Studio vs. Location

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Queen-Kitty's avatar

Commercial and Fashion Photography Week

Fashion photography is often about creating a feeling or atmosphere that enhances the styling in the photoshoot. Whenever I start planning a photoshoot, there is one BIG question I start off with and that is "Studio or Location?" There are many reasons to choose one or the other depending on the type of shoot you are looking to create, and today we're going to discuss the pros and cons of both.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Studio

Shooting in the studio can elevate your photos and give them a clean, minimal look, but it can also be cost-prohibitive. To do a studio photoshoot (with artificial light), you will need (at minimum) a backdrop (seamless paper, muslin, canvas, or a blank wall) and at least one light (constant, studio flash, or external flash (flash gun), a stand for the light, as well as a method of triggering the flash to go off if you're using studio flash or external.  This minimal set-up can give you a studio photograph, but the light won't be easy to control without some kind of modifier (softbox, umbrella, beauty dish, diy).  Therein lies the expense of studio photographs with controlled light: equipment. Natural light studio is also an option, but we won't discuss it in this article, since there are different pros and cons to each.  However, once you've invested in the equipment for studio work, you'll be set, and you will be able to slowly add more over time. There are several levels of cost when it comes to studio equipment.  Pro level equipment such as Profoto and Elinchrom is very high-cost, but there are less expensive alternatives that can get you started such as Paul C Buff (mid-range) and Cowboy Studio (low-range). 
 Shohana by Queen-Kitty
Studio equipment used: Savage 53'' black seamless paper, Savage Backdrop stand, 1 Alienbee 800 light with a Paul C Buff Medium Softbox, Radiopopper JrX  trigger system
The biggest advantage of studio photography is the ability to create light no matter the weather or lighting conditions outside.  In many places, on-location fashion photography has to take a break during the ice-cold snowy months, but if you have studio equipment the power is in your hands to continue on! If it's raining outside, you also don't have to worry.  If it's noon and you'd rather your model not have raccoon eyes, you also don't have to worry, because your studio will always be there.

Pearlescence by Queen-Kitty
Studio equipment used: hand-painted canvas dropcloth, Savage Backdrop stand,2 Alienbee 800 lights: one with a Paul C Buff Medium Softbox, one with a Paul C Buff Large Softbox, Radiopopper JrX  trigger system

The other disadvantage of studio is requiring space to work in.  Thankfully, you don't need much.  I've seen plenty of fashion photographers in NYC set up their studio space in their tiny living rooms, I personally have mine set up in my garage. But those solutions aside, finding space to set up your studio can be a disadvantage when you first decide you want to do it. One thing about shooting fashion in a studio is that you can easily have a very simple way to show off both the clothing and the model.  In it's simplest form, you'll have the model styled up on a solid-color backdrop (studio shoots can obviously become much more intricate and complicated with many props).  In it's simplest form, studio photography leaves you with nothing to distract from the model and the fashion's beauty, and as the photographer, you will be able to play with the silhouette and form of the clothing without having your attention diverted to the scenery. Studio lighting also can add a "crisp" quality to your photo that emphasizes details.

Wallflower by Queen-Kitty
Studio equipment used: 53'' Savage Ocean Blue seamless paper, Savage Backdrop stand,2 Alienbee 800 lights: one with a Paul C Buff Medium Softbox, one with a Paul C Buff Large Softbox, Radiopopper JrX  trigger system

There is less for a model to interact with in this blank-backdrop situation, but of course you can bring as many props as you would like into your studio photograph, it doesn't just have to be a backdrop! But even if you just have a backdrop, there are still many choices to give your photo-shoot a different look: muslin, canvas, seamless paper, or something that you are re-purposing (wallpaper, dropcloth, fabric, wrapping paper, etc. There is an endless variety of lighting set-ups and backdrop patterns and colors in the studio that can give you many different looks to keep things interesting, but you will always be limited to your equipment and the knowledge of it that you have.  Thankfully, there's lots of resources online that you can check out to get new ideas and techniques!

Atira by Queen-Kitty
Equipment used: hand-painted 6X9 canvas backdrop, Savage Backdrop stand, 2 Alienbee 800 lights: one with a Paul C Buff beauty dish with white inside, one with a Paul C Buff Large Softbox, Radiopopper JrX  trigger system

Some Helpful Links:

Advantages and Disadvantages of On-Location

Shooting on-location with natural light, like shooting in the studio comes with a list of pros and cons.  A definite pro of shooting on-location is the gorgeous locations that you can use as your backdrop! There is little else I find more exciting in life than shooting fashion photography in an amazing location that enhances the clothing and story of the editorial! Fashion editorials are about creating an implied story and character and having a location can definitely make that happen! It's much easier to make your swimsuit story, for example, feel relate-able when the model's sitting by a pool with some palm trees in the background.
Fruit Cocktail by Queen-Kitty
by a pool with palm trees or...uhhh...fruit, I guess. 

But...there are also some drawbacks of those beautiful locations. When you're working with borrowed clothing from a stylist or designer, it's very important to not ruin the clothing you're being generously lent.  In the studio that's no problem, but when you're working on-location, snags, tears, and dirt can be a scary factor to consider especially when you're working with a dress that costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Knowing your limits of what the designer or stylist will allow and being careful are both things you must consider before deciding whether you want to shoot on-location.

Light as a Feather, Dark as a Shadow by Queen-Kitty
When you are shooting a dress meticulously handmade and decorated with dozens of feathers at an on-location photoshoot, being careful is a must! 
The weather, as discussed in the studio portion, can be a real drag on-location.  Many times I've had on-location shoots cancelled because of temperamental weather. Weather conditions, such as rain, clouds, snow, and full sun can definitely change your lighting and if you're in a shoot-or-die situation, you really have to be prepared for that.  Even when the weather conditions stay constant throughout the day, a change of location can make your lighting look much different. An open field, for example, looks much different than deep in a forest, but even when your model changes her position in regards to the sun you'll get a much different look.  This instant change can be very welcome and easy as opposed to working with studio lights, as it can give variation as well as creating lighting situations that are nearly impossible to recreate in the studio. 

Siren's Song by Queen-Kitty
The natural dappled light coming through the bushes to the left of the model were a unique addition to the shot. 

However, it can also work against you if the lighting is unflattering in a location that you really want or need to use.  You have to be ready for anything and everything and work with what you're given, if you plan on working on-location with natural light.  One of the reasons why most beginning fashion photographers start shooting on-location with natural light is that it's basically free (well...if you don't count the camera, lenses, or computer editing programs and such)! Armed with just your camera, you are ready to go shoot fashion outside, no need to worry about any other expensive equipment! This is empowering for young fashion photographers just starting out, because it's easily accessible.

Breathless by Queen-Kitty
Nothing fancy needed, just a model in a "field" of white wildflowers on the side of the road!

While studio photography is limited by the equipment you own, on-location photography is limited to the locations you can find and/or have access to.  If you want to shoot on a beach, but don't have any beaches nearby, then you're definitely going to need to travel a bit. In just one location though, you can get so many different looks just by moving around a bit.  This level of interest created by a location is a huge plus when you're trying to keep what you're shooting interesting to yourself, the team, and the audience that will be viewing your final work.  There's no take-down or set-up involved like there is in studio, you just walk a bit and you're there.  As discussed before, natural lighting on-location can be temperamental.  The time of day you're shooting will definitely affect your final images.  Some photographers restrict themselves to small portions of the day: 2 hours before sunset and 2 hours after sunrise.  If you're shooting fashion though, an editorial can take you much longer than 2 hours when it comes to hair and makeup changes and you really have to learn to work with the light you're given. 

Grains of Sand by Queen-Kitty
Harsh, direct sun can be tricky, but you can make it work with the right angles!

Some Helpful Links:
Ultimately, the main difference between shooting in the studio and shooting on-location is the way you capture interest.  With studio, you must create interest from a blank slate.  On-location, you are working with what's already there to create interest.  These conditions require different mind-sets, and perhaps you are better suited to one or the other, but with practice you can be great at both! Acknowledging and accepting the advantages and disadvantages of each can make you a better fashion photographer and more likely to pick the best situation for your next fashion photo-shoot!


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BrookeJuda's avatar
Great resources and info!! :D