Studio Self Portrait Experiments

Last week my friend Kevin Stenhouse let me take over his studio for an afternoon to experiment with lighting and some self portrait ideas. I met Kevin in 2013 at a workshop with another mutual friend (warning: nudes and figure art through the link) Kevin Jordan. During the workshop six photographers were paired off to work together with a rotation of three models in three sets. Kevin and I were not teamed up, but we chatted a lot during breaks and got along quite well. We’ve kept in touch since then – I’ve used his studio a few times, photographed a wedding with him, and I took one of his workshops on glamour and editing as well.

Obviously Kevin and I do not have a lot of overlap when it comes to the subjects we photograph. However, I learned a lot from his workshop that ended up helping me out in my landscape and photography work. When I recently asked Kevin for advice and feedback on an idea for a photo series I have, he was eager to help out and give me some tips for experimenting with lighting. The photos I took last week aren’t for the photo series but it was useful to play with a few ideas and practice editing portraits again.

I’m going to show some images in this blog from the shoot, describe what was done to set it up and shoot it and some of the challenges. The first image was selected from a series with a lighting set up I saw Kevin use with a boxer. I asked him how he set up and we put everything together in approximately the same way he shot the image I liked. Before he left the studio for a couple hours, he took a few shots on his d750 with a sigma 135mm f1.8. Here’s one with my edits:

Muscular bad ass girl in black vest and bra

Initial lighting set up and shot by Kevin. My editing.

Looking through the images Kevin took, there are shots where not all of the lights triggered. So even though I may have liked a pose, sometimes the lighting didn’t work. Since I couldn’t necessarily see if the light behind me or one of the side lights didn’t go off, I generally changed poses after the shutter click unless I was told to “hold it”.

Successful “hold it” example. (Unedited)

We attempted to play with the lighting a bit to set up for some back shots that would accentuate my muscles nicely, but we didn’t come up with anything I really liked before Kevin had to leave.

The actual self portraits and frustration with lighting began. When you are the photographer looking at the model you can see how the modelling light (a continuous light source, usually a bulb or LED, located in proximity to the flash tube) falls on the subject and make some adjustments before taking any shots. If I was to put together my own studio, I would probably like to have a mirror that I can move around to where the camera would be positioned and make the process a little easier.

My procedure (which honestly takes a long time) for self portraits was:

  • Mark posing spot.
  • Set up lighting to roughly what I want and how I think that will happen.
  • Set up camera on tripod with remote. I use a vello wireless remote.
  • Take a test shot.
  • Readjust everything.
  • Take another shot.
  • Realize you readjusted everything wrong.
  • Take another shot.
  • Repeat until you realize the lighting is close but there is something you don’t like about it. Try to figure that out.

Once I’m mostly happy, I set my remote to take 5-10 shots with a few seconds in between. I review the shots to see if any of my poses affect how the light falls and what I might like to change about the poses. It’s best to take a lot of shots and make minor adjustments to poses so you have a lot of options when selecting images to edit.

Here is one I really liked:

Lit, shot, edited by me!

Below is the first attempt at the pose above before I adjusted a couple of things. Obviously I moved to the side too much so the light behind me was visible. I didn’t like what my left arm was doing and the position of my shoulder. Looking at this some more I don’t mind the head angle and now wish I had the shot with better arms.

Initial version of this pose that I decided to change.

I haven’t edited that many shots from the day, but I continued to experiment with lighting, different outfits, etc, until Kevin came back. Then we worked on headshots.

I think Kevin and I work very well together (he might disagree, but since he keeps letting me into his studio I’ll assume I’m correct =p). We joked that I could actually understand what he wanted when telling me how to adjust my pose – even when his sentence structure was questionable. As a photographer, I could think through what he would be trying to adjust. I wasn’t just trying to figure out how to follow directions. When we’re working with clients who have little experience being in front of the camera, trying to adjust a pose can take a little work. I’ll be the first to admit left and right are hard, but when you ask someone to tilt their head and they rotate instead, you know the communication is going to take some work.

Bonus pro tip: don’t tell your model to do something gangster if she is definitely not gangster at all. Unless you’re going for a comedic image maybe?

Is this gangster? =D (Unedited)

The headshots were taken on my camera by Kevin. I learned a lot watching him put together a few lighting and backdrop set ups to play with. I always feel a bit weird giving another photographer control of the camera and knowing they can change the framing, adjust settings, focus points and so on from what I had in mind. I think one of the reasons I like messing around with self portraits is that I can control everything – even though it can occasionally take a lot of work or time. I’m excited to keep editing more images. I had to refresh some editing techniques that I haven’t used in three years to work on these photos.

Shot by Kevin on my camera, edited by me.

Hair and make up by my absolute favourite artist, Emilia Kuczma-Porębska.