I just moved into a new studio space. It's a building that I fell in love with over 5 years ago -- built in 1895, it existed originally as a horse stable, then a family owned grocery store through the 50's, among other things. It is richly layered with historical patina, has north facing window light, and just feels good. It is exactly one block from my house.
When I lived in San Francisco, I worked as a freelance assistant for a number of photographers that had their own studios. I liked how each space was a reflection of their personalities -- some messy and chaotic, others neat and meticulous. It was fun to imagine what my studio would look like someday.
Until now, having a studio space never really worked for me. For most of my career I have been shooting mainly on location. When I needed a studio, I just rented one, and over the years have worked on many shoots in studios of varying sizes and capacities.
Shooting on location is the opposite of shooting in the studio. On location, there are limiting factors and a wide range of variables that can make or break a shoot. Controlling those factors and variables takes permits, planning, people, equipment, and money. Ultimately, however, location photography is about taking the puzzle pieces that the location offers you, and arranging them into a good picture. It has taken me many years of practice to be able to read a location and construct a plan for making things come together.
Case in point -- as I write this I'm sitting in a restaurant in Bozeman, Montana. I am heading two hours west of here to make a portrait of a hunter in a thick forest. I've never seen this forest, only a snapshot of it, so I don't know where we are going to shoot, what the light is like, or how hard it will be to get my strobes in place. And it's raining. But I know that when I get there, I'll figure it out.
If shooting on location is like piecing together a puzzle, shooting in a studio is like having a giant piece of paper and a truckload of crayons. The studio cancels out most of the variables -- weather, wind, wild animals, weird people, and offers complete control over the light. Time takes on new meaning, as noon may as well be midnight. The studio is ready for any idea at any time of day, and is only limited by the creativity and stamina of its inhabitants.
Studio photography is very much about the unknown -- an open ended exploration with no clear destination. An environment ideal for testing and failing, testing and failing, then testing some more until it works.
I'm feeling ready for and excited about the possibility that my new space offers. For now, I'm having a hard time deciding where to begin. That big, blank piece of paper can be intimidating. But I know that it will feel good to pick up that first crayon, start drawing, and see where things go.