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…

Catching the Splash

In my continued efforts to learn and practise how to use artificial lighting for the purposes of product photography, I decided to try to catch some bouncing water drops.

I tried and shot just over 100 frames before real life called and I had to leave the house.

Image from the camera.

It isn’t just about learning how to use artificial lighting and how to set things up for a product shoot, it’s about learning how and practising to use editing software.

For those of you who have followed my path to this point know that I have done very little when it comes to editing photos using software on the computer. To be honest, the complicated ones, like Photoshop just scared me. But I also knew that if I was to advance anywhere in photography outside of my personal Facebook page, I would have to learn how to use it properly. Now I don’t use Photoshop, I use the program Affinity Photo. I absolutely love it. There are a lot of similarities to Photoshop in both layout and features. It doesn’t have the power that Photoshop has (yet), there is a reason why Photoshop has become a verb. (I’ll have to do a review at a later date.)

Back to the task at hand. I posted some of my results on Instagram stories. One friend had sent a message that she was trying to do the same but without the same results. So I decided that I would make a quick behind the scenes video showing my set up and a brief explanation on how to get the shot.

I have stung this video together. I know the quality both video and editing need a lot of work. Baby steps, baby steps. One thing at a time. It’s still a huge improvement from what I’ve done in the past. As I continue to do these at home shoots, doing more of these type of behind the scenes may surface.

If you have any questions about what I did in this video, or any other questions feel free to ask away in the comment section here, on my Facebook page, or on the YouTube video comment section.

Have a great day and good luck!

Take it Inside

As many, if not everyone, has heard by now, a highly contagious virus is making its way around the globe seemingly faster than light itself. Here in South Korea, the number of cases continue to balloon not only daily, but hourly.

One thing that this temporary (hopefully) lifestyle change has brought with it, is the reduction in the amount of time that I would normally spend outside exploring. Luckily, at the time of this post, there have been no confirmed cases in my city, although they did track one person through a nearby subway station. (Yes, track. There is a website that posts the known travel paths of some confirmed patients before they knew they had the virus.) So, as a nature/travel photographer the question became what could I do with my time if I’m not going to be outside.

When you sit down and plan it out, there are a number of things that will easily fill a day.

Planning

One thing that is quite important as a photographer is being able to recognize your weaknesses. Having no traditional formal training in photography, I have a few.

YouTube videos, these days, play a huge role in my learning. I have learned to be careful when I use the term “self taught”. Many people tend to use the term to say that they didn’t go to a college or university photography programme, like myself. However, as I was growing up, I read books and magazines (the Internet was still very, very young at the time) to learn techniques, what f-stops were, lens distortions and how to work with them, etc. All of these books and articles were written by people, many of whom did go through formal training. It is these authors that taught me. There may have been more experimentation on my part as I physically tried to understand what they had written. But make no mistake I didn’t pick up a camera and figure out everything without any help. They were my teachers.

One thing I think that traditional formal training would have helped me immensely is lighting. Being able to handle and physically set up strobes and soft boxes in a controlled environment with supervision is something I wish I had experienced. Throughout my entire life with a camera in my hands, I’ve relied on natural lighting. I didn’t even start using reflectors or diffusers until fairly recently (relatively speaking). One of my first purchases after my first digital camera was a big powerful speed light. One that I’ve never really learned how to use.

Task #1

Learning how to use my speed light and how to light still life or products in a mini studio.

I started by using the soft box that my wife had given me years ago as a gift along with my one speed light. I started experimenting with where to position the light and how to light whatever object I could find around the house.

This also lead to watching a lot more videos on how to use artificial lighting.

Task #2

Studio Design

After editing some of the shots, I started to see some more possibilities. It also got me thinking about the studios that these lighting videos were being shot in, and their lighting set ups and the similarities. This lead to me redesigning my office. I built a track that runs from one side of the room to the other and attached my speed light to it. I also attached a diffuser to the rail so it could slide into the position and angle that I wanted.

Task #3

Re-editing

It is also a great time to go back through the archives. There are 4 things I like to so when I go back through the archives.

  1. Look back at some of the iffy files that I had thought I would go back and edit at a later date.
  2. Delete files that I thought I might fix, but have come to the realization that they will never get edited.
  3. Edit the iffy files that made the second cut.
  4. Re-edit files that had already made the cut, but using new techniques or since it’s a new day a new artistic outlook on that file. *

*There was one photo in particular that when I edited I wasn’t sure which I had liked better, the warm white balance or the cool white balance. Your vision can change from day to day.

By watching editing videos, (as “photoshopping” is still pretty new to myself as well) I learn different ways of doing things. I watched a video earlier today that even showed a whole new (to me) artistic angle to take with the photos.

Task #4

Website Updates

This is also a great time to keep up with website and blog updates. Keeping a (regular) blog in the past was something that was extremely difficult for me. My brain tends to run at 1000 km/h most of the time (hence the importance of my @koreantemples Instagram account to help me slow down). The one thing that I’ve learned while writing articles for Wikitree.us a few years ago, and last year while I was writing the textbook, is that I like writing. It’s something that I know I have time to do regardless of how busy my schedule is.

Task #5

Looking for Work

With my newly found love of writing along with my photography, this inside time has also allowed me to focus on networking and writing proposals to magazines and publishers. My full time elementary teaching contract has just finished and I was going to take this time to build my photography business. There are a whole lot of steps to take and hard work before it gets off the ground. I’m going to try my best to make it work.

So there we have it. 5 tasks that easily fill up a 10-12 hour day. Many times, each one of these days will only be filled with 2 or 3 of these 5 tasks.