How To Get Studio Experience

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Many camera owners consider studio photography as the apex of photography, the sign that you’ve arrived as a photographer, so to speak. I don’t particularly agree with that but I do know that there’s a lot more to it than pointing a camera at a subject and pressing the shutter release. In studio photography the actual capturing of the image with a camera is almost secondary to where the real art of studio photography lies.

Studio photography is about knowing and understanding what end result you’re trying to achieve, posing the subject, and lighting, always lighting. Trust me on this one, there is so much more about lighting in a studio than sticking a light here and there. It is critical that you understand studio lighting conceptually, not just technically. Lighting is so important to photography in general that over the next few weeks we’re going to feature a three part series on lighting from beginner to advanced. As I write this article, I think I’ll also write an article on studio lighting alone because lighting is so critical to getting the shot you want in the studio.

It’s actually incredible how much is involved in studio lighting and what it takes to get it just right. And you’re not going to learn it completely without some practical experience. You can go to photography school, seminars and workshops, all of which I strongly recommend, but until you get some actual hands on experience and make lots and lots of mistakes you won’t fully understand studio lighting and how to make it work to your advantage.

How do you get that critical studio experience?

1. Formal classes – Whether it’s an actual photography school or some form of continuing or adult education, any class on portraiture or studio photography is going to include the set up and use of studio equipment. If it doesn’t include this I would suggest that you look very closely at the class to make sure it’s worth your time and money. I strongly recommend that if you’re wanting to get into studio photography that you try to find and attend formal classes. However, keep in mind that like in everything else, formal education prepares you for the next steps, it doesn’t make you an expert in the field.

2. Workshops and seminars – Think of workshops and seminars as continuing education. It’s unlikely that you’ll get any hands-on experience attending these, but you’ll be exposed to new and different techniques and tricks.

3. Getting a job in a studio – There isn’t an overabundance of jobs of this nature, but working as a studio rat or grip can be some of the best exposure you can find. You’ll be working with experienced studio photographers, getting to know and become friends with them, and you’ll learn from watching, asking questions and listening. You’ll probably be able to try some photos of your own.

4. Rent a studio – There really are studios you can rent. I wrote an article in January about my experience renting a studio. To read the article click here. In some studios, like the Roharik Studio I rented, you can also hire an assistant from the studio that is familiar with all the equipment. If you think you would enjoy this, try finding a studio that you can rent by using one of the large search engines available on line.

5. Rent the equipment – It’s true that you won’t find a studio for rent everywhere. In fact, my guess is that studios to rent are quite scarce. However, if you want some experience to see if you like studio photography or want to get an idea of what kind of equipment you might want to purchase someday, then there are many places where you can rent the equipment for a day or a weekend or a week. Whatever length of time you want. I would say that if you want it for a longer period of time, it might be cheaper to just purchase some lights, backdrops, etc.

You say you don’t have a studio? How about your garage? Park your car in the driveway, clean a large space in the garage and set up the equipment. You sure wouldn’t be the first person to do that. Two, possibly obvious, caveats. First, try to get someone familiar with studio photography to help you. Setting up and using studio equipment isn’t always intuitive. Second, unless you have a heated and air conditioned garage, don’t try to set up in the garage in the middle of August in Phoenix, Arizona or the middle of January in Duluth, Minnesota. A basement could also work and all the better if it’s unfinished. Unless you’re catering to a retail trade, studio photography is all about creating the look you want with the subject and equipment and the walls around you aren’t part of that look.

6. Be really lucky and have a friend with a studio – I’m one of those lucky ones. I have a very good friend, Rick, who just happens to be a professional photographer and who just happens to have his own studio and who just happens to let me use it from time to time. I recently purchased the set of studio lights that were featured by Scott Kelby in his Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It seminar. Yesterday I loaded up all the equipment, took it to Rick’s house and set it up on his large screened-in back porch.

I had some friends, mother and son, come by and we shot them for about an hour and a half. I have to admit that Rick is way more advanced at studio photography than I am and his assistance, advice and teaching was invaluable. After my clients left, Rick had a client arrive, a young ballet dancer putting together a resume’, and he photographed her using his studio and then using my studio set-up on the porch. I also got to photograph the dancer which was a great experience.

I’ve tried to give you some tips about how you might be able to gain some studio experience. In the end, it really becomes a question of how much do you really want it. If it’s something you really want to try, you’ll have to be very pro-active. It won’t come looking for you or just fall in your lap. You’ll have to work for it.

If this is something you’d like to do, I wish you all the luck in the world and hope you succeed. It really is a lot of fun and rewarding at the same time.

Photo Credit:

Studio Setup in Garage by Illusive Photography on Flickr Commons

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