PiX Article – cover photographer

5 02 2010

A recent article about us run in the PiX magazine…

“IVOK STUDIO has quickly become one of South Africas leading photographic businesses. Matt Raven & Chanti are the driving force behind the business and are as passionate about the industry as our team at PiX!

In addition to both of them being international award winning photographers, they also offer studio facilities to the industry, sell lighting equipment, manage photographic forums and are the driving force behind the Photo & Film Expo.

Despite their hectic workloads the “IVOKians” are always ready and willing to assist up-coming photographers with advice and are happy to share their experience and strategies with the industry.”

Garth Collins

This cover image was created in a portable studio setup during a photographic collaboration between Canon, IVOK, and the AVA. Part of the event involved a live demonstration shoot and additional sponsors included Spacelight rentals who provided the studio gear and CK Make-up who came up with the concept for the shoot and sponsored the make-up.

The idea involved stripping down celebrity muscle-man Garth Collins and covering his head and face in drawing-pins. We had a smallish area to work in so we created a make-shift studio using a backdrop support system and a black vinyl backdrop (as several shoots were taking place paper would not have been viable, additionally we wanted the additional width of 3.2m as opposed to the 2.7m paper rolls).

2 Elinchrom battery packs were used to power the 3 lights used and a softbox, beauty-dish and reflector were used as modifiers.

By placing the softbox and standard reflector at approximately 45 degree angles from behind we were able to create a hard contrasting feel to the image while reducing the amount of reflection off the metallic pins. The beauty dish was used to fill and enhance the eyes.

Chanti handled the post production and created a series of backgrounds which could be used with the original picture to create a supernatural environment which suited the theme of the image.

The overall feel was transformed to exaggerate the spiked gladiator in a cartoon like surrealism.


Please tell us a little more about IVOK STUDIO? Where did it all begin?

In 2005 both Chanti & I took the plunge from our corporate careers to open our first studio premises in Randburg. I say plunge because up until that point we were both social photographers and had very little experience with SLRs and no studio experience.

We invested a fairly large sum into setting up the studio and buying the right equipment to begin with, this involved approaching numerous established photographers and seeking advice. A full business plan was created, budgets determined, outlay vs. returns calculated and a long term strategy put into place.

Although our initial outlay was more than triple what we had anticipated spending to launch the business, the growth of the business has been exponential and in only 5 years we’ve established ourselves as one of SAs leading photography businesses.
At which moment in your life did you realise your passion for photography?

Although we both had an interest in photography prior to opening the business, we only really started getting passionate about it when we pushed our own boundaries and started to experiment with lighting and varied equipment. For us photography has grown from an income generating business into a lifestyle, as opposed to the other way around.

Which shoots that you have been on have stood out most in your career?

We get to shoot numerous celebrity bands, actors, models, politicians and business people; while there isn’t a particular shoot that stands out above the rest, it is always interesting getting to meet them face-to-face and developing a shoot around their individual charismas.

What is the most valuable criticism you have received?

One of the first crits I got was from the late Mark Thomas (whose funeral I attended this past weekend) in early 2006; he told me I was under-charging for my shoots and that I would only undermine my own business reputation by doing so. At the time I thought that as a newcomer to the professional photography scene I should not charge as much as the “pros”.

I followed his advice though and doubled our rates, instead of bookings slowing down they actually increased – it appeared that customers now felt they were getting a quality product. By making each shoot worthwhile for us we were able to concentrate on improving quality and overall service delivery rather than chasing numbers.


What style of photography do you prefer?

Non-conformist. Although Chanti had some basic formal training in photography, both of us really learned (and are still learning) by experimentation and practical experience. We’ve developed our own style of photography which regularly adapts as we try to vary our shoots to offer each client something different.

What is your position on the debate of digital vs. film photography?

Digital sensors have developed to a point where quality is no longer a discerning factor and most professionals are now making use of the newer technology due to the fact that images can be previewed immediately, editing software has become very advanced and images can be enhanced/altered without spending hours in a darkroom. Now processing and archiving of images is all done electronically and the industry has become very accessible.

There will always be those who prefer the intimacy of developing their images manually and find the digital route all a little too clinical for comfort, but personally I’m all for technological advancements.

Where do you turn when you need a little inspiration? What inspires you?

The internet. I’ve subscribed to numerous international photographer blogs and it’s inspiring seeing the creative images that these industry leaders are producing. Similarly photography networks on the web are flooded with an abundance of undiscovered talent and some of the most interesting images I’ve found belong to hobbyists.

South African libraries unfortunately seem to keep a very limited selection of good photography books; those they do have are usually discussing basic established principles of photography and recommendations on “how to take a picture”. Can you imagine how little creativity there would be if everyone read those books.


What camera hardware was in you first camera bag?

When I took up photography professionally the first camera I got myself was the Nikon D200 with battery grip and 18-200VR kit lens. I soon included a few prime lenses and this camera became our studio work-horse. I still have the camera, over 200 000 actuations later and won’t likely get rid of it anytime soon.

What do you use today?

Our equipment nowadays depends largely on the type of shoot we’re doing. This cover shoot for instance was a demonstration shoot which took place at an electronics retail show using the Canon 7D shortly after it had been launched. We shoot medium format when required but generally we use our Nikon systems as we’ve built up a selection of lenses and equipment which allow us the versatility needed.

In the studio and out in the field, what lighting equipment are you never without?

As we are primarily regarded as “studio” photographers we’re seldom without our lighting equipment, whether on location or at our studios. I’d say the most underrated piece of equipment which we use on almost all of our lighting accessories is the “honeycomb”.

A honeycomb is a grid which controls the direction the light travels, limiting spread of unwanted light and allowing so much more overall control of your studio flashes. We have honeycomb grids for our reflectors and beauty dishes as well as “egg-box” grids on most of our soft-boxes.

What lens do you shoot with most often?

That depends on the sensor size of the camera used. On a cropped 35mm sensor camera our most commonly used lens is the 50mm f1.4, on full frame 35mm sensors the 85mm f1.4 is preferable and on medium format sensors the 135mm f2.8.

The Cover

What was the inspiration for the drawing pin shoot with Garth Collins?

Cicilia Kaufmann of CK Make-up came up with the concept to create a reference to Garths’ days as Granite the “Gladiator”. By using simple office stationary Cicilia was able to create a representation of a gladiator helmet by painstakingly gluing tacks to his head and face for the shoot. Definitely not a job for the inexperienced or impatient!
What where some of the challenges you faced during the shoot?

This was a live public demonstration shoot so apart from having a crowd of spectators looking over our shoulders asking questions our shooting space was also fairly limited. Garth was very easy to work with though and followed direction perfectly, coming up with literally hundreds of facial expressions with ease. Using reflective drawing-pins on his head meant the lighting position needed to be right to avoid excessive “burn-out” (over exposure) of the pins while having enough light on them to create the effect desired. In post-production Chanti wanted to create a fantasy (almost super-hero) feel to the image which was taken on a black background. In order to do this she had to create an image which worked with similar light sources and had an unrealistic, surreal feel to it. Both images were then processed together to create the final product.

What advice do you have for any photographer working with models?

While posing a model is sometimes necessary, when made to feel comfortable a model can often come up with better poses based on their understanding of themselves and experience. I’ve seen many photographers fall into the trap of becoming too dominant in a shoot and causing the model to feel awkward which is evident in the finished product. Direction is good and a good explanation of what needs to be achieved needs to be conveyed but maintain flexibility, the unplanned shots regularly look better.




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