Bio: Canadian born and raised, Renee Robyn is a former model turned photographer who has developed an ethereal style, combining fact and fiction. Merging together expertly shot photographs with hours of meticulous retouching in Photoshop, her images are easily recognizable and distinctly her own. She travels full time, shooting for clients and teaching workshops around the world.
I would describe my style of photography as…
I’ve always had a hard time describing my work. I get asked a lot, and I’m never really sure how to respond. I’d say it’s the lovechild of a youth spent enjoying fantasy novels and video games, wishing I could live forever in weird costuming and castles that didn’t exist in rural Alberta, Canada. It’s definitely a healthy serving of digital art, but I do photograph all the elements in the images. So, I suppose it counts as photography, even though the files are pretty smashed together in post-production. It’s like upgraded cut-and-paste like I used to do as a kid with newspapers and family photo albums my parents didn’t keep out of reach. Although I’ve upgraded from eating glue and crayons to slightly more toxic things like coffee and chocolate.
What was your first camera, and how’d you get started in photography?
Ah, the dreaded question. My first official camera was a Nikon F55 film camera my dad gave me as a teenager. I still have it actually. However, the short version is I didn’t really start taking photography seriously until about 11 years into a modeling career that I was mostly bored of. I started out on a Canon point and shoot and upgraded to a used Nikon D80. Less than a year into experimenting with taking photos of flowers and friends, I managed to get myself run over by a vehicle in a motorcycle wreck. I didn’t have any skills to put food on the table that didn’t involve using my legs, so I decided I should get really good, really fast at this whole “photography” thing. Photomanipulation came from that because I wanted to be anywhere but where I was stuck all the time – in bed, without the ability to walk.
Why’d you want to become a photographer?
It wasn’t ever really a goal of mine. Fun fact – I used to have a folder on my social media called “I take blurry pictures” and it was an actual joke among friends that I’d ever shoot anything professionally because my photos were so spectacularly bad. It started out as a creative release from modeling and wanting to try something new that wasn’t illustration and painting. The motorcycle wreck really changed my trajectory in a way I could never have predicted.
What’s your most memorable shot or shoot, be it challenging to capture or interesting subject?
A cat. Seriously. Hats off to every pet photographer out there, because that is amazingly challenging. I wanted to do a project that was a cat version of the creature Cerberus, a 3-headed dog. I like dogs, but I absolutely love cats (yep, single cat lady, right here). Anyway, I had to get a bunch of pictures of this adorable little fluffy cat my friend brought to the studio. The problem was he was so social, that every time I’d lay on the floor to get the right angle he’d be all “Oh hey stranger, how are you? Lemme come bump heads!” and my Canon 5Dmk2 had what I called Steam Powered Focusing, so it was just impossible to get a sharp shot of that cat when he decided to walk towards me. We tried everything to get this cat to do what we wanted. Took a solid amount of time, a healthy serving of patience, some string, some laser pointers, catnip, and me just deciding “I’ll fix it in post”. But I do love the composite, and it’s something that I hope to experiment with more in the future.
What image are you most proud of from your photography portfolio?
The girl jumping off the building with the little wings. It’s not the most technically perfect shot I’ve ever done. If I were to do it over now, I’d definitely use different techniques on the wings. However, it’s the first image I created that gave people a physical response. People who were afraid of heights would have a hard time looking at it, and I actually experienced some vertigo when creating the file. People who read the story about what it’s like to do something bigger than yourself, and just feeling like it’s jumping off a building and hoping that everything’s going to work out, could relate. My work isn’t really emotionally driven, that’s not the place where my creativity comes from. However, that image is one of two images I’ve ever created that come from that spot, and I really love that it connected with people in the same way that I felt about it. I’ve been trying to beat it for years, and I don’t think I’ve done anything close yet.
My dream gig would be…
I’ve recently been asked to do a little bit of concept art and some matte painting. It’s something I have never considered before. However, it was a really fun challenge to be asked to create some environments. Admittedly, I think I’m probably 10 years of practice away from being actually good enough for that industry, but it’s a nice thought to possibly be involved in cinema in the future. Beyond that, I just want to be happy doing whatever it is I am doing. I didn’t see this career coming, it happened entirely by chance. Maybe something else will show itself in the future that will come out of left field again. Who knows?
My favorite piece of gear is…
My Canon 5D Mk3. It’s a tank. I need my gear to work in all the environments that I do. I shoot all my backplates, and usually under just terrible weather conditions. If my camera and lenses don’t do what I need them to, I’m an extremely unhappy camper. Since my motorcycle crash I have a lot of metal in my leg, it’s extremely painful for me to climb mountains, or travel excessively, but it’s what I need to do to make what I see in my head. If I can go through the pain of getting to the location, my gear has to be able to withstand as much as I am, because I may never be able to go back again. I actually dropped and did $1100 worth of damage to my 5D3 in the Canadian Rockies this fall. I damaged the entire back of the camera, all the buttons were extremely broken, but it still took photographs at a fixed aperture. So, even with the limitation, I was still able to get the footage I needed. Which, is all I cared about.
Do you shoot tethered?
Whenever I’m in the studio or shooting a subject on location, I shoot tethered to Capture One. Even when it’s been raining, we just set up a little tent for my laptop and keep the cables out of the mud. Capture One has this super handy Overlay feature that makes compositing a billion times easier, and with the 5Dmk3 it would be a lot less fun trying to line it up with my eyes on the back of the camera.
What’s on your photography gear shopping list?
As much as I can say “gear doesn’t matter” because, for a lot of things, it really doesn’t… I have a shopping list that’s a mile long. HP released some new mobile workstations this year that get my computer side all kinds of excited. I have a great custom laptop now, but 2.5 years of constant travel, it’s starting to get unhappy. I’m also looking at some lenses, particularly an 85mm 1.4 and a 24-105mm or some kind of equivalent. A lot of people tell me “But it’s a cheap lens!” Yes, but it’s also amazing for walking around in terrible weather conditions when changing lenses isn’t an option. Would it be too much to also want to get my hands on a Wacom Cintiq? 😊
The best advice I can offer a fellow photographer would be…
Well, I could say the same thing that’s been said before, which is shoot and shoot a lot, and when you hate it and want to quit, just keep shooting… But I think that’s the absolute minimum that’s required. I would add to it and say “diversify your study”. Get interested in things that aren’t photography, because the more you learn about things outside photographs the more interesting your work can become. I was in a panel interview once in Holland for Café Obscura. We had a designer (FairyTas) on our panel and listening to her talk about design, and her inspiration on how she comes up with these incredible pieces just blew my mind. I’d never considered asking a designer “What did you want to say when you created this piece? How can I help show that, when I create what I see looking at your design?” It really drove home a point I had read from a spectacular fashion photographer a few years ago. I can’t remember his name, but he said “If you want to shoot great fashion, you have to understand fashion. Go to school, learn textile design. Then you will understand how to properly display the work.” Looking back, I now completely agree.
Creative Photoshop Techniques with Renee Robyn – RGG EDU Tutorial
Renee Robyn is known across the globe for her ability to push the limits of Photoshop in building her unique composites. Visit RGGEDU.com now to check out this incredible post-production only tutorial.