Every photographer needs a style. Style is what sets you apart. It is, in large part, what clients pay for – your unique view of the world through your lens. Everyone has a different path when it comes to figuring out how they want their work to look and feel; and some paths are more bizarre than others.
Three years ago, I had an experience that has largely influenced my current style with regards studio photography. I had been approached by a client to do a shoot in-studio. This was at a time when I was not familiar with studio work. I had no experience with lights, strobes and other gizmo in a controlled environment. I had relied primarily on reflectors, speedlights and natural light for most of my budding career. Despite my inexperience, I took the job because I thought I could pull it off.
The shoot was booked and scheduled to hold in two weeks. I made an appointment to rent a studio in my local area and proceeded to binge-watch every studio lighting tutorial on YouTube – PHLEARN included. By the time the shoot came around, I was pretty confident that I knew enough to get me through. I got to the studio an hour in advance to set up the space. Upon getting there, I realized I had made a very costly assumption: I’d assumed that all studios have the same equipment. I was welcomed by gadgets that were never covered in any of the tutorials and I quickly became deflated.
An hour passed and the clients arrived, ready to get “professional” imagery but I wasn’t ready and I couldn’t let them know that. So, for the next 40 minutes or so, I kept moving lights around, looking for a setup that might make a decent shot. I pushed every button, turned every dial and flicked every switch. I would take test-shot after test-shot. Nothing worked. To the client, I looked busy but I had no idea what I was doing. Each time she inquired what the holdup was, I would use the old “I’m just tryna get my settings” line.
After 40 minutes of trial and error, finally something stuck – and it wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was amazing. I quickly showed the client my LCD as if to say “what do you think? Totally worth the wait, right?” She was even more impressed than I was. I just shrugged it off like I knew what I was doing all along. After all, she paid for a professional not an amateur. I quickly took note of the settings and positions of all the equipment as a starting point. From this point, I really started having fun. I would tweak things a little, getting even better results. The shoot came alive. The client was impressed with the results and totally forgot she had to wait close to 45 minutes for me to get my act together.
Those settings became my go-to for studio shoots. I would play with the settings and get creative with them. I’d further refine the results in Photoshop to really make it my signature move. I got several calls and emails saying “I want you to create pictures like this for my fashion line/birthday/wedding/pet” with one of my images attached. Over time, I mastered those settings and their variations until it became my style – something only I did at the time. I’ve shared those settings at numerous workshops since then. My style has gone in a totally different direction now but I always look back at that point as a moment of truth – a period of growth.
At times the highest reward for your work is not what you get for it, it’s what you become by it. Style hardly develops by simply wishing your work looked a certain way. It develops by trying things, making mistakes and being conscious of the process. When you hit something that makes your creative spirit come alive, you can now tune it, refine it, or turn it on its head, making it yours. Go through the creative motions but, whatever you do, remember to have fun.
Check out more of Rodney’s work here.