Here’s some new work from a portrait photography session I did at my house with a Portland model named Tori. She has a very active modeling career in the Portland area and beyond, and she was really great to work with. For this shoot I thought, how am I going to photograph someone who is literally photographed all the time? How can I make the photos unique so they stand out on her Instagram feed? Also, how am I going to pull this off in my living room? Someone who models all the time is going to come to my place with my dented foam core reflectors and my too narrow white seamless paper without a proper background stand hanging on to dear life with a few A-clamps and think, “Huh, OK, I guess this is what you mean by home studio?”
I’m going to do what I always do. I’m going to prepare for this photography session and have a solid plan. I’m also going to be willing to ditch that plan if something better presents itself in the moment.
A Song Lyric to Remember
I used to have more than enough space when I worked at my old studio photography job. The room was probably 30’x30’ with high ceilings. It never crossed my mind to deal with tight quarters, so this last year working primarily from home has taught me how much space I really need to create certain photos. At first I didn’t think I would be able to pull off many photos in my small, cozy living room or my basement with a 7 foot ceiling (ignorance). However, I have changed my tune and now look at the space I have with a lot of gratitude. So my mantra is, “I already have everything I need.” To quote a lyric from the band Dredg:
All you need is a modest house in a modest neighborhood
In an a modest town where honest people dwell
OK, back to the actual shoot. I set up a roll of seamless paper to give most of these photos a studio look. I have just enough space in my living room to pull off some 1/2 to 3/4 length portraits. As you can see below, depending on how Tori is posing, I am cropping elbows. I have to accept this reality if I want to have some separation from the background. Sure, I would love to photograph in front of a 9 foot wide seamless!!! But that doesn’t matter right now, because these photos are really working. Tori was a very talented model and could change her look as quickly as I could take her photo!
Here are a few of my favorites from this setup:
That middle photo…..I love it!
Lighting with Color, aka Light Makeup
Lighting with color, or light makeup as I like to call it, is a technique I’ve been exploring a lot more lately (just like many other photographers). I’m not unique, I just really like how it looks. You know what they say, “Being unique is nothing special.”
Anyways, when my lighting setup looks drastically different from the ambient light, I always try to show the model/subject a photo or two on the back of my camera so they know what I’m doing. It’s only fair, right? It also helps to match the lighting with the posing. They can be inspired from the look of the photo and adjust their expression and posing to suit. Once she saw the look I was creating, she came up with a ton of great poses to match the moody color:
Pop quiz: What color is her eye shadow?
Next, I dialed the red light way down and moved the main light more to her side (below):
These were a lot of fun! Just moving the lights a tiny amount or altering the ratio between both lights made a huge difference. I want to keep pursuing colored lighting because it’s so mysterious.
Another look I’ve been working on is incorporating motion blur. To me, this looks like the soul trying to escape the body. Again, it’s a lighting setup that looks nothing like the ambience of the room we were photographing in, so I showed her my test shots once things were dialed in. This technique is kind of magical when it turns out. Here are two of my favorites from this setup:
She looks like she’s floating through space in these. The right photo (above) is one of my favorites from the whole session. She has the perfect expression and pose for the lighting. Also, the motion blur in this one is really subtle. You have to look closely to see it, but it’s there in the shadows.
It was time to take down the seamless paper and reveal the actual environment we had been shooting in. OMG it’s an actual house! For these last photos, I photographed Tori with my Hasselblad camera and a couple different rolls of black and white film. During our correspondence before the shoot, she told me about being inspired by Marylin Monroe. I thought it would be fun to do a more retro look for the last part of the session to completely change it up.
Switching to film slowed things WAY down. In the first 2 hours of the session, I shot over 350 photos. In the last half hour, I shot 24. Medium format film is a completely different pace of shooting.
I also want to mention that I home-developed this film and scanned it as well. The whole process of shooting, developing, and scanning is a bitch, but it’s so worth it when it turns out:
I know I said a couple posts ago that I don’t usually like to mix digital and film in the same session, but maybe I just said that because I need to keep trying it until I love it.
I got a pretty wide array of images from this shoot! It’s always my goal to get multiple looks in a portrait session so my client has a lot of options for posting on social media or their website. Overall, I’m really happy what I can create in such a small amount of space. I can’t pull off everything though. I have to be content with not really being able to do full-length photos in my house with a studio seamless look. But that’s OK for right now.
Tori was a great model to work with and I’d love to work with her again in the future!
I also have to give credit where credit is due. Some of the techniques I mentioned are inspired from the book Chroma by Nick Fancher. If you are a photographer, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!