An Empty Room Becomes a Portrait Studio

“Wow, it looks different.” Said the Trainee Passer as she walked into the room while I was tearing down.

“Yeah, it used to be a Portrait Studio, and now it’s just a room with some stuff in it.”

One of the pitfalls of being a location photographer is that you are always setting up in someone else’s room.  But while I am there, it needs to be my room.    Some photographers take the whole idea of the room being theirs a little far and insist that no one enter their sanctum sanatorium without expressly being invited.   This tends to make people unhappy.  I like to block all the doors but one and then control the flow in and out of that one door.

Most of the time the room is fine, and I have become quite adept at making the Studio shrink or expand to fit the space provided.  Once in a while I am shown a room that is too small.  There is nothing to be done with a room that is too small, I just have to setup somewhere else, which can lead to a lot of ripping of hair and gnashing of teeth.

It takes about an hour to setup the Assembly Line Portrait Studio, a little longer if there are chairs or tables to move.  Over the years I have developed a series of steps, as all traveling photographers do, to setup and tear down as quickly and easily as possible.  The Company gives us a diagram with measurements for where everything needs to go.  The first thing up is the background, then all the measurements go from there.

“Are you ready, yet?” The Little Old Lady says as she peeks around the corner. “I’ve got the first appointment.”

“The first appointment is at 3 o’clock, Mame.” I say without stopping what I am doing.  “It’s only 1:45 now.  Have a seat in the hallway and we’ll be with in a little bit.”

About fifteen minutes later someone will poke their head around the corner to tell me I have someone waiting.

Some photographers refuse to take anyone before the official start time.  I like to get started as soon as I can.  I have to wait for the Passers to setup, and most of the time they are not even on site when that first early bird shows up.

It takes three trips with a full dolly to get the Studio into the room.  This can be an adventure itself if it’s raining, snowing, or the room they have given us is half a mile from the parking lot.  Random piles of black cloth bags and black plastic crates are opened and the light stands, camera, computer, muslin backgrounds, and props of one sort or another are pulled out.

I like to set the background up next to the door, so that the Customers can walk right into the studio and sit down with a minimum of fuss.  I never want to give the people an option, because if you give them an option, they will choose to crawl over the background and slide down a light stand.

When I worked in The Big Box Store I would set up on the sales floor and it was an everyday occurrence to have someone walk through the middle of the studio-while I was shooting a sitting.  Even after I figured out that I needed to build barricades on either side of the studio, people would walk up to a solid wall of props and tables and stand there staring-trying to figure out how to go over or or under or through it.   The idea of going around it never entered their minds.

I still have this problem whenever I have to setup in a large open space like a gym.  Again I try to barricade one side and lead them to the other, but often times they don’t want to follow me and end up hopping over posing blocks and around light stands and cables.  Normally I like a good laugh as some moron breaks their neck, but here it is a matter of insurance and incident reports and I have to at least try to get them to be careful.

The Assembly Line Portrait Studio is pretty much the same everywhere I set it up, so there is an odd feeling of familiarity everywhere I go.  Once The Studio is setup, now it’s my room.

People will walk in all day and say-Oh this my Sunday School Class, or This is the Bride’s Room, or This is So and So’s Room.  They can’t help themselves, it’s like meeting someone really tall and automatically saying-Wow, your really tall.

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