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Shadowing three amateur photographers in the middle of an arcade can be more magical than you might think. The clicks of a Canon EOS Rebel T6i cut through the different forms of eerie carnival music from the claw machines and arcade games that were blended together in perfect harmony. Each click gave birth to a new child, one that was fawned over and taken home to show off to friends and family, swaddled in artificial lighting and adjusted saturation—all because two people fell in love with the abnormal.
Social media has been taken by storm in the past months by a challenge sparked by Montana photographer Jenna Martin. The photographer posted a shoot to her blog back in mid-November in which she went with her friend Rachelle Kathleen, a model, to a nearby Lowes.
The contrast of the elegant evening wear in front of the less-than-thrilling paint sample wall would have never been a contender to some of the other photo shoot locations around the world, yet the stunning photographs say otherwise. The duo also shot in different aisles like the lighting section and the garden section—all were equally as beautiful.
— Jenna Martin Photo (@jennamtphoto) December 2, 2017
Martin titled her blog post “Ugly Spots, Pretty Shots,” and posted the pictures to Twitter accompanied by #uglylocationchallenge. Thanks to Martin and Kathleen’s photoshoot and use of backgrounds such as faux trees and lighting, it inspired other photographers to get creative, which eventually morphed into the more recognized #HobbyLobbyChallenge on social media.
An Indiana teen by the name of Kelsey Maggart helped define this specific transformation of the challenge when she took to Twitter and shared some behind-the-scenes photographs that she and her friends took while doing a shoot in a local Hobby Lobby. Once the idea went viral, many others flocked to the floral aisles of Hobby Lobby stores all across the country in order to get that cheated but stunning illusion.
shooting in hobby lobby is the new thing now am I right pic.twitter.com/vh3jIISFgf
— Kelsey Maggart (@_KelseyMaggart) January 27, 2018
Monmouth University students Chistiana Ruggiero and Jenna Puglisi are two amateur photographers who have followed this trend for a while. “It’s easy to take a great photo of a beautiful model in front of a gorgeous sunset,” says Ruggiero, “but can you get the same results in the middle of a craft store aisle?”
Though this challenge holds undeniable creativity, there is also a certain amount of controversy surrounding it. Many retail employees feel the challenge is a nuisance because of the aftermath of the shoots—an explosion of misplaced flowers trailing behind the photographers and models. However, the social media team behind Michaels craft stores have other opinions.
On February 17, Michaels took to their social media accounts to welcome any and all photographers to participate in the #MichaelsChallenge. Photographs of a wooden manikin posing in front of the floral aisle were posted on Michaels social media accounts with the caption, “#Challenge accepted! Find us in the floral aisle, working all the angles. Show us your shoot #MichaelsChallenge.”
#Challenge accepted! Find us in the floral aisle, working all the angles.
— Michaels Stores (@MichaelsStores) February 17, 2018
Flooded with questions on social media, the store confirmed that they are more than happy to provide the backdrop for these interesting shoots, as long as the store location is notified in advance. Professional cameras and even the use of small animals are all approved, which set into motion the #MichaelsChallenge.
While some photographers are sticking to the floral section of craft stores, others are venturing out into the world of the weird in order to shoot the craziest looking photographs. Ruggiero and Puglisi are two of the many photographers who do just that.
“It’s really important to nurture the arts and let people seek out their creative visions,” Puglisi states.
The two met back in September and quickly realized their shared love of photography. Ruggiero, armed with her Canon EOS Rebel T6i, and Puglisi, armed with her Nikon D3100, go out into the field of battle and scour the busy streets of New Jersey for the perfect photo opportunities. They are often accompanied by another friend who also loves photography.
An attempt to recreate a shoot with neon lights brought this trio into an arcade. “Because a lot of our shoots are spontaneous, it took us a bit of time to actually find a location to shoot that matched the vibe we were going for,” explained Ruggiero. “We ended up at a local dingy arcade that looked very different from what we had imagined for our shoot in terms of vibrancy in color. Fortunately, our use of angles and editing helped us to achieve a look similar to what we had originally wanted.”
After shoots like these, Ruggiero uses editing apps such as Airbrush, POMELO, and Afterlight to tie together the final photograph with the perfect light and color balance. Puglisi does some editing of her own as well, though she doesn’t edit as much as other photographers do. “I like to keep a photo close to how it was shot,” says Puglisi. “I normally will just adjust the lighting, as well as the contrast and saturation of the color.”
Andrew Cohen, professor and chair of the Art and Design department of Monmouth University, is a photographer as well. Although he participates mainly in street photography without the use of posed models, he sees potential in the limitless possibilities and the way this challenge functions. “Any challenging photo shoot that makes you think creatively is a good learning moment,” says Cohen.
Puglisi explained to me how interesting it is to morph ordinary environments into extraordinary photo opportunities—and the appeal it has to other amateurs, reinforcing the idea that “it’s proof that you don’t need a fancy or elaborate backdrop to get an amazing picture.”
With close to 18,000 posts using the #HobbyLobbyChallenge on Instagram alone, this challenge has brought a lot of attention to itself. Even the women on BuzzFeed’s LadyLike YouTube channel took on the challenge themselves at a local Michael’s in California. With backdrops such as grocery stores, home improvement stores and anything in between popping up all over social media, it isn’t too false to assume that this challenge will uncover many other interesting photos.
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