Shoot in Atlanta

By Jay Mallin

Pictures of Atlanta from photographer Greg Foster's "Observations" series.

Photographer Joe Pugliese may be based in Los Angeles, but he figures he racks up 100,000 frequent-flyer miles each year, traveling to various locations for his editorial clients. When Field & Stream called him recently to shoot subjects in three southeastern U.S. cities for a cover, Pugliese suggested the magazine simplify things and send everyone to Atlanta. “Atlanta has great local assistants and the gear rentals and production help [are] some of the best I’ve seen in the country. Add to that the fact that southern hospitality is alive and well, and it makes for one of my favorite markets to shoot in,” he says.

Despite Atlanta’s size—it’s only about half the size of nearby Jacksonville—it has become a major production center for stills, as well as film. Atlanta locations are varied and photographers can shoot in areas that are elegant or gritty, modern or historic. 

“I think the urban locations are really exceptional here,” says Jay Morel, who provided the production assistance for Pugliese’s Field & Stream shoot. “If you’re in L.A., it’s really difficult to find anything old,” says Morel, who once worked at Quixote, a film and photo studio in Los Angeles. “Atlanta really has these unique pockets where you can go back in time. It’s like you’re in a history book.” 

Morel first came to Atlanta to study at Portfolio Center, a renowned art school housed in a 1940s factory building that offers intensive two-year programs. After graduation, he noticed many of his classmates quickly left the area due to a lack of photography industry resources,—which inspired him to start his own company. “I liked living in Atlanta and I figured that if there were more resources here, people would stay,” he says. Today he is running his own company, Morel Studio Support, which provides grip, lighting and production supplies for photographers. The company specializes in catering to photographers producing large, complex shoots. There is no rental counter—Morel Studio Support delivers—and they don’t keep set office hours. Support is available whenever needed. “Instead of having people come to us, we take our trucks and go and pick up everything for the shoot, and deliver [it],” Morel explains. Orders are not limited to lighting and other rental equipment. From grip to expendables such as foamcore, whatever you need will be on the truck when Morel or his staff arrives. 

The Morel Studio Support truck delivers rental equipment for shoots in and around Atlanta. 

If you are considering an Atlanta shoot, and your creative calls for a studio setting, look no further than The BigHouse, a unique daylight studio, loft, and gallery rental space owned by photographer Calvin Lockwood. The studio and gallery space  s in a building that housed a furniture store in the 1960s. Soon after Lockwood purchased the building in the early 90s, a visiting stylist told him that he should paint all the interior walls white, but he resisted. “I wanted to maintain the rustic feeling of the building,” Lockwood says. “When photographers come to shoot here, especially if they have their client with them, they really enjoy the warm feeling of the place. It’s not sterile; it’s more earth tones and things like that.” The studio features over 7,000 square feet of space, high ceilings, exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. (Rental rates range from $800 to $1,000 per day.) Along with its color and historic charm, other interesting features set apart The BigHouse, some of them left by previous productions. The studio’s “Granite Room” has shackles mounted on a wall, installed for the filming of the television show The Vampire Diaries. “When they were going to take the shackles out I said, ‘Oh leave them, it’s a conversation piece,’” says Lockwood. In another room sits part of an airplane fuselage that had been used in a cooking show. 

A variety of clients have recently shot in the light-flooded and versatile spaces at The BigHouse including CNN, Sony, Xbox, AT&T, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and the producers of the Tyler Perry movie Good Deeds.

Ambient Plus Studio, located on the other side of the local freeway in the same building as Morel Studio Support, is about a mile from The BigHouse. Ambient Plus Studio is the brainchild of Los Angeles photographer Jason Ivany, who moved to Atlanta in 2003. Ivany was used to shooting in full-daylight studio spaces, so he decided to create one by painstakingly converting a 100-year-old building into a modern professional studio. Ambient Plus Studio features two stages: Stage 1 has a 28 x 14-foot cyc wall, hardwood floors and 9,000 square feet of shooting space; Stage 2 has 17-foot ceilings and a 2,000-square-foot shooting space with a concrete floor. Ambient Plus Studio offers everything you would expect from a top-notch studio: easy roll-in access, a full kitchen, make-up rooms with showers, and a variety of other services. In addition to photo shoots, Ambient Plus Studio hosts a number of television and celebrity shoots each year. “There’s a heavy component of editorial celebrity photography here,” explains Ivany. “Atlanta, and Georgia in general, have put out some serious incentives for film and TV, which means we have a lot of celebrities in our orbit. The editorial entities, usually based in New York, and some out of Los Angeles, will fly photographers down rather than try and transport the celebrity up,” he says. Ambient Plus Studio even does airport pickups and will bring you to the studio or to your hotel. Prices start at $685, depending on the studio, day of the week and length of the shoot. 

Big Studio, just four miles north of Ambient Plus Studio, has 5,000-square-feet of space, an unobstructed wrap-around cyc, and enough windows that studio manager Sarah Storrer doesn’t have to bother turning on the lights when she arrives at work in the morning. Big Studio is located in the King Plow Arts Center, a massive 165,000-square-foot former factory. Photographers have brought in celebrities including Ben Stiller and Dolly Parton (“Everything good I had heard about her is true,” says Storrer) and athletes, including the Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones. Shoots have also been done with commercial clients, such as carpet and furniture manufacturers, and editorial clients including Money and GQ. “The studio is plenty big enough to do two full setups and we have a lot of people take advantage of that,” says Storrer. “Many of them use the exposed brick, but there’s plenty of room for them to use two seamlesses, or build a full-on set if they want to.” (The studio’s Web site,, includes a generous list of resources that includes local assistants, producers, digital techs, caterers and stylists.) The studio, priced upon request, has Profoto lighting available in-house, and they also work with Morel. In fact, says Storrer, when things get busy, the studios and rental houses in Atlanta often work with one another. “When Atlanta is busy, [and there are] a lot of big shoots going on, [you will see] three different rental houses are all on one job.” 

Big Studio’s spacious cyc and exposed brick walls. 

Just a mile and a half away, on the other side of the Atlanta railroad tracks, is photographer Jeff Von Hoene’s studio, which is available for rent, priced upon request. Von Hone’s space is a 1920s metal structure, fabricated in Ohio and assembled using hot rivets, “just like the Titanic,” he says. The unique space has appealed to clients ranging from rappers to Neiman Marcus. The studio has 1,800 square feet of daylight shooting space, and the inviting décor includes original paintings, sculptures and designer furniture. Photographers also have access to a shooting platform that is 18 feet above the studio floor, which they can shoot down from. The most striking aspect of the studio, however, is its windows. Like a good softbox, they are adjustable—they can be used open, scrims can be pulled down to create soft light, or they can be blacked out. At Von Hoene studio you’ll also find standard amenities including a kitchen, an iPod-friendly sound system and gear rentals.

Von Hoene Studio's stylish and unique studio space, client area and kitchen.

Another resource for photography gear in the city, Professional Photographic Resources (PPR), has been in business since 1986. The company offers gear rentals and two small rental studios. “We have most everything that people need,” says manager David Fields. “If we don’t, we’ll get it.”

When it first opened, PPR was in the center of the photo district and photographers would hang out there while their E6 film was run nearby. Today, the E6 is gone and the photo district has “dried up,” according to Fields. Wisely, PPR has put in a print shop, which is useful since so many print places have disappeared. The company also delivers its products, as far as Charlottesville, North Carolina.

Recently, Fields has noticed a new type of client: weekend wedding photographers. “Most of them have another job, something else during the week,” he says. “But during the weekend they’re photographers.” They come into the shop on Mondays to return the lenses and digital bodies they’ve rented, returning on Tuesdays to pick up their prints.

Photographer Zach Arias’s setup at Capture Integration.

Another local equipment source is Capture Integration. President Dave Gallagher’s goal for his company, which he opened in 2004, was to have a national presence in high-end digital sales. “We said we want to have that national presence in medium-format digital, and so we just work harder than the competition,” says Gallagher. Capture Integration has been named Phase One Partner of the Year twice and offers gear rentals and sales. With offices in Miami and Atlanta, Gallagher says that they are called on by every type of photographer. “From portrait to wedding to architectural to commercial to lifestyle, there isn’t a line we don’t rent to or sell to,” he says. Lately, according to Gallagher, “we’re renting more and we’re selling more to portrait [photographers] than we ever have.” He says portrait photographers see ultra-high-res, 80-megapixel cameras as a way to set themselves apart, and to sell bigger prints. “Men want the biggest,” he says, only half-joking. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s necessary or not. They say, ‘give me the biggest thing you have.’” Fortunately, in Atlanta, home of large, unique studios, top-notch rental companies and 80-megapixel cameras, that’s not hard to come by.



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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