Bobbi Lane: Thirty Years of Freelance Photography

December 10, 2009

Thirty years isn’t much in plate tectonics, evolution, or changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. In the world of freelance professional photography, thirty years is a significant achievement. Bobbi Lane has been involved with serious photographic pursuits since her undergraduate days at Emerson College and New England School of Photography. After graduation, she started an apprenticeship with Bill Sumner in Boston. In 1979 she became a freelance photographer and has been self-employed ever since.

©Bobbi Lane

Being an assignment photographer is not her only accomplishment for the past three decades. She is almost as equally well-known as a photographic educator, teaching seminars and workshops around the world in places such as Dubai and Costa Rica. In the United States, she’s often lecturing or teaching in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, New York City, Boston, Chicago and Rockport, Maine. Five books, two DVDs, over a dozen exhibits, and many industry awards are a testament to her talent as a photographer and her instructional abilities.

©Bobbi Lane

No stranger to preproduction, Bobbi often sketches her lighting design ideas before shoots. Arriving prepared is key to her methodology. This was employed in her most recent shoot: guitarist Will Hanza on a Manhattan rooftop. The objective in this shoot was to get that magic time of sunset when interior lights of buildings come on, but the sky still naturally lit. To help accomplish this, she used a Sekonic L-758DR meter. “There were several reasons why I needed to have a light meter during this shoot,” says Bobbi. “First, I was using two light sources—two strobes: a beauty dish and a strip light for the edge effect. I had to get the right balance between the two. I used the Incident mode to measure the main light. I placed the strip light in relation to the main light. In most circumstances I would put the background light about a full-stop less than the main light. In this case, I did it about one half-stop less. I wanted it to be a little stronger because I wanted more drama and edge-feel. We used the spot meter to read the sky in the background. You can’t take an incident reading of the sky because an incident meter measures the light falling on a subject. The sky is a light source. You have to have a reflective meter to take the reading off the sky. That worked perfectly.”

©Bobbi Lane

The L-758DR came through on all fronts for Bobbi. “The meter was so good. I always look at my histograms to double check everything and make sure I’m getting the amount of light I need—not losing shadow detail or not blowing out highlight detail. This meter was so absolutely right on. I didn’t have to adjust or compensate for anything.”

©Bobbi Lane

A contributor to stock photography agencies for twenty-five years, she recently left Getty Images for a small agency which was bought by Corbis. Although she describes the state of stock photography business “dismal,” There are still a few bright spots. “Most of what I sell from stock agencies is Travel, and most of that is American cities. No one is really interested in buying stock photos unless you have full model releases on all the people in the photo. Because of the royalty-free stock and these micro-stock sites, the value of rights-managed stock has really come down quite a bit.” The news is not all dismal, though. “I still think there’s room for photographers making high-quality images in rights-managed stock, but no one’s making the money they used to. I know several photographers who shot stock exclusively, and their income is half of what it was ten years ago. That said, I don’t think stock photography is going away. No matter how many people put their images on the Web for free, if someone needs a high-quality image, they’ll pay for it.”

©Bobbi Lane

Client-direct assignments for corporate photography, particularly on a local level, has become the majority of her jobs these days. Small advertising agencies and design firms fill out her work week, with environmental portraits, formal portraits, and related work for companies’ Web sites. “It’s very similar to corporate annual report photography,” Bobbi explains. “You’re doing people, facilities, and products. Every client is different, so I try to create a different look for each company I work for.”

©Bobbi Lane

Editorial work for local magazines like Ridgefield Magazine and Bedford Magazine keep her busy, as does national magazines. Trade publications like Brandweek Magazine call her for interpretive portrait work.

©Bobbi Lane

The clients have come and gone and come again. The face of the stock photography business has changed radically with the advent of the Internet. Digital technology steadily replaces film. Through it all, Bobbi Lane continues to earn a living on her own terms as a freelance photographer, an educator, and through stock photo sales. Photographers everywhere can learn much from this talented pro shooter.

©Bobbi Lane

Calumet Photographic at 22 West 22nd Street, New York City, hosted Bobbi Lane’s Metering Video Premiere Event on Wednesday, December 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. Educator and photographer Bobbi Lane premiered of her new video for Sekonic on metering techniques. The video features guitarist Will Pino on a rooftop in Manhattan during an incredible sunset. Lane will be in attendance to talk about her insights on the creation of these dynamic images using Sekonic meters and Calumet Travelites.

Bobbi Lane Photography

Bobbi Lane at Photofolio

Portrait Lighting Techniques and Portraits Unplugged, produced and sold by Calumet

“Portraits Unplugged,” an online class for the Perfect Picture School of Photography

Written by Ron Egatz

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