Category Studio

Working Together in the Time of COVID-19

Over the past month, we’ve been busy here at the studio preparing for a safe and responsible return to business.  I can’t predict what’s going to happen in the foreseeable future, but it’s clear that COVID-19 will continue to impact our families, our clients and our daily life in ways small and large.

As Maine enters the second phase of business reopenings, we’ve posted our COVID plan along with a Q&A section on our website. In the plan we detail the efforts we’re taking per state and federal guidelines to mitigate any spread of the Coronavirus as we take on limited shoots here at the studio and on location.

We’re also working with clients in other ways, from utilizing their existing imagery where possible, to scheduling shoots outdoors and even doing planning, production and image review sessions virtually.  I will expand in future blog posts on how some of these new processes and workflows work for us and how they could be adapted for use by our clients and others.

Please read more about our COVID-19 plan here.  Continue to stay safe. 

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Have Studio, Will Travel

During my photojournalism career, my ‘office’ was my car, complete with police scanners, reporter’s notebooks, a Domke bag of gear and strobe lights in the trunk.    Now, as a commercial and editorial photographer, I’m based out of a studio in downtown Portland (far nicer than most newspapers I called home and with much more gear). 

I always imagined two types of photographers existed:  studio photographers, usually specializing in portrait or product photography, and location shooters, who travel to clients and whose studio is wherever they happen to be on assignment.  Wedding photographers, photojournalists and editorial shooters and architectural photographers are among those for whom an assignment is everywhere but, obviously, a studio. 

At heart, I’ll always be an editorial photographer—a storyteller— who is flexible enough to adjust to the changing circumstances of a location shoot but who uses flash and strobes fully, where appropriate.   Not a studio photographer, but a photographer with a studio. 

When I moved into my first studio over a decade ago, I figured it was mainly to store my gear outside of the home, where it was gradually taking over the basement.   I thought I’d meet clients there and that’s about it.  But, it turns out that my studio has remained busy because it gives my clients options.   When the weather or a location isn’t working out for us, or if we need absolute control over lighting, we have the studio.   

My studio now has become just one more tool in my bag and helps me to deliver another option to my clients.    I may miss the days when everything I owned could fit in a shoulder bag, but I’d much rather have the flexibility to choose the best approach for my clients—in studio or on location—instead of having my approach dictated by a lack of options.

On location, Old Orchard Beach, ME

 

Portland Maine Studio
Fitzgerald Photo Studio, downtown Portland.

 

Portland Maine Studio
Fitzgerald Photo Studio, downtown Portland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 (or rectangular).  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 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 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.   I may decide I want directional lighting, with harsh, defined areas of light and shadow. Or, I may opt for a soft, diffuse, enveloping quality of light that wraps around my subject.   This has less to do with the shape of the modifier than by the size of the modifier relative to the subject (larger=softer light).

For me, the shape only becomes a deciding factor when I want to control the light precisely and thus I might use a square softbox rather than an umbrella because I want the light to have a more defined fall-off or edge.

My favorite light-mod, especially on location: the beauty dish. © Brian Fitzgerald

You can find many descriptions elsewhere of the effects of different light modifiers, but I like this resource from light manufacturer Paul C. Buff that clearly shows the effects of various different light mods.

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.