Studio Hell

A number of year ago, I was asked to do a series of portraits of a group of girls prior to attending their final year formal. This was to be done at one of the girl’s parent’s home and it was supposed to be a relatively straight-forward session, with 11 girls to be photographed singly and in pairs and the like. There would also be one of two parents attending to watch over the girls.

Ready for the formal - Melbourne Victoria

Ready for the formal – Melbourne Victoria

I arrived at the house early (I’d pre-checked the home days before and there was a pretty good location that I could use) and set up the lighting, which involved several Elinchrom studio flash units as main lights and a number of Olympus FL-50 flash units as background lights, all fired by optical triggers, other than one main flash fired by cable (no radio triggers unfortunately). The girls started arriving and I did some test shots to make sure that everything was set up correctly and the lighting appropriately balanced.

Studio Portraits – lighting OK, mood OK, I’m feeling OK – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – lighting OK, mood OK, I’m feeling OK – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – lighting OK, mood OK, I’m feeling OK – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – lighting OK, mood OK, I’m feeling OK – Melbourne Victoria

Then more girls began arriving, with mothers, fathers, cousins, friends and probably people they’d picked up off the street, all filling the house to bursting point. What started as a fairly relaxed studio session was rapidly becoming studio hell and for every girl there were at least three observers. The location where I’d planned to shoot from, with plenty of room to move around, was now a sea of people with point and shoot cameras, and camera phones, of all descriptions, crowding me so I could barely lift the camera. Just as I was about to take my first shot, after getting the first girl posed, off went dozens of cameras, phones and accompanying flashes. My flashes of course responded immediately to the other flashes and it became lighting hell.

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – success over adversity – Melbourne Victoria

Every time I tried to take a shot, my system was going into overload because of the extraneous flashes. As an aside, I’m not sure what the audience’s shots were looking like, with my flash units blasting in unison to the others (did I care?). Anyway, it got to the point where I just turned off my flash units, put down my camera and asked the host whether they would like me to leave, as I wasn’t going to proceed any further unless every camera other than mine was put away until I was finished. The assembled audience was not amused, but saw that I was serious and gave me the space that I needed – very reluctantly. I was seriously in need of a strong drink by this stage.

Studio Portraits – I was in greater need of a drink – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – I was in greater need of a drink – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – It does make one feel better – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – It does make one feel better – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – It does make one feel better – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – It does make one feel better – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – It does make one feel better – Melbourne Victoria

Studio Portraits – It does make one feel better – Melbourne Victoria

At the end of the day, things worked out quite well (from a photographic point of view), but there were certainly some lessons to be learned that day. Firstly, always firmly take charge of the situation; it’s your reputation on the line and only you can be responsible for what happens. Secondly, if things look like they’re turning to utter crap and no one gives a damn, walk away; you really have nothing to lose. Thirdly, always prepare for the worst and expect the worst; if everything goes smoothly, you can enjoy a drink later on, if not, you can enjoy several drinks later on.