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Choosing between photographing a subject on location or in a studio, I'll invariably go with location shooting. That's because there are rarely any issues finding setup possibilities. My two favorite locations are the subject's house or apartment. Both are normally filled with plenty of places for posing. Finding the next place to shoot is usually little more than walking into another room. But a studio can be appealing too (rather than having my own, I rent one for specific photo shoots). Even when relatively small, a studio can feel more spacious and less cluttered than a house or apartment. Studios also offer more areas to set up lights and for the model and me to maneuver. And, compared to photographing outdoors, there’s no worry about bad weather or inhospitable lighting.
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In addition, there are fewer distractions. For example, pets or extraneous people won't be wandering about. Also, because of a studio’s sparseness, there are not as many unwanted objects lurking about that might inadvertently creep into a photo.
But the sparseness can mean starkness as well. The studios I rent require that almost everything needed for creating and dressing the set be brought in. That includes furniture, props, backgrounds, and the like. Not much is available initially to suggest ideas for shot setups - the opposite of shooting on location. Therefore, I rely on the jumble of stuff I bring and the ideas of the subject and myself. Coming up with quality setups requires a lot more work.
Whenever I rent a studio, I always bring a few backdrops. This is one of my favorites. It has random, subtle patterns in warm earth tones. By playing with the camera’s depth-of-field and the backdrop’s distance from the model, the backdrop can be kept in-focus, thrown out-of-focus, or left somewhere in between. In this shot, the model’s only illumination was from a ring light strobe. This is a circular light that attaches to the camera, completely encircling the lens. It creates a continuous shadow around the subject.
White background paper was unrolled and hung behind Linda. For lighting, I placed a single strobe, with a metal reflector, on the floor to the right of the camera. In front of the flash, I placed a simple metal stool. The strobe was aimed up through the stool’s legs, lighting Linda and creating the pattern seen on the paper. Because I was using only one light and wanted to illuminate the bottle, glass, cigarette, face, and body, and to make the smoke visible, everything had to be carefully positioned. The image had serious high-contrast problems from the single light, but these issues were reduced considerably with the help of Photoshop.
We were shooting in a studio that was formerly a mill. I asked Danielle to make a funny face. No backdrop or background paper was added behind her - it’s just a rough textured wall thrown out-of-focus. The image was softened in Photoshop.
This was shot in the same old mill as the previous photo, but on a different floor with a different model. Here, again, nothing was added in the background. I love the contrast of elegantly dressed Kira against the rough brick wall. By the way, she probably wasn’t seeing her reflection in the hand mirror, since it was turned slightly towards the camera. If it hadn’t been, the mirror may not have been recognizable as a mirror.
Behind Joanna is a mostly out-of-focus backdrop, though a little detail is still visible. This setup helped emphasize her face and hair. We’re able to see the hair’s subtle styling - some parts softly curve and others hang loosely. The single long earring adds a nice design element to the photo.
Here’s Joanna again. She’s now in front of an ordinary shower curtain. As in the previous picture, there’s something interesting about her hair. It’s less styled, but the part lying unarranged on her shoulder works well, I think, for drawing the viewer’s eye. I selected the shower curtain to prove that even a $3.00 piece of plastic can work well as a backdrop.
Finding The Shot
Focus And Blur
Lighting The Subject