Taking the Studio to the Streets, with Clay Enos


When he isn’t out shooting the muscled men of 300: Rise of an Empire, or heroes like Superman and the Watchmen, photographer Clay Enos takes the studio feel to the streets. Luckily, I was able to sit down with him and discuss this particular style.

How did you get this shot?

This one is a fun one. It was made in Uruguay, where we set up a studio outside. The young woman is Argentinean and this was completely random, she had no idea this was going to happen. It was a windy day and we couldn’t set up on the beach, so we just set up a white sheet on the ground and just took photographs of random passersby.

What drew you to this individual?

What I like about this image is that she is obviously an attractive young woman, but she’s not perfect. The hair is unstyled, and there’s some happenstance in that the wind is blowing. I just think that is missing, sometimes, from a lot of photography; even my own sensibilities were so inundated by the idea of “perfection” that we don’t allow for the imperfections to shine. Even though I believe that is what people actually respond to, that is how they connect to it. Our imperfections are on our sleeves, even though we may not admit them. But, we can somehow identify them in other images.

Why do you keep coming back to these shots?

It’s everything that I like in photography. It was unplanned; I just set up to do a certain something and then along she comes and it was a striking, imperfect, beautiful flawed woman. Atypical. And then just keeping it simple. I pulled the color out of this shot, but she was equally strong in color.

How do you ensure the lighting is good for these shoots?

You look for it. You find a bit of open shade and a decent enough horizon that doesn’t have any super-reflective items that may throw a color cast, and then just get to it. The usual trick is to try and knock some light off the top, because then if you are outside and not underneath something, you are going to have to flag off the top, or you will get too much light on the head and nose. That’s basically it, especially for this natural-light stuff.

Since you're emulating a studio look, do you find the clean white background particularly important?

There is something to it. It’s certainly a classic background; half the magazines on the rack will have the white background, and every studio in the city will have the white seamless. It’s a standard convention, and I do like that when I am making a particular kind of portrait.

"I want it to be more about the people, and less about the street and how it was made."

... especially when it comes to famous people, context becomes more important at times. It’s almost like they recognize the face and then they ask, “Where is that person?” Like there’s a cool picture of Brad Pitt under a waterfall, and then it’s not a picture of Brad Pitt anymore, it’s about the waterfall.

I like white because it is easily duplicated across huge swathes of the planet. So if I take this setup on the road, it doesn’t matter. I can bring consistency to my images. The sun is the same, the open shade is the same, and the white background is the same. Although it isn’t always a sheet, sometimes it’s a piece of foam core or a reflector. It’s just something to get it neutralized.

I want it to be more about the people, and less about the street and how it was made. I do my best to try and render the person and the moment.

Thanks for explaining all about the Streetstudio work you do, but we have to at least mention your more well-known photographs, like the photograph of Superman for the latest film, Man of Steel.

The Superman poster was fun. That first image was the Comic Con poster, and it was the first time that Supes has been out there in poster form for this film. It was exciting because I got a nice email from the folks who did the design, and who had probably been through hundreds of variations before they had settled on that one and he congratulated me, saying it was almost untouched. I went back to the original image, and sure enough it was almost straight up out of the camera, my image. They darkened a little in the background and brought up a little bit of the glyph that fell into shadow. That was cool to me, considering it’s a movie poster, which are normally these extravaganzas of Photoshop genius.

How much effort goes into these types of shoots?

The poster stuff is fairly collaborative. The art director is there, and on some level I am appeasing their needs and there is kind of a factory feel. They have a bunch of concept sketches and then we just match our light to their concepts and some of the poses to their concepts. It isn’t entirely organic. It is the farthest thing from the Streetstudio. I’m not on a tripod, I’m still shooting with my 35mm gear, I’m shooting with hot lights, not strobes. That to me is important, I lose shots along the way that are out of focus and I’m rushing or the depth of field is not ideal, but it’s still my sensibilities making the image. We shoot like crazy, and if they can’t find one, something has gone terribly wrong. And on some level it is a very collaborative day.

Any final words to aspiring photographers out there?

Just pay attention to what you are shooting and go get 'em.