The Digital Brass Nail Studio

DSCF5018Ever hear of a brass nail studio? It’s a very slightly derogatory thing to say about a portrait studio – you’ll only ever hear it amongst photographers and mostly amongst the ones that are trying to pinch each other’s business. Not that it would do so – the clients who elect to have their picture took have never heard of it.

Well. it refers to the old practice of setting a fixed lighting geometry for portraits – whether this was done by means of incandescent lights, or reflectors, or a big open skylight. The photographer would have experimented enough to find a good illumination and lighting ratio and marked the position where the lights, reflectors, or seating would go with brass nails in the wooden floorboards. The lot could be cleared away or re-set easily for different groups of clients. The sneer about brass nails is actually a sneer about proven efficiency and suitability for purpose.

The opposite? The thing the detractors offer as a substitute? Endless resetting and moving of seats, lights, and clients until the “artist” is satisfied. If the “artist” has no real idea what will satisfy them they may never be able to repeat it. If the client is unsatisfied there will definitely be no repeat!

Taking 100 unsuccessful shots with a digital camera is no substitute for taking one good shot with the same gear. It is 100 x the time and effort and 1/100 of the reward.

A modern studio may not have wooden floors – they might be tile, vinyl, or concrete. Or carpet, if the backdrop does not have to run out in an infinity curve.The hard surfaces are easy – you just stick some white or silver gaffer tape down at the light positions and texta a number on them. You might have set-up A, set-up B, Set-up C all laid out and whenever you have a singe sitter for headshots or a two-up couple, or a big family you will know pretty well where to place the lights. Of course you modify the position as needed for what you discover about the client’s faces or bodies or clothing – but you’ve got a good jumping-off point.

If you need to mark carpet you just suck a boiled lolly until it is sticky and grind it into the carpet. You can colour-code them with raspberry, lemon, or lime…

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