Space-cially Challenged…

Studio space – a good working space, available at a reasonable price – is somewhat hard to come by in Savannah. There is a rental studio in the area, but nothing compares to having one’s own space. Don’t get me wrong; the rental studio is a nice one; fully furnished, well equipped, fairly priced, and owned and operated by a knowledgeable husband and wife team that happen to be friends of mine. I’ve done good work there in recent years.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how I wanted to take my work out of the studio; to play with natural light and natural environments, or shoot in other indoor environments besides a dedicated studio. Go “off set” in other words. This color image of Kathy and Michelle was shot in Kathy’s home using only window light. I recently shot portraits of a friend’s daughter and her friend in natural light, indoors and out. I’ve always believed window light is the best light for any indoor work. Images created in this light are almost always beautiful. I’m making some progress in that direction.

Still, from time to time, I need a formal studio. While I love to give my friends business when I can, the cost of renting a studio adds up, especially when preparing for a show. The economy being what it is, I needed to find a way to cut – or at least minimize – my production costs. I thought I had hit upon the perfect answer.

As many of you know, I’m an owning partner in a local art gallery, a little place called The Gallery. Our space features a marvelous main floor with beautiful tall windows and very inviting lighting. It’s absolutely gorgeous in daylight and at night. We also have a unique lower level gallery, where mostly large and original pieces of work hang. So I thought: why not use the lower level gallery as a shooting space, after hours, when the business is closed? It can’t be seen from the street level, and the floor space is plenty big.

Perfect – right?

Not exactly. I knew the space would have challenges, but it turned out to be more than I had bargained for. The ceiling was the issue, and while the height of it was a problem, the ceiling color revealed itself to be the bigger problem. The entire ceiling – every square inch of it – is white. Not just white, it is a very bright white.
In other words, the ceiling is a very efficient, not to mention gigantic, reflector. No matter what I did, no matter what ingenious ideas me or my assistants came up with to block or redirect the light from the flash heads, the ceiling scattered light far and wide. Since the vast majority of my work done in studio is done on dark or black backgrounds, this is a disaster of moderate proportions for the way I shoot. As evidenced by this image of model Sarah H., it works beautifully as a high-key location. However, I’m not a high-key kind of guy. Well, not much of one, anyway.

The only workable solution was to drape the ceiling in a dark, light absorbing fabric. This proved to be more difficult than it sounds. There are no real attachment points in place and I promised my partners I wouldn’t modify the spaces. Second, having to drape the ceiling each time before a session adds to the costs of the session, if not in dollars, in time spent. Once again, things were becoming too complicated – and complicated is not in keeping with my efforts to simplify and streamline my shooting work flow.

So, I’ll continue scouting new locations; I’ll keep hunting for beautiful, natural light to use as often as possible. Fortunately, my planning is taking me in this direction anyway. And when I need a good, workable studio to use, I know where to find it.

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One Response to Space-cially Challenged…

  1. Dave Hunt says:

    Bill – am so with you on this, my first choice for indoor light is whats coming in thru a window. Not only is it (normally) soft and warm, but will offer an environmental flavour with the decor and the window itself, but also taking away some of the total control that studio lights offer means creating an image with what you see and not what you expect, its that random element that can lead to inspiration.I have been fortunate to work in some period building with ceilings high enough not to create the problems you have encountered, good warning !!

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