Renee Robyn Podcast Episode 12

Challenges of Commercial Photography - with Renee Robyn

Renee Robyn
Renee Robyn

Welcome to the 12th episode of the Focused Professional Podcast. This episode features an exclusive interview with the brilliant Renee Robyn, known for her world class photography and composite images. With 25+ years of experience in the industry, she has plenty of stories to tell! We explore some of the challenges of working for commercial clients, from pricing to rights management, NDAs, working to a brief and more.

Renee shares her journey towards the publication of her forthcoming book, recognising the importance of getting the right people on board for a great result. We discover how she developed a new product “15 minutes of Chaos” to adapt to a new market in her current situation and her ongoing search for a new studio to base herself at. 

Hear about Renee’s love for languages and how learning them is both a way for her to de-stress and to keep her brain healthy.  Listen to anecdotes about Canadian politeness, panicked discussions on Photoshop forums because of her cats and those difficult decisions when it comes to pleasing or potentially losing clients. Whether you are a seasoned professional, a photography enthusiast, or just enjoy stories about working in the photography industry, this podcast has it all.

All images © Renee Robyn (reproduced here with permission)

Renee Robyn’s website.

Search Renee Robyn to find her on social platforms.

Follow her work more closely on Renee’s Patreon.

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Transcript of Renee Robyn Interview

Joe Lenton: Welcome to the Focused Professional podcast. And today we’ve got an artist that I’ve admired for a long time. Whose work I’ve enjoyed seeing, always enjoy seeing when that comes up on social media. Somebody whose tutorials I’ve enjoyed, but never really quite managed to get the hang of doing that, so I’ll leave that to her. But this is Renee Robyn. Hello, Renee!

Renee Robyn: Hey! Nice to meet you. Thanks for having me on the show. I appreciate it.

Joe Lenton: Thank you very much for taking the time out to be on the show. It’s always a pleasure seeing your work when that comes out, and how much of it, of what we see on, on social there is like your kind of commission work. How much of it is your your own projects, because I know that quite often when you’re working commercially, certainly with my work, you can end up with these horrible things called “NDAs”, where you’re not actually allowed to show people things.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, that’s a thing that’s definitely a thing. I mean it depends year to year. How often I would say this last year. I would say it’s about 50/50 of like paid versus personal. Some years it’s like 60/30, some years. It’s 90/10.

Joe Lenton: Wow!

Renee Robyn: It really varies wildly year to year. It’s kind of crazy.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, that is, that is quite some variation. For me, I normally tend to find it’s the interesting ones that you’re not allowed to put out there or got an embargo on it for like 6 months, by which time you’ve forgotten you’ve done it.

Renee Robyn: 100%. Yeah, no, that was that was very, very common for me back in like 2015, 2016. It’s like so much work I would do. I was just like I’m doing tons of cool [stuff], and I can’t. Sorry, and I can’t like tell anybody about it.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And then, you 6 months later, you’re thinking, oh, yeah, there was something I was gonna stick on social media. Now, where was it? What was it? 

Renee Robyn: Yeah. Which hard drive is it on? Which city was that? I don’t actually remember.

Joe Lenton: Well, because you travel for work quite a lot as well, don’t you?

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah, I did a lot quite a bit. Yeah, for a long time.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. So you know, you probably then, sort of once it’s coming off the embargo you’re in a different country. You don’t necessarily even got your hard drive with you.

Renee Robyn: 100%. Yeah, so I did, I did start storing huge amounts of projects. And like the finished work anyways on like different online places. Just so that I could be like, okay, when the embargo lifts, I can at least access it. I started started doing that just for my own sanity.

Joe Lenton: So, speaking of different countries, I’ve read somewhere that you actually like learning languages.

Renee Robyn: I do actually, yeah, I’m terrible at a bunch of them.

Joe Lenton: I kind of suspect that you’ve probably learned lots of phrases to do with cats. Is that right?

Renee Robyn: Hmm! That is true. Yeah. There was once upon a time when I was traveling a lot I could say cat and order chicken in 9 languages.

Joe Lenton: Excellent. Yeah, I’m sure that’s very useful.

Renee Robyn: Well, yeah, not so much. The ordering chicken part, yes, but the being able to say cat, I mean, because I just whenever I see a cat somewhere, I’m just like “cat!” Like there’s always just like seeing a cat out in the wild. That’s like a friendly cat that’s like, hey, what’s up? It’s just like seeing just like seeing the first cat for the first time every time. You’re just like get that kitty! And it likes me. Please don’t have fleas!

Joe Lenton: There is that, yeah. Sometimes the friendly ones you can’t be too sure…

Renee Robyn: Yeah.

Joe Lenton: It’s one of those things that a lot of people tend to shy away from learning different languages. Certainly the Brits have this kind of reputation for their version of speaking French is actually just to talk English louder.

Renee Robyn: I’ve been there.

Joe Lenton: So it’s quite an unusual thing for somebody to take an interest in languages. Is that something you’ve always had like through school and so on? Or is that something that’s developed later?

Renee Robyn: Well, I mean being in Canada we have to do French and English all through school and so I did that and kind of fought my way through it, cos I don’t like anybody telling me what I have to do. But I have like a decent foundation for French, not so much to communicate back, but at least to kind of understand what’s being said to me. And then I started traveling a lot for work, and you know I was spending a lot of time in the Netherlands and in Germany, and stuff like that. And so I was just like, well, I guess I should get at least, you know, to a similar point of being able to sort of understand what’s being said to me, and then communicating back in English. And then I was just like, well, it’d be better if I could communicate back in those languages. But yeah, I actually, I use it mostly for for stress reduction. So I get the end of the night. Every single night I’ll spend about half an hour working on one language or another. So right now I’m working on Spanish, French, Dutch, German and then I’m learning the Arabic and Russian alphabet.

Joe Lenton: That’s tricky. Yeah. Yeah, that is tricky. I did once you start getting into different alphabets it’s a whole new ball game. And when you start getting into stuff that’s not read from like left to right, that instead goes from right to left or something, it’s like Whoa! Messing with the brain.

Renee Robyn: Well, Arabic actually reminds me a little bit of learning shorthand. When I was younger my mom taught me some shorthand. I mean, shorthand basically works in vowels, like, you know, sound shapes, right? So it can transfer. I can transfer to any language. But yeah, Arabic reminds me a little bit of of learning shorthand, even though you know I learned how to spell Teddy bear. I don’t know how to say it yet, but… Interesting! What I think is really fun, and what makes Arabic so difficult is that the the letters on them on their own make one shape, but then you put it into a word, and the whole shape changes, and I was just like oh, man, this is gonna be a long road!

Joe Lenton: Does that have like extra little dots and marks and things for vowels? Because I think Hebrew does, doesn’t it? Yeah.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah, it does a little bit of that. I don’t know much about Hebrew. But yeah, it’s a yeah. It’s Hebrew was also also on list, so I don’t know. I’ve got enough going on right now with these days, so 

Joe Lenton: But it sounds like it with all those languages, I mean, as long as you can order a beer and something to eat wherever you are, you’re fine.

Renee Robyn: And find out where the bathroom is.

Joe Lenton: Yeah!

Renee Robyn: Basically something to eat, something to drink, “thank you” and “where’s the bathroom?” Those are like the 4 phrases you should learn in any language wherever you’re traveling to.

Joe Lenton: That sounds like you were brought up very well. Very polite.

Renee Robyn: Canadian, we say, thank you, and sorry for everything.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. Brits apologize an awful lot, too. Its like, you know, somebody bumps into you and spills your pint, you say “sorry”, for some reason.

Renee Robyn: Oh, I apologized to a stool the other day. I knocked it over. I was like, “Oh, my God! I’m sorry.” And I was like its a stool it doesn’t care.

Joe Lenton: There’s not even anybody on it.

Renee Robyn: Yes exactly. There was nobody home.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, I mean, my background when I was at university initially was with languages. Its how I met my wife.

Renee Robyn: Amazing.

Joe Lenton: So you know, I’ve got quite an interest in languages myself. So hearing somebody else learning them and doing it for fun, because most people, when you say you’ve done more than one language, they just go, “Oh, no way!” Not gonna touch that. And you think that you do it to de-stress, not because actually, you really feel like putting your brain through the ringer. You somehow find it de-stressing.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah, no, I do. I find it really relaxing. I mean, sometimes it stresses me out like learning some of the Russian alphabet confuses the crap out of me because there’s the same letters, but they don’t make the same sounds and my brain especially because it’s at night, and I’m going to bed and I’m de-stressing my brain just short circuits. And it’s just like, “Why can’t I get this right?” So that one can sometimes stress me out a little bit. But it is really fun watching, because I watch a lot of foreign documentaries and stuff like that, and like foreign films and so I love being able to listen to them. Be like oh, “I knew that word!” Like I don’t know what else, they said, but I knew that word.

Joe Lenton: Blah, blah, blah… Cat… Blah, blah, blah, Chicken.

Renee Robyn: Exactly yeah, or even like simple words like that, or it or there or them, you know. And it’s it’s like, oh, that’s really fun, because last week, when I watched the episode of this previously, I didn’t understand any of the words, and now I understand some of them. And so it’s starting to happen as well with Arabic. Like we have a large Arabic community, especially where I live. I’m really close to an Islamic Academy. And so there’s lots of Arabic signs, you know, small businesses, small businesses and stuff. And I’m starting to be like, oh, I know that letter. I finally know that letter.

Joe Lenton: It’s supposed to be actually quite good for keeping your brain sort of refreshing itself and growing new sort of neural pathways and things like that, apparently, as well.

Renee Robyn: Actually one of the big reasons why I started it is a couple of years ago a woman, blew a stop sign and T-Boned the car that my mom and I were in, and I got concussion from it. And it’s you know I’ve had. This is not my first one, unfortunately. So the the effects are getting more and more compounding. And so I had a lot of complications from it. And I was just like, you know what like. I was talking to the concussion clinic, and I was like, what can I do? And they were like, brain games are great, and I was like, how about languages? Because I hadn’t been traveling as much the last couple of years, and therefore, like, you know, using the Dutch and German that I knew I wasn’t in the Netherlands or Germany. I haven’t been over in like 4 years, which is like hard to imagine, because I used to be over there for, like 3 or 4 months a year.

Joe Lenton: Oh wow.

Renee Robyn: For around like 12 years. So to not have that anymore, I was just like I could feel because my social media is also set up because I set up when I was overseas like a long time ago. So it’s set up that whoever I’m communicating with whatever their Facebook is set to mine switches to that language which is really fun. I don’t know how it happened. Like when I’m talking to my Dutch friends, my Facebook switches to Dutch. When I’m talking to my German friends. it switches to German. When I’m talking to my Polish friends that gets super confusing because I don’t know anything about Polish.

Joe Lenton: I didn’t know you could even do that. So that’s interesting.

Renee Robyn: I don’t know how it happened, but it is a thing so like, you know, their notifications will show up in the native language, and so it’s, it’s like, it’s interesting for me. So I said, You know, okay, well, what about languages? And they said, languages are great, and I was like perfect. So I’ve got 2 apps on my phone. One of them I basically I use Duolingo, which I find is like, mostly just like the gamification of learning. It’s not so formal. I don’t think people who speak those languages naturally speak that formally, but it’s still good, for, like learning the words. And you know some grammar and stuff like that. But then I also, I basically Googled, I was like, what are the best language apps for learning if you want to become a polyglot and Speakly kept coming up on top. And so I got Speakly. And I was like, Oh, yeah, this is like a whole other level, like, if you’re interested in learning other languages. Speakly, it’s very, very good, because it’s based off of the most, fourth, the most commonly spoken 4,000 phrases in any language.

Joe Lenton: Ah, right.

Renee Robyn: And so it’s it’s really, really interesting that way. And so I like to compare you know, like how Duo will teach me how to speak something versus how Speakly will.

Joe Lenton: It doesn’t always start out with, “how do I get to the train station, please?” And stuff like that that we always used to have in our textbooks, at school.

Renee Robyn: No, that is definitely some of it, for sure. There’s a lot of train stations.

Joe Lenton: The interesting thing that I’ve found having come from a sort of a language background is, and I wonder how true this is for you with the way that you think, is that for me images are kind of another form of communication. So I think of an image as again kind of saying something with how you put it together. So not that there’s necessarily a strict grammar, but you know you can learn to read images. You can learn what kind of symbols and colours and things play what kind of roles.

Renee Robyn: Interesting. I’ve never actually thought of that before. That’s that’s a very interesting perspective.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it’s probably a fairly nerdy one. I doubt very many people would bother to go down that route and all. But I think when you’re trying to put something together, especially like for an advertising image or something that’s got to tell a story quite quickly. You want everything in there to contribute to that in in a positive way. So yeah, I suppose for me, it’s it’s a little bit like thinking, how can I say something concisely without going on and on and on for ages. How can I get an image in a way to do that sort of thing visually.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah. I mean, I should think about it because I make images for a living. But yeah, that’s that’s an interesting an interesting thought, especially how it relates to to languages. I’m gonna marinate on that. That’s fun for me. My brain is like puzzle piece, install.

Joe Lenton: Well, if you, if you want to get super nerdy with that, there’s this thing called semiotics, which is a subdiscipline of linguistics, and so on, which looks at basically how we have systems of signs to communicate with. It’s initially applied to languages. But it’s also something that you can use to apply visually, culturally. And so some things are like a kind of a direct representation.

Renee Robyn: I’m writing that word down right now.  I’m just moving my tea out of the way there’s a piece of paper. Semiotics.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, you can guarantee the rest, the listeners will be switching off about now. But we’re having fun. Yeah. You’ve got like, sort of the main types there’ss one which is kind of like if you have, like a little picture of a tree, an oak tree which is standing in for a tree that’s a kind of almost like a one to one correlation, and in other instances you might have something like a footprint, which is called an indexical sign which points to something beyond itself. So it points to is that was that a male or a female person, a child, an adult who made that footprint and so on. And then you’ve got the really sort of abstract symbolic ones. And a lot of language works in a very similar way, but it’s an interesting one. Wake up at the back there!! No, it’s an interesting one for putting together images, I think.

Renee Robyn: Yeah. So that’s that’s the difference between, like someone like me who’s getting taught by the Internet to speak languages and someone who went to school for languages.

Joe Lenton: Well, I wouldn’t say…

Renee Robyn: Comprehension is very different than the application of it.

Joe Lenton: I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily very typical because we didn’t do. We did do some linguistics. And so, and that at university, when when I did the languages. So we did, Chomsky, and drawing these funny little diagrams and all that kind of stuff which is like not useful at all.

Renee Robyn: But it’s interesting. Chomsky’s very interesting.

Joe Lenton: I just have this this bookshelf full of things that I know that nobody is ever gonna nick because nobody else will wanna read them but me. So I don’t have to worry about finding out who I’ve leant a book to, because people look at my shelf and go, “nah, you’re alright.”

Renee Robyn: It’s like that book of CDs when your car gets broken into, and they don’t take the CDs. And you’re just like, but….?

Joe Lenton: What have you got against my taste in music?

Renee Robyn: Exactly, but no like the interesting thing you’re mentioning about like say, saying things concisely, and you know, without rambling on and on and on. I’m working on my art book right now, and I’m getting a crash course in writing, because, of course, I’m not a writer. So, and this book is largely there’s not a lot of writing in it. There’s about 10,000 words so far, so it’s not very much, but still I ramble, and then I read it back to myself, and my eyes glaze over halfway through. And I’m just like, Oh, God! I need an editor.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, that’s kind of I suppose the litmus test, really, if you’re reading it back and you’re bored, then…

Renee Robyn: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Joe Lenton: Your readers are not going to be enjoying it, probably so…

Renee Robyn: Nobody’s gonna care. Yeah.

Joe Lenton: How’s the image side of that going, then?

Renee Robyn: Oh, it’s good, I mean, I have been torn on how many images to put in the book. So I was like, Oh, this is, gonna be a 300 page book. And so I culled down the images in it from 3,200 down to about 400 images. Which means right now it’s a 400 page book which is a hundred pages over than what I planned, and I was like, no, and I still have to put words in somewhere and like, Oh, no. So I’m talking to the book designer that I’m bringing on about this, and just like, “How do we do this?” You know, because not all these images, not all these images, have to be full page, but some of them should be double page right? And this is where, like I’m I find and this is not meant to be, you know, kicking down on myself or anything like that. But there’s something about when you make a book, and you put all of your work together and you go, “Oh, wow! No, you like centre composition way too much.” Cos if I’m gonna put anything double spread it’s like right through the middle of a person.

Joe Lenton: Oh no!

Renee Robyn: Mistakes were made. I chose poorly.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, that does make that rather difficult. Especially if it’s not a lay flat, you know.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, exactly. Well, at 400 pages there’s no way you can make it a lay flat like it’s..

Joe Lenton: Not really!

Renee Robyn: No. It’s too big. I talked to the printer.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, no, I chose poorly. So I’m having to make design choices now, going like I had planned on this book being a vertical book. And so I have the cover art design for a vertical book. And now I’m going “crap! Maybe I need to make it horizontal.” So I’m gonna have to call up my cover artist and be like I love your work so much. How much to do it a second time? But like horizontal instead. I’m so sorry.

Joe Lenton: It’s a steep learning curve when you do anything like that, isn’t it?

Renee Robyn: Oh, my God, yeah, yeah. You’re just like here. There’s no water wings. Learn to swim. You’re just like [blub, blub, blub]

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: Taking in water.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. And the thing is just because you can like compose a decent image doesn’t necessarily mean you can like compose a page in a book. It’s a different skill.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, 100% like, I do not know anything about book design, which is why I have hired a book designer. You know, I talked to some friends who have done books, and one of them he told me the story about how and we’re working with the same book designer cause I love how she laid out his book! She did just such an incredible job. It’s exquisite. His name is Steve Richard. He does like these incredible art nude books, and one of them is called Aerial, and it’s just like chef’s kiss. It’s stunning. So shout out for that book. It is incredible, incredible work. But anyways. So he started like mucking around with the book design and being like, you know, like, Oh, but what if we tried this so? And what if we tried this? And what if we tried this? And he sent the samples out to some friends that he trusted. And the friends were fortunately very honest with him, and they were like “what is going on with these pages?” And he’s like, Oh, well, you know, I thought, and they’re just like, don’t don’t think. Just just let her do it get out of the way.

And so that’s exactly what I’m gonna do with this book as well is just be like when I send everything over to her. I’m just gonna be like, do your thing. If I notice anything jarringly out of place, like the wrong text is with the wrong image. That’s different. But you know, maybe if she makes those decisions it might be for a better reason where, like, maybe, that paragraph actually fits better with a different image than the one that I thought it would, right? She’s gonna look at it from a completely different skill set. So I’m really excited and or terrified to see what she’s gonna say. And then I’m also very terrified of the amount of red ink that I get back from an editor. So a friend of mine went to journalism school. So he’s got editorial skills as well. And so I was just like, I’ll just send you everything and then, you know, just shred it. He’s like most people I do this for they don’t talk to me anymore afterwards. And I was like, I know, it’s okay. I’m not that sensitive about this. I just like I need this to make more sense.

Joe Lenton: Well, it’s absolutely worth it, because you think otherwise, you’ve got your work, which you know is at a certain level, and then you’re presenting it, using a skill set which is at a far lower level.

Renee Robyn: a hundred percent.

Joe Lenton: You might as well get yeah, a partner in it that’s gonna be able to complement your contribution with their contribution at the same level and give you a final product that you can be really proud of.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, exactly. And actually, one thing that I’ve started doing with some of this stuff with some of the sentences, cause I noticed every now and then I’ll write like those old British paragraphs where it’s like an entire paragraph is one sentence. And you’re just like no. Like, no.

Joe Lenton: That sounds very German as well, where they just seem to go on and on and on, and I was, like, you know, find the verb, and then eventually you’ll find the full stop as well.

Renee Robyn: Exactly! Exactly because I read a bunch of like old English books every now and then, and sometimes, man, I can get like half a page. And like, Okay, I need a break. It’s like so long. I have some sentences that can kind of run on like that. And I hate it and I’m just like okay, I mean, you hear how much I say, “like” when I’m communicating English. So this is not. I did well in English in school, but I did not go to university for it. So anyways, I started running through these paragraphs, and like some of the sentences I’ve been running it through Chat GPT being like, Hey, can you take this, but make it like more concise and a little more reader-friendly, and then I’ll read what it says, and then, like there’s every now and then I’m just like, Oh, that’s actually a better way to phrase that part of that sentence, and I can cut out like, I’m not gonna copy the whole thing because Chat GPT is just not that good.

Joe Lenton: No, there are times when it can do things well. Yeah.

Renee Robyn: But it does help. Like it takes the edge off. And I think what it does is it takes the edge off the editor of all the bleeding eyes he’s gonna have reading an atrocious grammatical hot, like hot mess that I’m sending him.

Joe Lenton: It’s a funny old thing, though, with the AI and the Chat GPT a prime sort of example, you know. Sometimes people type in there, “Oh, write this as if you were a college professor.” And you think it doesn’t know what that is. It can’t pretend it’s an expert in something, and it and it doesn’t know it’s not an expert in it, either. It just blurts stuff out. And it doesn’t give you anything that necessarily makes any sense, but it just it’s super confident. There you go!

Renee Robyn: Yeah, exactly, but I have found that it has been quite helpful, though, in just you know, if I’m not sure of a sentence, or like the sentence structure doesn’t really make sense. But I don’t know enough and how to fix it myself, and I’m still trying to make it just like a little bit easier for the guy who’s doing the editing to just like, you know. Just take this paragraph or take this this page even sometimes I’ll have it just like, go through the whole page and just say, Make this a little bit more reader-friendly, or make this a little bit less flowery. And then there’s usually like parts of a sentence in there where I’m just like, okay, yeah, that arrangement of words skips out all this stuff here that I don’t actually need, and then I keep both. 

So I’ve decided that I’ve like, I’ll just keep both copies of it. And I send both of them now, instead of like, I’m sending both versions to the guy who’s doing the editing being like, and it very clearly, being like “this is the one that I cleaned up. And this is the raw page. So you can just throw this out if you want, like. You don’t even have to look at it. I’m fine. I don’t care.” But at least so that they’re both there, because sometimes the other thing that can happen that I’ve noticed when I’m editing down the words is, I will edit it down too far and then it loses the thing that makes it sound like me, you know? Whether I’m using like Chat GPT, or just like through my own culling of words of just being like, yeah, that’s too flowery. That’s too this. That’s too that. It’s like every now and then it can be a little bit flowery with the words, and that’s okay. But I don’t really know enough, you know, sentence structure to to build that in eloquently. I don’t think, anyways. I’m really good at writing funny Facebook posts. And that’s about where it starts and stops.

Joe Lenton: Well, that has its place. Yes, but with the actual images that are going in there – is there a particular structure to it? Is it telling a story over a period of time or is it a secret?

Renee Robyn: No, this is this is no, no, it’s not a secret at all. No, this is basically the best – my favourite work from the last 15 years. So yeah. And I can’t say my favourite, because there’s there’s a bunch of favourites in there that didn’t make the cut that like, I have these like great emotional connections to, but the work isn’t quite, it doesn’t when I put it with the rest of it, it kinda stands out. And it’s like, Okay, why are you there like, I love you. But I’m sorry, bye! But yeah, so this is a digital art book. And then I’m also working on the next book that’s gonna come out afterwards that’s a Shibari book.

Joe Lenton: Oh, right, that’s that’s the one way you’re dangling people on a rope, isn’t it? 

Renee Robyn: Yes. Yeah.

Joe Lenton: As you can see, I’ve got lots of technical understanding of that. Yeah, that sounds a bit like you’re hanging them in your studio. But no.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, I mean, we are, but not by their neck most of the time…. Most of the time!

Joe Lenton: Depends how the day goes.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Were you good or bad? Kidding! Our shoots are not like that. They’re so clinical.

Joe Lenton: So how is your new studio cause you’ve recently had to move into a new one? Are you enjoying that? Are you settling in OK?

Renee Robyn: So I still haven’t decided on which one I’m gonna use monthly. There’s 2 studios that I found. So again when the building got sold at my old place. That was like heart-breaking, but also for a hundred percent the right reasons. The guy who owns it owes us nothing, and he provided an incredible space for many, many years longer than he needed to. So I’m very, very grateful for the time in there. But I just miss it so much because it was so unique. Same with the studio that I had prior to that one. It was very unique. It was this big, large cove wall with tall ceilings and stuff. And yeah, I mean, what’s crazy is how different the work looks when the studios change. 

And I’ve been spoiled for so long like it’s same thing as when I moved into the the one that I just moved out of. So when the previous studio closed. Because they basically doubled our price per square foot when the lease was up. And we’re like, Nope, we’re out. But so moved into the to the next one, and I had a really hard time figuring out how to make the work that I wanted to make in a new space because the light moves differently studio to studio, right? Like you’re just like, Oh, but light control, but it behaves differently when you have a different amount of space to work with, especially with the type of work that I like to do, which is, I like to shoot back quite a ways. I like to shoot full length at 135mm if I can. Right now, there isn’t a studio that I found that I can do that in. So I’m like, Okay, that’s fine like this is an opportunity to change.

Joe Lenton: You just need one with the door at the back there, so you can open the door and disappear down into the car park. I’ve kind of got that with mine. It’s not big enough to shoot at that focal length, unfortunately, but I disappear down into the kitchen through the door.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Joe Lenton: It’s like nothing against you as a model or anything. But I’m just gonna go through to the kitchen so I can use a longer focal length through the doorway. 

Renee Robyn: Yeah, 100%. And that’s like all totally a thing so like one of the studios that I’m in the the longest I can shoot is a 50, and I’m like [grrr!] I hate this. But also it’s giving me an opportunity for the for the work to look different. And that’s okay. Right? Like it is forcing me to change and forcing me to look at the work differently. And I’m very slow to that. I’m very slow to these types of changes. I’m very glacial cause I’m just like I have my way of doing things, and I don’t wanna change it. And  then it’s like, well, you have to change and like, I don’t wanna change. And I’m like but you have to change. And I’m like, I don’t want to change. And then eventually, you’re just like, alright fine. We’ll change.

Joe Lenton: Well, yeah, in those situations like that, you don’t have much choice. So how does, how about when you’re doing commercial work? Because some clients can be quite picky in what they want to specify. Others can potentially give you quite a lot of freedom and say, do your thing with it. How are your clients generally with that? Are they quite controlling? Have you had a lot of freedom, or have you had to work in quite tight boxes?

Renee Robyn: I actually haven’t taken commercial work yet this year. Like, at least on the on the scale that requires what I had. Because I haven’t got a space that I can do that work in right now. So I’ve just been very honest with the clients of just being like, Hey, you know, like I’m looking for space. When I find it, I’ll let you know. So yeah, that is like the downside of having, like a highly specified, very unique studio like what we had. Is that like, okay, we’re kind of scrambling here like there is a there’s a film studio on the west end of town. That’s brand new. And so. But the the rental fee on that is like several several several thousand dollars a day, which is fine, because it’s an incredible space, and it will do exactly what I need. But that also means that like when the commercial studio, the commercial jobs start coming. It’s like, okay. So remember how you know studio rental fees used to be $1,000 a day. They’re going to be closer to like 5 or $8,000 a day now. And so if you’re cool with that, then like, let’s go ahead. But if you’re not, then these are the workarounds, and these are the sacrifices that we’re gonna have to make. So yeah.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, so in the past, then. So when you’ve worked in your studio, they very much wanted the look that you create in there. They’re very much commissioning you for that. What about in terms of stylistic input and that into a into a commercial project? Do you have you had much say with your commercial clients? Do they give you much freedom with thinking about the style and the overall look of the image?

Renee Robyn: It depends client to client. Some of them might get a lot of freedom, and some of them I get no freedom whatsoever, and I’m fine with either/or. Because sometimes, if they have, I mean, it is the nicest thing to work with an excellent art director. When they’re just like this is what we want to do. Like, that is a really good idea. I love that. Let’s make that happen. And you can kinda just get to be like a cog in a wheel, and that actually can feel really nice sometimes. Cause then you’re not just like it’s not all the pressure is on you, but also it can be on the flip side, can be very frustrating when you have an art director who’s maybe new, or like your styles are very, very opposite, and you’re both just trying to like force each other into these these boxes and these shapes. And you know everybody’s just kind of uncomfortable the whole time, you know. It’s kind of like, you know, you’re rubbing the fur on a cat the wrong way where they’re just like [ugh!]

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: Like, nobody’s actually mad. But everyone’s just like, why are you doing it that way?

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, so you just kinda like, buck up and shut up and just be like, okay, yeah, let’s do it. Terrible idea. But let’s do it.

Joe Lenton: So how’s your motivation when you go to a shoot like that? And does it vary, perhaps, with other types of shoots? Because some people can find it very difficult if they don’t have creative control and other people. It’s like, well I’ve got bills to pay as long as you pay me some money, don’t care, and there can be all sorts of different places in between. What do you think is is driving you when you do that kind of work?

Renee Robyn: I like having a balance of both. Like I said, I’m totally fine if someone’s got like a very specific idea of what they want. I actually kind of, I kind of like the control freaks sometimes, because all I have to do is deliver exactly what they want.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: And so long as they can communicate to me exactly what they want, which is the key. So some people have exactly what they want, but they don’t know how to communicate it. That’s less common in the commercial world, but it still happens. That can get frustrating. But so long as so long as you have a control freak, who’s just like like you know, when you’ve got it. There’s no guesswork. You’re just like sweet, awesome. We have to do that perfect. Let’s go, you know, this is how we set it up. This is it, and like, and it’s just done. But then the creative control stuff also could be it can also be really exciting and really freeing. But I also find that can be sometimes more anxious because they’re looking for your interpretation, but they still have an idea of what they want in their head. And so I have to get that out of them, so that I can take that information and use that as like my soup, base.

Joe Lenton: Yes.

Renee Robyn: To like add my own stuff in afterwards. And then it’s a lot more communication back and forth of like. What do you think of this? What do you think of this? Because there’s nothing worse than someone just being like, “oh, just do whatever do whatever you want, do whatever you want.” And then you do whatever you want. And they’re like, that’s not really what I imagined. You’re just like cool. Right on. That’s a wasted day.

Joe Lenton: Exactly. Yeah, I tend to say to to people who get inquiries through emails that basically are just saying, I’ve got this product that needs photographing. How much is it going to cost? I say, don’t answer that with a price.

Renee Robyn: Never.

Joe Lenton: Don’t do it because you just you don’t know what that person’s got in their head. Get as detailed a brief as you can, get them to break it down. Cause, as you say, once you have created an image, and you can tick off all those things on the brief you know in your head that you’re gonna be fine. If they say, oh, yeah, you know, just just take us a photo of it and do your thing. And you do that. And they go. Yeah, but not that.

Renee Robyn: Yes. Yeah. Exactly. 100%. It’s so frustrating, so frustrating.

Joe Lenton: I think it’s one of the key parts of the job is actually getting into a deeper conversation before you talk numbers or anything else. And for me, if they’re not willing to do that then chances are I’m not going to work with them. 

Renee Robyn: Yeah. No 100%. That’s exactly right. Yeah, definitely, getting as as detailed a brief as possible. I even tell people like, well, I can’t really find anything online. And I’m like, then just go to Mid-Journey, man, Let’s start there. Just be like, okay, you want this like bottle of water like this like bottle product, or whatever splashing in water with a blue background. Okay, that’s pretty generic. There’s a lot of ways we can do that. Do you want it vertically? Do you want it horizontally? Do you like just like, give me something. So I’m always asking for like mood boards like hook me up with a mood board, and there, you know, if it’s a good commercial companies, particularly through an agency or something they usually have all that stuff like locked down, and that usually comes in like within the first 2 or 3 conversations back and forth. 

You know, once they figure out like, Okay, this is someone that we could work with. Okay, fine but then, you know, you always have to have the conversations of like, I even work… So basically, how, how my pricing works is. I have a day rate and then and that even goes for like boudoir people, like aerialists, like individuals who want to hire me for their own work, for their head shots, or whatever. I have a day rate, and I just like cut up how much time they want, including editing for day, rate. So, if they want to do like a 45 min headshot session. And then, you know, editing is, gonna take 45 min. And I’m like, Okay, you’re paying for, you know, 2 and a half hours, because there’s also I’m gonna include time for the emails going back and forth, and that’s fine, and I’m cool with that, because that’s how long the job takes. And then commercial clients. But then with commercial clients there also comes usage right and so.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: That’s a thing that a lot of people really miss out on. And a lot of companies now are really pushing for, they’re like, “Oh, we want all the rights.” I’m like, do you know how much money that’s gonna cost you, my dear friend? To have all of the rights?

Joe Lenton: They don’t need it either. They often ask for far more than they need in that regard.

Renee Robyn: It’s usually interns that are asking those questions that they don’t know any better, you know. So they don’t understand how this works. And so you’re just, yeah. It’s it’s a whole thing.

Joe Lenton: Yeah. And then you get the the interesting ones with product photography sometimes who say, “Oh, what, you know, what’s your day rate? Oh, great. Okay. You could do our entire product line of a hundred things in a day, couldn’t you?

Renee Robyn: Absolutely not!

Joe Lenton: Errm, no. And by the way, a day is not midnight to midnight.

Renee Robyn: Exactly. Right? Yeah. A day is 8 hours, and if I really like you, I might push it to 10. But that’s it.

Joe Lenton: So, having quite a sort of I always send over I call it an agreement because a contract sounds a bit scary, but it essentially, it’s a contract. And it tells them all this kind of stuff. And I think that that’s one of those things that when people start out, especially in the sort of commercial side of photography, it’s dangerous if you don’t really have that because you’re going to get taken for a ride.

Renee Robyn: 100%. Yeah. And the other thing that can happen a lot is you can get, well you will get sent contracts from from clients as well. That’s just the nature of it. Normally, a contract in my experience, goes both ways. You send them one, and they send you one, and we both look through it with a fine tooth comb and go like all right, which ways… I don’t know if you’re like this, but one of my favourite things with contracts is reading them, and because it’s like a company’s bad breakup history.

Joe Lenton: Yes!

Renee Robyn: Being like that is an interesting clause. I’ve never seen that before.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it’s like, why are you asking for that? 

Renee Robyn: What was the situation that made that necessary?

Joe Lenton: Exactly what’s happened there. Yeah, something’s gone really wrong, hasn’t it?

Renee Robyn: Highly suspect. I will sometimes straight out, ask, I will sometimes like, and I’m just like what happened that made this very niche thing necessary? like, “Oh, yeah, no. We had this in the past.” I’m like, I never would have thought of that. That’s crazy. Like, yeah, no problem. But also the other thing people have to remember is that contracts are negotiable. So if you see something in the contract that they’re sending you, you can negotiate on it. You have to be willing to walk away. But you can negotiate on these things. So that’s the other thing that a lot of people when they’re starting out they just like, get these contracts. And they’re just like, “Well, I guess they have to sign it.” And sometimes you just have to sign it like they’re not gonna wiggle or anything. But you always check, always check, because every now and then, like what you’re doing is niche enough or specific enough that all that other junk that they’re asking for isn’t always necessary.

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. There’ll be times when you’ll be batting back and forth, arguing about payment terms and things like that. And sometimes big companies have got the process that you’ve got to get on as a supplier, and so on, and so forth. Whereas a small company might be able to pay you next week. But it’s finding that common ground, if possible, with people. And but yeah, you will always find the odd client that just those are the terms. Take it or leave it and you’ve gotta then decide whether you’re willing to work in that way,  and whether in a few years time you’re willing for them still to be using your work, and you’re getting nothing for it.

Renee Robyn: That’s exactly right. Yeah, we had. We had a an opportunity come up, and it was a massive, like a huge company clothing company. And they wanted 10 images that they could print in their flagship stores that were in Tokyo, in London, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Amsterdam. Somewhere else, anyways, it was like 10 or 12 cities around the world, and they’re all. Oh, Los Angeles is another one. So these are like big high traffic stores. Huge traffic stores.

Joe Lenton: Lot of eyeballs on those.

Renee Robyn: 10 images. They wanted to have them up in the stores for a year. And you know what their budget was?

Joe Lenton: Hit me with it.

Renee Robyn: Guess.

Joe Lenton: Oh, well…

Renee Robyn: 10 images for a year. Most popular stores in the world.

Joe Lenton: And this is just to have them up. This is not to have them shot as well. Or is this just the license.

Renee Robyn: They’re licensing, pre-existing work.

Joe Lenton: Oh, okay, I see.

Renee Robyn: The work had already been shot. They knew which images they wanted.

Joe Lenton: $1,000, an image?

Renee Robyn: $3,000, period.

Joe Lenton: What?!

Renee Robyn: Yup. For all the stores.

Joe Lenton: For the whole lot?

Renee Robyn: For the all 10 images, every single store. Not $3000 a store. $3,000. I was like, “Absolutely not!” You’re gonna spend more in glue than you would spend on the licensing. And I was like, no. I was like, I’ll cut you a deal and say $5,000 a store.

Joe Lenton: Wow, yeah, I mean, when you think about what it costs to like just to put an advert in not even a national or an international magazine, you know, and it’s like a half a page thing or something what gets charged for that. And then they’re trying to get away with that for something on that kind of scale? Which is, can it get that many eyeballs on it? You think no.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah. And they weren’t gonna and they and then it was like, well, can we? So the negotiations process starts, right? We’re just like that is a number that doesn’t exist. Absolutely. No, no. And it’s like, Well, okay, can we put the photographer name on the images on the corner, somewhere visible. Then that’s that might count for something right? Where you’re just like you can die of exposure! But, like.

Joe Lenton: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

Renee Robyn: There, you know. There’s then there’s a little bit of back and forth here, right? Because there’s other companies that will do that. You know. A friend of mine works for a big outdoor company, and it always says, in the bottom of every single billboard, the bottom of every single store, everything shot by so and so. And so it’s like, Okay, maybe that’s what we can do here. And like, “Nope, not doing that. This is the rate.” And it was just like on one hand, you’re like, oh, yeah, all of my work could be like in all these amazing stores around the world. And also I feel so used.

Joe Lenton: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Renee Robyn: So used. And he just like, Yeah, I know. Yeah, the $3,000 would be super helpful right now. But like, I feel so used. And you know, somebody’s gonna take that. Someone is, gonna take that and it’s so wrong.

Joe Lenton: That is the problem with the industry. Is that because it’s kind of hobbies that evolve into businesses a lot of the time when people starting out and enjoying it, or perhaps even just because they’re desperate, will accept these sort of ridiculous terms. I mean, if you think that that was silly, I had a this was an intern, and they cocked up big time. They contacted me on behalf of an architect that they wanted to license an image to use because they’d they’d been involved in the design of the place. But whatever reason they weren’t involved in the photo shoot or anything like that. And they wanted to like license some images for to advertise the fact that they’d been winning awards. And this was one of the projects they’d been involved in. She said, “Oh, I’ve been doing some research online about how much it costs to license an image. We would like to offer you 50 quid.

Renee Robyn: So way!

Joe Lenton: After I looked at that and thought, hang on a minute, there’s there must be a zero missing there, at least, or something. You are you having a laugh? This is ridiculous. Where have you been looking? I said. Even if you go on to kind of one of the major sort of stock libraries, and you just like license an image of of a location just to use on your website. It’s going to cost you more than that. This is a specific image shot in a particular way to show off the building. And you’re saying you’re offering me 50 quid?

Renee Robyn: Wow, yeah, that’s rough.

Joe Lenton: They didn’t get the nicest of emails back, I mean. No, you know, I try not to burn bridges, but still it was, it was kind of. Do you realize how insulting that is?

Renee Robyn: Exactly. Yeah. And that’s a similar email that we that we sent back for this other company. It was just being like, you do realize you’re going to spend more in glue than you would on licensing these images that are going to make your store look amazing.

Joe Lenton: Well, they were going to have a one of them printed in and put up in the like where they meet with clients in the office. And I was thinking they’re going to pay more for the print than they are paying me to license to thing. No. A big fat no.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And then it’s not. Then the negotiation starts of, like, okay, yeah. So sorry. Maybe there was a typo. You might be missing a 0 on that.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, I had a bit of a grovelling phone call afterwards from the one of the owners of this of the architectural firm. It’s like, I’m sorry we shouldn’t have let the intern loose on that. They thought they were being clever, doing some research and all that. And I was like, Yeah…

Renee Robyn: Yeah, well, exactly. And that’s I think that’s exactly what happened in this case. Was the same thing. I had a record label do the same thing. They gave, the intern was the one doing the negotiating, and they were like, you know, they didn’t. They just didn’t wanna even pay for the licensing. They were just like, “Oh, we really like this image of this artist. We’d love it up at our headquarters.” And I was like, yeah 100%. Like licensing fee for that is going to be about this much. Like, “oh, we just thought we could have it for free.” And I was like, but you’re a business.

Joe Lenton: Yes!

Renee Robyn: And like. And I was like, and I love these artists. And I’d be more than happy to supply the images. But you’re gonna have to pay to print them. Therefore you should be paying to license them. And it was just an intern thing, and you know the intern was like, “Well, I don’t have authority.” And I was like, Can you get me someone who does? And they just didn’t. They just stopped responding to the emails. And I was just like man, I hate dealing with interns they’re the worst because they they just don’t know. They don’t know that licensing is a thing.

Joe Lenton: Magazines can be a tricky one, because sometimes with some of my work, it might be that the client gets some kind of, and I’m not talking about an advert here. I’m just like talking like a bit of editorial or something. The client might get a little bit of publicity through it, and they’ve paid somebody to write some copy for it, and so on, and then it gets sent over to the magazine, and they, the magazine, are asking for, “oh, could we use that image in that image?” And yeah, okay what’s your standard fee that you pay for that? Oh, no, we don’t have a budget for that. So, but you sell like magazines with content in it. Where do you think this comes from? And and then you’re thinking, if I say no I risk falling out with the client, because I’m not letting them represent their work with the images. If I say yes, this magazine is just getting a load of stuff for nothing. You can get in a real pickle sometimes with these things.

Renee Robyn: That’s exactly it like. And that’s what happened with the record label. So I wound up, having like not like a major falling out, but like things change between me and the the people that I’d photographed because they were just like, “Oh, but those was our favourite images.” And I was like then, just like, get your record label to like, and I’m not asking for much here. And, like, you know, it’s I’m not asking for thousands by any stretch of the imagination, but like something. And so after that they started booking like a different photographer for more work, because I knew that she was just giving them the rights to do whatever they wanted with. And I was like cause I like, especially with musicians, I know life is is difficult for them, you know, like it’s also really hard industry to make a living in. But if you have a record label behind you they can. They can fork out a little bit of pocket change for licensing, and, you know, like again, I’m not asking for huge money, like I am, you know, a company that’s printing everything that’s going massive in stores around the world.

Joe Lenton: No.

Renee Robyn: In the most popular cities in the world, you know, like we’re talking just a few hundred bucks here and you know, and they weren’t able to do that. And I was just like man, I hate this position. I hate being in this position, and I still kick myself because, like, I really liked that relationship that I had with that client, but also same thing with that other with that other client like it hurts. It hurts to know that you’ve been taken advantage of. And then having those boundaries sometimes, yeah, it can cost you a relationship with a client. And you’re like, I don’t know which one hurts more knowing that I got taken advantage of or losing the client.

Joe Lenton: Exactly.

Renee Robyn: Yeah. So it’s it’s like, it’s a tough spot to be in. And so I really have a lot of empathy for people who have who have to go through that because everyone who’s working professionally in this field, you’re probably having to deal with that unless you have an agent, in which case your agents dealing with it. Either way, it’s it’s it’s a problem.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it’s like with I mean, I generally when I do architecture, it’s more things like for for hotels or for architects, or something like that. When I see people who are doing more on the real estate market like that, I’m thinking, look, unless you’re super healthy and in your twenties and full of life and energy, you ain’t gonna keep that up for very long. So they’re paying so little they’re dashing from property to property, to property all the way through the day. You think, no way!

Renee Robyn: No, exactly. Yeah. I’ve had some real estate agents reach out to me before and cause they’re like, “Oh, I really love your work you would do amazing job with like the houses that I have.” And I’m like, yeah 100%, like, you know, here’s my day rate. And they’re like, Oh, yeah, I know the person we use is like this much, and I’m like you should keep using them then, because there’s no way I’m showing up. That’s just not even covering the gas in my car. Absolutely not. And they’re like, and they’re doing video, and I’m like, “keep hiring them, then!”

Joe Lenton: Yeah, and drawing a floor plan. And yeah…

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah, I know. I mean, as far as I know they’re not doing that. But they are doing video work and stuff like that which is great. But yeah, like, you know, that that person… that’s a lot.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, I’m in my forties now. I’m not gonna go running around like that.

Renee Robyn: Oh, yeah. So that’s the other thing. Right? So like I’m 39, I turn 40. I turn 40 in January, and like I’m not, I’m not doing that anymore, man. Like, if you want to run around and like, if you have that in you still, by all means, my friend! You are welcome to it. I am not taking that. I’m not taking that work cause like we’ve, I think we’ve all been there too. You know, when you’re starting out and you’re hungry and you’re doing like everything you possibly can for like pocket change. And you know, yeah. And that is how you learn. And eventually you learn like this is really hard, and I am not charging enough!

Joe Lenton: Absolutely. So how do you get work in these days? Is it mainly through people approaching you? Do you have to go looking for work, pitching for work?

Renee Robyn: So my situation is a little bit more complicated these days. I’m helping look after somebody in my life who’s not well. So I have very, very, very limited amount of time that I can give to photography.

Joe Lenton: Sure.

Renee Robyn: So I have to be very precise about it, and I can’t have a lot of homework with it. So I still will take the occasional client if they reach out to me. But I’m not doing any of the traveling stuff for the last like year and a half I’ve just been here. So that changes a lot its just like, you know, how do I? How do I do this? Because I’ve never really made a huge living in my hometown. I always make my best money abroad, but I came up with this thing. It was like it started, as as many things in my life do, especially with photography, started as a joke on Facebook. And I said, I said I wonder…

Joe Lenton: Is this the 15 min of chaos thing? Is it that one? 

Renee Robyn: That’s exactly what it is.

Joe Lenton: That’s excellent that, yeah, I love that.

Renee Robyn: It started, I started as a joke, and I said, You know, okay,  I wonder if anyone would pay me to do whatever I wanted with your face. In 15 minutes or less. You show up wearing whatever you want and I have 15 min or less to get a good photo of you. Just one. And you know, I’ll charge you just for super like to start out I was just like we’ll do these super cheap at 150. So they’re up to 175 now, because it is so much work. Cause it’s basically improv portraits.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: Because I don’t know what anybody’s wearing when they show up in my studio. And I basically just like, think of something instantly of just being like, okay, this is how we’re gonna light it. And like, I don’t really care if you like it or not, I want you to like it, but I don’t know if you’re going to like it, because this is not a 2 way street of conversation. You were showing up, and I’m just like doing right like we’re throwing glitter on your face. We’re like weird lighting where it’s like whatever. And it’s 15 minutes. I literally start a timer.

Joe Lenton: You haven’t got time to do much there have you at all?  It’s quite intense.

Renee Robyn: Well, so what’s really interesting, what’s really interesting is that for most people, I can get a good portrait of them, something that they love because I shoot tethered so. And this is where I find it’s the most helpful as I shoot tethered, and I 5 star the ones where they go, “Oh, my God!” So then, I know, like I’ll pull when it comes to editing, because I’m also not letting them pick which image I’m editing. They can pick later if they want more. But I’m picking the one that that they’re gonna edit because I have no time, right? So the limitation is in my case is time, so I need to be able to like, shoot all day, edit them all that night, and by the time they wake up the next morning the job is done. Like everyone’s portraits are done because I need time to do other things.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: So that’s been like, it’s so much fun. And it is a lot of work for, admittedly, admittedly like not a ton of money really like, especially when you consider like you’re making the Facebook groups, you’re finding everybody and you’re organizing everything. And like all the pre work ahead of time. But I can do all that on my phone from wherever I am doing whatever I’m doing, right. So it’s not like I have to be on the computer, or I have to be on a location. But it is a wild, wild day.

Joe Lenton: I could only imagine. Yeah, for me, I’m just thinking, changing the lighting setups and moving everything around, and so on several times a day like that you must have some somebody assisting you to do that, don’t you?

Renee Robyn: Yeah. Oh, I need an assistant. It is absolutely impossible to do without one.

Joe Lenton: Can imagine that I’d be dead on my feet I think otherwise if I tried to do that.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah, but it is, it is really fun, you know, because then I also… So on the other, the flip side of that is that most of the time for people to hire me to photograph them individually, I cost more than what the average person can afford. So what’s been really interesting is, I’m getting to meet a whole new demographic of clients that I wouldn’t normally get to meet, because I’m outside of their price range, because I don’t have any shoot booking that you can get for under… for that price. Not even close.

Joe Lenton: But it’s a totally different product, though, isn’t it?

Renee Robyn: 100%.

Joe Lenton: So, it’s not like you’re sort of discounting what you normally do. You’ve actually set up a totally different product that works for you at that price point.

Renee Robyn: Exactly so, because I also didn’t want to devalue the people who hire me for, like the bigger, longer shoots and everything like that, right? So it’s like I want to make sure that when people hire me for a day like when an aerialist comes to me, and we spend like 5 hours together in studio, like working out poses, working out lighting, working out, you know, and like really carving out what they want. It’s a very different experience than like what people show up for, like the 15 min portrait thing. 

And I’ve had people who’ve done both. Who have hired me for like the longer sessions. And then who’ve also showed up for these ones. And they’re just like, “Oh, my God! This is a vastly different experience.” And because they also like they don’t really have input as to what its going to be right? So like, it’s kind of like somebody said, it’s like those gumball machine tattoos, you know where you like, you get the little sticker thing, and that’s what you’re getting tattooed that day. People have been kind of treating it like that, and it’s actually been really fun. And also it forces me to think differently about portraiture and portraits of like. What do I think? Because there’s all the ways that I normally would shoot portraits. And then it’s like, Okay, but if I have this free reign to play, what can I do? What am I gonna do? Right? So every single time I’ve done it now, I’ve done 3 and it’s like I pack different lighting modifiers. I pack different, different everything. Just to force myself to do something differently each time.

Joe Lenton: That’s a good idea, yeah.

Renee Robyn: Yeah. It’s fun.

Joe Lenton: Well, we can easily end up getting caught into using our favourite setups and favourite modifiers.

Renee Robyn: So guilty.

Joe Lenton: All that kind of thing. Yeah, yeah.

Renee Robyn: So guilty of that. Yeah. That is, that is something that, like, you know, I realized that I fell into the world of “competent professional” when I could show up jet lagged, tired, sick, whatever, and I could still deliver exactly what the client was looking for. And I was like, Okay, we have arrived at competency. And now, when I’m doing this 15 min portraits, it’s just like everything is an experiment again. And like, I don’t know if this is gonna work, but we’re gonna try it!

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it can give you quite a buzz, that sort of improvisation, I would have thought. You know, I sometimes do that for creative products for my own sort of thing. I mean, I’m a very sort of sedate, introverted person. So I tend to be normally, it’s me on my own, with a product in my little studio, which is not quite the same thing. But you know, I get excited in my own way and move the lights around and have a bit of fun with it. And it’s interesting when you put limitations on how that actually can fuel your creativity. I sometimes find, if I’ve got, If I give myself access to everything I can stand there scratching my head, thinking, “Well, I haven’t got a brief I’m working to here. What shall I do?” You know.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, the paralysis is real.

Joe Lenton: It’s like too much choice. Its that choice paralysis where, as soon as you start chopping the options down and say, “Okay, I’m only using grids. What am I gonna do?” That can be quite good for you, I think.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, I think so, too, I think it’s yeah. Limitations are definitely a really great way to basically jump-start everything for yourself as well. 

Joe Lenton: Yep.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, I do find, though, when I do these 15 minute portraits thing and and I have it written down in the agreement, I’m like, there is a 50% chance you’re going to hate how I photograph your face. Are you okay with that? And it’s it’s fun. Because I would say about 60 to 70% of the people that I photograph they either share the images or they get more edits. And then there’s always the like, the little percentage of people where they’re just like, Oh, yeah, no, that one was good. And I’m just like, Huh, did I do it wrong? How can I make it better next time? You know, like, and I start to internalize it. And then I’m just like Nope, Nope, don’t do that.

Joe Lenton: It’s the artist’s curse.

Renee Robyn: Not a game worth doing. 

Joe Lenton: Yeah, you don’t want to go down that route. So I mean, you must have quite a lot of kit that you’ve developed, brought in over the years to do with your when you do things like your more fantasy looks and so on. Do you end up keeping all that stuff? You know, do you have cupboards and cupboards and cupboards full of lighting modifiers and dresses, and so on, and so on? 

Renee Robyn: I have a lot. I do. I do rent slash, borrow as much as possible as well. But I do have a lot. Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, I do love to work with designers. And I work with as many as I can. But there’s also there’s so much stuff.

Joe Lenton: Are you a gear, junkie? Then do you keep going out and buying new stuff? Or are you able to keep yourself quite disciplined in what you use?

Renee Robyn: Relatively disciplined. Because at this point I have pretty much everything that I want. The only thing that I don’t have that I do want is the Photek softlighter, and I’ve never been able to find them in stock anywhere. And I would love, I would love one of those, the small one, and then a medium softlighter. I think I could. I would have a lot of fun with those. And since I switched from Alien Bees to Elinchrom. I don’t have a beauty dish anymore, and I miss having a beauty dish because I originally bought one from from Elinchrom, but it was I didn’t realize how large it was that I ordered. It was just way too big, and it was the wrong light quality, so I sold it to a friend of mine, and then I just haven’t haven’t gone to replace to replace it yet, but also storing beauty dishes such a pain. They don’t fold up, or anything.

Joe Lenton: Well, you can get those fold up ones now, can’t you? But I mean they can’t give you the same quality.

Renee Robyn: It’s slightly different light quality. It’s not same of you, cause I have. I have one that folds up, and I love it, and it does nice work, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same.

Joe Lenton: I can imagine, yeah. I’ve never tried them myself. But yeah, I can imagine that it – the shape, the material, the colour it all makes. It all makes a difference, you know, whether it’s got white interior silver interior…

Renee Robyn: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, it all changes it. And you know the the shape of it. And it’s just different. It’s just different. So the first time I really noticed the difference on that – a friend of mine has a Mola beauty dish, and I was at the time I was still shooting Alien Bees, so I had my own. And I had just shot with mine the day before, and then I worked with his the next day. And I was like, “Oh, there actually is like a pretty decent difference here in light quality.” Cause I was just like, why would you spend so much on a modifier what is wrong with you? That’s bananas. And then, after shooting with it, I was like, alright like I’m I’m still not gonna buy it, but like that actually is pretty nice light.

Joe Lenton: There is that danger that you see something, and you think that could fuel my creativity, I could do that with it. I could do this with it. But I think at the same time, once you’ve been in business a while, you start to realize… actually, that’s not always going to be the best use of your money. So you know, for you at this stage, where  you’re at at the moment. If you had a sort of a spare chunk of cash to invest in your business, where would you put it? Would it go into kit? Or would it go into something else?

Renee Robyn: That’s a super good question, I mean, I guess it depends on how big the chunk of cash was.

Joe Lenton: Oh, pretty big. I say, dream dream big, you know.

Renee Robyn: I would build my dream studio and I know exactly what it would look like. I know exactly what it would look like. I have everything plotted out in my brain exactly what I want and how I would want it to look. Yeah, I would, just yeah, if money was no object, and it wouldn’t even cost that much money to build, really. You know, just getting a like a big square box, basically.

Joe Lenton: Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Studios just – it is just a box. And you could use like an old barn or something like that, potentially depending on the ceiling and everything, obviously. But you can adapt to these old buildings to that. I think. It’s one of those things that occasionally my wife and I think about is “Would that be a good investment for the future?” So that when I retire I can then sell that, you know.

Renee Robyn: Yeah.

Joe Lenton: So it’s a tricky, tricky decision, because it’s a huge investment. So I think, unless the money really is spare, you’re thinking, hmm.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, exactly. I want to spend, you know, half a million dollars building a space, you know, or buying one and retrofitting it because I mean even the most basic of retrofits, even if you’re getting a commercial bay, you know that you can drive vehicles in and out of still gonna cost you about a hundred grand to set that up, and that’s cheap, you know, to like you get the cove built and everything like that. Get everything painted. Build your makeup room, set up the bathroom. It just adds up really, really quickly. Even if you’re doing it all by yourself. Just the raw materials alone. It is. It is quite expensive. So you know, like you gotta figure that stuff out.

Joe Lenton: Is it something that you would set up to teach from as well? So would you have like lights to record video or something? Or is it – are you thinking you’d like to teach -carry on teaching in in the studio? Or is that something you you’re not so interested in the foreseeable future?

Renee Robyn: I don’t know. I mean I still, I wonder like if there’s anything anybody even still wants to learn from me! I haven’t put anything out in a really long time. So like you know, a lot of my process hasn’t changed that much, especially when it comes to composites, because I like the way that I do it, and I like the results. And you know every now and then I’ll find like small things that I can change to make things more efficient, or whatever like the Remove tool in Photoshop is – Oh, my God! That saves so much time. It’s hard to even put into words. But you know, there’s there’s always that conversation of being like, well, you know, if you watch this thing back in 2017, like my process is changed. 10%.

Joe Lenton: Yeah.

Renee Robyn: You know. Do do you? Do you wanna pay for that again for that extra 10? I don’t know. You know. And then, of course, like there’s all the the Shibari work and stuff like that. I’ve never done any teaching on that. And so I’ve I’ve debated that I’m teaching I mean, I do some lectures every now and then online things like that. Yeah, basically, if people are interested, then speak the words to me!

Joe Lenton: Oh, well, there you go. So petition you for a workshop, and it might just happen?

Renee Robyn: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.

Joe Lenton: Excellent.

Renee Robyn: Yeah. So yeah, we’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how it goes.

Joe Lenton: So you’ve obviously refined your workflow over well, without meaning to make you feel old now – but about 25 years in the industry.

Renee Robyn: Yeah. It’s been 2026 years this year.

Joe Lenton: Oh, wow, yeah, it’s been. It’s been a long haul. So what do you think has enabled you to keep going and stay in business, because there’s gonna be a lot of people in any business, not just in photography, who are, gonna think “25 years? No!” They can’t keep going that long.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, I mean, I have that conversation with myself all the time. Its just like, you know, I’ve been doing the same thing for so long, and I’ve worked in the same industry for so long. Do I still want to keep going in this industry? You know. Is there something else that I want to do? I just haven’t found it yet. But I am looking because you know, at some point like you only get one life. So what else is there to do that could be exciting and interesting? And you know, new and shiny, and whatever right? I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll ever quit doing photography. I think that is ridiculous. I mean, I do fantasize about it sometimes of just being like “Oh, my God! I’d have so much room in my house if I didn’t do this.” It would be so much like all this stuff that I just wouldn’t have to store anymore. 

And like, I would have breathing room, you know, like I have a whole second bedroom in my house here that is just like full of costuming and equipment and gear. And just like to be able to just turn that into like an  office would just be delightful. But it’s impossible. It’s just this room of doom right now, or like this black hole of where stuff goes in, and occasionally it comes out again and it goes back in. So yeah, I like, yeah, I think about it. But I still haven’t found it yet, you know, and I’ve I have been looking for probably the last 5 years, kind of like poking around in different industries and thinking about and imagining like, “What would it be like if?” And, “what would it be like if?” 

And nothing – cause the reality is like knowing my personality, as soon as I found whatever that thing is, I would just start doing the steps towards doing the thing so it would be like I would start learning about it. I would start doing online courses. I would start trying to meet people who work in those industries. And, you know, like trying to start build those next steps, I would just instantly be doing it. So yeah, and yeah, I guess sometimes that makes me feel like a little bit sometimes stuck in the industry because I haven’t found anything else yet. But…

Joe Lenton: Do you feel you’ve been able to evolve over that sort of time? Do you feel that you’ve kind of hit your rut fairly early and kind of stayed stuck in it?Or cause, you know, 25 years of developing. I mean, you started with the modelling side of things first, before you got onto doing the photography and and so on. So do you. – do you feel that you’ve kind of reinvented yourself, or gradually niched down more over those years?

Renee Robyn: Oh, for sure. Yeah, I mean, like, one of the big things that has been really healthy for me is actually starting to shoot more Shibari work because it’s I’m getting to work with – it’s a very different type of photoshoot. It’s a very – there’s a lot of communication going back and forth. There’s a lot of pre work that goes into it and like prepping and practicing. Because I mean, obviously, for anybody who’s photographed Shibari. If you’ve ever, like a photo shoot, should never be the first time you experience Shibari.

Joe Lenton: Right.

Renee Robyn: Especially for models, right? Because I get so many models messaging me being like, “Oh, my God! I’d love to be in your Shibari shoots.” I’m like, well, have you ever been a Shibari model? Have you ever like? Have you ever had anybody do this to you? “Oh, no, no! But it’d be fine!” Like, absolutely not! Like, no!

Joe Lenton: Yeah, I might imagine that there’s a certain amount of strength you’ve got to have in certain parts of your body, just to hold your pose.

Renee Robyn: Also. Also you have to know the difference between good and bad pain, and, like, you know, you have to know how to hold these things safely and like how to communicate when things are not feeling right. Or how like you have to – there’s so many soft skills that go into being a rope model that like it, unless you’ve done it, you’re not gonna know.  And so and like safety on these shoots is like so over the top. Like we have so many safety crew, we have so many safety crew. It’s ridiculous. And you know, and we have like crash mats. And, like, you know just all the things safety scissors, you know people there, to make sure, like, you know, we’ve got somebody trained in First Aid. Like all the things you know, to make sure that these things go smoothly, and then we also make sure everyone is a professional, and everyone is experienced, and everyone has worked together before prior to the photoshoot. 

You know, because, like things can go wrong really quickly with Shibari. And fortunately, on our shoots, it hasn’t happened yet, but it can still happen. And so we’re always ready for it. Because you can have somebody who’s super super experienced, and for whatever reason that day like, they just can’t lift their foot off the ground. And you’re just like cool. Not a problem. Absolutely not a problem. Then, like, we’re just gonna get you down. And we’re gonna we’re gonna let you like breathe through this. And just if this is not your day, then today is not your day, and that’s fine, and we can all go home. Because I always, I always make sure that like I mean, even from the rigging standpoint, like their hands get exhausted like. They’re so tired and raw because these knots have to be so tight. But there’s something that’s that’s like – it’s really refreshing for me, because it’s also not, I’m not spending hours and hours and hours on digital art on the back end once we’re done the shoot. It’s like, I’m shooting it. And then I’m cleaning up the image, doing like basic clean-up and stuff. And then it’s done. And that feels really nice to not come home and then sit in front of the computer for another like 10, 15, 20 hours building these composites just like by myself in the dark.

Joe Lenton: Don’t the cats come and join you sometimes?

Renee Robyn: They do sometimes. Yeah. And they step on the keyboard. And then Photoshop does weird things. And I’m like, “Oh, God! What just happened?”

Joe Lenton: Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s that’s not so great.

Renee Robyn: Yeah, yeah, that happens. It’s that’s a I’ve more than once put a question into the Photoshop forums, being like, “this is a screenshot of what happened. How do I unpick like how do I fix this?” And they’re like, “well, how does this happen?” Well, my cat stepped on the keyboard. Or my Wacom tablet. That’s another one.

Joe Lenton: Oh, you’ve got a touch, sensitive one, then have you with that?

Renee Robyn: But so there’s also the buttons on the side

Joe Lenton: Oh, yes. Yeah. Yeah.

Renee Robyn: And her little toes will like push buttons, and I’m like, “Oh no! What’s happening?” She’ll sit here. It’s super cute. She’ll sit here and watch the screen, and like watch the mouse go back and forth and back and forth, and it’s so cute. But then, yeah, then my Wacom starts going crazy. And then, like, everything starts like skitsing out. And I’m like, Oh, man.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, excellent. It’s been really good talking to you. Really, enjoyed getting to know you a little bit through this. And I would like people to know where they can look at more of your work, where they can keep up with what’s going on. Where they can show an interest in the in the book if they would like to. So where would you send people to?

Renee Robyn: So you can go to my website and on there there’s also a mailing list to sign up for where I will be sharing book updates. And you know, tour updates and everything else. I haven’t actually sent out a mailing thing yet. But working on it, I’m I’m late. That’s one thing that I made a mistake on. Everyone told me like years ago, like 10-15 years ago, they’re like, “Make sure you make a mailing list.” Because everyone told me to make a mailing list, I was like “absolutely not!”

Joe Lenton: Yeah,  I know that kind of feeling. It’s like when people talk about getting your systems in place, and everything’s gotta be all processy, and so on. I know the logic of it, but my brain just goes. “No! No!”

Renee Robyn: Which is the wrong answer, because that’s the best thing to do.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, you shoot yourself in in the foot with that really.

Renee Robyn: Oh, fully fully shot myself in the face. There’s no question about it. Yeah, it’s I absolutely screwed up my career by not starting a mailing list sooner. So I do finally have a mailing list up so you can sign up there, and that’ll be the best way. I also have Patreon, which is where I share, like a lot of behind the scenes, and like sneak peaks of work coming up. That’s the one place where you can see, like actual sneak peaks of the book where I haven’t put them anywhere else on social media. I have Instagram, which is reneerobynphotography. I’m on Tiktok, Youtube – some version of Rene3 Robyn, Renee Robyn photo, Renee Robyn photography. If you search I’ll show up somewhere.

Joe Lenton: I imagine so. Yeah, you’re spread about quite a lot there. What about for your tutorials now, people who perhaps don’t already know you for your compositing tutorials – where would you send them to take a look at those?

Renee Robyn: The most recent ones are up on Creative Live. So those are probably some of the best places to go. And I am low key working on another compositing tutorial. It’s just time is the limiting factor these days that we’re working on the layouts and everything else. And I’m trying to figure out like, do I include the shooting part? Do I, you know, like, how do we – what am I doing here? Whether or do I want to just make it like purely a retouching tutorial? I mean, that would be the easiest one to film, but I also like to include the lighting as well. So we’ll see. We’ll see, we’ll see. I’ve debated putting out like these micro tutorials of, you know something that’s like 45 min or less and they can like cheap, like 25 bucks, or something. Of just being like, hey, if you want to learn how to blank, then this is where you can get that. So I’m debating that. 

And I also I also photographed a whole bunch of really beautiful haven’t even got it off the camera yet. It’s in a camera sitting right there judging me. I shot some beautiful stock cause we had just like the most incredible snow days here this winter. So I have this like really great bokeh snow fall stock that I can’t wait to like, put that online and then also work with it. Because, yeah, I just did a portrait of a woman with like fairy wings and a corset and stuff like that on on my Instagram. Her name is Ruby Rocks. And I was like I was thinking about it going, “Oh, man, it’d be so nice to use that stuff for like glitter to have like this shimmery sparkly stuff around her.” And then I was like, Oh, well, that means I have to get it off the camera. It’s like 10 o’clock. Let’s just put it out without it. So I’m looking forward to getting that out as well.

Joe Lenton: I think we all end up with some of those images that get stuck on the memory card somewhere or on a drive somewhere, and we think, “Oh, yeah, I meant to do something with that!” And occasionally I find I go through some old stuff and do a clear-out, and then suddenly go, “oh! Why did I never edit that?” 

Renee Robyn: Yeah, I call it dumpster diving for my hard drives. Hard drive dumpster diving. Just like digging back into old stuff being like, “Oh, yeah, that was really good. I should probably… Yeah, we’re gonna do that right now.” Yeah.

Joe Lenton: Well, thanks again for agreeing to come onto the podcast.

Renee Robyn: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Joe Lenton: Yeah, it’s been fun having you on. And thank you, everybody. If you’re still listening, and we haven’t put you off with all that linguistics and language stuff at the beginning. Thank you all for listening to the Focused Professional podcast.

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