Studio City Tattoo Project (Part 1)

Early in March of 2012 I landed a gig shooting the great artists, piercers and owner of the famed Studio City Tattoo (SCT) in, of all places, Studio City, CA.  I am a little biased here because all 4 of my tattoos were done at this shop but I am not biased in calling them the "famed" location because when you look at the best tattoo shops in LA then you will see Studio City Tattoo is constantly one of the top three tattoo shops in all of Los Angeles.  And, if you know anything about LA, being one of the top three in all of LA is a pretty big deal considering the insane amount of tattoo shops in the city.

Seth Hancock Photography Studio City Tattoo Los Angeles

The famous Studio City Tattoo


The assignment: Create images of the artists, piercers and owner that will be used on the web site, media, advertisements and publicity photos.  I say publicity photos because the owner, Clay Clement, just published a great children's book this last November called "Pirate Santa" and he is going to use my photos for publicity and promotion for his book.  As a side note, Clay is getting a tremendous amount of critical success from his book and has already won several awards including the prestigious "Mom's Choice Award" for children's books.  Also, he is in talks with a couple of media and animation companies to have this made into a Christmas special.  One company is owned by a pretty big celebrity who has taken a huge interest in Clay's book.  Also, I learned that the images I am taking of Clay will be used for magazines like People, US Weekly, etc.  So... I can't suck at these photos.

Here's a test image of Mike Irwin. It was shooting here that I realized I needed to cut out all light and just use my lights

I was looking at another angle and testing the light and just didn't love all the background light and clutter.

 The biggest challenge in shooting something like this is the timing of the artists since most tattoo artists don't work 9-5 and some work mornings, some work evenings and some only work weekends.  So coordinating schedules was my first obstacle.  My second obstacle was the actual size of the tattoo shop.  SCT is a really small tattoo shop - and when I say really small I am not exaggerating by any means.  When you walk into the shop you walk up a small ramp with a hand rail and then have to turn right.  Directly in front of you are four tattoo chairs, a piercers chair and the appointment desk.  From front door to the piercers chair (the farthest chair in the shop) is a whopping 14 steps.  Space is limited!  However there is a nice little space on the other side of the ramp walkway leading into SCT.  Here there is an aquarium and then the restroom.  The area from the desk to the restroom and end of shop (heading back toward street) is about 6 steps.  So this area is what I used for the shots of the artists and piercers.

Shooting layout for the project - Click to view larger

As you can see above, there was not a lot of room, a nice bit of clutter and colors that were not the most interesting for a portrait.  I therefore decided to completely darken the space through the camera by dialing in 1/250 shutter speed and a small aperture so I could completely darken the space.  And, since the area is really tight I couldn't bring in my Elinchrom Ranger Lights so I decided to go with two lights: a Nikon SB-900 shot through a Lastolite Tri-Grip and a Ring Flash.  These two lights were able to get me the images below.  I did a little tweaking in Photoshop but not a tremendous amount.  I just wanted to do enough to get rid of any other distracting pieces and parts around my subjects.  All in all, there were 6 Tattoo Artists, 3 Piercers, 1 Owner and Exterior Images.  Here are just some of the images from the shoot and big thanks for Gary Quart for assisting me in the process.

Images from the two light setup Studio City Tattoo Jose Studio City Tattoo Captain Dave Studio City Tattoo Ilya Studio City Tattoo Steven Studio City Tattoo Will Only using the Ring Flash while the artists worked
Captain Dave Tattooing

Captain Dave Tattooing

Ilya Tattooing

Ilya Tattooing

Will Tattooing

Will Tattooing

On the next blog I will focus on shooting Clay, the owner, and the different challenges that I faced in shooting him outside at Noon in Los Angeles on a busy Ventura Boulevard.  I only had about 30 minutes of his time so I needed to nail the shot.  I think the images look great and you can check out PART 2 of this project here - Studio City Tattoo Project (Part 2).


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