Next up on the photo stories is Lev Grossman, with surprise guest and Beyond Words calendar veteran Lauren Oliver! But, before I dig into the details of this epic shoot, I need to mention that the calendar is still available for sale, with proceeds going to charity. So be sure to check it out and grab a copy! 

Let’s take a minute to tell the story of this photo. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lev a few years ago for, and so when putting together the next calendar I thought he might be a great fit. When I emailed him his reply was immediate and enthusiastic. He’d seen the last one, thought it was awesome, and totally wanted to be a part of the new project. His reaction was really fun for me; who doesn’t want a fantastic writer and professional creative getting excited over your art?

Don’t know Lev? Well, you’re in for a treat. He’s not only the book critic for Time magazine but has has works published in places like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He’s written five books, three of which are the amazing Magicians trilogy, the last of which (The Magician’s Land) debuted at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list. As if all of this wasn’t cool enough, The Magicians is currently a show on the SyFy channel. So yeah. He’s pretty great.

Before the project began I had to raise the funds for it on Kickstarter. I asked the participating authors to spread the word on their social media to get the info to their fans. Lev’s tweets were great, but at one point he got really excited, saying something like “Hey guys, wanna see me in a photo with a bird and fire? Fund this project!” Um, we never talked about those things being in his image; at that point I didn’t have a clue what I’d shoot for Lev! Talk about pressure! But I was happy he was so into the project, so I accepted the challenge as best I could. After some intense brainstorming with a friend I decided on Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx. You know, the guy who boats the dead across the river to Hades? Now all I had to do was find a dead body.

I remembered having a conversation with Lauren Oliver a few months prior about how she loved Lev, so clearly she was the perfect choice. With twelve bestselling books so far, some of which are being made into movies, she’s no slouch in the awesome author department herself either. I won’t lie, that was a fun email to write (“Hey, would you want to be a dead body for your friend Lev Grossman?”). She’s amazing, and since she’d been in the first calendar she knew what was required of her and happily came on board.

lev3Next I needed a boat. In NYC. In the off-season. Yeah, it was an interesting challenge. I contacted a company that rents canoes in Prospect Park in the summer and the owner was able to get one out of storage for me to use for the shoot. We weren’t able to put it in the lake because of permit restrictions, but we were in the shallows on the edge, which actually ended up working well since Lev was standing up at one end.

Lev’s costume was super simple, with a hooded black cloak that was made out of a rough textured linen. I wanted it a bit ragged and rough. Lauren’s was even easier: I just put her in the dress she wore for the first calendar, adding a hooded cropped fur jacket to help change the look.

I first shot the main image, trying different poses on both of them:

Then I started adding in flourishes like cloak billows and skirt movement to composite onto the image in Photoshop.

It was a relatively easy shoot, once it was put together, and it went rather quickly. We had a lot of fun, for sure!

IMG_3120The bigger part of this photo was editing. This was one of my Photoshop-heavy images in this calendar, and having the ability to shift the image how I wanted it gave me much more freedom to create a dark, creepy look.

I obviously had to edit in some water in front of the boat, then add the fire as well as the raven, which I shot a different day. I also changed the color of Lauren’s dress from royal blue to blood red to make sure it didn’t look the same as it did for her image. Eventually, once all the pieces were in place I toned the whole thing to bring on a sinister, underground feel.


This photo is incredibly atmospheric, and I had a lot of fun putting together all the different elements that Lev liked.

November 2016 final proof small

Stay tuned for the next photo, Pat Rothfuss!  And don’t forget to grab a copy of the calendar (remember, all proceeds go to charity!).

Did you miss the previous calendar stories? Be sure to check out the image creations for Tahereh Mafi and Ransom RiggsMelissa de la CruzScott Westerfeld,  Robin Hobb,  Leigh BardugoTony DiTerlizziKami Garcia and Garth Nix!

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