Simple studio

Until very recently, all of my photography has been on location. This means that have never really used a studio. As an experiment, I built a simple studio in my living room to experiment. Parts were a success, and parts need additional work. Here’s a sample photo, only lightly edited, from that experiment.

Couple looking at each other with love in their eyes
An example of using a simple studio setup

What worked
The backdrop stand I made from two pieces of half-inch conduit set in Quickrete in buckets. I used another piece of conduit for the cross piece, and a pair of connected conduit hangers to hold the crosspiece. If there’s sufficient demand, I’ll take pictures of all of the pieces. I held the backdrop on the crosspiece with simple 1-inch clamps. The whole set of materials cost under $30 (I forget how much) at a local hardware store. If I was doing it again, I’d get slightly larger buckets for improved stability, but what I have worked OK.

What did not work
At the hardware store, I purchased a 9×12 ft muslin drop cloth. I had thought it was a great idea because it was heavy (I had read about people’s problems with some muslin being too thin). This certainly had no problems with transparency. However, like most (all?) muslin, it really wrinkles. I was hoping the depth-of-field and/or overexposing it would take care of the wrinkles. Not always.

There were two reasons that the wrinkles were problems. I had a dedicated backdrop light, but it was not quite good enough for the job. I needed it to produce better diffused light, but all my light-softening devices were in use for the model(s). Yet one more thing on the to-buy list (plus more light shaping options). In some cases, I was able to over-expose the muslin, and the problems went away. However, because of problem number two, not quite enough distance between the model(s) and the backdrop, there were many times when the light reflecting back from the backdrop was a problem and it had to be toned down. In 20-20 hindsight, I could have lowered the crosspiece to gain more room in front, especially when I was shooting just the shorter model. However, the real solution is to get different material for the backdrop. A quick Google search led me to multiple companies who sell backdrops that do not wrinkle, and they are not too expensive (around $100-150).

Next photo shoot, I will think about whether or not having a backdrop with me would be useful or not. It is yet more stuff for me (or my assistant) to carry, and the bucket with concrete is not too portable. Yes, I know about light stands and crosspieces. I have one light stand, but I tend to use it for holding a light, diffuser, or reflector. I use tripods (I own several of varying sizes) for holding other lights. Plus, I have a voice-activated carbon-based bipod that holds lights and can even adjust them as needed.

The Dolphin (ice formation)

Woman looking at an ice formation in a cave

Lest you think I only talk about weddings, here’s a recent cave shot. I wanted a unique way to look at the ice formation.  I put a medium grid on my flash, a Canon 580 EX II fired by a Pocket Wizard radio slave.  An assistant is aiming it right down the formation, and the light on her face is the little spill from the fact that the grid is a medium one and light is also exiting the formation at various places.  This was only the second place I had used a grid on the flash; I’ve not had it more than a few months.  I have been experimenting with various light-modification devices, and, so far, they seem to be worth the weight and volume to carry them.  They allow me to light the subject(s) with more control than just a flash by itself.

Caves are challenging places to take photos.  On the hard side, you (and your helpers!) have to carry all of the light.  On the other hand, you never have to wait for the “golden hours” of the day (just after sunrise and before sunset), because all of the light is completely under your control.  Add in that they are beautiful (and, in this case, really cold!), and they are one of my favorite places to take photos.

Note added 2011-07-25: This photo received “Best in Show” at the 2011 national Speleological Society print salon and a blue ribbon (Merit Award) in the photo salon.

The importance of the rehearsal

Bridesmaid, flower girls and ring bearers
Bridesmaid, flower girls and ring bearers processing down the aisle at the rehearsal

When I shot the wedding recently, the family said that they did not need photos of the rehearsal. I considered not going, but decided to attend, and I was really glad I went.

While the rehearsal is for the wedding party to know what will be happening when, for me, it was a chance to experiment with lighting options—churches are large, and, even with the lights all on, it was not well-lit. Luckily, the priest allowed me to use flash at any time during the ceremony, so I could figure out what settings and locations for me and the off-camera flash worked best for the various parts of the ceremony. There is no time for experimenting during the ceremony!

Another benefit of being there for the rehearsal, I saw who was going to be where when. This meant that I was prepared for shots on the wedding day.

I got few good shots in the rehearsal; one is attached to this post. This is the bridesmaid, flower girls, and ring bearers as they process down the aisle (they all went together, not separately as in other weddings I have been to).

Wedding photography

A little girl behind lacing ribbon
Recently, I shot my first wedding as a professional photographer. I have shot a few others before just as a favor to friends, but this was a real job, in more ways than one. I can say that the photographers who charge $1000 to $3000 for shooting a wedding earn this price.

This wedding was non-stop shooting from 9:30 in the morning till we left after 8pm at night. We managed only a five-minute lunch between running between various venues, and dinner was inhaled at the reception, in between getting photos of the various reception events.

I will write more about the things I learned in separate posts. Also, if you want to learn more about shooting weddings, a quick web search will quickly give you more advice than you have time to read. Some of this advice was very useful, and combined with the fact I had attended a friend’s wedding about a week before, I was more-or-less ready for the chaos.

To see example wedding photos from this and other weddings, you can check out the gallery of my portfolio.  The bride and her mother said that they were happy with their photos.