It’s really fun!
(Ok I’m done now.)
But in all seriousness studio shoots are a blast. For many photographers and even some models, this isn’t a luxury that is readily available. It’s much easier (and cost effective) to shoot outside during “golden hour” and capture natural light portraits that are dreamy just as much as they are jaw-dropping.
When I first got into photography, this was me to a T. If I can get beautiful imagery without using professional lighting, why change it up? As with anything in life, one of the worst things we can do is become complacent and not keep pushing the needle forward.
For some people that’s perfectly fine, there is no right or wrong choice here, just a matter of opinion.
But for me it was different; you see when I came into this photography game all I shot was cityscapes and street photography as that was all I had access to as a beginner. As I started shooting more and more, I eventually got tired of taking photos of the same buildings that never moved. I realized my portrait photography was one of my weaker elements so I decided to change that.
So I started shooting more portraits.
To the point where it wasn’t a “weak” spot anymore for me. As artists I believe it’s pivotal to always keep trying new things and evolving your craft. What you came into the game with can be a baseline but one should always challenge themselves and push the boundaries of what they can accomplish.
I always use the example of Kanye West and the “backpack” rapper sound that was predominant on ‘The College Dropout,’ “Late Registration’ and ‘Graduation.’
All amazing albums.
And that’s what people came to expect from Kanye. The sound started evolving when ‘808s & Heartbreaks’ came out, transitioning through to ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.’
Then came ‘Yeezus.’
(The hate started to come not too long after.)
Why the hate? Because it wasn’t what people were used to from Kanye. It wasn’t what they expected from him.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Kanye doesn’t make music for his fans, but rather what he enjoys and also feels is an evolution of his artistic talents.
It’s the same way for photography or any other craft an individual takes up.
Anybody can go take pictures with natural light, edit them and put them on Instagram. You don’t even need a DSLR camera to do that.
(Trashhand started with his iPhone.)
But controlling light and shaping it?
Now that’s something a majority of photographers can’t do. Not to say they don’t have the skills to but there’s various reasons that stop many from even attempting: cost, learning curve, opportunity to practice in a studio environment, etc.
How do I know?
Those used to be my excuses.
(I’m not too different from you.)
If it wasn’t for my good friend and talented photographer Justin Milhouse, I probably would’ve never attempted to shoot in a studio setting. Justin creates amazing imagery and I had the pleasure of being his subject one time back when I used to live in Michigan. I told him I wanted some studio work as I was impressed by the content he put out. He had me come to his studio and I was surprised at how simple the set up was.
One light with a soft box and a simple backdrop.
That was it.
That session inspired me to get my own studio setup, which wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be. If you’re trying to improve at ANYTHING, at some point you’ll have to pay to play. Whether it’s gear to practice new techniques or spending time & money learning, evolution isn’t free. I’m really glad I invested in not only the equipment, but myself, through countless hours of learning and application.
When you see progress not only in your skills, but yourself as an individual, it’s a beautiful thing. Now I’m at the point where I can feel comfortable shooting in any setting because I spent the time practicing, failing and practicing again.
The journey never stops.
Improvement is a game you can’t quit when you start. For all of those on the fence regarding studio lighting, take the leap and try it. Whether you model to get some HQ photos of yourself, assist or go practice, just do it.
What’s the worst that can happen.. you get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to something new?
I’ll take that everyday because that’s where growth happens.
(What was the point of this article again?)
Oh right, reasons to shoot in a studio!
Now there are many reasons to shoot in a studio but these are five of my personal favorites:
Getting out of your comfort zone - For someone that has never experimented with studio lighting, thinking about it can be pretty daunting. What light do I use? How do modifiers work? Do I need to go to a professional studio? When attempting something new you’ll always have questions. You might even question yourself. But there’s no way to know what you’ll produce, until you try. For me studio lighting was a drastic change from what I was shooting, but worth the challenge. As stated above, real growth happens when you do things that aren’t comfortable. I took a stab at it, had a baseline to work off and kept improving. I really enjoyed my initial results so I worked to improve on that. I watched endless Youtube videos on studio lighting (still do) and put that knowledge into practice. An important thing to note is that you have to apply what you learn. You can study all you want but if you’re not practicing, that knowledge is essentially useless.
Learning of a new skill - It’s one thing to shoot with natural light but controlling/shaping light is a whole different animal. When you understand the principles of lighting, you know exactly how to set things up to get a desired result. At first it’s a lot of trial and error but eventually you start to recognize patterns and what you practice becomes muscle memory. For models or subjects who are being photographed, you get to practice posing and finding what works for you. One thing about working with people is everyone is different; not everyone poses the same because body types vary and so do personalities. This is huge in portrait photography and the sooner you find out what works for you, the quicker you’ll be able to make improvements.
Creative direction - After the initial excitement is over from your first couple studio sessions you start to find things you can improve on. You can add all the lights, gels and modifiers you want but the base of your shoots will come down to creative direction. What message/feeling are you trying to convey? Are you using props? How cohesive is your backdrop to the subject’s makeup/hair & styling? Improving your creative direction will take you so far, whether it’s in photography or modeling. The more you practice, the more you know what works, which allows you to execute properly or experiment with things you haven’t tried yet. I thoroughly enjoy drawing up a vision with my subjects and executing on it to a T. Im shooting with a purpose, more efficient and am able to deliver exactly what was planned beforehand.
High quality imagery - We’ve all shot a portrait before that we thought was great, but when you went to edit in post you realized that you didn’t get as much detail as you wanted or maybe the focus wasn’t spot on. By adding a light source in a controlled environment the amount of detail your camera captures goes up drastically. You don’t have to worry about your camera trying to pull focus as your light source will be there to aid you. You’re able to control your ambient exposure and fill in the frame with your light source so you know EXACTLY what will come out of the camera. When you start using larger modifiers (directly correlated to softness of the light source) you eventually start chasing that super-soft light that comes with it. And when you nail it perfectly? No better feeling for you and your client/subjects.
It’s fun! - Studio work is a blast. I don’t view portrait photography as shooting with a person, but rather hanging out. At The Clinic we play music we enjoy to make for a light-hearted, fun atmosphere. We crack jokes. Shoot the shit. Experiment with things that work and don’t work. That’s what it’s all about, having fun. There’s no better feeling than taking a great image, showing your subject and seeing their face light up with joy. When you start to get real creative with your direction and introduce props into your shoots, things get even better. For subjects it’s an opportunity to portray themselves in a different light (pun intended) than they normally would in their day to day. I like to think we’re all characters in one way or another and studio shoots are a perfect way to bring that out for the world to see. I like to say that studio shoots allow people to showcase their inner rockstar to the world.
And that’s it!
Studio work isn’t as daunting as you think it is. In the right environment you’ll be able learn and practice new skills, create stunning imagery and have a blast while doing so.
If you do a lot of studio photography I’d love to see your work! I’m constantly looking for new ways to be inspired from my peers so don’t be afraid to share your work with me or anyone else.