The Jeff Bridges Experience

Posted by Jerry Avenaim on March 16, 2010 – 9:03 am
Jeff Bridges Magazine Cover

Jeff Bridges © Jerry Avenaim Photography

No matter where you were in the world last week, practically everyone was talking about The Oscars last Sunday in Hollywood. Who won for which film, which nominee you think deserved it more, and who wore what and did they look good. When I think about this past Oscars, I reflect upon a recent session where one of that night’s big names was a winner to me before he collected his long overdue Oscar.

Fade In magazine had hired me to create a portrait of Jeff Bridges for their cover, along with images for the feature story in the upcoming issue. And with all the Oscar buzz in the air the pressure was on. Having been in the belly of the cinematic beast for many years, I still know it is a blessing to have an actor walk into my studio who has multiple Oscar nominations over a 40 year career and is the heavy favorite to land the big prize. However, with such a buzz around Bridges you have to wonder exactly how long he will be in the studio before he is whisked away to his next obligation.

This photo shoot was to be the last pre-Oscar photo session for Bridges. The studio was prepared with three different lighting set ups, but the weight of the situation was on the shoulders of me and my team to get the shots done, and get the shot. Since we were his last photo shoot before the Oscars, he was probably counting down the minutes for this circus to be over. It’s not like “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges character in “The Big Lebowski”) is going to walk into my studio and just hang out. He has places to go and people to see, right?

jeff bridges photo shoot crazy heart

Opening image of Bridges © Jerry Avenaim Photography for Fade In 2010

The morning began with my crew and I ready to get this done the best way we know and as quickly as possible. Then in walked Bridges, but if you closed your eyes all you heard was “The Dude.” Normally celebrities with such a busy schedule like Bridges’ smiles and nods as they walk in with their entourage of publicists, representatives, and agents, and walk out just as quickly. But Jeff stopped and shook hands with everyone in the room. This was not a man who was counting down the minutes, he was cherishing each and every second of his experience!

Over the years I have photographed many celebrities and each shoot is impossible to describe in only a handful of words, but this session left me speechless. A man who is part of an acting legacy, who has been around this type of situation all his life, is sitting back and being genuine, polite, honest, and more importantly, seeming to enjoy each moment. We had in the studio a rare $20,000 Gibson guitar brought in as a prop for one of the shots, reflecting his nominated (now award winning) role in Crazy Heart. He picked it up and said, “Oh man that’s nice of you to get me this, I didn’t get you anything though.” An accomplished guitarist, Bridges knew it wasn’t a gift and was making a joke knowing how rare this guitar actually was. As the shoot progressed he would ask questions regarding my camera and the lighting, not for conversation but because he is also an accomplished photographer.

bottle of kahlua signed by jeff bridges

The bottle of Kahlua signed by "The Dude" Jeff Bridges

It’s simply amazing to meet someone in person that you have seen on screen for years and realize, “he really is that guy.” He seemed always down to earth, polite and kind, funny and curious, and humble, even more so considering being the odds on favorite for the Oscar this year.

I’m sure many reading this are wondering about the how the images were lit and the more technical aspects of the shoot. This is something I will get into next time I have a moment to sit down and write it out with helpful diagrams. You will  see that entry (along with additional images) both here and on the Profoto blog.

Lastly, I’ve always been a fan of the movie The Big Lebowski, I had a bottle of Kahlua (a key ingredient to the drink of choice of his character in the film) in the studio thinking that if there was time I would ask him to sign it on his way out. There was time. Upon handing Bridges the bottle, I saw him begin to scribble all over the label of the bottle. A moment later he handed me the bottle with his sketch “The Dude” over the phrase “Jerry abides” and his signature. Jeff Bridges was a true pleasure to work with. He’s a musician, a photographer, kind, and an artist in everything he does. . . . And now, he’s an Academy Award Winning actor to go along with it.

If you would like to see the entire shoot online, check out Fade In magazine!

Happy shooting,

Jerry Avenaim

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38 Responds so far- Add one»

  1. 1. matt haines Said:

    Can I guess on the lighting? For shot #1, looks like one light camera left and above. Catchlights make me think it’s a (gasp!) umbrella! Reflector below and right for a very tiny amount of fill, but barely anything since you’re going for moody contrast.

    Shot #2: Big ol softbox/octabox/parabolic or some other large light source, camera left about 90° to the side and somewhat above Mr Bridges. I think you’ve tilted this light modifier to be brighter on his face, and reducing the light both on the feet and edge of the couch (although some could be done in post too). Harder light to the right, probably in a snoot or grid, as edge light. Shot from a distance with a longer lens, because the couch edges don’t show much ‘vanishing point’ perspective like a wide angle would do. But you’re up high enough to show the couch but to foreshorten it a little.

    The shadows are not very significant on his feet though. There’s a possibility you’ve got a big light source as fill, with something like a smaller octo or beauty dish to just pump up his face a little. I’m not quite as positive on this image.

    Hope I didn’t spoil your next post. Nice shots, and I wanted to take the time to study them.


    Jerry Avenaim Reply:


    The study of catch lights and overall image light sources is one of the best things you can do. In the early stages of my career and even now. I will stare at a magazine or image and try to figure out the lighting. I applaud you for doing so. You have wonderful observation skills, although you are close, no Kahula for you just yet. 🙂


    matt haines Reply:

    I shall just have to wait until the next installment then! 🙂 Thanks.


  2. 2. Mark Dunlap Said:

    Beautiful images of an iconic actor. Really looking forward to reading about some of the technical aspects of making these images.


    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Thank you Mark, I appreciate your kind words very much.


  3. 3. Gerry Hanan Said:

    #1 DEADLY shots sir #2 brilliant article. Photography is painting with light and your blog post painted such a wonderful picture of Jeff and your shoot with him. I love his comment “Oh man that’s nice of you to get me this, I didn’t get you anything though”. This gives a wonderful sense of his humor, and his interest in photography and doing the doodle on the bottle let us see the humanity of the star , who was polite, honest and was savoring every moment of the journey. Kudos on your smashing shoot. The cover shot is completely stellar 🙂


    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Mr. Hanan,

    I must thank you as always, for your kindness and generosity. Of course, you always know how to see into and beyond the photographs and written words. Your insight into ‘humanity’ is always something I will aspire to.


  4. 4. Gerry Hanan Said:

    Brilliant example of a master storyteller shooting with delicious lighting equipment 🙂


  5. 5. FJGPHOTO Said:

    Stellar work once again. Photo #1 stops me in my tracks. For the past year, I’ve been focusing a major portion of my photography study on catch lights to help improve my lighting knowledge. I’d like to take a guess on the lighting of photo #1.

    I’m seeing two light sources in the eyes. Having the advantage of knowing that you are a big fan of using the Profoto Magnum Reflector, I’m guessing that reflector, feathered up with a cutter (slightly camera left) and a large octa or umbrella directly behind it for fill?

    Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. Phenomenal results!


    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the back story. And good observations, but still, no Kahlua for you 😉

    While I still use a Magnum reflector, on three set ups it was not used once…


  6. 6. Joe Federerr Said:

    You know, some times it’s heartwarming to NOT be let down by an actor. You hear so many stories of people meeting their ‘favorite actor of all time’ only to be let down by the real person. It’s awesome that Jeff turns out to be a really nice fellow. (oh, and the images are awesome, of course)


    Jerry Avenaim Reply:

    Thank you Joe, sometimes you get those shoots that just mak you say ahhhhhhh! Usually it’s not with a dude for me, but this was “The Dude” man 🙂


  7. 7. Linda Kuo Said:

    Mr Avenaim. I know you from back in the day in Chicago. I was a model that never had had the pleasure of working with you. I live in NY now and found you on facebook from a 6 degree of separation contac with post from Jack Perno and the old gang. I have to say that your approach to work and life is uplifting, admirable and refreshing. People can be so fearful, guarded and selfish with their knowledge. I have a photographer friend in atlanta. Zack Arias who is the most authentic, generous and giving person. Until now : ) I have already shared your website and blog with my fellow photogs. Its been my experience, in every field from modeling to yoga to whatever that those who are at the top of their game have no competition and give freely of themselves. Thank you so much. I wish I could have assisted you. Linda Kuo


    Jerry Avenaim Reply:


    Thank you so much for those kind words. Life is a cycle and I’m a Chicago boy, next time I’m in town I’ll try and reach out. All the best! Jerry


    Linda Kuo Reply:

    It’s been nice to re-connect with everyone from back in the day through facebook. I’m here in NY. I know you’re extremely busy and in demand but if you’re ever in the hood…


  8. 8. Wendy Maybury Said:


    You rock, as always! Sounds like you charmed another subject and successfully wow-ed another client– no surprise there–you are amazing! Thanks for being so generous with your time and sharing this story… It is so fun to get a peek behind the set walls!



  9. 9. Darrell Said:

    I’m a huge fan or yours! I am a coroner investigator by day, and an Avenaim wanna be on weekends and at night – this cover shot of yours is exactly why!

    First off I can imagine the nerves of a shoot like this. Iconic actor, time lines, and oh – by the way, the guy your shooting today knows his way around your camera about as much as anyone else in the room! I equate that to me investigating a death scene with the victim’s family standing over my shoulder – then adding to the pressure, one of them is a forensic pathologist. Oh, Great…

    I am stunned by that cover shot – I found myself zooming in and turning my head left and right and picking up my lap top to bring it closer to my face to look at all the angles, like I was trying to peek through a window or something – wishing I could see the the light set-ups! That cover shot matches The Dude’s iconic face and voice. I almost hate that they had to put font all over that shot! Really stunning work sir. Thrilled that today’s blogging atmosphere offers such a personal glimpse into the working world of people like you, who are willing to share. Thanks!


  10. 10. Jason Christopher Said:

    Hey brother, awesome shots. I love the lighting and what I also REALLY love is how you captured Jeff’s character as a real person and not just an actor. You managed to show that the man has a whole life worth of many experiences as one can see in his wrinkles and lines of his face. However, they aren’t too harsh or too soft.
    And I don’t mean to use the words wrinkles and lines in an insulting way. I actually think one can gain much insight to a persons life just by studying the face. And the wrinkles and lines really tell a story on every face we see.


  11. 11. FJGPHOTO Said:

    Still love your work but it’s very disappointing you haven’t updated or comment on your blog since…

    Was looking forward to the additional information.


  12. 12. home and family Said:

    Hi dude , This is amazing posting for my homework from school Do u have twitter account ?? i want to follow your twitt . bye


  13. 13. StreetShadows Said:

    Hey, great shots here, very well done


  14. 14. Jaimie Dee Said:

    I <3 Kahlua!!! 🙂


  15. 15. Daniel Castonguay Said:

    Jerry what’s up! I’m really waiting for another blog post!


  16. 16. Brad Christopher Said:

    The Dude is one of my favorite characters ever!! hahaha


  17. 17. Arnold M. Wilson Said:

    Great images! It must be rather difficult to make such photos! Well done.


  18. 18. Denver Photography Said:

    I really like that shot on the couch great work.


  19. 19. Harry Hilders Said:

    Great post!


  20. 20. dentist vancouver fa Said:

    No doubt and no more question, Jeff Bridges is one of the most influential and popular photographer. He accomplish and done a lot of works. Totally admirable!!


  21. 21. school ball photogra Said:

    I just stumbled on to your website and your work is nothing short of amazing. You have a new fan. And I have a new photographer crush. inspiring. thank you.


  22. 22. tony Said:

    Want to join this list – Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Mert & Marcus, Annie Leibowitz and photograph SELMA BLAIR. Well, NOW you have the chance by submitting to Making the Shoot – – We are so thrilled to announce that the winner of Making The Shoot will be photographing actor and fashion extraordinaire SELMA BLAIR for a 6-8 page spread in The Lab Magazine’s next issue. Deadlines are quickly approaching, so hurry up and submit!!!


  23. 23. Yair Haim Said:

    I just came across your website and I have to say you are great!
    Beautiful pictures and I love the style.


  24. 24. Aagab Said:

    Hey Juli! WOW. I am incredibly jluaoes saw him at WPPI and can only imagine what a great workshop he has. Thanks for sharing! Good picture of the two of you!


  25. 25. Jenna Bechtholt Said:

    These are beautiful pictures, I love the one with Jeff on the lounge chair with the guitar, the lighting and jean clothing make for a beautiful composition, love your site!


  26. 26. David kamenir Said:

    A little more than a week ago, I filmed a kahlua spot with Jeff bridges as the main actor . I was playing the part of a jazz pianist in a jazz quartet ( I was tuoecast since I’m a professional jazz pianist).

    Now I get the connection with the dude and kahlua. Just to echo the words of this article, Jeff was down to earth , friendly and genuinely interested in chatting about mutual musical things in between takes of the filming. Really a pleasure to work with such a mensch! Anyone who doesn’t know what the Yiddish word mensch means , please email me!
    Thanks, dk


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