The Room is Too Small

“The PreSeller said this room would be fine.” The Coordinator says as she shows me a room that is little more than a broom closet.

“I’m sure he did.” I say as I size up the tiny room with it’s built in cabinets and  low hanging florescent lights. “But I won’t be able to use it.  Do you have another room available?”

“Well, there is this one.” She says reluctantly and shows me a second small room only slightly larger than the first room.  At least there are no cabinets sticking out of the walls at odd places.

“Ok.” I say with a sigh. “This will do.”

During the next week I find that there is a game room directly across the hall from the tiny room I am shooting in.  It is about the size of a basketball court and I have seen no one use it while I have been here.  So, why, I wonder couldn’t we have setup in there?  The answer seems to be that no one told them the room could be larger than the minimum required space.

I was asked one time to setup the studio in a working kitchen.  Admittedly this was a large kitchen, but it was not larger enough for me to setup my Studio-not to mention the fun of having such things as boiling water, sharp knives, and heavy pots and pans for small children to play with.  I setup in the room next door instead, which genuinely surprised the morons that wanted me to setup in the kitchen.

I have done shoots in private homes, where the rooms, of course, are not really laid out for taking portraits.  I often end up taking the portraits in the garage when the oddly shaped room they wanted me to setup in didn’t work out.  As a general rule my Studio will expand to take up as much room as possible, but it can also contract to the tiny dimensions I have to work with from time to time.  It means adjusting the lighting, and it means shooting total crap on groups larger than four.  Don’t like the portraits?  Talk to whoever decided this was a good room for taking pictures.

The lighting needs change from room to room, which can be a bit of problem for some Assembly Line Portrait photographers.  Our lighting is pretty much Set It and Forget It, but you can’t use the basic lighting setup in a tiny room.  There’s no room to put the lights in their normal positions.  So you have to move them around and then adjust the camera setting to compensate for the exposure.  There will still be a lot of odd shadows and I often have to use auxiliary lights to compensate for that as well.

My favorite odd room story:  I was working in Georgia and the location of the Shoot was an old night club, complete with a saloon style long bar.  It was an odd room, but it had enough space to setup.  About every ten feet there was a support pole from floor to ceiling. I spent two hours or so setting up the Studio.  Then I was ready to shoot the Start of Day slate.  I looked though the viewfinder and there was a large bar running through the middle of the image.  WTF?  I looked around and saw that I had setup the Studio with one of the support poles directly in the middle of the Studio.  Doh!  I had to shift the whole thing over five feet.  I must have walked around that pole a couple of dozen times while I was setting up and never noticed it.

One big problem with a too small rooms is shadows.  The lights are too close, and therefore too harsh, as most Assembly Line Portrait Companies buy the cheapest lights they can find and then continue to use them for the next thirty years.  The lights I have now are not adjustable and they really lite up a small room.  If the room is also painted white, the effect is much like standing inside a giant softbox with light bouncing around all over the place.  This can be a nice effect, but it’s often not what the Subjects or the Passer are used to seeing.

Ok, I lied.  The biggest problem is a big group.  While you always have to squeeze everyone together to make them fit on an 8 foot wide background, with a large room you can move the camera back far enough to fill the frame with the group.  In a small room, you have to do the best you can.  I usually end up pushing the group back into the background and zooming out as far as I can.  This makes for some odd looking backgrounds, but at least everyone is in the picture.  As long as the Passer doesn’t crop in too much.  Or the Lab doesn’t crop in too much.  Or someone moves a fraction of an inch.

Another problem with a tiny room is that there is no place to safely set the lights and camera-last week the room was so small that I had to move one of the light stands to let people in and out of the room.  I only had one person trip, and she was a kiddo who recovered quickly.  If you one of the ninety-year-old little old ladies took a fall it could be pretty bad news.  They also wanted the Passer to setup in a library with a table built into the floor.  She ended up in the small room they first offered me.  The Passers don’t need as much room as the Photographers.

I could have refused the second room as well.  I could have demanded that they find another space for me.  I could have setup in the large lobby where the people were signing up.  I could have made a scene and announced that I can’t work under these conditions.  It has happened before.  I’ve heard of Photographers being kicked out of Shoots for this kind of behavior.  Even when the Photographer is right and the room really, truly is too small.

So whose fault is this?  The PreSeller is supposed to tell the Coordinator about what we need for a successful shoot.  All The PreSeller cares about it the number of people who show up-that’s how a PreSeller is paid.  They don’t care if anyone buy portraits.  They care if someone shows up.  The Passer and The Photographer care what the portraits look and what the Subject buys-that is how we get paid.  Does anyone else see something wrong with this system?  The PreSeller doesn’t care if the room is the right size, if they find someone willing to sign up for a Promotion, then their job is done.

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