Andrew Dressner (he/him), FCLC ’23, is a former photo editor at The Observer and is majoring in natural science on the pre-med track. Outside of The Observer, Andrew loves taking photos, is an EMT and enjoys rock climbing.
Opening the Aperture to Photo Production
Apple TV+ Photo Producer Craig Calefate recalls roots in The Observer newsroom
March 23, 2021
Sitting at the photo desk in the corner of The Observer office can feel a little distant from the nearby whirlwind of editors writing upcoming articles. But being a photo editor does require a great deal of organization and creativity. Craig Calefate, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’09, first sat at that desk during his junior year, assigning photos to his photographers and hitting the streets of New York to cover pitches. Now, 12 years after graduating, Calefate works as a photo producer for Apple, using the skills he once learned as a photo editor in the professional world.
Before arriving at Fordham, Calefate took his first pictures on his grandfather’s old camera that he discovered in a box and had fixed up. His grandfather worked as an engineer for Kodak, the same brand of camera that first sparked Calefate’s interest in photography.
With his bags and camera in hand, Calefate’s passion found a home in The Observer after hearing about it from his orientation leader, Russell Martonis, FCLC ’07, who was the photo editor at the time. “I had a big interest in photography and I was looking for an activity to meet some friends, so I talked to him and joined the team as a staff photographer,” Calefate said.
A visual arts and communications major, Calefate honed his photo skills and leadership abilities while moving up the ranks of The Observer. “Once I joined The Observer, I had tunnel vision of photography, journalism and choosing that as a career, so I really put a lot of energy into it,” he said. Taking photos for a variety of articles allowed Calefate to experiment with different types of photography and expand his interests and career options.
“I had no idea what I was interviewing for; I knew it was the photo department at NBC and I imagined it was the pictures that you see on the news.”
The Road to Photo Production
Being in New York City is a dream for any photographer, including Calefate, as there is something going on in every corner that can be photographed. The city is also home to great internship opportunities. Amelia Hennighausen, Calefate’s adviser in the visual arts department, was the first to encourage him to take on an internship and even helped him obtain an interview.
“I had no idea what I was interviewing for; I knew it was the photo department at NBC and I imagined it was the pictures that you see on the news,” Calefate said.
Calefate said the internship “opened up the world of photo production in television and film.” That internship placed Calefate on his career path, and he eventually went on to work for NBC and other entertainment companies as a specialist in photo production.
Calefate commented, “For current students, take those internships, that’s where you make those connections and get a really good feel for what you want to do post-graduation.” It was also with the help of professors and other advisers that Calefate was able to increase his confidence and dedication to his work in photography and journalism.
After spending a semester with NBC as an intern, Calefate moved across the country to work for Sony Pictures in the motion picture photography department. As an assistant there, Calefate learned all about the different aspects of the photo production industry from his boss, who also greatly encouraged his work.
After hearing about a contract photography position with NBC, it was time for Calefate to head back to where he first started: New York City. Over the course of six years, he began working full-time and broadened his photography experience. He worked with NBC News and NBC Sports, for which he provided photography coverage at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Photo production there also gave him experience working on scripted series and live shows such as “America’s Got Talent.” During the live recordings of “America’s Got Talent,” Calefate could be seen scrambling backstage, acquiring and managing shots of the performances. “It was exhausting, but I learned everything,” Calefate said about NBC.
From there, Calefate took a position working for HBO as a senior photo producer, which was a very different environment from a mainstream cable news organization. He felt the workload was much less than with the premium cable company. After three years, he joined his current company in Los Angeles working on shoots for Apple TV+ original content. He currently produces unit photography, the on-set shoots and marketing shoots for advertisements on several Apple TV+ series.
Linking the Roles: Editor to Producer
Photo production is a very busy and intense field that comes with long days working from dawn until late at night, when the shoot is done. The producer manages all the aspects of the shoot in order to output the greatest content possible. There are three areas of photo production: unit photography, which deals with assigning photographers their roles on shoots; special photography, which involves large marketing shoots for advertisements on billboards and buses; and event photography, which focuses on live shots at events such as premiers and shows like “America’s Got Talent.” Calefate has in-depth experience in each of those specialties from his roles at the various media companies.
Reflecting on his time at The Observer, Calefate remembered the late nights working in the office, listening to music and fostering friendships, some of which he still holds today. The Observer set him up for his career in photo production, allowing him to put in the energy and devotion to photography.
Being photo editor and photo producer both entail similar challenges, such as the occasional hurdles of things getting in the way of workflow, but “as photo editor or producer, you have to be scrappy and make things work … you just have to keep your eye on the final product and have to get there,” Calefate said.
When asked if being photo editor at The Observer had an influence on his career, Calefate exclaimed, “100%, it was basically setting me up for success in my career. If I didn’t have that experience back in college, I don’t think I would be where I am today!”