I used to hate and be terrified of studio work. I thought it was boring too. I loved being outside. The instant and beautiful backdrops. The fantastic light. Any additional lighting would be just for highlighting the subject. Easy.

But really, I was just scared and not confident about my studio lighting skills. When you’re in the studio, it’s not necessarily harder. But there can be a lot of artistry you can decide whether you want to do. Lots of nuance in studio lighting. F-stops. Angles. Methodologies.

The thing is, you can keep it super-simple. I read about a Playboy magazine photographer who would use a dozen lights to photograph a centerfold. And they sounded proud about it. Which to me, is absolutely ridiculous. I’ve seen many behind-the-scenes scenes of some big fashion shoots and I don’t think I’ve seen more than 3 lights used. Maybe a reflector or two.

Look at this shoot. It’s with fashion photographer David Thompson. He uses 4 lighting-sources if you include the background. I don’t necessarily think he had to do that. But it does give the background a super-white look in the pics. But really, this is a super-simple setup he uses. Anyone who pays real attention to what he’s doing can easily replicate the setup. It’s super-simple. And he’s shot for all the biggest magazines and companies. Think about that.

Shooting in San Francisco's Financial District with Brooke on an empty Saturday.

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But the one thing that location shooting does that studio photography can’t match: cost.

The Location Shoot

You can do a shoot almost anywhere for free. The park. The city. Your living room. Free. Sometimes you need a permit or permission that can cost money. But most of the time, you can shoot all day long if the photography setup and crew aren’t too large. That’s probably an even bigger issue if you want to shoot somewhere. Bigger parks tend to have those kinds of limitations. But that’s usually a bigger crew than all but the biggest professional needs would use.

Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.

However, there are many issues that may come from shooting outside. Weather being by far the biggest caution. Rain and wind. Two biggest issues. If you’re shooting in California, you’re most likely going to be okay. New York, it’s a much bigger risk. Even as I type this, we had 90 degrees all day, then a nasty thunderstorm in the middle for about an hour. Then the weather was close to perfect. But if money was on the line or the client had a time they had to leave, weather is an issue.

Beach weather in San Francisco has a mind of its own. But Catherine was fantastic and made it work!

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People gathering to watch can be an issue. The one time I thought it was a true issue was when I was photographing 3 beautiful models at the beach that had some bad element. I had to stand a certain distance away to keep people away. But it could’ve been bad if there were more, aggressive number of them. But 99.99% of the time, it’s fine. And on-lookers can make it fun if they are excited to be watching.

But in the studio, you don’t have to worry about weather or security.

Can you imagine the security I had to do for these three?

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For me, lighting is super simple on location. I adjust for ambient light, add a light for the subject and that’s pretty much it. It takes a few minutes to dial in your settings and you should be good for hours. Maybe make some tiny adjustments along the way. You can make it more complicated. But I’ve never seen the need. Look at big professionals shooting on location. They usually use one light and maybe a reflector. That’s it.

The Studio Shoot

The thing with photographers who want to make themselves sound so amazing and talented is by trying to make things sound more complicated than it is: studio lighting. Well, maybe it is for most people. I mean, how many books, videos and classes are there trying to teach people how to do it? 

Me, I would adjust the exposure of the light and then position it to get the look I wanted. Done.  Helps if you have a great person/model to work with. They know what angles they look best. Like Alexis pictured here in black and white. Shortly after this shoot, she would grace the cover of several magazines. I knew her 'before'!

Those eyes. Those cheekbones. I should write a blog on how I chose her for the shoot. That alone was an experience.

My second shoot and in the studio. Just one light.

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One of my latest shoots with Emelie of Major Models NY. Again, just one light. It was a Broncolor 5' dome and it worked perfectly. I thought about using a second light to either light the background or highlight her hair. I just didn't find it necessary for this shoot.

I couldn't have asked for a better shoot.

One of my latest shoots with Emelie of Major Models in New York. Again, one light.

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Studio or Location Shoots?

I don’t think one is better or easier than another. They have their pros and cons. If you want to have total control over lighting and really get creative: studio. If you want potentially less cost and have some specific locations that would work great for your shoot, on-location works too.

I’m just glad I got over my fear of studio work. Some of my best work was created in it. But I look forward to location shoot with great budgets too!

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