Behind the Studio: Carolyn Fong, Clementine Studio NYC
Carolyn Fong is the owner of two thriving photography studios in NYC. In this article, she offers us an insight into her family portrait business, Clementine Studio. Come behind the scenes of this flourishing studio, and learn about the steps Carolyn takes to ensure each shoot is a success and how this talented photographer continues to improve her craft year after year.
I’ve been a professional portrait photographer for over 10 years; and I’ve loved every single minute of it. I have worked with every age group from newborn babies to great-grandparents. I have shot intimate weddings with just 2 people & raucous birthday parties with well over 100 guests. In addition to shooting family portraits as Clementine Studio NYC, I also have a thriving commercial & editorial photography business.
In a nutshell, tell us about Clementine Studio and your approach to the medium.
I am a full-time, professional portrait photographer. Clementine Studio is my family portrait photography business. I also shoot editorial & commercial portraits, under the business name Carolyn Fong Photography. I’ve found it works best to keep my two businesses separate as the needs for each kind of photography is so different.
I would define my approach to family portraits as environmental, lifestyle documentary portraiture. A lot of what happens during a shoot is captured as it happens – and most of the time the best shots happen when I get out of the way and let the family interact with each other as naturally as possible. I don’t do a lot of staged posing but I will suggest that a family member stand on a certain side to make sure they get the best light possible. I do my best to watch the family interact and make sure that I’m there and ready to capture it when those special moments happen. Some of the shoot is planned – such as the location and the kinds of images the client is looking to get. But with all kinds of shoots – I show up with an open mind, knowing and trusting my eye and my equipment to be ready and open for the unplanned, magical moments.
What’s the inspiration behind the name Clementine Studio?
The name Clementine Studio came about after many brainstorming sessions with family and friends to find a name that would reflect what was unique to my business. It was while I was riding the subway, the name Clementine just popped into my head and I knew IMMEDIATELY it was the name for my company. It hit all the points I wanted to express through my work. Traditional, but not stodgy, playful and thoughtful, kind, sweet and open hearted without being flighty or undependable. I added Studio to the name so that it would convey the professionalism of the business.
What is your favorite genre of photography to shoot and why?
My favorite genre of photography is definitely environmental portraiture because I get to meet and interact with so many wonderful and interesting people, and see and experience so many different and cool places, which I might otherwise not get to meet or see.
You shoot on location and in studio, which do you prefer? What are some of the obstacles you faced early on in your career with shooting in both locations and how has your workflow changed to address those obstacles?
I prefer location shoots because the locations add an additional element of personalization to the photographs. I always ask clients to choose a location that has meaning to them and their family. Whether it’s in their home or at their favorite park, I find that shooting on location where they are most comfortable adds another layer of meaningfulness to the images. When you look back at family portraits shot in your childhood home, it can have a greater sentimental value as the images showcase not just what you and your family looked like at that time, but also reminds you of the home, that chair, or that special park you used to play in.
The main obstacle I faced early in my career with location shoots was not scouting the locations thoroughly enough. Often we would get to a location and it would be PACKED with people – and no one wants family portraits filled with a whole bunch of strangers in the background! Shooting around NYC it can be hard to find pockets of space where there aren’t a lot of other people milling about, but after some trial and error, I’ve now found my favorites and know the best time of day to go to avoid the crowds.
As for shooting in studio – the main obstacle was finding a studio that had rent affordable enough for me to keep shooting space even during the times when I would get mostly outdoor shoot requests. But now I’ve got a studio share that I can use when I need it and it’s worked out both saving me rent money & studio space when I need it.
Shooting on location sometimes results in unexpected lighting and weather changes. You mention that you always bring extra lighting on location to make sure that you’re able to capture your clients in beautiful light regardless of the conditions. Would you share with us what equipment you bring to these shoots and why?
With family portraits, it’s important to keep the lighting equipment light weight, minimal, and easy to maneuver because you never want to worry about equipment hurting a child or client, and with kids, you need to be able to move and change your set ups FAST. Because of these limitations, I’ve found the Canon 580EXII flash, paired with a Quantum Turbo battery pack, and a Gary Fong light diffuser, to be my go-to lighting basics set up. If I’m shooting in a client’s home, and depending on how much natural light is available, I may bring an extra Monobloc light on a stand with an umbrella so that I can light the background/room separately from the people. Everything is synced with radio slaves.
When I’m shooting outdoors, I just take the flash, the battery pack, and the diffuser, and use the flash on my camera hotshoe. I really love to shoot with back lighting and when I’m outdoors having the flash allows me to turn my subjects away from the sun so they’re not squinting and we can use the sun as a big, beautiful hair light.
You spend a lot of time with your clients prepping for the shoot and making sure everything is in place prior to their session. What are some of the current trends that you’re seeing with client requests? Is there a particular location, theme or overall feel that your clients are leaning toward that may be different from past shoots?
I get a lot of requests to shoot family portraits in Central Park. And I think Central Park will always remain a favorite location for clients. Luckily, there are so many special spots within the park, I never get sick of shooting there.
In recent years I have gotten more requests to do shoots in multiple locations – to start the session in my client’s homes – to capture a little bit of their home environment – the kids’ bedrooms for example, or hanging out at the dining table - more “day in the life” style shots before heading out to their local park or the neighborhood streets.
You’ve ordered a lot of magnets from Pinhole Pro. What do you use the magnets for, and what’s the feedback you’ve received on these products? Would you recommend the magnets to other photographers?
I have used the Pinhole Pro magnets and Brag Books interchangeably as surprise post-shoot thank you gifts for my clients. I found Pinhole Pro magnets to be the best quality – from printing to thickness and quality of the magnet. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – I think it’s a nice way to share clients’ images with them in a format other than a print – to show them other ways to live with their images on a day-to-day basis. I also love that the magnets are functional and useful. I would highly recommend the magnets to other photographers. It makes a thoughtful & meaningful gift for anyone in my opinion.
Carolyn Fong earned a bachelors degree in Human Development from the University of California, San Diego before she moved on to study photography at The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. After graduating, she moved out East to NYC, where she fell in love – both with the city & with her future husband. Carolyn and her husband now live in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn with their wonderful daughter & a lovable mutt; who they think is the best dog in the world.