Alex: This is Alex Wolff with Long Island portfolio and I’m here with my friend photographer Lenny Stucker. it’s good to see you today.
Lenny: Thank you for having me.
Alex: You haven’t always been a photographer, so what led you to be one of the leading, if not the leading A-list photographer on Long Island?
Lenny: Well, I thank you for the compliment, that was very kind. You are an excellent photographer in your own right.
To make a Long story short, when I was 12 years old I had my own darkroom. Way back when there was no such thing as digital! It was all chemicals and paper and darkrooms. I loved it. My parents were concerned that I was going to be a recluse because instead of being out playing with all the other kids, I would be countless hours in my darkroom. I loved photography and through high school I was the photographer for the high school newspaper.
When it came time for college, I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do until I met with my guidance teacher, whom I’ve never forgotten. She asked me questions about some of my likes and what I find interesting. I told her, “Photography”, of course! She told me I could go to college for photography and I was amazed that you could do that! I went to New York Institute of Technology for four years and earned a degree in communication arts. I majored in television and photography.
My career led to television where I worked for NBC and I advanced quickly. I became the youngest director at NBC, and I directed Super Bowls and major events. I had a wonderful career, very exciting, a lot of creativity. When I retired, I felt a tremendous void of a creative outlet, so I got back into my photography. Now I sit on the Commission of Suffolk County film Commission, where one of the other people, an owner of East Hampton TV, invited me to come out to East Hampton and watch their televised productions, which were major events such as Polo matches, and the Hampton Classic which is a horse show.
I started doing photography at these events just for the fun of it because I was already retired; I wasn’t looking for another career, but from 12 years old, photography was my love.
And I made a career in television because I was a TV director, I chose what people saw and how they saw it, so the composition of a frame was my whole life.
Alex: And story-telling—making sure that the image that was in front of everybody was telling the story that needed to be told.
Lenny: As best I could, and I just loved it! So, getting back into photography and people liking what I did, it came as a surprise to me when I started getting offers to do magazine covers, and then notable celebrities. Notable socialites started asking me to do portraits and headshots and to photograph their private parties and charity events, and it just developed from there.
Alex: You didn’t mention that you’re also doing a lot of shoots for the theater, although that’s parked at the moment because of Covid. Tell me a little bit about doing the theater stills and how Covid has impacted what you do currently.
Lenny: I’m glad you asked that Alex because of all the things I photograph doing the theater is the cat’s meow to me, because I’ve gotten to the point where the directors and notable producers on Broadway trust me and allow me to shoot it the way I like to shoot it. In the beginning, of course they were paying me, and not totally familiar, but I did come recommended. They would give me a lot of direction and then I would say, “What do you think if I stage it this way just for the photo shoot, not to change your Broadway staging direction but for the way the photo is going to look?”
Alex: That’s about compressing the space, because sometimes the stages are so wide you can’t get the story. It looks good if you’re in the seats looking at it, but it becomes such a wide space that you can’t really tell that story in the photograph.
Lenny: That’s correct, because the peripheral vision of the human eye is greater and wider than the peripheral vision of a camera, depending on the lens used of course. To consolidate, to stack it so that you don’t have the big airy holes and a big gap between characters, so they have to come closer.
That started when I got an invite for an interview to start shooting Bay Street theater productions in Sag Harbor, which in some cases would hold a production that was on its way to Broadway. This was their trial run to workout bugs, to correct things and see how the audience responded to certain things. I began to meet different notable people in Broadway who really liked the photos, and started asking me to do portraits of them, and promotional pictures for billboards on the side of the buses.
I started getting involved in Broadway and I got to do some major productions. As of last year, 2019 (before the terrible year of 2020) I was really on a roll! I was getting to shoot new Broadway shows coming up, but, like everybody else, unfortunately because of the coronavirus, Broadway has come to a halt. All productions have come to a halt. So, I miss that. It was creatively just a blast to shoot. I do like shooting portraits, I do like shooting headshots, but shooting stage production and being allowed to do it the way I like to do it just really fluffs my feathers.
Alex: Now that we’re not doing a lot of shooting, are you reflecting on your work or your personal choices about the future?
Lenny: Post processing is my most favorite thing to do. I’ve taught some classes at NYIT and Berger Brothers. I did it because I had a captive audience to listen to me talk about photography for two hours! The pay was nothing, but the fact that I had someone that would listen to me, because I could go on and on and on talking about photography. I tell my students that you have to develop a style. Shooting is one-third, and two-thirds is your post processing because technology has advanced very much in photography. For the most part, people could see that with their iPhone that has a little tiny lens. With all the advancement in the technology, the camera can take a pretty damn decent picture.
Years ago when you shot film, you really had to know what you were doing because you had to really understand the camera and you didn’t see if you had it until the film came back. At that point, the people you shot or the event you shot was over, and either you had it, or you didn’t. So, you really had to be good at what you do.
Now, I go to a lot of shoots and I do unfortunately see some people that have no clue about photography. I was at an event where the photographer who was shooting for a local magazine commented that their pictures were really dark. I asked, “What’s your F stop?” Their response was. “What’s that?” You know what that that comment is like to a photographer. They use P or A for total automatic. I am older than 39 years old, so I do go back to the era where anyone who held the camera was so professional. Even if they weren’t a noted photographer, they were an excellent photographer because of the challenge of using film cameras back then.
Alex: You had your light meter then and you made your adjustments based on what your light meter said. Whether you agree with the light meter, or not, it was still the basis for what you were doing with your exposure. What I like about digital, by the way, is that instead of having just two dimensions that you could work (shutter speed and your F stop), now you can also change your ISO on the fly. You don’t have to change film because you’re going outside. I think that’s the biggest advantage of digital photography.
Lenny: And the numbers that you can exceed in iso as compared to film, where iso 400 was like “Oh my God,” 400 versus 120. For those that don’t understand what we’re talking about it’s the light sensitivity that the camera could see, which affects how dark or how bright the picture is.
Alex: Covid is going to be around for a while, but when we open up again, what do you want to be shooting?
Lenny: I’m turning down requests now because I just don’t think I would fare well if I got the virus. I hope the cliche of out of sight out of mind doesn’t hold true, because even though I elect to not do it, the client is going to find someone that will do it. I don’t know if everything will come back. I’m sure some of it will come back but, as I mentioned earlier, this is more of a retirement thing for me. I do it for the enjoyment and the creative aspect of it, so I hope some of it comes back.
We’ll be lucky if we see things get back (to normal) in 2021. I think it’s more like 2022 and that’s if everything goes correctly.
Alex: That’s talk about scaling stuff such as Broadway, sports things with big theater and lots of groups of people.
Lenny: Broadway will only come back when
they can fill the whole theater because the theaters in New York are small. There’s no way they can handle the cost for production with salary and union stagehands and everyone involved, on a partially filled theater. So, it’s just physically impossible budget wise to do that, they would have to fill a full theater.
Alex: I have started to see theater productions being recorded and then played in the movie theaters or on television.
Lenny: It’s a way of survival. Is it the environment of being in the theater and watching a live Broadway production? No, it’s watching a movie on TV that just so happens to movie is of a Broadway show. The cameras is coming in for closeups. You are not seeing the entire image like it was staged for theater. The stage directors direct it for the peripheral vision of the audience and not for the camera lens as you and I do photography. It’s a different concept of directing, so it comes off differently.
Alex: I appreciate so much you’re taking some of your time for me
Lenny: Well it’s my pleasure. Thanks very much, my pleasure Alex.
You can see Lenny’s work at
When Covid is over, catch us at the Hampton Classic.