When photographers think about their dream shoot, it usually has more to do with Angelina Jolie and a Ferrari than painstakingly positioning a piece of cooked cauliflower.
Shooting interiors and still lifes can be notoriously difficult. And when done poorly, it can be downright boring... which is why I love photographer Lisa Hubbard and her work. Hubbard’s work is fresh and quirky, with a style and sense of humor that never gets old. Her impressive list of clients, including Anthropolgie, Absolut, Bon Appetit, Burberry, Kmart, and Martha Stewart, certainly agree. Check out this week’s FS Spotlight with Lisa Hubbard to get the scoop on her life as a successful interior and lifestyle photographer.
Fstoppers: Why photography?
Lisa Hubbard: I fell in love with cameras.
Lisa Hubbard: I think I probably look for balance, but balance can be achieved with the use of negative space, too. In that case, I suppose, it's really "unbalance". I want the objects in my photographs to each have a full share in the image. I don't want anything just sitting there, boring us. It may be quiet, but it shouldn't be forgotten. That's a lot to live up to, and I'm sure I fail at this all the time. But I'm always inspired by Charles Ludlum, “You are a living mockery of your own ideals. If not, you have set your ideals too low.”
Fstoppers: I love your use of color. It seems like often you’re working with a set color palette and limited pops of color... which lends some whimsy. Can you tell me a bit about this approach?
Lisa Hubbard: I do love a pop of color. It's as simple as that. It's a little like a one line joke, but a one line joke can be wonderful.
Fstoppers: Do you work with a stylist?
Lisa Hubbard: In commercial work, yes. There's almost always a stylist on set. Some stylists just bring the props, and some work with me on set, too. I like both approaches. Some stylists feel very strongly about where an object lies in the final image. I love this. They are as obsessed as I am. It used to bother me, but I've learned to honor it. Some like to set up the entire shot, and expect me to just shoot it as is. This is very difficult. They are not looking through a camera as they set things up, and they are not controlling the light. A photograph really is light. When a stylist sets something up off to the side in the studio, or even on set, they can't know what they are creating in the final image. The photographer’s job is to use light, camera, lens, angle, time... and make an image. It's a lot to manage at once. This is what photographers do. We bring it all together.
Fstoppers: What’s the strangest thing you've ever been hired to shoot?
Lisa Hubbard: Not strange but wonderful: a screech owl. I felt that I was in the presence of greatness... tiny greatness. They are only about 8 inches tall!
Lisa Hubbard: Commercially, I use the Canon digital cameras with prime lenses, usually t/s. In the past, I've used a 4x5 Arca Swiss. For my personal work, I have a two view cameras: a 5x7 (which is a beautiful proportion) and an 8x10. I miss the days of film and 4x5 for commercial work. A view camera is the very best tool for seeing that I have ever used. There's great value in looking AT a picture on a ground glass, as opposed to looking THROUGH a camera. I love both, but it's a very different experience, with different advantages. What I do love about the Canon digital cameras is the speed of work flow and the ability to shoot moving images. I've just finished a super-short film about still life, and I love it. It's been enormous fun, and it has opened up a fresh new world to me, for which I'm grateful.
Fstoppers: How do you approach lighting for interiors? Do you use more natural light or studio lighting? What equipment?
Lisa Hubbard: For interiors, I use daylight whenever possible and add to it. I would rather shoot a room at the best time of day for that space than light the whole space. When adding light, I use strobe (Profoto acute and lanterns, usually).
Fstoppers: Who have you shot for recently?
Lisa Hubbard: Lots of food for magazines, and a new home catalog for Schoolhouse Electric Company. It's fun and elegant, and beautifully designed.
Fstoppers: Three artists who have influenced you are...
Lisa Hubbard: Giorgio Morandi, an Italian still life painter. He spent much of his life painting the same everyday objects over and over... Sounds dull, no? But I envy him. His work is gorgeous and full of life. To find something fresh in the same crap again and again... It really cuts away the fluff, and all that's left is the painting (or the photography). Anyone can find the latest thing, the newest thing to shoot or paint. Anyone can take a gorgeous photo of something gorgeous. But it takes real courage to make something new each day from the same few objects. Jan Groover, a genius photographer and my teacher, who died on January 1st 2012. One thing she taught me was that we all make up our own job: I can give myself an easy job or a challenging one. Morandi, for example, gave himself a tough one, but one with lots of room to grow and build on.
Fstoppers: What makes an interesting interior or garden shot? A boring one?
Lisa Hubbard: In commercial work, an interesting interior image is one where I can feel myself existing in the space. I want to see a way "in". It's also one that avoids the usual visual cliches... This is easier said than done. And of course, I want to be inspired. I have a house, and I'm constantly looking for ideas to help me make it a home, but in a personal way.
Lisa Hubbard: Making pictures! Playing with light. Being part of a crew that is working together and building on what each other creates.
Fstoppers: The worst is:
Lisa Hubbard: 4am call times... Kidding! Sometimes there's a chance for the crew to make something really gorgeous on a shoot, but the client doesn't want it. They can't use it. Of course the client is right. They always know best what they are looking for, and the art director on the shoot is the one who goes back to the office with the work and has to defend it if we've gone off track, so of course they know best what they need. But sometimes it means that we don't get to shoot that gorgeous thing, and that makes me sad.
Fstoppers: Where have you traveled for work?
Lisa Hubbard: All over the US, Wales, Italy, Ireland.
Fstoppers: What’s your advice to aspiring photographers interested in shooting interiors and design work?
Lisa Hubbard: The market is overwhelmed right now. The advent of digital a few years back has made it possible for just about anyone to be a photographer... sort of. It no longer takes skill and nerves of steel to do a commercial shoot and be SURE you'll come back with good quality film. Technically, digital is pretty fool proof. So... my advice? Don't let that fool you into thinking that every damn image you can click away at is wonderful. Yes, quick photos can be very fun, and I love them sometimes, and they are dear to me. But that's not enough. Push yourself to think about what photography can do. What you can do. Be critical. Give yourself a harder job. And never let anyone else compose your image.