Studio Photography - Finding the right studio for you
Buying versus renting a studio
For many photographers there comes a point when you think about opening your own studio. It’s a daunting step forward, and one that requires careful consideration.
I reached that point 25 years ago as a photographer and over the years grew to where I am today. If you’re thinking about opening your own studio, there are a few important things to think about.
Before making the commitment of buying a studio, you need to think about the value it will add to your business.
How often will you use your studio? Do you have enough business coming in to warrant the additional expenses? If you’re unsure whether you’ll be able to afford to your own studio, you might want to consider sharing or renting it out as this will help spread the costs.
It's important you find a location that works not only for you, but for potential clients as well. Does the studio have off-street or nearby parking that you and your clients can use? Another thing to consider, especially if you shoot products, is accessibility. How easily can you get items into the studio? Working on the fourth floor won’t be ideal if you’re planning on being a car photographer!
When it comes to the right space, bigger isn’t necessarily better, especially when it comes to paying for it. It’s important to find the right balance between size and cost. Think about whether the studio is big enough to fit all your kit (there’s a few handy tips later in this article about how you can save space and organise a small studio), what storage space is available and whether you can comfortably work in that space.
If you frequently meet with clients, you might want to consider whether the space offers an area for a meeting room and what facilities, such as a bathroom or kitchen, it offers. If you seldom have the client with you while you shoot, these may not be a priority for you. If your focus is fashion and beauty, do you have adequate space for makeup and changing areas? All of these will convey a greater degree of professionalism.
Buying versus Renting
Having your own studio
As a photographer, you don’t usually start out with a 3,000 square foot studio (280 sq mt). My first studio, all those years ago, was just 200 square feet (18 sq mt).
I'm now on my fifth studio and I've slowly built that up over the years to where I am today. So why does this work for me?
Realistically, I don’t need all this space (a 1,500 square foot of shooting space would be more than adequate for my commercial work) but investing in this larger space allowed for the growth of our photography training business and expansion into video work. It has also meant we have been able to hold live talk shows and workshops as well as film more content for our website.
In addition I've been able to rent the studio out for others to use or for shoots, events and film production which has generated an extra source of income. Together, these have made the additional space an asset, rather than just a luxury.
I found my current studio while it was still in the construction phase, which meant I had the opportunity to make my own requests and changes. That's another plus to owning your own studio — you can change it as you like. One of the features we've installed in ours in an infinity cove (or cyclorama), which many of our members will be familiar with having watched our courses.
Further advantages of owning your own studio include having your own space and equipment at hand should you want to experiment and expand your skills. A well located studio will also allow for increased exposure and the amount of foot traffic you receive.
While having a large space has it’s pros, it has its cons too. From a business perspective this larger studio works out better value for money per square foot than my old studio but it is more expensive overall because the larger space means the total square footage of rental is higher. Having to pay for overheads such as maintenance, insurance and, if you have, staff salaries means your expenses will be far higher and it’s important you factor these costs into your calculations when determining your budget for a studio. Also remember that the initial fit out costs for your studio can be very high, for example construction of your cove, storage areas, heating, office space, networks, furniture etc etc meant our initial investment was hundreds of thousands of dollars and that was without any photography equipment!
More information on how to determine your business costs can be found in our Business section, along with other useful information such as pricing, marketing and other important business skills.
Investing in your own studio is a huge financial commitment so it is important to determine what you can afford to spend each month. If you find the revenue generated from your work is not much higher than your expenditure, it might be worth considering other options.
So what are these Options?
I know a number of very successful photographers who do this, including product and liquid photographer Barry Makariou and liquid specialist David Lund, both of whom have featured on our live talk shows.
Short term rental studios offer much greater financial freedom as it allows you to rent according to your budget. You can minimise costs by renting as and when you need. It allows you greater flexibility too — you can rent for half a day or more and only rent the space you need.
A rental studio also means you can work from anywhere in the world. Most major cities, such as New York, London, Paris or Barcelona, all have rental studios, many of which are linked to equipment rental too and offer a number of different studios for you to choose from. Below are some links to some popular facilities, some of which I’ve used in the past:
Prices for rental studios can vary quite dramatically, most of the ones listed above will charge approximately £1000 ($1350) per day for 2500-3000 sq ft (232-280 sq mt) — and that's without equipment. These costs are obviously added to your clients invoice.
Recently though, there have been many independent, smaller studios offering rental at lower rates. These are often photographers who have their own studios and trying to earn extra revenue or they might not be so conveniently located. For examples see the links below:
It’s even possible to rent studios monthly if you need to build your portfolio for example or have a month long project to complete:
Working in a small studio
While it can be tricky, working in a small studio space is by no means impossible (I should know, I’ve done it). There are a few ways that you can optimise your workspace and get the most out of an available area.
Maximise available space
Make the most of any and all available space. By organising your equipment not only will you save floor space, but you’ll also know where everything is. One way to store items is in cupboards and crates. In our studio we have a row of cupboards where we store everything from grips and clamps to makeup and glue guns. I’ve grouped similar items in labelled plastic boxes, making it quick to find an easy to access.
In our storeroom we’ve made great use of an empty wall by using it to hang tripods from and store backgrounds and reflectors behind. U-hooks are great for storing tripods or backgrounds and getting things up high out of the way.
We’ve done the same behind our cove (cyclorama), where we left enough space to allow us to tuck away a number of acrylic sheets, scrims and poly-boards. Here, they’re out of the way but easily accessible.
In a larger studio another way to be more efficient is by separating your shooting areas. This allows you to set up and shoot two different things without having to interrupt each set. I have my main studio area and a second area for shooting, which allows me to work on different projects simultaneously. This area takes up little to no space when not in use and it means I can easily do work for one client while we continue on another project.
Control your light
One of the greatest problems faced by photographers in a small studio is controlling light. The proximity of the walls and ceilings means light bounces off almost every surface. It is therefore important that you can darken your studio space, whether it be by painting some surfaces black or by fashioning blackout curtains or drapes that you can use when needed.
I also demonstrate how darkening a small studio can make a huge difference to your images in this tutorial here.
What works for you
When it comes to owning or renting a photography studio, only you can decide which option will work for you. The points above should provide a guide and help you weigh up the positives and negatives of each.
Having your own studio is a business risk, and a major commitment. Before you go down this route, you have to be confident that you will be able to make a success of it and I’d always recommend hiring a studio for a day to get the feel of what a large space can do for you or at least help you decide what you need.