Creating the Photograph: Joe Giacomet’s, “Ronald’s Dirty Secret”


Editor’s Note: Creating the Photograph is an original series where we interview photographers all about a photo that they shot how it was achieved. The results are some knowledge passed onto you. Want to be featured? Email chrisgampat[at]thephoblographer[dot]com

Joe Giacomet was recently featured on this site for his Kickstarter for a one image project that he’s aiming to create called, “Cash for Gold.” After going through Joe’s portfolio, we were extremely impressed by his creativity, set design, and ability to really play with his imagination and bring it into the real world. The imagination translated over to his photographs, and one in particular really stood out at us. Growing up, I knew Ronald McDonald to be something that always reminded me to bug my parents that I wanted a Crispy Chicken Deluxe and that I also wanted some sort of happy meal toy. Like many things from my childhood though, they get tainted–and Giacomet imagined the most friendly clown in the world violating his own ethics.

Here’s his story. And if you’re interested check out more in our Creating the Photograph series.


The Concept


Ronald’s Dirty Secret is the first image in a series looking at the hidden lives of characters from pop culture. The image, which won Professional Photographer of the Year 2012 – Location Category, sees Ronald after a hard day being the face of McDonalds having a big slice of pizza in a dirty east end pizza joint.

I thought about this shoot for months, continually developing the idea. Once I had visualised the image I set out to find the perfect location, which was not as easy as you might think! I scoured the east end of London, renowned for it’s high concentration of fast food joints, until I eventually found what I was looking for.

Gear Used


Camera Equipment

Mamiya RZ with Leaf Aptus 65 Digi Back and 50, 65, 90, 110 Lenses

Macbook Pro

Eizo Monitor

Manfrotto 058B Tripod with Manfrotto 3D Super Pro Head


Lighting Equipment

Briese Focus 70 with grid and diffusor

Briese Flash Tube (Broncolor)

6 x Broncolor Grafit A4 3200

8 x Bron Head with standard reflector

4 x Bron Pack to Head Extension

1 x Small Chimera with Grid

1 x Medium Chimera

4 x Bron Grid Set

1 x Beauty Dish


1 x Double Windup with Megaboom

1 x Medium Roller Stand

6 x 2 Section Combo Sand

6 x C Stand with flag arm

2 x Magic Arm with double super clamps

4 x Master Stand

1 x Flag Kit

2 x 4×4 Flag

1 x Scrim Kit

2 x Pup Adaptor Spigot

1 x brass Spigot

4 x Super Clamp with j Hook.



10 x 13 amp to 16amp Jumper

12 x 16amp to 13amp jumper

14 x 8m 16amp cable

4 x 16 amp y cord

2 x 16amp to 4 way 13amp



3 x PocketWizard Kit

3 x Stage Weight

15 x Sandbags



1/8 CTO

1/4 CTO

1/8 CTB

0.3 ND

1 ND

Full Frost

1/4 Frost

1/8 Hampshire Frost

Large Bag of Croc Clips

White Gaffa

Black Sharpie


The Shoot

Camera Settings

65mm Lens F16, 1/250, ISO 50 – Main Shot

Shutter Opened up to 1/2 second for ambient plates


Two weeks before the shoot date disaster struck when the location pulled out… but fortunately I managed to find another location that was even better and just around the corner from my studio. I had initially overlooked it as I thought the tables were fixed in position. On closer inspection, however, it turned out they weren’t, just damn heavy! The only downside of the location was they only agreed to let me use it as long as I shot through the middle of the night. This meant arriving at the location at 11pm and working through the night until 4am when we had to be out.

One crucial element of this shoot was getting the right props and it took a while to source everything I needed. Ronald’s costume was ordered from the States, the trench coat came courtesy of ebay and the pizza was made fresh on site! The hat was the tricky part – after a lot of searching I finally the found the right one during an expensive trip to London’s biggest costumieres.


When we arrived at the location my assistants cracked on with the lighting. I decided to use a Briese focus 70 as the key light. The quality of light that this gives you is unbelievable – the perfect blend of a hard and a soft source – and the ability to focus the light lets you tailor it to your exact requirements. The other main sources were a medium chimera boomed over the top to give a dynamic look to the lighting and a medium grid with 1/4 CTO from the back right to simulate the warm glow from the kitchen. It took a while to perfect the lighting, with large amounts of reflective stainless steel and glass I needed lots of fill lights for clean reflections. I also had to bounce lights off the floor to fill the area of the ceiling which was in shot.

At the same time as directing the lighting I also worked on getting the angle right for the shot and styling the set. This involved buying some fried chicken for the rack, styling the counter and removing some of the bulbs in the signs at the back of the shop to create the look of a run down take away. Once I got the angle right I found that the height of the table wasn’t right for the composition of the shot so I had to raise the table and chair up 8 inches on blocks to get the perfect look.

Once I got the shot, I then shot an empty background plate with flash, flash and ambient and ambient only. The flash and ambient plate were really crucial because the flash completely overpowered the house lighting, such as the fluorescent tube in the counter and the warm glow from the chicken shelf. By opening up the shutter speed to half a second I managed to get the perfect blend of my own lighting as well as the ambient house lighting that I wanted.

lens rental

Finally I removed the props and table to create a completely empty background in case they needed moving around in post production. It was a little manic towards the end but we managed to get everything done and got out the of the location as the clock in Newham town hall struck 4am!

Post Production

Ronald Post Production Still

After a fairly quick edit, I had a lot of good shots, but one really stood out to me and then it was on to the retouching. The first job was to add Ronald into my flash and ambient background, followed by some elements from other backplates such as the fridge with no highlight and the pizza box with extra grease on it! I then started cleaning up the shot such as removing unwanted pipes, signs and marks, although I still wanted to keep the essence of the location so I didn’t do too much of this. I then copied a better slice of pizza into Ronald’s hand from a different image, and then I removed all the creases from his gloves, fattened his cheeks and then I moved on to grading the image. The first thing to do was to colour match the yellow and red to the McDonald’s colours and then selectively lightened and darkened the colours in various areas of the image. Once I was happy with this I then applied the final grade which increased contrast and warmed up the picture.

I’m planning to create a series of images following on from this image which will all be based on the hidden lives of well known characters from pop culture. The next in the series, entitled ‘Cash for Gold’, looks at the Olympic mascot Wenlock a year on from the end of Olympics and is currently being crowd funded through Kickstarter – see the page for a sneak preview of the image and to help fund it!


Photographer – Joe Giacomet

Talent – Tiago Morelli

MUA – Gemma Tyler

Art Dept – Juan Tudela

1st Assistant – John Wilson

2nd Assistant – Jo Burrows

Lighting Rental – Pixi Pixel

Before and After





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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.