Steven Ruegnitz Dedicates His Career to the Study of the Female Form

Steven Ruegnitz (OMP Member #216516) has almost four decades of experience in the field of photography. His earliest experience taking photos as a student led to his long-term career.

“I knew in high school that my primary life subject was going to be women. A dear friend of mine knew of my interest and stepped up to allow me to shoot her. I am sad to say that I look back and I did a terrible job, but she was a great friend and knew it was part of helping me grow. I did make it up to her in later years!”

Soon after, Steven became aware of Peter Gowland and his work. “He was one of the few photographers who had published books and posing guides in glamour and nude photography. I purchased his books and studied everything he wrote and every image I could find that he made. While he taught seminars, the cost was far out of reach for me in those days. Yet he was a major influence on my early work. I went on to shoot portraits for friends and family to pay for the equipment, and then did a few weddings as well. All of that was to pay for the ability to go back to what I wanted to shoot.”

In college, he entered the Journalism department as a broadcasting major. “While radio was my field, all of us had to have formal photography training. Our professor was a Brooks Institute Graduate and scared us all because she was such a tough critic. I was called in to see her one day, and in terror I was prepared to have some still life work that I had produced for her class torn apart. Instead the lecture was ‘Why have you not become part of the photo concentration, what the heck are you doing in broadcasting?’ As surprised as I was, it was to late for a change, but I went back for her coaching many times in the years after graduation. Past that, I tried to read everything that was published — long before the Internet was a tool — and shoot as often as I could.”

Steven utlizes high-key photography techniques in his work. “For the majority of women, it can be very beautiful. When properly framed, it also supports image use in commercial work. If you use negative space or off-center positioning, you can leave space for commercial copy so an image can do multiple functions. In the last couple of years, I have spent time with Bill Lemon (OMP Member #4278), who has dragged me out of the studio to learn how to shoot in the great outdoors and in a variety of locations. I was spoiled by the control of the studio and it took a bit of getting over that, but now I love to work on location. I have found that I am working to expand out of what I have classically shot and at the encouragement of a number of models, I have been moving into areas I have not really worked with in the past. Recently I have really enjoyed the creative energy and ideas from some of the talented ladies I have worked with.”

He has an eye for glamour nude talent. “I start with a view that I love to shoot woman of all ages. I love to shoot models who have some life experience and frequently are moms and wives and who routinely tell me they have horrible stretch marks, sagging, or are otherwise somehow complaining about what the years have done. It is fun to work with them, as they tend to be more self-assured and comfortable with their bodies and are willing to work and be creative. When they DO come out looking better than they somehow thought possible, there is just such a great positive energy you get from the process. At the other end, I have a view of a ‘pay it forward’ from the gift my friend gave to me when I was first shooting. So I am willing to take on completely inexperienced but ‘dying to get started and full of energy’ young women.”

Steven is a firm believer that glamour and nude work starts with a model’s eyes. “When you see cell phone photos that are just horrible that are posted by a newbie, I find that I look right through the image and look at the eyes. Does that person seem to ‘have it’ in the connection, so that I think I can help them build a port to get them going? It tends to be more work since you have to be photographer, coach, mentor, and sometimes manager. That said, if you can really help somebody get going, you can take great reward from knowing you started them in a good direction. Maybe they will not turn professional, but they will have had a great experience and have some images that will be part of their life forever.”

He points out that in between those two segments are a great many very dedicated and skilled models that are either full-time professional (making their living from it) or semi-pro and have a substantial body of work. “It is here where the creative energy is just amazing. I look for models who WANT to be part of the creative process. Not just ‘show up and tell me what to do’ – I like models who bring ideas or try new things. I also like what I would call ‘low drama’ models. Just down to earth woman who love the creative process and get as much joy out of being in front of the lens as I do being behind it. When the process works well with seasoned models, I like to edit in a way that I won’t with a beginner. A seasoned model can be self-critical (not in a bad way) and reflect on the fact that an expression or pose in one fame is just a small bit off the frame next to it and make the call as to the better image. A model with substantial experience may say, ‘I don’t like whatever it is, but I know you will take that out in the finished image.’ This contrasts greatly with others who instantly ‘go for the flaw’ and can’t reflect on what the rest of the image or what it could be. In the end, I work with all three segments; it is just I have different expectations for each, but they are all fun and provide a lot of creative energy.”

In a beginner, Steven feels that there tends to be lots of questions even before one gets to the discussion involving images. “In this case, I find that the number one thing I start with is establishing TRUST. A model who arrives unsure of the situation will look tense in the images and nobody wins. If they are local I will invite them over before the shoot just to meet and greet and see first hand the studio location. Then we can get to the discussion of the session itself. I set expectations on how much time (typically three to four hours on a beginner shoot) and I know they will not have a lot of view as to clothing choices so I encourage them to ‘bring it all’ so I can help pick with them. I then try to run them through a range of things from good head shots to a variety of other styles based on the person and what we have to work with. With a seasoned model, it is frequently the case that the model will say, “I would like to try…” and we will go from there. Since this is my ‘art,’ I am quite relaxed. Frequently we will share images that portray a style, location or approach that best attempt to tell what we are trying to describe better than words can. This back and forth frequently goes on with lots of email sharing and finally phone calls as we zero in on the shooting day. Of course if it’s intended to be an outdoor shoot, you always need a ‘B’ plan in case the weather turns against you. What could you do that differs from what you intended if Mother Nature does not cooperate?”

The artist discovered One Model Place through a family friend. “The friend just starting in modeling, and I have known since she was a baby in my arms was at Thanksgiving dinner with our family. She said to me, ‘Why don’t you have a port on OMP?’ ‘What is OMP?’ I asked. She led me to the nearest computer and took me to the site and suggested — no, PUSHED — me to take the step to put up some of my work. I confess to being hesitant, but I took her advice and the rest is history.”

Steven relates that One Model Place has been a terrific showcase for his work. “OMP has also helped me connect with very talented photographers and models. I believe I first ran into Bill Lemon’s work on this site and Bill, after working with me, pushed me to move from just a basic beginner port into embracing the site and really getting serious about working with it. Models I met through Bill’s workshop were always on OMP as well, and they wanted me to post work we did together here. So I would say it came from all directions, and it has been nothing but a positive experience.”

He prides himself on having been a “film guy” with a Nikon F2AS and Hasselblad medium format film cameras, but he recently made the switch to digital. “My primary camera is a Nikon D300 with a Nikon D200 for backup. I typically use Nikon 18 – 200mm or Nikon 70 -200 lens as the usual tools with other lens available. In the studio I use a Speedotron Black Line multi-light system. I am a big fan of the Chimera soft boxes as my favorite main and fill lights for studio work. On location when traveling light, I use the Nikon SB 800 speed light. If I can drive to the location I will carry Alien Bee 800s with a variety of light modification tools. The Alien Bee product line has a great portable battery pack known as the Vagabond II which allows the use of a high power strobe in a location that has no access to power which is just a great tool for working in the field.”

He recently traveled from New Jersey to Florida for a series of shoots. “There is no question that pools and beaches are just “standard fare” for Florida. In New Jersey you will find models who have literally ONE bikini. That does not seem to be an issue with Florida where no matter if your choice is swimming pools or beaches the common theme is WATER. I look forward to being able to take advantage of that in ways that were difficult to impossible in New Jersey.”

For photographers just starting out, Steven offers the following advice. “Find a photographer or two whose work you admire and study it. There are lots of basic books that can take you what ever direction you might like to go. Go back and look at Peter Gowland’s work to see what ‘classic’ styles looked like. Beyond that, treat EVERY interaction with a model, MUA with a view that ‘you only have one chance to make a great first impression.’ You need to check your ego at the door and be completely professional. Everyone talks and if you treat somebody poorly, no matter the reason, it will hurt you for a long time to come. Never chastise a model in a public forum. If you have something appropriately critical to say, make it polite, professional AND IN PRIVATE! Be as accepting of people coaching you as you do with others. Make sure that every single model you shoot will feel so good about the interaction with you that they would be happy to be a reference for you to anyone who would ask. Integrity is everything! Shoot every chance you get with every person that is willing to shoot with you. Every shoot will teach you something and help improve your skill. And have fun!”

Steven adds that one extra benefit of being in this industry is the chance to make lifelong acquaintances. “I have found that over a very long time shooting that the side benefit of it all is that you wind up making some great friends through it all. You may well start as Photographer/Model and wind up Friend/Friend and that’s a great feeling.”

Image of Aurie by Steven Ruegnitz of Ruegnitz Photography — OMP Member #216516

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