Pro's Choice; David Stuart’s Light Choices; Mix & Match For The Job At Hand

“Most of the photo equipment that I use is rented,” says Atlanta, Georgia-based pro photographer David Stuart ( “I don’t even own that much gear to begin with.”

Client: Personal/Portfolio
Designed simply as an image to make you think and wonder, this portfolio shot consists of maybe 50 elements. It was impossible to photograph the cluster of buildings in one shot without introducing distortion, so each structure had to be shot separately, along with other elements, for the final composite. The little girl, wagon full of dolls, and shovel were all part of a studio shot lit with an octabank and large fill card. The dolls were also shot in groups and added to the hole (also a separate shot). The final composite image was desaturated and toned in post.
All Photos © 2010, David Stuart, All Rights Reserved

For most of his assignments, Stuart prefers a Hasselblad H2 with a Phase One P 45+ back, which he rents, along with the lenses. For camera rentals, Stuart turns to Capture Integration ( in Atlanta. What he does own and occasionally uses is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and select L-series zooms.

“I find that it’s easier to have gear delivered to the job than to haul it around,” Stuart observes. “Some places deliver the gear; others, I have to have it picked up, so I’ll have an assistant run over and grab it the day before or the day of the shoot and bring it out to the job site.” The rental studios he normally shoots at rarely provide strobe lighting, however, so Stuart routinely works with Calumet ( in Chicago, Calumet or Pro Camera ( in San Francisco, and Morel Studio Support ( or Professional Photographic Resources ( in Atlanta. “There are no hard and fast rules dictating where we get the gear; only that we get what we need when and where we need it.”

Client: Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium wanted to promote the facility and show it through children’s eyes, as in this beluga whale exhibit. With the lens of the 1Ds Mark II flush against the Plexiglas to bypass reflections, David Stuart set up the lighting on catwalks behind the displays to simulate natural light, using six heads and an equal number of packs, with the display floor kicking back fill. To simulate the natural reaction to this scene, the child was photographed in the studio pressing up against Plexiglas. Blue-gelled strip lights flanked the scene in the studio, with an octabank for fill, plus four umbrellas aimed at the blue seamless backdrop to simulate the aquarium lighting. The client also wanted the shot to reflect the natural habitat, so Stuart added images he’d shot around the world for the final composite. (Agency: Grey Worldwide Atlanta.)

The obvious advantage to renting is that you don’t have to worry about storing gear or that it will become obsolete. Of course, you are in a sense at the mercy of what’s available. Stuart points out that rental shops don’t necessarily carry the latest gear, although they tend to carry the most reliable and stable brands. And of course, the rental fees are passed along to the client, something you can’t exactly do with gear you buy (except through increased rates—something this highly competitive market may not support).

Client: Children’s Healthcare Of Atlanta
The agency came up with the original concept, which evolved into this composite image. The idea was to illustrate quick recovery time, hence the transition from hospital ward to street. David Stuart photographed this young girl in two different outfits, with her, the IV, and bicycle shot together in the studio. He then seamlessly blended the two shots, split down the middle, with additional elements that were shot at the hospital and outside. His lighting had to reflect the ambient lighting on each side—overhead in one instance, sidelighting in the other, while she maintained the same facial expression and body posture. (Agency: three.)

The Photo Assistant And Beyond
Stuart began his career as a photographer’s assistant, but soon found that he was successfully competing for the same jobs as established pros. That was the turning point, leading him to open a studio. Back then Stuart was working with a Canon A2 and a Mamiya RZ67, shooting film. But when he realized that much of his work was taking place outside his studio, he came to the decision that it was logistically and financially prudent to instead rent studio space when needed. Along the way he made the move to digital, beginning with a rented Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II.

Having been an assistant, Stuart knows the value of one. So he never shoots a job without an assistant. (“It’s always tied into the budget for the job,” he points out.) Where does Stuart find photo assistants? “If the job is in Atlanta, I have freelance assistants that I work with regularly. If I’m on location, I may bring assistants with me or hire them at the location—it depends on the job. No two jobs are the same.” Assistants hired on site are often people he’s worked with; otherwise they’ve been referred to him by other photographers.