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Photographer shares a behind-the-scenes look at a recent Vanity Fair cover

Photography, for Tony Salvagio, is about breaking barriers — but the self-taught street photographer never thought his nights walking through the city would lead him to assist celebrity photographer Peter Lindbergh on a Vanity Fair cover shoot featuring Jennifer Lawrence. Salvagio — and two other photographers — recently discovered what goes on behind the cover after winning a portfolio contest sponsored by Wix.

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Wix

Out of over 14,000 entries, Salvagio was selected by a panel of three judges from Condé Nast to assist Lindbergh on the September 19 shoot for the holiday cover of Vanity Fair. The contest also gave 27-year-old fashion photographer Max Montgomery shooting privileges for the cover of Brides Magazine. That same contest also led to aerial photographer Nicholas La landing the assignment of shooting the Eiffel Tower for the cover of Condé Nast Traveler. The three photographers were selected after Wix decided to run a contest celebrating the launch of their upgraded Pro Gallery feature.

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Salvagio said shadowing Lindbergh through the entire shoot, including on-site post processing, was an incredible experience. “I didn’t have a mentor as I was very much self-taught, so to have someone [like Peter] and watch how he works and pick up on the little things he does to create a working piece of art is very inspiring.”

The street photographer said he could see just how big the shoot was going to be as soon as he stepped into the Paramount Studios parking lot already filled with sprinklers, smoke machines, lights and giant diffuser panels. Salvagio worked alongside Lindbergh assisting with tasks from shielding the lens from flares to uploading media cards for the on-site photo editing. Seeing the work progress from prep to shoot to edit and finished product while all on site was very helpful, he said.

Salvagio compared the experience to taking apart a common machine like a clock. “When you start to take it apart, you see all the cogs that go into making this machine and that’s the information that will help me in the future. Watching him ultimately helps me and my photography as well.”

Salvagio said he was surprised at how welcoming and approachable Lindbergh was on the set. Watching the famous photographer master the natural lighting was key to Salvagio’s behind-the-scenes experience.

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As a street photographer, Salvagio primarily uses a 24-105mm kit lens — but Lindbergh’s work has also inspired him to try out a more compressed look with a longer telephoto like the 70-200mm used on the set.

The experience was one of many broken barriers in his life that Salvagio attributes to the craft of photography, serving as another confidence booster similar to when he first started to see the value in his own work after he started shooting six years ago. “Later, I started to really see something in street photography and I started seeing changes in myself through it. I was normally very shy growing up, but street photography broke that barrier for me,” he said.

Just before Salvagio left the shoot, Lindbergh asked to see his work, capping the day with unexpected feedback.

“We wanted to give the photographers on our platform something that they can’t achieve by themselves most of the time. We came up with a lot of ideas but eventually we fell in love with the idea of offering them the opportunity to shoot a cover,” said Omer Shai, Wix’s chief marketiting officer. “Our platform is giving users the opportunity to be whatever they want.”

The three photographers — Salvagio, Montgomery, and La — were selected from 14,000 submitted Wix portfolios. The platforms algorithm was updated this summer to optimize images for both quality and performance based on the viewer’s screen and CPU.