Monday, January 28, 2013

Q&A: Will You Help Us Get a Studio for Our Photo Program?

An unnamed student at the Digital Photography program at Ravensbourne (UK) asks, via Twitter:

"Our photography degree course has no studio! (Will you) help us tell the management we need one?

No, anonymous student at Ravensbourne, I will not. Firstly, I think your petition signatures should be from students in the program. But more important, I probably would not equip you with a studio even if I were your dean.

For several reasons...
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An Empty Box

For someone who doesn't shoot in one all the time (and especially to students for some reason) a studio seems like a magic, sexy, exotic place to shoot. But in reality a studio is a big, expensive, empty, expensive box that you have to fill with your imagination.

And here is the thing. Over time, it is probably the least interesting place you can shoot.

Even if you don't have to build a new structure to make a studio, there is a marginal cost to turning a pre-existing room into a studio that could have been something else. So the dollars (or, in your case, pounds) are real.

And studios have to be pretty big to be useful for anything other than waist-up portraits or headshots and table-tops.

But no matter how big it is, it is the same place every day you shoot in it. So you go to great lengths to try to make it different. You paint backdrops. You bring in a ton of props.

Eventually, you'll find yourself in the cashier's line at Ikea with way the hell too many "decorative" black sticks in your cart in a desperate attempt to make your studio portrait look like it was shot in a cool location. (This is inevitable.)


Better: An Actual Location

Even though most people tend to think of what we do as studio lighting, I loathe the term "studio lighting." (Even if I did just use it twice in one sentence in a pretty sweet SEO move, heh.) Instead, think "lighting," and apply that to your current location.

Here's the closest thing to a traditional studio I have had as a location in recent memory:


As I walked in, I remembered thinking this place looked like someone held a frat party on a Stanley Kubrick set. The emptiness, ironically, is what drew me to it. (Click the pic to see an OA from the photo we made there open in a new window.)

But the point is that the dank emptiness was novel. That's what made it interesting, because I had grown so used to being surprised by locations and solving their problems and exploiting them for photos.

I love a studio the same way I love BBQ ribs. Every once in a while: awesome. Every day? I'd go insane.

That said, as a half-measure I tweaked my own garage to serve dual purpose as a studio. I say "studio," but it's really just a failsafe location of last resort. As it turns out, I have only used it a few times since then.


Instead, Get This:

If I were your dean (and be glad I am not, as your classes would not start until 11pm) I would instead use that money to carve out a little gear closet. It'd work just like a lending library, only with lighting gear.

Figure your school would have spent at least £20k on studio build-out, before you even bought lights and gear. Assuming your typical photo student has a speedlight, you could put together a ton of good location lighting kits for that kind of money. You could even do a few monobloc kits, too—for the upperclassmen. In the UK, I'd look at Elinchroms or Profoto D1 Air.

The kicker is that while the lights would be free to check out, you'd have to turn in a photo and full BTS write-up from your shoot every time you used them. So within a year, you'd not only have a good gear closet but also a location- and gear-specific knowledge bank to teach your fellow students how to use the best studio of all.


__________

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53 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

Dang Strobist, you need to find a better rib shack. BBQ ribs every day = caveman paradise. :)

January 28, 2013 8:37 AM  
Blogger Pete Sutton Fine Art said...

Sage advice as usual. The real way to learn lighting is in the wild. Fighting with conflicting white balances, low ceilings, distracting elements. Learning and working in a studio is like learning to ride a bike with training wheels and never taking them off.

January 28, 2013 8:39 AM  
Blogger Wally said...

Fairly true words....I have "access" to a studio which is really a co-op between my self and a few other photographers - and its rented out to a Zumba instructor twice a week when we aren't using it. Helps pay the rent. I do use the studio, not a lot but its a great place to gather with other shooters, amateur, pro and pro-am's and we teach stuff there too.
For me, its a secure place to store my equipment. I have accumulated stands, modifiers and all sorts of stuff over the years and being in the co-op is cheaper than a storage shed plus my gear is easily accessed and set when I need it.
So a studio has "some" purpose, I do agree I'd rather be on location and try to do it more often than not but if done right and the fit is good, a studio can be valuable in several ways. As student? Hard to say....I've help teach lighting classes in our studio for a local college's courses. It did make it easier......

January 28, 2013 8:44 AM  
Blogger Pete Glogiewicz said...

Totally agree David. For a long time all I wanted was a studio, I looked at converting my garage, and even renting a space. But since finding your blog (Which I find truly inspirational) I have found I have much more fun being out and about and modifying my lighting to suit. I can use any room in my house now, and move things/alter furniture position to add new backdrops to my SP's and working out on locations has breathed new life into my phtography. :-)

January 28, 2013 8:49 AM  
Blogger Simon Whitehead said...

In the UK, I'd recommend Bowens lights, as well.

January 28, 2013 8:52 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Well given advice - am sure there is so much available place within a school setting that we would all die to have - that student not seeing it , speaks volumes about what drove the initial inquiry.
As you said spending some $ on the tools of the trade would be much more thrifty and in the end teach more.


January 28, 2013 9:18 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

As a student here, it is not so much a fully kitted studio that we're after, but more just a space that we can use, a door we can lock. Somewhere that the younger students can learn the basics.

My own style is far more suited to lighting on location, but that of some of my coursemates is based around set building, large productions, and so on - they simply cannot do that when the 'studio' has to become a lecture theatre or a classroom at 5pm.

Respectfully, I agree and disagree with your blog post. People who shoot like you or I may not need a studio, but there are those who most certainly do.

January 28, 2013 9:59 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Recently started shooting in a studio type location. Basically a 30' x 30' cubicle in an old factory. It's become and artist retreat so imagine 200 of the cubicles with painters, sculptor, other photographers. Yes - it's the same, and can get boring, but my clients see a photo and say "I want that picture" so now I can go and give them that picture every time. Consistency is sometimes the key to sales. Boring? Sure. But my clients know what they will get.

January 28, 2013 10:58 AM  
Blogger Deej said...

So, to paraphrase Ansel Adams, "The best studio is the one you have with you." I guess all along, that has been the Strobist message!

January 28, 2013 11:45 AM  
Blogger aledobroadband said...

I hate you, David Hobby!
Just sayin'

I clicked on your StanleyKubrickRoom and flipped out. That's brilliant. And my brain doesn't work that way. Curses!!

> That's what made it interesting, because I had grown so used to being surprised by locations and solving their problems and exploiting them for photos.

^^ Teach me this ^^

*sigh*

January 28, 2013 11:52 AM  
Blogger Fonk said...

Agree and disagree. I have a small studio that I rent, and it's very useful at times. Other times, when I'm not using it as much, it does feel like I'm paying for a big empty box, like you say. Even then, though, like Wally said, it's a nice, secure location to store all my equipment. I also rent mine out by the hour/day, so any other photographers who don't want to invest in an entire studio themselves can come use my mine for a couple hours to get their work done. It helps me pay the rent, and gives them an easy, cheap studio space only when they need it.

January 28, 2013 11:55 AM  
OpenID Ken said...

If I could tell students what it's like out in the real world of pro photography, it's that you have to learn how to think on your feet.

There is no such thing as an ideal situation unless you work for Nat Geo. =P

All kidding aside, being a good photographer is about working with what you have. If you don't have a studio, find a way to create a space. As long as you have the tools, you can make a space work. There is a lot of nominal space that isn't used all the time. Take advantage of it.

What the Strobist had to say about spending money on good lighting equipment is spot on. I would take that over a studio any day. Lighting is the foundation of a great photo aside from subject matter.

Use your head, as others have pointed out, having a studio isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Find a way and make it happen.

January 28, 2013 12:28 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

While I agree with most of this post because it annoys me when people think 'professional' photography should always been done inside in a studio for teaching lighting to a group and having somewhere where it isn't likely to rain (academic year = no summer) it is probably very valuable.

Taking a group on location in England probably requires 100 pages of health and safety risk assessments too.

January 28, 2013 1:48 PM  
Blogger Rick D Joy said...

I have been asked multiple times if I had a studio as if that were the magical element that validated me as a professional photographer. Studios are fine for a few things but there is a lot more out there that is interesting and make for better pictures. I try to drive this point to clients in a subtle way. I have seen people reference some of my work as looking like it was shot in a studio even though the shots were all made on location. I had a few good teachers to learn this from (That's you and McNally...I met Joe, he's a character and a good guy.) All brown nosing aside, I think there are better things made outside of the "box". When you show somebody that, it blows their mind.

January 28, 2013 1:58 PM  
Blogger Tonia Mc Caskill-Johnson said...

When I read the blurb on this post before the read more I was like what! I have to read this but after reading the full post I totally agree. My husband is still amazed that I haven't turned our spare room into a full on studio since all the walls are white -- smh I'm an outdoor shooter and would prefer the opportunity to stretch my legs and my mind. A lending lab for gear is an awesome substitute.

January 28, 2013 2:40 PM  
Blogger bird said...

I'm a photo student at another UK university. I also freelance shoot for a good range of corporate clients around the UK, and assist advertising and editorial photographers. For Disclosure, I know some of the students on this course.
Equipment isn't the issue here - Ravensbourne and all good universities with photo courses have a central equipment store with adequate stocks of lighting, camera etc kit. Ravensbourne has a stock of great elinchrom monoblocs and quadra battery lights, as well as Phase One and Canon camera systems.
Space is a real key. A space that you can reliably book (ever had a team of model, makeup, hair, props etc, and not been able to find an empty classroom to throw up a background in? Or set all of that up in a room that you then get turfed out of an hour later? That sucks.)
Yes, in the 'real world' we don't all have nice studios to spend all the time in the world in. And I am ALL for university courses preparing people for the real world. However, these frustations really don't help when people are trying to do personal or project work, even if taking a bit more time than we have the luxury of in the 'real world'.
Another key is consistency. A dedicated space helps eliminate wasted time - the amount of time spent waiting and shifting kit around the place hugely digs into lecture, workshop and seminar times - the ability to have a consistent space where you can simply have a rack of light stands, means that workshops can concentrate more on the teaching, and less with the 'waiting for the queue in the equipment centre'.
I agree with you on almost every single point, working commercial photographers do need to be flexible, have location work as a real key, and have flexible equipment available to them - however I think that you have maybe taken this point and run a bit further with it than needed - they're not after an infinity cove or a hi-glide studio light system (yuk) - they're after a collaborative, consistent space, much like the television studios, fashion workshops and dedicated IT and engineering labs that some of the other (brilliant) courses at Ravensbourne offer have to offer.

January 28, 2013 3:59 PM  
Blogger CC said...

Couldn't agree more David. I have two studios. One is the world, the other is a room where I sometimes work.

January 28, 2013 4:09 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

" this place looked like someone held a frat party on a Stanley Kubrick set" - Brilliant! That is just one of the reasons I love this blog. - Tim

January 28, 2013 5:31 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

I think the weakness (I can hardly believe I'm saying this!) in your argument David is an educational one. Consider that you're learning a new language. You need clean simple sentences, spoken slowly without accent, and with only simple words, to be able to start learning to listen to the language. Later, when you're better, you can listen to the announcements on the subway train surrounded by chatter.

I think this is the same problem. It's much easier to _learn_ (and this is a school) the basics of lighting pattern and ratio, when there are fewer complications. Now, for sure, they shouldn't spend long in there before they get out and deal with the challenges of a natural environment, but for learning those first basics of control you need the equivalent of a quiet environment where the only thing you see in your photograph is there because you put it there. The rest comes later, though hopefully not too much later!

January 28, 2013 6:38 PM  
Blogger Roman 'Skiver' Skyva said...

I have worked a few late evening jobs as events A/V crew in Ravensbourne - each time it was full of focused people creating stuff, having meetings, brainstorming all kinds of creations - way past other people's bed time. When I was at uni the campus was a very empty space after dark.

If they say they need a space to play with all the gear the school already has - I have a hunch they would put it to good use. Some shoots do need more than a long think, quick setup and 5min. of the CEO's time. Ambitious creativity are two words that sum up Ravensbourne in my experience.

I hope you get it!!

January 28, 2013 8:44 PM  
Blogger Foto Estudio Web said...

Oh! totally disagree with your point of view for two main reasons; one, for educational purposes it is one hundred times better to learn in a controlled, safe and professional environment, that is, if you dont want to spend the next two years of your life trying to figure out the basics of lighting on location... way to many variables and way to many hassels... permits, transport, food, weather, etc... and second, if you are going to be shooting scripted, well planned and produced photos a studio does not only give you 100% control in your environment (granted, you need to spend more money) but it also gives your client with a professional place to review, retake, modify and ultimately approve the photo.

January 28, 2013 8:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I enjoy shooting in both "the wild" and in studio. What you do have in a studio that you can't always count on while shooting outdoors or in an unexplored location is consistency, and isolation. You can block out the sun for instance, and build a lighting setup from scratch. If you're working with a woman, she has a place to change that's not the back of a car or alley. Rain becomes a non-issue. It is definitely a luxury, and in general you're going to learn a lot more by dealing with the unknown elements of an on-location shoot. On the charge of being creatively null and void, or a big empty boring room, I'd have to really disagree. It can definitely be more challenging to look at an empty room and pre-visualize something really creative, but it is certainly possible. If you own a studio and only shoot white sweep with the same lighting every day at 100mm F10, yes, that definitely seems like the road to boredom.

January 28, 2013 9:02 PM  
Blogger Sean Dorgan said...

Also, sorry, my message got cut off and I was displayed as "unknown" for some reason so I thought I'd finish: While I definitely feel there is merit to shooting in a studio, I absolutely agree with the approach David advocates for kids. I think turning a kid loose with a camera as opposed to confining them into a big empty box is a far better idea to encourage their interest in photography. I like the rental being dependent on the completion of the bts/shot as well. Great ideas.

January 28, 2013 10:29 PM  
Blogger Bob K said...

Great post... "empty, expensive box that you have to fill with your imagination" So true, even if it's not expensive.

Starting out, I found cheap studio space, $200/month, then moved into a slightly nicer space... then noticed that all I was doing, especially in summer, was storing my gear there... and I had to go pick it up for every location shoot. And I owned two of... coffeepots, vacuums, tool kits, furniture, refigerator... you name it.

I ended up in a loft with enough space to shoot... during the 95% of the time I'm not shooting, I have a killer living room. A home studio is nice, but the convenience of "home" outweighs the value of "studio".

January 28, 2013 10:51 PM  
Blogger Adam Sneller said...

I have always believed that creativity comes from constraints. Think about it, if you have all the money in the world, you immediately think of the most obvious solution. But what if you are forced to do without? Suddenly, your gears start to turn! And who knows... maybe you'll even come up with something that the rest of us haven't seen yet!

So go thank your dean for denying you what you don't really need and... be creative!

Oh, and for all of the students of this school, who haven't yet 'sealed the deal'... what the HELL are you thinking!??? Why would you pay a school to teach you photography???!!!

Look, just stop right now (before it's too late). Let me help you out:

1. Cancel your tuition as fast as you can and enroll in an economics program (you are going to need this).
2. Get your degree. If you wind up being a kick-ass photographer, you'll need the economics to run your own business. If not, you'll still need the economics to get a job!
2. Put all the money that you just saved on art school into art BOOKS, great MOVIES, and anything else that inspires you. Hell, go out and get a girlfriend! ...and spend money on her too!!! Go buy photo gear, film, media cards, expendables for your shoots and even splurge for the occasional workshop.

Hell, for the coin you'll sink into art school, you could probably even pay for David Hobby himself to fly to the UK and give you LAP DANCE ...strobes and all!!!

3. Read David Hobby's Lighting 101.
4. Pickup a speed light, a Matthews kit stand, an umbrella, and a set of pocket wizards.
5. Go onto Model Mayhem and organize some shoots.
5. Build your portfolio!!!

You don't need to pay an art school to teach you how to pursue a hobby (no pun intended). Because until you have a portfolio that blows every Brooks and AFI student off the planet, this is EXACTLY what your photography will be.

So enjoy your photography. Live it. Breath it. EMERSE YOURSELF in the world of ART. ...Just make sure you have other plans for putting bread on the table... until it pays!

January 28, 2013 11:30 PM  
Blogger Clement said...

If you add a big red label to your picture: "The Strobist academy - Live your dream and become a pro" You could have a really cool ad for photo blog banners...

January 28, 2013 11:48 PM  
Blogger Cory said...

David- I've been waiting for this post. Couldn't have written it better. As a photographer, I dread the first or second question of every new client, "So where is your studio located?" I don't have one for every reason you stated above. Bravo!!

January 28, 2013 11:55 PM  
Blogger Brad Gowan said...

I shoot daily spot news for a local TV station and know all about having to think on one's feet and the value that has. I also do this in Edmonton, Canada. It was -25 degrees Celsius with sideways blowing snow. It's like that here. A lot. For shooting stills in my off time, I want a studio.

January 29, 2013 12:48 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hi David,
Fortunately, Ravensbourne already has a great selection of both studio and location lighting. Can you guess where it came from ;-)
So no expenditure need there then.
However, it's pretty difficult teaching 30 students the intricacies of lighting in a corridor, carpark, or public space.
Added to this, time with lecturers is limited, and spending half of it just unpacking and repacking gear and set building is a tragic waste.
I recently helped out during their 48hours of photography event, where they took over one of the larger spaces in the university and used it as a studio for a solid 48 hours. You could see the benefit of a permanent space instantly. The students could walk in, grab some gear, try it out, swap it for something else. The feedback loop for learning was greatly reduced.
We also need to keep in mind that many of these students will start their careers as assistants, or photographers in large photographic companies, or the studios of large companies. They wouldn't be employable if the answer to "have you shot in a studio" was 'no' or if their portfolio only included location portraits.
Whilst I absolutely agree that students need to get out and learn to shoot in unexpected environments, I also realise that they need a place to both learn the basics and to have the opportunity to set up large productions.

January 29, 2013 4:32 AM  
Blogger Valerie Close Evans said...

Just to be different, I also totally agree. I learned about studio lighting in a classroom full of computers. I learned just as much with a messy background as a clean one. Then I shot in a studio for about nine months and was bored silly. Now I hardly ever shoot inside at all. I learned more about lighting by being out in sunshine, rain, variable colour temps and fast changing environments than I'd have ever learned in a studio. I've also learned the value of small lights and the mods that go with them, and how to accomplish a task with gear you can carry (sometimes up a mountain).The thing is, once you've set your lights in a studio, you never need change them and that won't help anyone learn.

January 29, 2013 4:58 AM  
Blogger paplaz said...

Well, I agree with you that you shouldn't spend all your time a in a studio, by why do you need one unless your doing high key portraits using a white background and for that lastolite make an awesome background that deals with that issue!

Just need a room with some sapce to setup and you're good to go.

January 29, 2013 5:25 AM  
Blogger Tristan Luscombe said...

Great blog as always, and I really like the idea of loaning gear in return for shots and a write-up. However, I have to disagree with the general sentiment that the best place to put students is out in the real world. Not everyone has the self-confidence to put up light stands in public and stand there for hours trying to work out how to get the lighting effect they want (or even what effect they want in the first place). Being in public with camera gear can be very intimidating for some of us lesser mortals. A studio provides a secure and private location for experimenting and learning, gaining enough familiarity and experience to be able to say "Right, I know what to expect from this kit when I do *this*. Let's try it somewhere else."
I wish I had a studio because it would be somewhere I could put in several hours a week practising and learning new things - when I try it at home I spend more time clearing a space, setting up and then putting everything back so the wife won't kill me than I do shooting!

January 29, 2013 5:41 AM  
Blogger Rob Ashcroft said...

I use my home studio for still-life and product shots, and it's fine. But for portraits I can't see the point of a studio. As you say, it is so restricting in terms of backdrops. Much better to spend a quarter of the money and invest in some good lighting for location use in the field.

January 29, 2013 9:14 AM  
Blogger Mikeyboyca said...

Agreed, even though I studied photography at City College of San Francisco in the mid 70's and we not only had a HUGE studio space, but two very complete darkrooms (color, B/W) and an enviable lending library of equipment. Everything from view camera's to 35's and lights up the wazoo! It's a shame that can't be the case any longer, but, I'm lucky to be the old fart I am and have benefited from the training I received there ever since:)

January 29, 2013 10:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

While I think you make excellent points with most advice David, I have to disagree in this case. For 7 years I taught a Studio Lighting P201 class one evening each week at the Art Institute of Atlanta. And having a big black 'box' with room for 10 tabletop setups is an ideal way to focus young minds upon Light, its Laws, and its myriad of implementations for creating the illusion of three dimensions upon a two-dimensional plane.
When students are surrounded by a blank space where their 'modern, amateur-friendly' digital camera can only capture Light that they've directed onto their set, they for the first time in their lives, experience the 'creation' of a photograph, as opposed to the 'capture' of one.
Painting with light/big black box: best learning environment imaginable, in my humble opinion.

January 29, 2013 1:56 PM  
Blogger Dave Willis said...

I'm an outdoor sports photographer and I'm also a visiting photography lecturer at a college; I get to see both sides of this particular coin and I can say from experience that teaching students on Wednesday evening, in January, in Britain, in the rain and wind, in a 3 hour time-slot...etc etc is never going to happen without a studio! I think we should "cut this guy some slack" as our american cousins are wont to say, 'cos he's just trying to learn some lighting in time-slot and a location that he didn't choose. I'm sure he get's out on location plenty of times as well, but there are just some things that are easier to teach, and to watch and listen too, in a cosy, warm studio environment. Just thought I'd say that - particularly as I'm trying to pursade my college to build me a bigger studio! Cheerio!

January 29, 2013 4:33 PM  
Blogger Gordon Saunders said...

Good luck photographing a room set in a corridor.

January 30, 2013 4:45 AM  
Blogger Brian Bray said...

Ah! Britain, where you choose between shot after shot against a cyc wall, or shot after shot against "90% grey" (U.K. weather).

In Canada we build studios for "Headshot season", which is somewhat shorter than hockey season and somewhat longer than ice fishing season.

All this to say that there are environmental reasons for studio ownership that don't apply to many Yanks. Consider yourself blessed.

Here's some help with your SEO:
"studio lighting" "studio lighting" "brianbraymedia.com" "studio lighting". :)

January 30, 2013 8:47 AM  
Blogger LesPhoto said...

We have a studio at the University where I work as a photographer. I don't like to use it as I'm not a "studio" photographer, it is too contrived. I prefer to work on location using my stobist kit any day of the week.

January 30, 2013 11:54 AM  
Blogger LesPhoto said...

We have a studio at the University where I work as a photographer. I don't like to use it as I'm not a "studio" photographer, it is too contrived. I prefer to work on location using my stobist kit any day of the week.

January 30, 2013 11:55 AM  
Blogger Wally said...

I must use a studio space differently than many people commenting.....some said that once you set your lights your done and it never changes...boring...really? I switch lighting set ups often whether indoors or out. We did a 14 model shoot for a local agency recently involving 2 make up artists, changes of clothes, and I don't know how many different lighting schemes. I could do maybe 2 models outdoors but never the 14 we had in. Maybe it is wasted space, maybe I'm storing gear there much of the time, but when its needed having a studio does come in handy.

January 30, 2013 11:57 AM  
Blogger James said...

I think you should cut this guy some slack on most of this. He should not have sent a request for you to side with him like this.
Students having limited access to a studio makes sense to me. There are some things that are easier to learn in a controled enviroment. In addition to being easier to learn it is easier to get groups of people together in a dedicated space than a room you might get kicked out of. I agree that the majority of projects should be required to be done in a more realistic enviroment, but as you pointed out lighting is lighting.

January 30, 2013 12:04 PM  
Blogger Oliver Rudkin said...

spend £50 on a cheap background stand from eBay and £35 on a 4.5' white colorama from Calumet. Push classroom chairs + tables aside. BAM! Studio.

January 30, 2013 5:43 PM  
Blogger Oliver Rudkin said...

spend £50 on a cheap background stand from eBay and £35 on a 4.5' white colorama from Calumet. Push classroom chairs + tables aside. BAM! Studio.

January 30, 2013 5:45 PM  
Blogger Bernhard A S said...

Dear David, w

while you make an eloquent argument for the sink or swim approach here, I am surprised to find this post just a few days after your post from the 13th

http://strobist.blogspot.com/2013/01/greg-heisler-will-now-bts-for-you-my.html

There you give under point 3 of the section "How Do I Kick Thee? Let Me Count The Ways" the best argument to have a studio:

As the circumstances in the wild are stacked against the photog every bit helps. And a bit of preparation and advance experimentation might just make the difference.

If its good enough for Heisler its good enough for me.

January 30, 2013 9:32 PM  
Blogger Paul S said...

I 100% agree with you David... These students don't know they are born.... If they want to succeed in the real world, they are going to have to learn to be flexible and imaginative with the spaces they are given....very few clients understand the costs involved with running a proper studio so often baulk at the quotes we give them to complete a job. If you can mange without a studio, learn to be creative in the spaces around you, you don't need to use a studio space, you can keep your costs down and keep more of the money for yourselves, instead of paying rent and rates etc... I have a great studio, but it's taken me 20plus years to get to a point where I can happily say I can justify the expense. All those years of using back rooms, garages, hotel suites and rented spaces taught me to be a much better photographer.... Stop whining and get a grip. The world does not owe you anything. Earn your place on this planet and stop expecting people to give in to your demands, just because you feel you have the right to a better place to learn... The best place to learn is in the real world, not in a sterile, empty and rather expensive box... You can get one of those yourself when you have paid your dues and can afford to pay for it..

January 31, 2013 2:59 AM  
OpenID davidjedge said...

My only little bit of sympathy with the Ravensbourne students is that when you're in a student flat you don't have a nice big house to play with as I now do. But given the choice of spending GBP1000 on ten evening classes at a local university or buying five secondhand SB-900s and some basic kit and playing around at home - no contest. The proportion of what you need to learn about lighting that can be done in a studio is what - 10%? Get your studio experience through vacation work.

February 02, 2013 6:10 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I grew up in a commercial studio, so maybe I am more than a little twisted in how I view the question.

There's a place for them in the education of photographers: they give absolutely nothing away for free. We start with an idea and an empty space and a limited amount of gear, and whatever comes out of the process is more intentional than what comes from shooting in the wild.

Its internal inspiration compared to external; pre-visualized compared to as-it-happens. Creating opposed to capturing. Both processes are creative, and both are valid.

But for the serious student, working in the vacuum of an empty studio, the potential rewards are much greater, if somewhat delayed. Being able to take a concept and carry it all the way to a finished product, controlling every aspect all the way through is incredibly valuable as a baseline.

Our dad would say it weeds out the lazy students who are just in the class to fill an elective. For the few that make it past the first two semesters, though? It's a really solid foundation where the photographer knows how to control their environment instead of being controlled by it.

Studio photography isn't fashionable these days, and with good reason: there aren't a lot of people doing it well. There never were: its difficult, stressful, it gives clients and art directors easy access to kibbitz, and eliminates excuses: "it was raining" (or wasn't) etcetera and so on. . . one knows the craft and was prepared or not, end of story.

February 02, 2013 2:06 PM  
Blogger spottheblogger said...

I am another happy former student of City College of San Francisco. I can quite honestly say that I don't think I'd be doing strobist work now if it weren't for the things I learned shooting "in the studio" in the 2 studio lighting classes I took at CCSF. Some of the myriad of advantages that their studio space offered:

1) I didn't have to buy seamless in a multitude of sizes and colors (9 foot width, 1/2 roll width, black, gray, white, many different colors) - they had it all on-hand and free to use. I could try shooting with the different papers and after shooting with a particular color one time, I wasn't saddled with the remainder of the roll (and struggling for a place to store it) even if I didn't want to shoot with it again. I didn't have to buy a black velvet backdrop, the studio had one.

2) I didn't have to buy or build a table-top set that allowed me to put a sweep from a 1/2 roll, or inset with clear plexiglass. I didn't have to buy or build boxes to stage things at different heights, place models at different heights, etc. The studio had boxes in a variety of sizes, stools, ladders, etc.

3) I didn't have to purchase or rent to learn how to use hot-lights, strobes, barn doors, grids, snoots - the studio had it all. I didn't have to buy a boom stand, regular light stands, low-boy stands, soft boxes - the studio had it all.

4) When I worked with models we had ready access to a place for them to change, to fix makeup and hair, privately, out of the weather.

5) The studio was setup as a single large room with partitions to break it into 4 bays, so for classroom "lab" sessions the partitions were lifted up so we could fit 30 students in and all see what was being demonstrated, get hand's on with the equipment while the teacher was there to instruct, etc. Then we could come back on another day and use the studio on our own (but with teachers, TAs, and fellow students all around us) to work on the assignment. If I got stuck I could ask someone for help. If a model didn't show up, I could draft a fellow student to pose. If I needed an extra hand to make something work, I could ask for help, instead of banging my head against the wall in futility because I couldn't figure something out.

Today I have several rolls of paper, several backdrops, a portable backdrop kit, light stands, 4 speedlights, umbrellas and snoots and gels, and PWs. Today I can do most of what I learned to do in the studio but I know what each piece of studio kit did and why I'd want to buy or make or rent something like it if necessary to do a particular shot. Or to make do with something else.

I look back at the photos I made in those studio classes and I wish I were still taking those classes, because I made some great images. I don't have a garage or spare room - I have no space to "set-up a studio" in my home. I can do portraits on location, but I don't have any site (out of the wind, weather, private, safe, etc.) where I can set-up to take table-top photos, and I don't have the resources (kit I don't own, fellow students to collaborate with) that I had when I was taking the classes.

February 04, 2013 2:12 AM  
Blogger Eduardo said...

I agree and disagree with you David,

I agree with the idea of each time you borrow gear you need to leave a BTS with full details, this helps everyone.

I agree that learning guerrilla style helps a lot However you aren't taking into account UK's weather as an example, you aren't factoring that a big box eliminates variables that could confuse someone starting to learn about sync speed, ambient + flash, etc.

I'm all for a course that teaches as much as they can about all the ways possible to shoot (5 min CEO, location, etc.) But I'm also an advocate of learning to do a proper production in an studio it may not be your field but catalogue work still is a good source of money and it requires the empty expensive box to be used (be it from auto parts to clothing).

Also working in an empty place makes you prepare and plan your shoot before being there, because it is empty you need to plan what are you going to bring and do there, there are things that you can improv, sure but there are times when you need to plan and stick to the plan.

Besides an empty box is a place where you can create as much as you want and fill that box with your imagination.

In less words: guerrilla shooting and empty box for the kids is the best way for them to learn all the possible scenarios they will be facing.

February 06, 2013 8:47 AM  
Blogger mrcamm said...

Gotta say I'm with those in disagreement with you David. Any University offering a photographic course should have a minimum of one studio in which to teach.
As other people have said when you are first learning something you need the consistency of a studio environment.

February 07, 2013 10:49 AM  
Blogger CJ said...

As I read, I found myself agreeing with your arguments.

But then I thought back to where I went to university. It was a small town with little parking & no public transportation. The area was surrounded by farms and forests, but we had no way of getting to them. Almost no one had a parking pass ---thus no vehicle. I knew one guy who had use of a car because he lived in town but certainly didn't have time to drive an entire department around.

So the "real world" was a small town and the college buildings. I'm not saying there would be no place to take photos on campus, but most buildings closed after 5 pm, except for the gym, library, and a few art studios (painting, ceramics, printmaking ---where students could work on projects they couldn't do in dorms ---but those where busy & covered in paint, clay, and ink,) I can't think of any place that wouldn't have constant interruptions either from students passing through or asking questions. The stage in the auditorium crossed my mind ---including backdrops & curtains, but then I remembered there were fall plays with weeks of rehearsals, likewise a spring musical, music department recitals, band & orchestra practice, and visiting performers. I doubt there were many days when it wasn't in use.

Weather permitting, there was an oak grove and several flower patches on campus.

I'm all for figuring out what to do with what you have when you don't have what you want, but I think any school could come up with a usable space when other options won't work. As my university grew, it would buy up rows of old houses to build more campus buildings, but while they waited for architects, bids, city or state approval, permits & other red tape, the houses sat vacant. Several were turned into temporary music practice rooms and art studios. For a year, I lived in one with 11 other girls where every room was turned into a bedroom when they ran short of dorm space.

All that is needed is a room ---I'm sure students would volunteer to paint the walls & devise a way of hanging cloth or other backdrops. It wouldn't take much and would be a great backup when other options weren't available.

February 09, 2013 7:49 AM  
Blogger Ernie Rice said...

I haven't read the rest of the comments but I'm going to agree and disagree. I teach photography at a University in a journalism department and some type of dedicated space to set equipment up for teaching and experimenting is invaluable. Just drag gear to a classroom down the hall? Sure, for a typical 50 min class, you spend half the available time moving desks at the beginning and end of the class and the setup and takedown of the equipment. You don't have to call it a studio, but a space where a couple lights are already set up with softboxes and/or umbrellas can be turned on and walked around makes a big difference in the amount of information you can pass on in a specific amount of time.

Then kick them out into the wild and make them apply the knowledge. :)

March 11, 2013 1:50 PM  

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