Creating Luxury Photos With Shitty Tools with Christine Yodsukar
Raise your hand if you’ve thought the same things: I want to create luxury photos, but I don’t want to deal with all the gear and equipment that I see everyone else using. I want to create luxury photos, but I don’t want to invest a fortune just yet to make them. I want to create luxury photos, but I want to do it in a way that makes me feel comfortable in my element.
When I began as a photographer, I was completely overwhelmed by all the technical aspects of every piece of gear I thought I needed. I felt embarrassed if I didn’t have the best equipment and the top-of-the-line gear and all the gadgets and gizmos. So I learned as much as I could and we invested in as much as we could. Sometimes, I did something “incorrectly” by accident, but still got the result I wanted. Other times, things broke or were damaged, and I had to improvise. Over time, I realized that I could feel more at ease, more comfortable, and didn’t need to purchase the top-of-the-line everything, and the results I created in my work were just as amazing.
So I began looking for what else I could make happen with tools I threw together.
My Wedding-Day Studio
As my commercial and portrait style developed, I wanted to bring the studio-style portrait to my wedding work, but I wasn’t about to bring C-stands, a backdrop, bounces, flags and extra lights to my weddings. So I came up with a way to create stunning portraits on the wedding day using only the things I had in the bride’s getting-ready room.
With the bride standing next to a window, I have an assistant or bridesmaid pull the window curtain out behind her. This creates a backdrop. Most hotel rooms have the white blackout liner as the backing of the curtain, which gives you a stunning white backdrop. To add some fill back onto the short side of the bride’s face and body, I have another helper hold up something that we can find in any hotel room, like a white towel or pillow. You would be amazed that my high-end wedding clients are being lit by a window and a towel. You don’t need to bring a big bounce into a small room to get the same gorgeous photo in your mind.
My Studio Setup
In my studio in Portland, Oregon, I like to keep things as simple as possible. I want to use fewer tools and easier-to-use tools than the way I originally learned to shoot, with every piece of gear possible. I would rather use something lightweight than something heavy and bulky. So instead of creating a backdrop setup with C-stands and a heavy handpainted backdrop that I will inevitably damage, I use some secondhand V-flats that were gifted to me by a friend. The V-flats have bumps and marks all over them, and other photographers who see them wonder why the heck I use them. I love them because they give me a gorgeous black or white backdrop, and double as a flag (the black side to increase shadows or block light) and as a bounce (the white side to reflect light back onto my subject).
I often put the V-flat on the floor in front of my client. Our floors have a warm brown tone, so they reflect warm tones back onto my client. I put either the white side of the V-flat under them to reflect more clean light on them, or the black side facing up to draw more light away and create more drama in the final photograph.
Because the V-flats are so versatile and lightweight, I prefer them over the long list of gear I would need to replace them.
If you’ve read any of my past Shutter articles, you know I don’t love the technical side of things. My passion lies with connecting with my clients. So the fewer steps it takes me to set up my gear, the better. When I do want to use one of my stunning handpainted backdrops or one of my many beautiful paper rolls, my go-to is to simply set up one C-stand with a boom arm and either slide the paper roll onto the boom arm or clamp the backdrop up there. It takes me less time to set up and change the backdrop between looks. If it is one of my larger paper rolls, you’ll find me using two C-stands with boom arms and sliding the second boom arm into the opposite side of the paper roll to hang it.
Two of my favorite backdrops are just household blankets. One is a deep jewel-toned blue and the other is a very light blush pink. Once I started working more in my studio, I realized that these were two of the colors I wanted to work with. So instead of searching online for cloth backdrops that matched, I made it happen instantly by bringing in the blankets and adding them to my studio. No one knows they are blankets except me, and they are the easiest backdrops I’ve ever found.
Have you ever had a great client who wants portraits on a tight deadline, and all the studios are booked? When you are having trouble finding a place to shoot, use my “shitty studio” idea: It’s a garage. If you open the garage door and place your backdrop right behind the line where the garage floor and the driveway cement meet, you create a stunning lighting setup that matches what I create with my V-flats in the studio. In studio, I use two black V-flats to make a three-walled box around my client so that they have black behind them and on each side. This creates a gorgeous black backdrop and draws light away from the sides of their bodies. The garage door creates this same three-walled box, only here the walls of the garage are blocking the outside light from wrapping around your subject. If you have your client face the driveway directly, you create a flawless flat lighting setup.
My Favorite Light Source
Speaking of flawless flat lighting, my favorite light source has evolved over the years. What used to be a studio strobe with the largest softbox I could find has evolved into one big beautiful light: my giant studio window. When I found the studio I am in now, it was an old office with disgusting blue office rug, desks and cobwebs. But when I walked in and saw the wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling windows, I knew it was exactly what I wanted. Window light cuts down on the amount of work I have to do when getting ready for a client. It also cuts down on my stress before and during a photoshoot.
Window light is extremely versatile. By bouncing and flagging with sheers and blackout curtains, I create different lighting effects for different looks. Even in the rain capital of Portland, I always have enough light.
If an artist can create a masterpiece with his fingers, we can create a masterpiece with a towel and a curtain. Decide what you want to create, and don’t let anything stop you.