On Learning Some Studio Photography

Photography is a beast.

Okay, I said it. Now let me say it differently. There’s photography, and there’s studio photography.

Sometimes I marvel at the sheer expanse of factors that influence taking a photograph. Direction, color, intensity of light. Is the subject human? What’s their expression? What’s happening in the background? What’s framing the subject (and the background)? Is something leading the eye somewhere? Is it leading toward or away from your subject? Are you isolating your subject using light, sharpness & blur, framing, or a combination of these? The list goes on.

And while all of that’s very real, it’s not what I’m talking about. I feel very lucky that those things are, and have been almost from the beginning, instinctual. I’m getting better at them mostly by doing, not by thinking.

Studio photography is a different beast.

They’re like cousins that grew up a few hours apart. They saw each other a lot, but they come from different families.

Controlling my lighting adds a level of thinking I wasn’t prepared for. You have to fuss with this, and that, and then that, which affects this, and since you don’t have sharp instincts yet, it can all fall apart. It’s really intimidating. “Why the hell can’t I see the right side of your face?!”

And then there’s working with models. Oh, heavens, models.

As I work slowly in the studio, I’m learning what kind of photographs I want to take. I’m not interested in “beauty,” or fashion photography. I’m not interested in shoveling more coal into the furnace of the misogyny industry. I just don’t want to make people look like something other than themselves. Those aren’t the stories I want to tell.

I think what I’m after is something more concrete. I’m interested in a kind of conversational portraiture. The work you see come out of Peter Hurley‘s, or Laura Pannack‘s studio. I’m loving this new project by Paco Navarro I found on Instagram recently, “IN SITU.” Carefully lit impromptu photographs of people on their way somewhere, shot right there on the street.

I want to take photographs of people revealing themselves. Full stop.

So I’m not surprised that as I take one step into studio photography, I take two steps onto the couch (where I’m furiously writing new poems), and then another back into the availably-lit world. Being not-practiced at one very new, very complex skill set is difficult, but you can rely on your instincts to help you enjoy the process. Being not-practiced at two, both of which are necessary in that moment… well. It’s a long road to hoe. But to paraphrase The Tick, I’m just the Joe to hoe it.


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