Category Studio

Changing Mood By Photographing Opposites

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Before I owned a studio full of lighting gear and travelled with assistants, I spent years as a photojournalist who owned little more than a Domke F-2 bag with two camera bodies.  When you boil things down, I’m a location photographer who happens to have a studio.

When on location, I often have to travel quickly, adjust on the fly and create visual gold out of thin air.   When it comes to using light, I’ve learned to work fast and to think in opposites.  More on that in a moment.  The advantages of also having a studio means that I can test and experiment with my lighting before going on scene, which is a huge plus.

A recent collaboration with Virginia, a local actress looking for theatrical images, demonstrates the idea of “opposites” well.  The challenge was to create a series of distinct looks in the studio in a relatively short period of time, relying only on lighting and a few key elements. As a mental exercise, I try to challenge myself to create looks that are visual “opposites”–i.e., if I photograph a scene heavily lit, then I’ll try one completely using natural light. If something is very dark toned, I’ll try one scenario that is all light or white tones. It’s a way of expressing something completely different even with the same subject and location.

My favorite image of the day was of Virginia wrapped in a flowing red scarf, blowing in the breeze. In the absence of the background, the red scarf gives life and movement to the image and I love how it turned out. Then there’s the quiet moment of Virginia, looking dark with warm, low-contrast tones. Contrast these with images where she is looks unflinchingly at the frame, a study in bright tones.

One space, a few elements, and deliberate lighting to help convey a different mood. Virginia knocked it out of the park.

 

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Showcase: Ivett Toth

Maine is beautiful, but winters can be a bit…tiresome.  Spring in Maine usually just means heavier and wetter snow.  Of course, that makes this season a perfect time to stay in the studio and play with light a bit.  The following images are just a few I really like from a recent shoot with local model Ivett Toth (styling and makeup by Brianna Rothman).    Ivett was amazing to work with and I love the ethereal look to her final images.

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Light modifiers: why shape does (and doesn’t) matter

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What’s better:   a light modifier with a square shape, or one with a circular shape?

This question is one I’ve thought about a lot.  I’m guessing most other photographers have, too .   If you’ve shopped for light modifiers you’ve encountered a bazillion light mods that fall predominantly into just two types:  round or square-isn.  Round modifiers would include things like  umbrellas, octaboxes and beauty dishes.  Square or rectangular-shaped modifiers are things like softboxes, reflectors, scrims and light panels.

Photo gear and marketing hype go hand in hand.   But for me there are just a couple of factors that determine which shape of modifier I’ll choose for a shoot.   Number one is the effect of the catchlight in my subject’s eyes.  I prefer a round catchlight—maybe just a subconscious preference for a light source shaped like the sun.   If I were simulating an open doorway or the light from a window, a softbox would be my choice instead.

There are a bunch of other, secondary considerations when choosing a modifier that are partly determined by the shape of the modifier but also by the material and construction of the modifier itself.   For example, I determine the quality of light I want: directional and harsh, with very well-defined areas of light and shadow; or soft, diffuse, enveloping.   To get the effect I want, I’m less worried about the shape of the modifier than by the size of the light modifier relative to the subject (the larger, the softer and more diffuse) and the construction of the modifier (a grid will focus the light, or a modifier with multiple layers of diffusion material will soften it).  For me, the shape only becomes a factor when I want to control the light precisly and thus I might use a square softbox rather than an octabox because I want the light to have a more defined fall-off or edge.

You can find descriptions of the effects of different light modifiers, but one of my favorite write-ups is this one by light guru Paul C. Buff.

Introducing: The Main(e) Light Workshop

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I’m proud to announce the dates for my first-ever Main(e) Light Workshops .    This workshop series is focused on an area that many photographers struggle with:  using electronic flash on location.  It’s my attempt to cut through the hype around specific gear and to teach the skills that photographers can put to immediate use when creating portfolio work or meeting a deadline for a paying client.   It’s practical, it’s hands-on and it’s set up to allow (encourage) tangential topics—how best to approach assignments for clients, how to organize and optimize your workflow, etc.— as they come up in relation to the work.  But let’s not kid ourselves: the work is first and foremost.

 

The first workshop, Speedlight Bootcamp, is built around the off-camera flashes that today can cost as much as a decent studio head.   The second is on location (in a very cool Maine setting) and combines a variety of studio and off-camera flashes with ambient (mostly sun) light to create spectacular effects.   For that one, we’ll roll with the weather and take a studied, and at times seat-of-the-pants approach to lighting to produce amazing images.

 

The Main(e) Light Workshop has been in the works for a year or more.  In a way,  I’ve been preparing for it my whole career.  I learned from a great many others in my field when I started out in journalism.  From Tim Rogers to Paul O’Neill to Brad Armstrong (to many others), I’ve learned about being patient, how to really connect with people and how to read light.  This workshop is my chance to help others succeed and grow in much the same way.   I’ve taught other seminars over the years, but never an intensive set of workshops quite like the Main(e) Light Workshop.  My plan is for each photographer to leave with the tools they need to create interesting portraits with the gear they can afford.   It may take years to master electronic light, but this workshop will give anyone a big boost in the right direction.

So please check out the lineup.  Tell me what you think, ask me questions.  And if you sign up, welcome.  It’s going to be a great ride.

 

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Stanley times three, and client love

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Meet Stanley.  Stanley is a Pit Bull mix belonging to a client of mine.   He’s a little camera shy, so in this photo his eyes are locked onto his human, Tawny.  Tawny’s a lawyer at a law firm that’s also one of my oldest local clients.  I really like them and think they do an amazing job with their marketing.    So, when they asked me to donate a pet session in the studio to the winner of an internal contest, as part of their bigger marketing efforts, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.

No one would confuse me  with a pet photographer, but despite novice pet-shooting skills I was pretty happy with the results of our session.  After everything was done and prints were ordered, I put together this triptych of Stanley yawning and made a print for Tawny.

I love doing extra things like this for clients.  I don’t do it enough.  Making prints, sharing expertise, doing pro bono work (a set amount per year).  Most of my clients are very cool, interesting people and I like to interact with them more often than during the occasional shoot.  When I give gifts one of my go-tos is a box of chocolates from Black Dinah Chocolatiers, based on Isle au Haut, ME.  ‘Box of chocolates’?! you say.  But you’ve never had chocolates like these, I guarantee it.  My amazing business coach, Mandy, gave me these chocolates once.  Now, I’m just paying it forward.