Category Archives: Studio Photography

Busy photo weekend

This was another really busy photo weekend. Yesterday was a shoot with two models in the studio. Today was darkroom work. Yesterday was interesting – I went in to the studio in the morning to help out one of my studio-mates by shooting with two models he had brought in from New York and Philly to do some portfolio development work with them. The first one to arrive was a bouncing ball of unfocused energy. I suspected there would be trouble as short attention spans and I don’t get along well. Things worked out ok in the end because I got some decent shots with him, but getting there was, well, challenging. Knowing what I know now, would I hire him as an art model? NO. Would he be fine for a fashion shoot or as a fitness model where poses only last 3-5 seconds each? Sure. I hate to stereotype, but this guy lived up to the male equivalent of Cameron’s supermodel girlfriend in In & Out who couldn’t figure out how to use a rotary phone.

The second model arrived shortly afterward, and he and I shot while the first guy pumped up with some resistance bands. Mr. Fitness (I’ll call him that to distinguish him from the second model) wanted to shoot second even though he was there first because he wanted to get pumped up first. That was the first strike against him.

I generally keep a quiet set so I can concentrate on the work and communicate with my model. Mr. Fitness decided he was bored, so bored I had to stop, dig out the iPod speaker dock that belongs to the studio and plug it in for him so he could have some music. He promptly selected some very obnoxious hip-hop that he then played at an intrusive volume level. Not impressive.

My set that day was my first attempt at re-creating after a fashion the old Victorian photo parlor feel, with some IKEA drapes and tie-backs I found at Bed Bath & Beyond pulled out a couple feet from a backdrop. Since my studio is shared, I can’t build anything permanent, but instead the whole thing gets pulled together with some Manfrotto Auto-Poles which just happen to reach the ceiling of the studio with a couple inches to spare. I think the effect is working, although I’d still like some bigger tassels on the tie-backs. See some of my previous posts here from my collection of CDVs for examples. Images from the shoot will follow. One set of images I did of each model had them posing clothed and nude in the same pose. It’s a visual riff on the standard CDV portrait concept, but with of course modern attire, and then pairing it with nudity, certainly something you wouldn’t see in most Victorian CDVs. I also had some fun posing one model with a neat Art Deco floor lamp we have sitting around the studio.

I did run into some major frustration with gear, as the shutter on my preferred lens, the 240mm Heliar, decided it wasn’t going to trigger my studio strobes anymore. Adapt and overcome, a-la the US Marines – I pulled out another lens I have of the same focal length, but mounted in a modern shutter that never refuses to trigger my strobes, and carried on. Can I entirely fault the Heliar? Not really – perhaps it’s too much to expect that it trigger the strobes reliably, after all the shutter is nearly 70 years old. I’ll feel lucky if I work as well as that shutter when I’m 70.

Mr. Fitness capped the day off by not listening to directions while helping me strike the set so my studio-mate could get his backdrop and lighting arranged. He managed to completely release the background support on his side of the background, dropping it from maximum extension to fully collapsed in the blink of an eye, wrinkling the seamless paper and bending the pin on the other background support. To his credit, he did apologize for wrinkling the seamless.

Today was a big darkroom day. I started the morning off doing a major cleaning in the darkroom. I had been accumulating all these chemical storage bottles from back in the day when I did enlarging onto silver gelatin paper. I went through all of them, pouring the thoroughly exhausted remains of several batches of Dektol and Ansco 130 down the drain, followed by copious amounts of water. Most of the other bottles were fortunately empty. They all got packed up in plastic storage bins and put in the downstairs bathroom. Now I have enough space that I can put all my print developing trays under the sink when I’m running film in the Jobo, and the Jobo has a place to live other than the hall floor when I’m printing. Have I said before how tiny my darkroom is? It’s about 7′ by 8′, with a 6’3″ ceiling. It works quite well under the circumstances. Having gotten that out of the way, I ran four batches of sheet film in the Jobo. 15 sheets of 5×7 and four sheets of whole plate. I’ve got one more batch of 5×7 from Saturday to run, then I’m all caught up, and ready for NEXT weekend! I’ll go from a souping fiend to a printing fiend for the rest of October.

Busy weekend in the studio

This weekend was a really busy weekend in my studio. I was supposed to have a shoot on Saturday. The model I had made arrangements with cancelled on me, but with more than reasonable advance notice, so I’m not pissed off about it – he gave me two days heads up. I’ve had some models flake out two hours ahead, some an hour after the shoot was supposed to start, and some who never bothered to call or cancel (that was the previous weekend, for example). I was talking to my studio-mate who had the studio booked for Sunday, and he said, “I’ve got two models coming in on Sunday, why don’t you work with them before I get there? I need someone to keep them occupied, and it’ll be a big help giving them a chance to work with someone who has a very different style of shooting, because they’re new to the business”. I was more than happy to help out, as it meant free models for me, and I’d be helping out a friend anyway. Since I had the studio booked for Saturday anyway, I went in and did some still life work using a flower I bought whose name escapes me but looks like a cross between a leafy cactus and a gigantic q-tip. I left my stage setup I had created (I took the old curtains I had from the previous studio and made a little ‘stage’ setup for a backdrop) for Sunday, as I thought it would be great to work with the models as well.

WELL, thus go the best laid plans of mice and men. I get in to the studio Sunday morning, meet the first model, Justin, a 6’4″ ex- football player, and get ready to shoot. On the third test pop of my flash, what happens but one of the capacitors in the power pack goes tits up. And I don’t have my own backup. I call my studio mate who is coming later, and he says just use his, which happens to be compatible with my accessories. So another half-hour goes by digging out his flash unit and setting it up. We do get on with the shoot, and once things get moving, it goes well. Justin is a good model and understands how to create dynamism in his body – I had no trouble setting him in poses that accentuated his physique and worked well with the somewhat exotic format I was shooting in – I was trying out the 5×12 for human figure work, mostly shooting verticals. Working with me, from a models’ perspective, is a real challenge and a physical workout because I need them to hold poses for an extended period of time while I compose each shot. I’m not shooting like a typical fashion photographer who likes to ‘run-n-gun’ and fire off hundreds of photos in an hour. I think with Justin, in about 1 1/2 hours, we took 8. I had him holding a pose for sometimes four or five minutes while I played around under the dark cloth.

My studio mate is a good friend (loaning me his strobes is an instant qualification!), but he’s a bit frantic. He’s a fashion photographer and likes to run-n-gun, for one thing, and he’s just a bit keyed up all the time anyway. Fortunately Justin and I wrapped our shoot just before he and the other model got there. The other model is a college student named Peter, (only) 6’2″, and about 2/3 the body mass of Justin. Peter was tragically late because of traffic and poor directional sense. What he lacks in timeliness, he makes up for in facial features. He’s one of those models who looks relatively ordinary when you pass him on the street, but when you see him through the camera lens, his face just screams High Fashion (that’s actually a good thing). They set up and shot while I went to the Nationals game with my father. When I got back, they were still there, and since my set had been taken down, we did a few shots in the air shaft outside the studio, which has a really cool steel security door and lots of exposed brick. Another great thing about shooting in the air shaft is that because it has these nice tall walls, you get beautiful soft indirect light from overhead – like a north light window. It’s very even, very consistent – you can meter once and not have to re-meter for hours. Reflectors are very helpful though because it is a top-down light and makes people into sunken-eyed zombies if you don’t bounce a little fill on their faces.

In talking to Peter about the poses I was looking for, I asked him to do a nude. I knew because he was agency represented that frontal nudity was a no-no, so I explained the pose would keep his intimate parts covered, and he was fine with it, but then he asked if he could cover himself with a sock. I find the whole ‘hide it in a sock’ business to be laughable – I’m not there to stare at your anatomy, and if someone IS nude in real life, do they ever run around with a sock on their penis? NO. We got that out of the way and went on. I did some head-shots of him with the 5×7 Canham, getting to put some film behind the 240mm Heliar I have for the first time with a human subject. The image on the ground-glass positively glowed! The shallow depth-of-field at f5.6 just made the features that were sharp SNAP, and the brick wall in the background looked like a painting seen through running water, it was so smooth. I’m DEFINITELY taking this outfit with me when I go out west for some figure-in-the-landscape shooting!

When I shoot, I’m used to shooting all by myself, no assistants, no “creative input” from other photographers. Sometimes having the helping hand is very welcome (adjusting lights, etc). Other times, not so much. My studio mate was watching the shoot with Peter, and while I was still arranging a pose, he had to jump in and start directing the model because he had this love handle that showed up only when in a certain kind of pose. I would have seen it and adjusted his pose, but I didn’t get the chance. GRRRR. And then, to make matters worse, I wasn’t done shooting before my studio mate mentioned a shot he wanted to do in the air shaft as well, and boom, the two of them were off doing their own shot. Moral lesson here – assistants are fine, but two principal photographers probably shouldn’t share the set – too many chefs end up putting someone’s finger in the chili.