A Studio

For some time now I have wanted to have a studio. I didn’t always want one for several reasons. Over the past couple of years I have been thinking about having a studio more and more. Back when I was working as a photographer’s assistant one photographer gave me a pretty solid piece of advice: “When you have a studio, the tail starts to wag the dog.” Meaning, as he explained, you might end up taking every job, even ones you hate, just to pay the rent. Taking every job that comes along just to pay the rent was not why I wanted to be in photography. That has been in the back of my mind since then.

I have often said that I would not get a studio unless I had six months of rent and expenses in the bank. That is so I could stay open even if I had no paying clients for six months. Well I don’t know about you but getting $12,000 to $15,000 in the bank hasn’t happened for me. But now I’m thinking about a studio more and more. I like to teach and many people have been asking about studio lighting classes or pinup classes. Things I would like to teach but without a studio teaching those classes would not be very easy. So, I have started to look for a studio.

Am I in any hurry to get a studio? Not really. As with most things I believe, you get what you need not necessarily what you want. I think the Stones said something like that in one of their songs. Anyway, if you see a post in the next few months about me getting a studio you will know it happened. If you don’t see such a post, then maybe I’m still thinking about it. Photography is something I have enjoyed for many years and I don’t want getting a studio to change that!

Blue Bottle

Blue Bottle on White Background with Blue Shadow

This image was done in my basement using a wine bottle, a piece of white laminate (for countertops), and a single light. You could say it’s another one from the “I got bored and went into the basement…” series. I save wine bottles that interest me so that I can use them for images. I have several in a box in my basement still waiting for their chance to be a star. What attracted me to this bottle is it’s vibrant blue color. I wanted to make sure the color was nice and saturated in the shadow. I used only one light with nothing but a reflector. I experimented with a few light modifiers but none gave me what the bare bulb did. I did very little post processing using Nikon Capture NX2. This is basically right out of the camera with a little exposure adjustment and some added saturation. I’m happy with the way it turned out.

You don’t need very much room to do this kind of image. An old door on some saw horses was the “table”. The laminate was clamped to the door and curved up an unfinished wall then taped in place. One studio flash head with reflector was all I used for lighting but you can do this with a portable flash unit. Just make sure your light is pointed so it lights the background. Give it a try and have fun!

Do you need a studio?

Quite often I hear from other photographers, “If only I had a studio.” To which I ask, “Where do you shoot now?”  The responses are as varied as what different photographers like to photograph. Having a studio would be great. I’ve worked in a bunch of them. In fact I have helped three photographers build their studios and I was asked for my input on the design of studio for a large national non-profit that I used to work for on a freelance basis. Currently I don’t have a studio, in fact, I have never had a studio of my own. I have always made sure I have a place where I can go and make some images if I feel the need to.

Since I got serious about photography I’ve used a wide variety of places for a studio. When I lived in Belgium the Arts and Crafts Center, where I was a Photolab Instructor, had a studio that I could use. When I lived in an apartment in Charleston SC, attending the College of Charleston, I had a king size bed on legs that were 7 1/2 feet tall! The apartment had ceilings that were a bit over ten feet high. This gave me room to shoot headshots, ¾ body shots and tabletop setups under the bed. My dorm rooms at the University of South Florida also became a studio when I needed to shoot projects for various assignments. After graduating I would use my dining table or my living room to shoot in. Currently I have a small space in our basement where I have the option of setting up a small “studio” when I get an idea for an image that can be created in a small space. When I need a larger space I use our garage or another room in the house.

Can you create a studio anywhere you have room to shoot? Sure you can. All it takes is a little ingenuity and some planning and you can make it happen. Can I shoot a Lamborghini in my living room or one of the other rooms I have already mentioned? Of course not. For that matter how often will I get the chance to shoot a Lamborghini in a studio? Lets just say I’m not planning on it anytime soon but if I needed to I would rent a studio for the shoot.

Match bursting into flame

So the answer to the question is, No! You don’t need a studio. Creating images like this image of a flaming match and the others you see here can be done in a relatively small space. Would having a studio be great?  Sure it would be, I’d love to have one. Having a place to go and shoot whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to, would be great. Not having all the expenses of having a studio, well, that’s great too.

Smoke, Nothing but Smoke

I have seen other photographer’s images of smoke and I thought, “I can do that.” But I wanted to do something different, something I hadn’t seen before but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it. Well, to make a short story even shorter, this stayed in the back of my mind until I got around to going into the basement and playing with some ideas. I set up some incense in my little basement “studio” and started to fool around with how to light the smoke from the incense. The first few I did, I proved to myself that I could do the same sort of images that I have seen of smoke in the past. So far, so good and besides, I was having fun.

But something was wrong, I didn’t just want to create images like those I have already seen. Other photographers had been there, done that. I wanted to do something different, I’m difficult that way. My Mom once told me I try to be different just because I want to be. Well, I guess that’s true. So I started to play around with the positioning of the flash units that I was using. I started to get something a little different but I was still not completely happy with the images I was making. So, as I usually do, if I’m not happy with what I’m getting, I go and complicate things. Yeah, the KISS method of creating predictable results went straight out the window but hey, I was having fun!

I pulled out a smoke machine that I bought a few years ago for Halloween. You know the ones, a small black machines that go on sale after Halloween for about $15. It creates some nice smoke in a controlled space but is absolutely useless for really cool large-scale smoke. After letting the smoke machine heat up I began to play around with the amount of smoke and the position of the three speedlights. After a little more experimenting I started to get some stuff that I really liked! This one is my favorite image from that set.

Take a good look at the smoke in the background. What do you see? For some reason I seem to get faces in the background smoke of the images that I make like this. I did a similar set a couple of weeks later with a different camera and I can still see faces in the smoke, I like that! By the way this is just about how the image came out of the camera. I only made minor adjustments when processing the images from that day. OK, let’s get back on track…

What I’m trying to say with this post is that keeping it simple is safe and you can get predictable results. Don’t get me wrong, predictable results are how most photographers make their money. There are times though, when you want to get something a bit different from what you have seen. Try making things a bit complicated, and that just might do it for you!

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