Jeff Singer Shoots for Whiskey Advocate

By Jacqui Palumbo

Portrait photographer Jeff Singer started his career as an engineer and picked up photography after relocating from sunny California to Victoria, British Columbia as a way to pass the time. He always assumed he’d move back to California and return to the technical field, but he became enamored with his craft and returned to California as a photographer instead. Based in San Francisco, Singer now shoots for an array of advertising and editorial clients such as Blackbook Magazine, Virgin America, Visa, Conde Nast, San Francisco Magazine, The Village Voice, Forbes and 7x7 Magazine.

Singer’s images are rich in their quality and simplicity. He opts for a “minimal” style of environmental and studio portraiture, conscious of the delicate relationship between the subject and the backdrop. “I like images that are clean and simple and draw you into the subject,” he says, “I tend to shoot wide open and throw backgrounds out of focus.”

There’s a timeless feel to Singer’s film and digital work, and he always strives to maintain a film-like quality even while working in a digital format. His minimal taste extends to post-production; Singer tries to do as much in-camera as possible and only basic editing afterwards. Lately he has been testing more cinematic photographs, and had the opportunity to shoot this way for a feature in the winter issue of Whisky Advocate.

Singer had previously worked with Photo Editor Jessica Oshita of the sister publication Wine Spectator, and his promo was passed along to Whisky Advocate Photo Editor Sabrina Finkelstein and Art Director John Thompson. Singer was hired to shoot a feature for the magazine on the rise of popularity of “white” unaged whiskeys and visited two bars in the San Francisco area to photograph bartenders and their signature drinks. At Elixir, he photographed Shea Shawnson with his signature drink the Napa Creole, made with Double & Twisted Whiskey. At Bar Agricole, he photographed Craig Lane and his specialty drink the Dry Rye Gin Old Fashioned with St. George Dry Rye Gin.

For both shoots, Singer departed from his typical Profoto Strobe set up in favor of continuous source lights. For the main lights, he set up daylight balanced Kino-Flo and the back lights, tungsten Fresnels to generate a warm glow. He shot with a Contax 645 with a Phase One P25+ digital back. Singer says, “I liked the results and will likely continue experimenting with continuous source lights on future shoots.  I've always had a thing for Fresnel lights.”

Singer and his assistant, Marzette Henderson, were also treated to drinks while shooting. Singer says 9:30 am is “not my usual cocktail hour,” but at Elixir, Shawnson poured them samples of rare spirits for them to try, and by the end of the shoot Singer and Henderson had a bit of a buzz. At both bars, Singer said the signature cocktails were “pretty amazing,” and he brought his girlfriend to Bar Agricole the next day so she could try the Dry Rye Gin Old Fashioned as well.

The portraits of both bartenders fit Singer’s aesthetic and draw in the viewer’s intrigue with a hint of cinematic drama. Singer encourages naturalness from all his subjects and is always looking for faces that strike him. “I love anyone who has an interesting look or story,” he says. “I’m not necessarily drawn to ‘beautiful people.’ I like people with character.”

For more of Jeff Singer’s work, visit his Web site.


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