by Lou Mancinelli
Sharon Stone knows just the kind of light she likes to be photographed in. And supermodel Heidi Klum is the kind of woman who went out of her way to record five videos of her speaking German for kids in Erdenheim resident Mat McCabe’s son’s German class.
McCabe, 50, has worked a photographer for Klum for over 10 years. Their connection led to Klum’s asking McCabe to be the photographer for the Germany’s Next Top Model television show she hosts. (Klum, 43, one of the world’s most famous models, is also a judge on “America’s Got Talent,” the top-rated TV show in the U.S. this summer.)
Last December, when the Philadelphia area was stuck in winter, McCabe was taking photographs of Germany’s next top model in the Canary Islands. It’s a black and white story, the black stemming from shots taken on a beach of volcanic ash.
In his 25-year career as a mostly fashion and advertising photographer, McCabe has worked with numerous celebrities and photographed cover shoots for magazines like Cosmopolitan and InStyle. McCabe has traveled the globe for photo shoots, including stints in Asia, Australia, Europe and the U.S.
His photography has been featured on covers in Europe, Australia and the Americas. While a good photographer knows how to frame a shot just right, and McCabe obviously does, the local guy believes that it’s really personal interaction with whomever you’re photographing that makes for quality photos.
“It’s the trust that you have with the photographer,” he said. “Technology today allows for even casual users to edit shots captured with Smart phones into magazine quality. The camera was never that important; it was the lighting and the interaction. With the technology today, it’s really about interaction.”
Not shy in front of the camera, Mat also makes an annual appearance as a guest photographer on “Germany’s Next Top Model” and has been interviewed for “E! True Hollywood Story.”
Raised in New York City, McCabe learned as a young man how photo shoots work. He frequently traveled to Los Angeles and Miami — where the weather was always good for photography — with his father, photographer Dave McCabe, who was hired by Andy Warhol to follow Warhol for a year and publish the photos from the experience.
After studying film at Denison University in Ohio, McCabe worked in film in New York before finding work as a photography assistant. He met Klum while working as an assistant at one of her shoots, and she later contacted McCabe and asked him to shoot photos for her Barbados postage stamps campaign.
This was right at the beginning of the digital revolution but before the digital cameras we know today. McCabe’s new fancy camera had a digital back, which allowed direct transfer of photos to the computer.
“There were so many things that went wrong on that shoot because of the new technology,” McCabe said. “I guess she saw me flustered with the technology and how I handled it.” However, it was the beginning of a long working relationship. The two grew close enough that Klum and her pop star then-husband Seal invited McCabe and his family to their home to celebrate the remarriage the couple went through every year, before their divorce.
A commercial photographer, McCabe makes the photos he wants by setting up his photo shoots. This is different from capturing photos with a smart phone. It’s about control. He knows how to design the scene, where to position the reflectors — those circular or square devices you might picture someone behind the scenes holding above his/her head during a photo shoot.
One of the main changes digital cameras have provided, going from print to largely online, aside from lowering costs associated with developing film, is the settings on the physical camera McCabe selects. Before digital cameras he shot with a high dpi (dots per inch, similar to megapixels) with lots of lighting. Now he shoots at 72 dpi with a lot less lighting, because the shot is backlit by a computer screen. And he uses computer software to perfect the lighting. In plain talk, it takes less light and less camera than before.
This past year McCabe has worked with two big-name celebrities who are promoting cancer awareness through different nonprofit organizations. Jack Huston played Richard Harrow, a World War I sniper-turned mob hitman, on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” In September, 2015, McCabe traveled to Europe to take still shots of Huston’s campaign as spokesperson for Opdivo, a cancer drug. The project involved interviewing people who lived with cancer for video testimonials. McCabe will return to Europe this year to photograph some of the same people.
During the work he became inspired by the stories of people living with the disease and the heightened sense of seizing as many opportunities as they could and doing things they otherwise might not have done.
“If one person tells you that, it’s like ‘Yeah I get it,’ but when six people tell you … It really made me feel like the photographs and the interaction were really important as opposed to just commercial.”
For 14 years, McCabe has lived with his wife Kim and their two sons, Lucas and Jake. His wife was raised in Erdenheim. Many assignments come today by word of mouth.
“I have to convince the people that they should use me,” he said. “It’s all about interaction.”
For more information, visit mathewmccabe.com.