It is not uncommon to find a photographer who is also a retoucher, it is way more rare, to find an excellent photographer who is also a great model and a talented retoucher. This is why I was so happy to have the chance to interview Renee Robyn, a Model, Photographer and Retoucher based in Alberta Canada (yes, all with capital letters).
DIYP: Hi Renee. Can you tell us a little bit about you and your relations with photography?
RR: I was raised in a very artistic family. My mom is a skilled sketch artist, and my dad is a talented photographer who traveled when he was younger. Scouring his slides and images, I was inspired from his images from Australia, the Middle East, and Asia. He climbed Mt. Everest, and has a photograph of the peak that has always made me feel like maybe I don’t dream big enough haha.
I’ve been drawing since I could hold something in my hands, I started in dance shortly after I could walk, and when I was 13 I was scouted by a modelling agency. Through the next 11 years of my career both with the agency and freelance, I was finding that I had countless ideas in my mind of what I wanted to help create, but I could never articulate it properly. So, finally, one day I just decided I would do it myself! A few thousand hours, and even more photographs later, I am still learning.
DIYP: A lot of your work is self portraiture, how did you get into that theme?
RR: Initially I got in to it to express how I wanted the world to see me, not how other photographers, makeup artist, and stylists did. Now, I use them for lighting and editing experiments, and ways to convey my state of mind. Some of them I put weeks and months of thought in, others are very spur of the moment.
Photography is art, and as an artist, if I don’t take the time to create art just for myself, I start to feel like a spring that’s wound a bit too tight. I have found that even when I enlist the help of a model, I view them as my client, and it changes how I view the project. If it’s just myself, for myself, I find it very freeing.
DIYP: Where do you find your inspiration?
RR: Inspiration is everywhere. I find it when I wake up in the morning and see the light playing across the blankets, the reflection of the moonlight on the snow, scientific discoveries, playing with my friends animals, and hitting the ‘random’ search on Google. There truly are beautiful things all around us.
My favorite way to get inspired though is to talk to other people who are passionate about something. Seeing the fire that burns inside them, seeing what makes them unique, and seeing how much they want to make the world a better place. I have been told we become who we surround ourselves with, so I chose to converse with those who stimulate my mind and imagination.
DIYP: How does being all across the spectrum of the creative process (model, photographer, retoucher) influence your process?
RR: Good question. In my own mind, I’m not sure I would say that my process is influenced any more or less than any one person living a life of unique experiences. I know what I perceive to be beautiful, what is appealing to me in an artistic fashion, what composition I appreciate. However, any one person has lived a life that gives them an individual appreciation for art, which is a beautiful thing.
From being a woman, and a model, I am aware of the things that I am self-conscious about, and therefore aware of them in others. From being a photographer I know what lighting appeals to me and what styling is more attractive. On the retouch side of things, I am influenced from being a sketch artist, painter, so I find I am a perfectionist. Some of my favourite works of art are these stunning paintings of iconic women and men. I enjoy the look of slightly more than perfect figures and curves. Perhaps I read too many comic books when I was a kid.
DIYP: And of course, which one of the three is your favorite child?
RR: I dearly love all three, however the retouching is really where I am content. I don’t have to worry about the model who is likely frozen cold, the assistant who may have to leave at a certain time, if my card is full, the dying battery, which lens should I use, if that back separation light is too bright… etc. I can sit down at my computer, turn on some music in my headphones, and look at the photograph. From there I can determine what the image has to offer, what kind of a story or feeling is hidden in the pixels. For me, taking the photograph is the rough sketch. The retouching is the paint, texture, and final polish.
DIYP: Your work involves quite a bit of nudity. do you feel that being a model is helping you shoot others in the nude?
RR: It has more to do with being female, I think. I get a lot of models who would not normally pose nude with a male photographer, but once they look at my work, and understand that if there is anything that they are not comfortable with, I will just delete, it gives a lot more comfort. Many models will mention the things they are self conscious about, and I make note of these things, and either repair in post, or work around it. I don’t want the models, male or female, to feel like they are anything less than perfect when we work together. I want to produce work that they are proud to be a part of, clothed or not.
DIYP: On the other hand, do you feel that being a photographer and a retoucher is interfering with your modelling work?
RR: It has certainly been a bit of both. I have some photographers who have completely shut me out and will have nothing to do with me. Contracts I used to have as a model have since been cancelled, and others refuse to work with me because they are concerned for any number of reasons. However, that is their choice.
Others have been entirely opposite. They seem to welcome a model who can talk photonerd stuff, ogle at the new fancy gadget they bought, and swap nifty lighting tactics.
My standard for what I consider a good retouch has increased tenfold though. I tend to cringe when I see a perfectly retouched face but necklines remain or a stray hair is sitting in a most distracting fashion right across the eye and lip, where it’s not something I concerned myself with in the past.
DIYP: I heard you have a pretty interesting/quick paced style of editing, can you share a bit about it.
RR: Haha, you’ve heard that, have you? It’s the result of countless hours sitting in front of my computer. I generally do a lot of patch tool, dodge and burning, selective color, curves, and desaturation. I also live in layer masking and blending modes. I find that with each image I can apply these techniques and bring the photograph to what I feel is its highest potential.
DIYP: How would you say your time is divided between photography, modeling and retouching?
I certainly would say it’s about 20% Photography, 10% Modelling, and 70% Retouching. I shoot very few images in a set, I certainly photograph more than I model now, and I spend many hours in post production.
DIYP: What is your favorite piece of gear?
Tough one. I’m so grateful for all my equipment, none of it came easily. I would say though, my 100mm macro lens. It shoots beautiful portraits, and it’s fantastic for fashion, if you can get back far enough!
DIYP: What would be a tip from you to someone who seeks to enter the fashion world?
I would give a similar advice to anyone seeking a career they are passionate about. Be a good person, and keep an open mind. Be willing to learn and talk to everyone, because they all know something you don’t. Welcome the rise and fall of the learning process, as when we first begin something, the initial learning curve is the most intense. Remember, you will fall, we all do, just don’t forget to pick yourself back up. Surround yourself with inspiration, and the most important thing, love what you are doing. That love will keep you going when others give up.
DIYP: Is there anything you would like to tell DIYP readers?
RR: It’s a beautiful thing to be able to express yourself through visual art, so be proud, keep learning, and keep creating!
DIYP: Where should one go to see your art?
RR: There are many ways! My website is currently under construction, but when it goes up again it will be at www.reneerobynphotography.com. You can find me on Facebook where I post all the behind the scenes goodies, stories, thoughts and ramblings! There is also reneerobynphoto.500px.com where the ‘Not Safe for Facebook’ pics sometimes find themselves.
DIYP: Thansk Renee
RR: Thansk Udi. On a final note though, I would not be able to create these images without the help of so many others. They are all men and women who are out chasing their dreams and every time I get to see them, they inspire me to do more, be creative, and love what I do. There are not words for the gratitude I wish to express to each and every single one of them.
From the top (apart from the self portrait!): (1) Model: Gott Havok; (2) Model: Devan Rylee, MUA: Lady Venom Cosmetics, Hair: Honey Dome; (3) Model: Joanie Darveau Kittens: Stiry Fry and Sherrie Moon; (4) Model: Jasmine Virginia, Wardrobe: Westward Bound; (5) Lylia Chorosive; (6) Lylia Chorosive; (7) Model: Rex Cable; (8) Model: Miss MiMi Hair: Christina Demeter MUA: Sable Smith; (9) Models: Samantha Saturnine and Druantia Astara MUA: Elizabeth Bernardin; (10) Model: Lee La; (11) Model: Visha Loo