Shooting film in a studio setting can be intimidating to many, especially if you are just starting out. Over the week, we got to catch up with Daniel Robles, founder of Innkeeper Studios, to break down some of the FAQs about getting started in studio photography...on film! Read on below for some great insights by Daniel and more about the community-centred studio space he is currently building at the end of this post!
Firstly, tell us a little about who you are and how did you get started with film photography?
I’m a queer filipinx portrait photographer who focuses on doco and fine art portraiture and still dabbles in fashion for fun on the side. My interest started when a friend of mine who I was assisting for pulled out his Pentax 67 during a test shoot which I immediately scoffed at (at the time I was a digital shooter). But he then let me fire off a few exposures and that had my curiosity going. That curiosity over the next 4 years lead to a progression that saw me sell off all my digital gear and jump entirely over to film (35mm, 120mm and 4x5 large format).
You recently began a new business venture that is Innkeeper Studios, what was the inspiration behind it?
At first it was entirely selfish, as I’ve just always wanted a space to call my own. That was a search that lasted until this year when I found this space in Rosebery that I now call Innkeeper. But before I was a photographer, I worked as a social worker in the community welfare, aid and development sector so I’ve always looked through the lens of community and that personal ethos just fed into innkeepers name and practice.
For those unfamiliar with studio photography - Why should they consider shooting in a studio? Who and what is it suitable for?
Well there’s the practical benefits of controlling your light source. Whether it be natural through a window, strobe or continuous. I ultimately prefer studio though because there’s a level of intimacy when shooting portraits that is shared between you and your subject that doesn’t happen elsewhere. Something about being in an enclosed space, free of distraction, onlookers and interruptions. Allows both the photographer and subject to focus on one another and be vulnerable.
What are some of the main differences and challenges most people don’t expect when shooting film in a studio vs. outdoor?
A lot of people are intimidated by shooting studio and I included myself in the camp at one point in the past. What people don’t realise is how much easier it is than shooting outdoors. Total control over your environment means you’re free of so many variables that can get in the way. And going back to strobe, a light source you control instead of being dependant on the unpredictability and inconsistency of the weather, there’s no argument. In the end, light is light, no matter the source...and it all reacts, responds and is manipulated in the same way.
What is a beginner-friendly/fool-proof lighting set up that you recommend?
One light source and a bounce... That light source can be natural, continuous or strobe. Find a studio with a huge window (ideally north facing) as your primary light source and a poly board or reflector to bounce light back onto the shadow side of the subject. I swear that isn’t an endorsement for Innkeeper haha.
Any tips on metering in a studio?
When it comes to metering, it’s all the same I’ve found. When I first started film I was so intimidated about metering especially externally and with strobe. but I learnt quickly that light is light and a meter is a meter.
It’s a trial and error thing, there are some good foundational rules to go by all over google and YouTube. But in the end it depends on the film stock you’re using, what your post process and style is like and what you’re ultimately aiming for. That’s what I did when I started. I shot with the rules the internet gives us, then I started breaking them to see what was possible then worked out a workflow and style that I like to think is unique to me haha.
Your go-to film and camera combos to use in a studio/for your own work?
Personally, Lomography CN800 120 with my RB67 ProSD. No joke, I only reach for Portra800 when I’m out of lomo.
What is something essential that you always have with you and recommend others to invest in too?
An assistants bag is your best friend, even if you don't have an assistant — it is essentially a tool bag filled with everything an assistant could need for a shoot whether stills or motion. Various tapes, markers, tools, first aid kit, straps, clips, clamps, measuring tape, card reader, hard drive, light meter etc. I used to assist a lot so it’s a piece of kit that’s essential for the job and the amount of times mine has saved a shoot whether mine or someone else’s is crazy.
Do you recommend shooting both digital and film together (having a back-up) or do you exclusively just shoot on film?
I exclusively shoot film. I only just recently sold all my digital gear (2 5dsr’s and some of my L lenses) cause they’d been collecting dust for almost 2 years.
But whatever works best for your style and work flow and gets you to that point where you are creating images that make you happy (hard for us photographers I know). This arbitrary divide between film and digital that’s been imbedded in the language of photography is just that... arbitrary.
In saying that I did just kinda lie. During my portrait shoots I also use my iPhone, match the focal length (iPhone 11) to my cameras and catalogue and create a live contact sheet of images that match what I’m shooting. It allows my subject and I to asses how we’re going and see what’s possible before I expose a frame on film.
How else can someone get started and learn about studio photography?
I always encourage photographers to reach out to professionals and offer to assist. As a person who went to film school, I’ve learnt more assisting for other pro photographers than tertiary education and google combined. I still assist on occasion to this day purely cause I never want to stop learning and growing in my craft. And you’d be surprised how often photographers will say yes. Another set of hands is always invaluable. More often than not it won’t be a paid gig but what you learn is worth it.
Because of the added cost of hiring a studio, how might you convince / communicate with a client or subject to do a studio shoot?
I think your work needs to speak for itself. Before I ever got clients I spent a whole lot of time and money working on my photography. A lot of photographers think the investment ends at gear but if you look at pros who are in the game, there’s a lot of time and money spent in between paid work just creating out of their own pocket. They do this to get better at their craft, to make work that fulfils them, to create portfolio worthy shots and to collaborate with other artists. All this is done so when it comes to having that conversation with your client, all they’re concerned about is making sure that you can achieve for them what you have done for your own work.
Last but not least - we know you are super occupied with Innkeeper at the moment, but are you working on personal projects right now or upcoming? We would love to know!
Other than Innkeeper, I have 5 long term doco/fine art portraiture projects that I expect will keep me busy for the next 4 years at least. I guess the one I’ve been working on the most lately is ‘LIMINAL’ which is a nude series on how queer identity can often be in a constant state of flux out of fear, caution and self preservation. There are currently 3 poster examples of the series on my website.
Check out Innkeeper Studios!
Looking for a studio space for your next creative project? Innkeeper Studios is based in Rosebery, Sydney and offers some of the most competitive rates we have seen around town! Daniel stands behind his ethos of offering a space that is accessible for all and is also currently offering a 40% off discount during the studio's opening months. More information on their website HERE.
If you are an emerging photographer/creative, Innkeeper offers a biannual ACCESS PROGRAM that aims to support people, voices and stories of diversity and feed that back into the photographic, arts and fashion industry. The program is open for application now.