Shooting in a studio and shooting on location are very different. The studio offers a certain level of comfort. You know what equipment you have, props and have the ability to execute a job has become routine in terms of the known variables. It’s easy to be creative in the studio because it is such a controlled environment.
Shooting on location offers a different level of challenges but can also lead to some amazing results.
When you shoot in the studio you pretty much have to build each environment.
Building a set is not that difficult but keeping it fresh is the challenge. I constantly have to get new props, backgrounds, glasses, linens, napkins; you get the idea.
Some jobs have big budgets and you can hire a prop stylist to do this. Budgets are getting tighter and often times I find myself doing the propping elements to save clients money. I think it’s fun to go shopping for props, you get to see what is current plus you get to spend other peoples money to buy cool things that you would not normally buy for yourself. It gives you a shopping fix without having to suffer the consequences of an AMEX overload.
Location work is different. It’s like the Doctor Seuss line “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”. What is thrilling about location work is having to walk into a room, assess the situation and turn our high quality professional images on the fly.
I generally try to scout a location beforehand but sometimes it is not possible. When shooting a location I usually adhere to a few basic guidelines that usually see me through. 1) Hope for the best but anticipate the potential problems. Even though I like to shoot in natural light on location, I always bring lights. You never know when you will need to break out the strobes. Bad weather, no windows, shoot runs late and the sun goes down. If you don’t have lights you are screwed. 2) Bring a boat load of extension cords. Sometimes power outlets can be scarce ant the only one is 200 feet away. If you don’t have power game over…wah wah wah. 3) Always bring twice as much gear as you think you need because chances are something will malfunction. This has happened to me too many times. Every time I break this rule and leave the extra light or pack behind to save room and lugging it always bites me in the butt. Always leave yourself an out if something does not work. 4) Have fun! No use stressing over things you can’t control. If something goes wrong use it to your advantage. A professional figures out how to get the assignment done in the face of problems. 5) If something goes wrong and it’s easily worked around don’t even let anyone else in on it (except your assistant). It’s like playing a wrong note in music. Just keep playing and chances are it will be overlooked. If you stop in the middle everyone picks up on the fact that you screwed up and this can shake a clients confidence.
I remember I was shooting some package designs for Computer Associates for Draft/FCB. It was a little out of my norm since it involved ten models. I had a casting agency set up call times and rented a big studio, the whole show. We loaded in and got the equipment set up and I noticed that none of the models had arrived. Apparently the casting agency gave them all the wrong call time and they were 45 minutes late. The client came over to me in a panic and wanted to know what the F$#% was going on. I calmly explained that everything was fine and we would wrap on time. The fact is I was dying on the inside and pissed off but rather than calling attention to the mistake I just kept playing. The shoot turned out great and I wrapped 20 minutes early.
It’s a great opportunity to really step outside your comfort zone and produce some very interesting work on location jobs. Here is an example of a natural light image which I could not have achieved in the studio unless I spent $2,000 on props. The light is coming in off a reflector panel placed outside. I set up mirrors on the opposite side of the drink behind to pop light into the left side.
I think the results came out well.
Another interesting technique is to mix strobe light with the background light. For example I shot this for Strike Holdings in the basement of one of their bowling alleys. Since there was no natural light I was shooting with strobes. I wanted to give the atmosphere a strong focus so I pulled the camera back to get the environment. Then did a meter reading of the background which was about 2 seconds at ƒ11 and set my strobes to balance.
The shot was well received by the client.
Natural light can also be a great creative inspiration. Recently I was shooting some PR material for a restaurant called Crema in NYC. I brought all my gear including lights. I noticed they had really beautiful light coming in from a skylight. It was bounced through the building and it really was perfect. I set up some bounce cards and mirrors and used the paintings they had displayed for backgrounds to keep it interesting.
Shooting on location can be challenging. It really comes down to how creative you can be when stretched outside your comfort zone. When life hands you lemons make lemonade, bounce some light into it and shoot it.