At one time or another we have all wistfully sighed, dreaming of our own photographic space. Or a larger space, or a fancier space. Somewhere we can create amazing images. But consider this – perhaps you already have the space and just don’t know it.
Because it’s all about creating big pictures in small spaces. :)
I am very fortunate to share a small shop front studio with my husband [also a photographer]. The shop is approximately 6 x 9 meters [approximately 19 x 30 feet] when empty – and lot smaller with all our gear in it! Two desks, computers, filing cabinet, couch, bookshelf, background stand, lighting stands, props cupboard… your get the general idea. :)
My actual shooting space is more like 6 x 4 [19 x 13 feet].
When people first come to visit our studio the reaction we generally get is “Wow this is not what I expected”. This was usually: white walls, concrete floor, with a commercial or slightly industrial feel. Not blood red walls, blue carpet, a cosy and artistic feel.
And perhaps a bit like being in someone’s living room. Which is a pretty fair assessment, and sometimes that’s how it feels. But this is definitely not a barrier to creating images.
The first thing you can do is just work with the space. I have these rich, gorgeous walls with a really lush feeling to them. Be a shame not to use that. So we moved the couch over to the shooting area and I added a few other bits and pieces to set the scene of an expensive boudoir.
Effectively shooting in a living room to capture that soft intimate image.
Great, works well. If that’s the kind of image you’re for. But what if you want something edgier, more hard core? We can do that. Same space, completely different image.
Removing the couch, we set up the backdrop stand and clipped onto it a silver reflective roll of I’m not sure what that was bought at a second hand market. I wasn’t worried that the roll was bent and slightly bucked for having to squeeze it into the car; that just added to the atmosphere. :)
With a tarpaulin on the floor to protect the carpet and special effects added to the accommodating model, we were ready to go.
As my style started to change direction so did my use of the studio. Whilst I continued to shoot my subjects in the studio, I began to composite them into my background images.
You’d think that was the easy way out of the problem, right? Surely I’d need even less space to shoot my subjects, given that I was going to be extracting them anyway to drop into another image? Well sounds great in theory; but the short answer was… no. I still need exactly the same amount of space.
My original goal hasn’t changed; to create images that tell stories. It was just the route I took to get there was a little different. Longer actually, just as much fun but no short-cuts when it came to studio space.
Take for example this image; again the lovely Amy was shot in the studio, the background is a combination of shots from around town. I knew that I wanted to create an image where my model was jumping from somewhere up high, so I needed to get photos of her jumping.
[It’s really hard to fake someone doing something active like running or jumping, and most of the time it’s a lot easier to just get them to do it].
Rule number one in my studio is “Look after the model or subject”. I wanted to make sure that she was safe during all the jumping. We started off using a small plastic single step but I was concerned about the stability. Next we tried a three-step metal ladder, but I didn’t want her to catch her heel on it as she jumped off. In the end I asked her to jump from a standing position, which worked perfectly.
The other element to getting this shot was the angle. After experimenting with several camera heights, I eventually shot from approximately a foot off the ground, with the lens slightly up. If I’d been shooting on a set I would have seen immediately if the camera angle was correct. For a composite I had to really have a clear idea in my mind of what I wanted to achieve.
Overall there are definitely some challenges to working in a small carpeted area [protecting the carpet is just one of them!]. But consider the alternatives; if you can’t afford to hire someone else’s studio, or it’s just not practical at that particular moment [too far away, no transport, its 1 am in the morning] does this mean you don’t shoot at all?
I used to wish that money was no object, that I could hire the biggest studio, the best props and fabulous clothing. Now I’d much rather accept the challenge of small spaces and a limited budget to create big pictures. With unlimited funds I would have done things so very differently and won’t have the images in my portfolio that I do now.
Big Pictures that I created in Small Spaces.