The Growing Studio: Part 1

When I first started out on my photographic path, it was pretty much always outdoors. The period in my life that really ignited the spark was my time at Université Canadienne en France. I’ll save you the long version of the story, but if you’re interested you can find the nuts and bolts of it in the feature I was lucky enough to have in PIK MAGAZINE (January 2014).

99% of my photographic journey in Korea before I moved to Yangju, north of Seoul, has been landscapes. After I moved here, I tried to moving to more of a documentary urban feel. I needed to get more people into my shots. Photographing people was always a big challenge for me. I was starting to get more comfortable in getting architecture into my landscapes.

But This…

If you had told me even 6 months, no, 3 months ago that I would be doing product photography in my office in my apartment I may have spit out or choked on my coffee in disbelief and laughter.

I Never Expected This

I had just ended my contract at my school, and I was looking to finally jump into photography feet first. I set up accounts at freelancing sites Fiverr and UpWork. I quickly found that between these 2 sites, that the majority of the services and income in photography seemed to be based on editing (see: Photoshop skills) and product photography. Two things that were quite aways out of my comfort zone, with a 3rd in tow …

Lighting

The thing I feared more than photographing people was lighting. To be more specific, artificial lighting, flashes, strobes, you name it, if the light was powered by some form of electricity I avoided it as much as I could. But I figured if I was going to make a career out of this, I’d better learn how to use artificial lighting.

Staying at home, and not having to go to a 9 to 5 job, afforded me the time to actually sit down and try to learn and figure this thing out. I remembered one video in particular that I watched many years ago in amazement as Joe McNally showed the set up he had for this one particular shoot and the results from it. The way he was able to manipulate the light, (OUTSIDE! nonetheless) blew me away, and pining for the ability to be able to do something like that.

Fast forward to about a month ago, I was trying to find that video again. I was unsuccessful, but not for the reasons one might think. I couldn’t find it because for whatever reason in my head I had gotten McNally confused with Scott Kelby. I was searching and searching all over Kelby’s materials online and I couldn’t find it. So I gave up.

What it did though, was lead me to a video from 2 years ago by a man I had never seen before… Martin Botvidsson. His YouTube style is almost as far away from the Peter McKinnons, Chris Haus, and Casey Neistats of the world as you can get. And that’s a good thing.

It did take a little while for me to get accustomed to his style. It didn’t have the feel of what I had become used to from watching Peter and Chris. When I first started watching his videos, it felt like he really had not much of a direction, just a turn on the video camera and see what comes out. With that being said, I really did enjoy his sense of humour.

After a watching a few videos, I realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t have a specific shot in mind when he starts a video, it was that he is taking you through his artistic mindset and evolution of the photoshoot. His videos are both refreshing and educational, not to mention confidence building. The step by step process and the trial and error that he shows is a tremendous help for those of us just starting out.

I have learnt so much from his videos that I encourage anyone who is interested in small studio, product photography to give his channel a watch. Not everyone is going to have the amount of equipment that he has invested, but he also knows this and gears his tutorials to everyone with any camera and at least 1 off camera flash. He even has one video where he uses only his phone and an LED light panel.

Now he does have over 22,000 subscribers, so I suppose he is hardly a secret in the product photo world, but I felt I needed to introduce him to those of you, who like myself, are new to the area and view him as being a huge contributor to where I’m headed with my in apartment studio…

To be continued…

Finding Those Instagrammable Spots

WARNING: This is not one of those kind of posts…

Instagram, in the beginning, was a curious thing. (When I say “in the beginning” I mean before its purchase by Facebook.) It was one of those things where, it was, to me, “Hey I can take photos with my phone and add these little presets to them.” Nothing more, nothing less. I really didn’t see the point of it all. After all, I was a landscape photographer and I preferred my camera and having no digital filters.

Then everything changed. A photographer by the name of Nick Laham was shooting portraits for the New York Yankees during spring training. He set up in the bathroom, apparently as there wasn’t much space anywhere else. After he finished his “pro” work he pulled out his phone and grabbed shots of the players using the Instagram app.

The photos went viral. Well as viral as they could in 2012. About a month later, Facebook bought Instagram.

Now deals of this kind of magnitude and dollar figure take time, so who knows how long the negotiations were. But one could easily get the idea that the popularity of these shots was the stepping stone to what Instagram has become.

It’s blown up to degrees that I don’t necessarily agree with. The idea of the “influencer” makes be cringe every time I have to see, hear, type, or say the word. With that being said, it is the world that we’ve made and everything that comes with it.

One of the side effects of Instagram is having to make almost everything photogenic (aka Instagrammable). Restaurants used to ban customers who were taking photos of their plates before eating in part because it was annoying the other customers as people would stand on their chairs to get the overhead angle. Some of those same restaurants have now changed their interiors, uniforms, and even chefs who have more artistic presentations to encourage the practice of photographing the meals.

Some restaurants here in Korea are now offering freebies for anyone who snaps a photo and shares it on Instagram, Facebook, Kakao Story, etc. with a list of hashtags. I got a free drink for these two. It also gave me the chance to test out the closed beta test of the new Photoshop Camera app that will be coming soon. (My favourite has actually been the food mode.)

This practice has spilt over into the landscape and travel photography field as well. Tourist locations are setting up Instagram-like frames for people to use as frames for their feeds. Bloggers and magazines alike are posting more and more “The Most Instagrammable Spots (Locations) in (enter city name here)

I get it. People want to be loved. They want to feel a sense of accomplishment. But what level of accomplishment is one actually getting from this? After all, hundreds if not thousands of people are literally lining up to take the exact same “Instagram” shot.

Case-in-point:

This was about 33% of the line-up waiting to take a picture with or in the “Instagram” frame. I didn’t even think about trying to get the whole line in one shot, I didn’t have a wide enough lens nor the software to stitch a panorama together.

From a strictly selfish standpoint, I love them. They herd all of the tourists and influencer-wanna-bes who don’t give a rat’s behind about the history or geography of a place, let alone respecting it enough not to vandalize or damage property because they think it would be a better photo into one place. So it opens up the rest of the area for me to search for other angles that haven’t been photographed yet or as much.

But photography should be about art and creativity. The “Photo Zone” or “Kodak Spot” was bad enough, but these things are sucking creativity out of people. It’s not just these spots, either. It’s Instagram as a whole. The person behind the Instagram account “Insta_repeat” is a genius. One of the things that I find amusing is how some people get so angry in the comments. Clearly (stealing a line from Digital Underground) “the image and the style” is similar if not exact, and there are thousands of them. Do a Google search for “Starfield Library COEX Seoul” or even better, do an Instagram search for “Starfield Library“. How many of the escalator in front of the rounded corner shots can you count? Right? Every time I see a new post with this or some online “magazine” with this shot I want to scream.

It’s a big place. Get around and look. The COEX account actually left me a comment.

But if you really, really, really, must have that escalator with the rounded corner, you can mix that up, too:

Or without the reading man:

The point is there is so much more going on in that space than the escalator. No one can reach the books higher than the 4th or 5th row from the floor anyway, that huge wall is all decoration… sorry.

How people expect to stand out by doing the same thing that many other people are doing blows my mind. It’s one thing to study and research a location before you go, but looking up what is “Instagrammable” and then going to do the same shot, it’s a hard “no” from me. Listing 5 to 10 places that you should go to for that “Instagrammable” shot will never come from me, and I hope that others at least cool down on it.

Everyone has different likes and experiences. What was good for me, may not be your cup-of-tea and vice-versa. But if you like a frame that I’ve published, I’ll be more than happy to tell you where it is or how to get there if you ask me. I’ve given out exact GPS co-ordinates to some of my favourite spots. But I’m not going to make a list, the searching for and finding it on your own is part of the adventure that makes photography so much fun and rewarding.

But hey, my main Instagram account is under 350 followers, I’m probably not one to be giving Instagram advice … but it does lead nicely into the next issue …

So What’s Your Point?