy combination of stream processing, batch processing and static indexing. I've started to look at how a Kappa architecture might help us produce a cleaner solution.

Roland Garros

Crowds at Roland Garros for the 2016 French Open.

Colour of YouTube

Predominant colours of most popular user generated Bobbi Brown videos on YouTube.

Physical Web and Physical Meetings

As an experiment in using the Physical Web I wanted to create a voting system for physical meetings. A meeting would have a current question and attendees could vote with one click. There would be no entering URLs, downloading apps, or scanning QR codes.