In 2020, I tried something new, and a bit outside what I considered my comfort zone. In November of 2019, Scott Detweiler gave a presentation to the Lake County Camera Club, entitled Fine Art / Portraiture. I was immediately struck by Scott’s photographic perspective and artistic vision, and also by his approach to post-processing that distinguishes his images with a signature look and feel. You can learn more about Scott and peruse his portfolio at his website, Scott E. Detweiler Photography. He also has a YouTube channel that features tutorials and extensive retouching/post-processing sessions. More pertinent to this blog post, Scott offers portraiture workshops, and hosts smaller open studio sessions at his Green Olive Photography Studio via Meetup. I signed up for a studio shoot via Meetup in January 2020, and then again in October and November. These shoots require a participation fee, and Scott also encourages attending photographers to tip the models to help compensate them for their time and contributions.
Where these studio shoots challenged my comfort zone somewhat was their orientation towards boudoir photography and fine-art nude photography; Scott also is a very talented and inventive body-painter, so each of these sessions included a fully-nude model featuring Scott’s handiwork. I was not certain of my own attitude towards photographing nude models, or models in lingerie, but found it to not be a problem at all. The models were all very professional, Scott creates and maintains a respectful and art-focused atmosphere, and the photographers I shared these sessions with maintained mature and photographically creative perspectives at all times. In short, everyone worked together to contribute ideas to make better photographs, whether it was studio setting, lighting, costume, posing, makeup or body paint. In my case, I had limited experience working with models, and the ladies I worked with were very open to my posing ideas, while offering suggestions and advice based on their experience.
On the technical side, Scott’s Green Olive Studio is a large warehouse-like space, featuring several studio set locations that could be used simultaneously; in the January session we had numerous photographers and models cycling through 4 different sets. The studio is extensively equipped with a wide range of studio lighting options, lighting modifiers, backgrounds, and props for the sets. The only technical limitation this occasionally imposed was the sharing of strobe trigger frequqencies; each of the 4 sets had a separate trigger frequency. If multiple photographers were shooting on one set simultaneously, with their triggers on the same frequency there could occasionally be missed shots if they tried to fire at the same time; this in fact did occur occasionally, but was a minor issue at best.
After the first studio session, I felt comfortable enough on the second to attempt to use film equipment versus just digital cameras. The session in October featured, amazingly enough, a Halloween theme which the models enthusiastically embraced with creative and innovative costumes, and makeup. I shot the models using both digital cameras, and my Hasselblad 503CW. I was quite pleased to find that my success rate with film (Portra 400 and TMax 400) and studio flash was quite high; I had a higher percentage of keeper images from the analog shots versus the digital images – perhaps this was due to a higher level of concentration on composition, focus, and timing of shots due to the cost of each shot and the limits imposed by a finite number of shots per roll. It was very encouraging to know that I could get pleasing results with film equipment in a formal studio environment.
As I have found in the past, with these kinds of pre-arranged studio shooting opportunities, I am able to get some shots that I am pleased with; however, the situation highlights my major weakness in portrait work – I am piggybacking on another photographer’s work in envisioning a theme, coordinating a set, scheduling models, setting up props and lighting, etc.. In other words, Scott in this case did all of this preparatory work, and I simply showed up and took pictures. There is certainly some individuality on my part in posing, composing, and certainly in post-processing, but I still feel like I am cheating, and cannot take full credit for any particular image’s success, The visualization of the sets comes from Scott, and he has done all of the logistical planning and set-up. I have to develop these skills on my own, even at a basic level, to truly take ownership of my portrait work. I am curious and open to any comments or suggestions from other photographers on how they have tackled this aspect of the portrait photography genre.
I also had a bit of a failure on this November photo shoot, as I tried to incorporate my Pentax 67 medium format camera into the shoot. Despite my successful testing at home with my Pocket Wizard flash triggers, I was unable to get a good trigger sync with the Pentax 67 and the Godox and Paul Buff triggers that Scott employs in his studio – as a result, all of my images at this session were shot with the Leica M10. This further illustrates why I need to be able to independently set up my shoots, to ensure equipment issues do not hamper or prevent the creative aspect of the shoot.
In closing, I think I can readily see the value in the hosted studio shoot sessions that Scott has made available to me; I learned a great deal about working with the models, how to employ lighting on a shoot, and how to try to think creatively and imaginatively for shoot concepts. I also validated analog camera use for studio shoots that will encourage further work. Most importantly, I relearned that I need to break through my reservations and self-imposed barriers that currently keep me from conducting independent productive portrait sessions. Only then will I be really creating my own truly original work.