Words and Images by Maggie Hood

If any of you are like me, one of the best parts of the holiday season is the baked goods. Cookies, squares, and cakes provide that nostalgic feeling and send you back in time to the first time you ate that beloved sweet treat. My grandmother used to make the most amazing molasses cookies and every time I ate one, it transported me back to when I was 4 years old in her kitchen. Even then, she was baking them from memory, the recipe forever engrained in her mind. She knew that the recipe was always a hit and that it worked every time. She had all these amazing recipes in which when she combined the ingredients, something amazing was created.

And the thought occurred to me when I was going through some of my work that sometimes photography is just like baking. I could categorize most of my images based on the elements, or ingredients, they contained and that these different “recipes” are ones that I use repeatedly. So I thought I would share a few of my favorite recipes in hopes of inspiring you to analyze your work and see the ingredients you tend to use that give you your favorite images. 

Multiple Lights + Coloured Gels + Subject (optional: fog machine)

One of my go-tos when creating just for fun is playing with multiple lights and colored gels in a darker, moodier setting. I have done this both in-studio on a solid background, as well as in creating a more environmental portrait. The biggest thing I have learned is that I prefer to use two different colors (I.e. one blue, one orange) rather than two similar colors if you want the colors to pop. Using a blue and a purple gel, for example, makes the light color variation a little more subtle, which is still great if that is what you’re going for. Sometimes I’ll even just use one light without a colored gel and gel the other to simulate ambient light from a light bulb, fire, or window. These are all slight variations of the same ingredients that I enjoy cooking with. For added fun, I’ll add in some smoke from a fog machine. 

Studio + Lighting + Low Key + Skin tones

There is something about skin tones in low key lighting situations that I love. Whether it is a portrait that includes a face or that is focused more on the human form, I love shooting in darker situations with one or two lights and using them to emphasize skin tones. I am likely drawn to the simplicity of the images and find that I will usually edit this style of images in black and white with a decent amount of contrast. Optional ingredient: Use a longer shutter speed and capture movement if you have a continuous lighting source or some ambient light. 

Water + Good Natural Light + Subject

I’ve always been drawn to creating in and around water some of my all-time favorite portraits I’ve shot have involved water in some respect. Most of the time, I just use natural light and plan my shoots around sunset. Living on the east coast of Canada, time to shoot in the water consists of a couple of months at best when you consider temperatures and the number of mosquitoes/blackflies at sunset. I’ve shot in rivers, lakes, pools, waterfalls, and oceans and each adds its own essence to the images, from the murkiness of the water to the tones of the surroundings. I love how the water almost gives the subject another character to interact with. 

While there are many more categories and genres that I shoot, I can easily see these three recipes throughout my personal creative work. While the images sometimes look similar, using different subjects, surroundings, or adding in another element provides some variation and makes the images stand on their own, just like adding frosting to a cookie makes it that much better. I’ll be continually searching for different ingredients to add, as well as completely new recipes to try.

Whether you shoot landscapes, portraits, or wildlife, I invite you to go through your body of work and look for your favorite ingredients. Look closer into the elements that you gravitate towards. It helps to know how to recreate your own recipes, but also allows you to expand and see where you could add to those recipes and try something new. 

This article was originally written for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!

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