Germantown: Behind the Scenes of an Interior Photo Shoot
In the summer of 2022, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Gilbride through a mutual friend and colleague. Michael's impressive career pivot from marketing to interior design immediately caught my attention. His enthusiasm for design was contagious, and as an interior photographer, comprehending your client's vision and unique style is crucial. Needless to say, Michael and I hit it off spectacularly!
While on a project, photographing a Chelsea apartment for Michael, he shared with me the story of his upstate house in Germantown, NY. It was his partner Colin's childhood home that the couple inherited. After two years of renovation, Michael and Colin created the perfect getaway from city life. A place where they can unwind among nature and host guests.
What I love most about this house is the abundance of windows and how the architecture maximizes natural light. The surrounding woodland makes the space feel connected to nature without sacrificing privacy. "The throughline through the house was to marry the indoors and outdoors, but a secondary one was to not erase Colin's family history in the house."
"The final design of the house maintained the original footprint and shape of the house to preserve its relationship with the land....then, things got much more fun." Michael Gilbride
Around the same time, I met Anthony Santelli, a stylist and art director, through networking on LinkedIn. He and I shared a mutual work experience in advertising and his background in styling interiors in Manhattan, the Hamptons, and Westchester, NY. During our discussions, we explored several ideas for a test shoot and were enthusiastic about collaborating with one another.
Photographing Michael's home was the perfect opportunity to build upon my book and collaborate with these two creative talents. I proposed the idea to Michael and Anthony, and we all jumped on a call to discuss ideas. The test shoot intended to showcase Michael's design and create an editorial to pitch to publications. After the conversation, I traveled to Germantown to scout the property.
It helped narrow down focus areas, assess the natural light, and understand what additional props Anthony would need for the shoot days.
On the day of the shoot, I picked up Anthony from the flower market on 23rd Street in Manhattan. On the drive upstate to Michael's house, we discussed our shot list and where we could start. We agreed to survey where the light looks best and start there. Upon arrival, Michael gave us the tour, and we quickly jumped in.
We immediately got to work in the living room. Michael already had some beautiful decor on display, so it was only a matter of shuffling furniture around and Anthony organizing and editing the bookshelf to compose the shot.
For this shot, I aimed to capture the beams preserved from the original 1800s barn and now serve as the house's bones. I positioned the camera slightly high enough to reveal the wood beams and keep the furniture, creating a pleasing composition. The wooden accents, plants, and built-in minimalist shelves create a warm yet airy atmosphere.
The view of the Hudson River is the main appeal of this room and the house itself. We made sure to capture it in its entirety by shooting the living room pulled back and then turning 180 degrees to narrow the gaze, taking in the view outside through the expansive window. The placement of the coffee table and bench in front of the large window is deliberately styled to create a cozy vibe. Michael told me he wanted this place to "feel as light as possible while you melt into nature." It's what makes this space truly special and worth experiencing.
When setting up the camera to capture the dining area, I realized that the straight-on angle would need to be better. I needed a more dynamic angle that would show the depth of the space and feel more natural. So, I quickly put the camera on a small tripod on the kitchen island to get the desired effect. However, some stubborn water stains on a large window pane needed to be removed. But I didn't let that hold me back. Instead, I took a few extra shots of the tree outside from a different angle and used Photoshop to seamlessly merge them with the rest of the scene.
We decided to take the remainder of the day and complete the necessary shots outside while the weather was favorable. Our intuition paid off as the next day was plagued with incessant rain.
Unfortunately, we could not capture the front view due to a roof repair and scaffolding hindering the view. I was bummed about that, but there were other interesting vantage points. We successfully shot the side entrance, back view, and evening shot with interior lights for added drama. Anthony and I agreed that the winning exterior image was the back view. The last light faded, and it was time to pack up. It was time to call it a night.
On the second day, we started our shoot in the kitchen. We awoke to light rain and an overcast sky that blanketed the house with soft light. Photographers love to work with this kind of light because it is forgiving. However, the light was filling in from three sides and was very flat at this time of day. I decided to hang a diffusion silk and add a strobe to brighten things up and create depth. This also allowed us to take an environmental portrait of Michael, thanks to the strobe freezing the action.
The biggest challenge with this scene came in post-production. Outside the window over the sink was a bare wood post, and the roof ceiling repair was exposed in the greenhouse. Outside of the door, there was scaffolding that we tried to roll out of the way, but it was too big to not see in some parts of the shot.
So, both elements needed a fair amount of retouching.
The media room became one of my favorite images from this project. The light was perfect! Two windows provided a soft light that spilled into the room. There was no need to add any additional lighting. The wallpaper was fun and contrasted with the ubiquitous white walls throughout the rest of the house. It was a significant shift from the clean, minimal white walls and the expansive windows where nature is the show. There was a playful vibe that felt appropriate for a media room.
We followed up with the master bathroom. The shower overlooking the Hudson River was the main attraction, and I wanted to showcase this. There wasn't enough room to shoot it squared up to the camera, and even if I placed a small tripod on the vanity across, it still felt too tight. I opted to move into the doorway and shoot at a bit of an angle. It captured everything.
I had a blast capturing the master bedroom. Again, the soft light poured in. The earthy tones and bold antlers make quite a statement. We even got some silly outtakes that brightened up an otherwise gloomy day. It's always good to add a little humor to a shoot.
Couldn't resist the opportunity
Overall, the photo shoot was successful! Even though the story didn't get picked up, we captured some fantastic images. It was a pleasure to work with two incredibly creative talents, and seeing the project come to fruition after all the planning was truly rewarding.
I look forward to witnessing Michael's future endeavors and collaborating with Anthony on more interior shoots. Check out my website for more images from this shoot.