Tag Archives: studio photography

It’s the season for still life

So, with the happy happy joy joy that is the COVID pandemic, I wanted to find something I could do to keep exercising my photography muscles. Still life seemed like the perfect thing, as I can do these little tabletop setups in my living room with a minimum of fuss, just a patio table for the base, a roll of seamless paper, one light or at most two lights, and my 5×7 view camera.

I’ve been shooting exclusively with my Sinar Norma 5×7, using the Sinar shutter (which lets you adapt any number of barrel lenses that don’t have a shutter of their own) and my ca. 1915 Cooke Series II 10.4″ Anastigmat. It’s not one of the more famous soft-focus Cooke Series IIa models, but it produces gorgeous out-of-focus areas, so I’m not complaining. It was silly cheap. I’m really loving the Sinar shutter because it has built in speeds as long as 8 seconds, which is a godsend when doing studio tabletop with large format – it’s very easy to get slow speeds to begin with, and then add on two stops of bellows compensation you have to do and voila – 8 seconds coming right up.

I’ve been doing a lot of work around textures – anything from rough paper to smooth stainless steel/chrome to the skin of vegetables like onions and garlic. I’m also starting to play with translucent objects and projections, but that’s for another post.

This tea kettle is something that I was so inspired by the design that I had to buy it, even though I didn’t need another kettle. I wanted to photograph it as soon as I saw it at IKEA. So I brought it home and here it is – it made me think of the Bauhaus photos I saw of industrial objects last winter at a show at the Goethe Institut here in Washington DC.

A still life can also be a portrait of an object. Here is a rice container from some Chinese takeout I got one night last week. It’s one of those ordinary things we handle all the time and never pay any attention to, until they’re presented in a formal way and then all of a sudden we see the beauty in them.

Last but not least, the onions, garlic, shallots, rice container and a wrapper for Ritz crackers. It’s all about “skins” – things that have them, and things that serve as skins as well.

All these images were shot with a single, continuous light – in the case of the very first image of the coffee beans and coffee mug, the light was a single 1000w halogen lamp in a 6″ fresnel light. The rest were done with an LED lamp in a simple reflector or in a large beauty dish with grid. I’m really liking LEDs now as a light source. They’re a lot more compact, light weight, and they generate a lot less heat and use a lot less electricity compared to an equally bright halogen lamp. About the only time a halogen might be preferable is if you’re working with nude models and want to keep them warm in your studio. No worrying about accidentally cooking the food in a food photography shoot, or wilting the vegetables. And no worrying about setting your light modifiers on fire.

More Model Photos from Sunday’s Shoot

Too often you only see models with that vacant, fashion-model stare, or the “I’m trying to seduce you” gaze. I think it’s important to show a range of emotions in a portfolio, so potential clients can see you giving different moods.

Bo is a pretty serious guy, but he does know how to relax and laugh (but you have to catch him between official shots – otherwise he reverts back to staring directly at the camera).



A few more from the underwear series – he looks really good in red.





Another from the plaid shirt set. Actually, he looks good in anything! I suspect you could put him in a Soviet potato sack and he’d make it rock (although good luck trying to get him to do that – he wasn’t crazy about trying on my ex-Soviet Army surplus winter hat with the red star insignia on it).


Here are some more candidates for the headshot –


On this one, especially because it’s a horizontal shot, I wanted to emphasize the face, so I selected it in Photoshop and masked it out, then applied a little bit of blur to the rest, so the face pops out more, like I had used a much wider aperture (my lights are actually at times TOO powerful and it’s hard to not stop down too much).




I really like this last one because it gives great shape and definition to his face – his previous head shot, although it was square on, was basically lit flat from directly in front, and had no contouring, so it made him look like an Asian chipmunk. He actually has a very shapely face, and I think this does him justice.


Headshot for Bo, Revisited

This is what happens when you shoot two days in a row, then go work at the office for a full day, then come home and edit photos until 11pm. Your judgment gets a bit off. I posted the original version of this headshot with the studio background intact (well, minus a broom handle I cloned out). Looking at it again in the clarity of new morning light, I realized that the background stuff, while cool, was a serious distraction from the goal of the photo – getting you to focus on the model’s face. So I got rid of the background altogether in a remake – What do you think? Much better, no?



Busy Weekend – Two Model Portfolios part 2

Sunday was my shoot with Bo. Bo is also a trainer and a bartender. I know he works VERY hard to keep the body he has but I still get jealous. Bo already had a bit of a portfolio so we were expanding his look. He needed new head shots first and foremost, so I concentrated on getting good full face images in each of the looks we did.

These are the prime candidates for head shots so far.




See what I mean about a body to be jealous of? It’s like there’s not an ounce of fat anywhere to be found.


Here’s body movement for you – Bo is quite good at shaping his body to give it natural visual dynamic.


Several from the underwear series we shot.




What I was thinking when I put Bo against a black backdrop I’ll never know, as he has jet black hair that wants to disappear into the black velvet. Keeping the hair light on the top of his head to pick it out from the background was a constant fight. But I think we got some very useable shots out of it in the end.


For the first hundred or so shots we did, there was an issue with his forehead being much darker than the rest of his face in the photos. He’s got naturally very even skin tone but for some reason, the forehead was photographing darker than his face, which made it look like he had a sunburn, or he was wearing big ski goggles while outside that kept his eyes lighter. But as the shoot progressed, the problem went away.

For the fashion look, we did a bit of a rock-n-roll styling with a leather jacket, jeans, unlaced boots and a belt with a spinner in the buckle.





Yes, that belt buckle actually spins.

We did another casual look with a red checkered shirt – I do have more of these but I haven’t edited through all of them yet – this was just one that popped out for the pose as well as the splash of color.


I thought I’d play around with turning a couple of the underwear shots black-and-white. I’m not terribly fond of digital black-and-white conversions – if I’m shooting personal work, and I want black-and-white, there’s no substitute for real film. Here is the one I’m happiest with so far.


In this case, I think the black-and-white conversion does add something to the sensuality, and it could be a nice touch to diversify his portfolio. I have even more images to edit through from this shoot – I think the grand total was 489 in three hours. This is the time you do thank god for digital.

Busy Weekend – Two Model Portfolios

Among the many things I do photographically, I shoot model portfolios. I did back-to-back shoots on Saturday and Sunday this weekend. This is one where you do shoot digital because of the volume of shots required, the usual turnaround time, and the delivery methods. It would be beyond a pain in the ass to have to get the film back from the lab, edit the shots, then scan, then edit again, then do post-production clean-up. So I brought out the Canon 5D and shot away. All images were made with either the Canon 50mm f1.4 or the Canon 135 f2 L lens. While zooms have their convenience, when you’re working in a small studio, there’s little call for something very telephoto, and you can always take a couple steps back or forward if you need.

My first model is Bucky. He’s a professional trainer at a high-end gym here in DC. The goal was to get him a decent headshot and a couple different looks to flesh out his portfolio and modeling card. I’ve got a couple prime candidates for his headshot:



This could also be a head shot, but in a horizontal composition, for something a bit different.


Which one do you like best? Don’t worry, I shot around 350 images of him, so there’s plenty more to choose from if these don’t cut the mustard.

Then comes the formal look. The shoot stylist pulled together a suit and tie look for him from the studio’s stock wardrobe. That was a hoot because someone had mismatched the pants with the jacket and at first, there was a size 36 waist with a 38 short jacket (that should have had a 30 inch waist pant to go with it). We were afraid he’d have to wear the pants pinned up with binder clips and gaffers’ tape, but shortly the proper pants were found and we were off to the races.



I snagged a candid of the stylist adjusting his shirt for a series of somewhat more casual shots.


These two are showing winter styling with a sexy twist. The first shot shows off his ability to shape his body, as well as the shape his body is in.


This one is about giving a different mood to the same outfit.


We also shot the obligatory underwear shoot. The underwear shots are as much about showing off a model’s ability to move and sculpt their body in poses as they are about underwear – after all, there isn’t very much to underwear itself, is there?




You want to make sure a model looks as good out of clothes as in them because it’s about their ability to SELL whatever it is they’re wearing.

And last but not least is a bit of a crossover – we paired a tuxedo shirt with red underwear to add a different kind of sexy to the shot.


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.