As photographers we face challenges day in and day out, but one of the toughest facets of the job is posing our subject. Regardless of experience, when a model steps in front of your lens for the first time he or she will expect some direction. It’s up to you to give that proper guidance, otherwise your images will just come up short.
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Ever since I started diving into studio photography the term “V-Flat” has been a big mystery to me. Google and YouTube have been the quintessential resource for photography knowledge and for whatever reason there isn't much detailed information on how to construct a V-Flat or what purpose they actually serve. It took time to sift through the noise of nonsensical DIY fabrication and even more time to unfold the enigma of this studio essential.
Getting it right in camera is one of the most important steps to achieving a great photograph, but color grading is what can really take your work to entirely new level. It has taken me nearly 2 years to find the right process and perfect combination to obtain the right look. And, over the course of my time writing for Fstoppers, I've been asked dozens of times about the coloring and process behind my imagery. Well, I've finally broken it all down in one quick tutorial.
I’m a huge fan of Annie Leibovitz and the imagery she has captured over the past few decades. Being a self-taught photographer, I looked to her work time and time again for inspiration and motivation. Over the course of a year, I scoured the internet for information on her lighting setups, equipment and methodology. But, the more I dove in, the less concerned I became about equipment and the more I felt the need to simplify my style.
Artificial lighting can be overwhelming, there are thousands of options to modify one single light source and there are dozens of companies that claim they have the best product and best bang for your buck. Regardless, photography equipment is expensive and I know I'd rather not waste money on a gimmick product when the same result could be achieved with just the right strobe placement or accessory.
If you’ve shot in any studio, then you know the rules. Larger studios may require the use of protective booties on a freshly painted cyc wall or some practice the unsaid "no shoes" rule when stepping onto background paper. But, unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen and if the subject is jumping or moving look after look that background is going to get dirty. We all know the pain of re-touching that dirt.
We’ve all been there; the studio is set, the model is awkwardly waiting, but the light isn’t quite right and the stress begins to build. With every test shot, the light quality increases and the anxiety level decreases. Finally, like a blast of cool breeze on a hot day, everything clicks into place. The light is perfect.
Throughout the course of my creative career, I’ve overdrawn my bank account a lot, shed tears over stress, and stared in the mirror for hours in dejection. I’ve made my share of professional and personal mistakes and certainly learned the hard way from all of those choices. I’ve lost, I’ve won, I’ve sacrificed, and I’m blessed to have earned.
We have been sold on the biggest myth of all time; In order to succeed at anything and have a lustrous career you must spend 4 years in an overinflated educational institution and spend a small fortune, which doesn’t include costly textbooks, supplies and living expenses. All in exchange for a fancy sheet of paper we call a degree… a piece of paper that gives us instant credit and a golden ticket to the gravy train. Right?
Zoom, focus, spray and pray. That seems to be the M.O. of many photographers who shoot runway. I admit, I was one of those photographers. The one who scours through thousands of images at the end of the night, wishing they had shot more strategically. And, after two hours of culling, flagging three images per look, they’d be lucky if only one was tack sharp. After many shows, I’d criticize my every move and would long for a time machine to do it all over again.
When people walk through my living room studio, they are puzzled that I do not own or rent a permanent studio space. What many do not know is that when I’m contracted for a commercial assignment, about 80% of the time I must travel to a location or shot at the client’s home base. And, in many cases that requires transporting several 9 foot seamless backdrops and a whole lot of equipment. I don’t have a giant bus to haul all of my studio gear, so it’s been a trying experience to find the right tools to efficiently pack and tote my mobile studio.
When I first picked up a DSLR and got a taste of artificial lighting, I loved shooting in darkness. I felt like I could control light a lot easier without having to fight the ambiance of a location or sun. Using an array of speedlights, I would light the location and subject how I wanted. Sometimes, that included putting speedlights in lamps or mounting them in the background. Eventually, that style took a sharp 180 degree turn, now I love using natural light in my favor to create a dramatic portrait.
I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 years as a professional artist. I’ve learned a lot about fear, failure, and success. I’ve been fortunate enough to mentor and educate thousands of photographers all over the world. Even as a young four-year photographer who many would still consider “green,” I’ve taught photographers from all walks of life, all levels of advancement, and even some who had reached a level of comfortable success.
Lighting isn't easy, a world-class-perfectly-lit studio portrait happens with a lot of instinct and experience. A strong grasp of lighting comes with experimentation and practice. Those that know my aesthetic know I'm a huge fan of one light photography. With that said, every image I produce I try and maintain the look of one light, even though it very well be lit with six lights. If I'm shooting for a hair, the hair needs to be well lit. If I'm shooting for makeup, the light needs to fill the face and really show detail. The same applies to product photography or fashion. I always give the client what they need, but always retain my dramatic lighting style.
We’ve all been there, stuck with bad light and fresh out of ideas. I may spend up to an hour pre-lighting before a model or subject steps onto set, I work out the kinks and make sure everything is how it should be. But, despite my best efforts to make it right, every now and then I run out of time and have to wing it. We all have our “go to” lighting scenarios, but when you’re standing in unknown territory, keep the following tips in mind and you just might make it through the storm.