Photography Studio Advice

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Small Photography Studio

Small Photography Studio

By Alan Wild

Are you looking to begin a career in photography? No matter if it is product, portrait, high fashion, or glamour photography, you will need a space to work. The first consideration will be affordability. Most people, I included, do not have an endless source of income so finding a place that is low in cost and high in amenities. I have had four studios in Denver, CO. I enjoyed each and every one. The bottom line is that the rent here in Denver is outrageous. Here is the deal, it is time to get creative. Sure, it may be a pain to compromise your desires vs your budget, but it must be done. You have to consider your business model and advertising budget. Are you a naturally outgoing person who has no problem stirring up business? I’m not. I had to get creative. My business did not have enough income consistently to support my studio. It was sure nice to have though.

If you can afford a blank space, great. You can design your studio however you want. I used the bare necessities. My last studio had backdrops on every wall. I used every square inch to maximize my investment and increase my creativity. One wall had a retractable backdrop system. I also had backdrops on top of backdrops so I could roll them up and clip it. The options are endless. You do not need a huge budget to make your studio work for you.

In my first and second studio, I had purchased a drop cloth from the hardware store and a gallon of black paint. I rolled the paint in every single direction so that I did not have a pattern. It turned out great and I used it for 15 years. The paint and the fabric of the canvas drop cloth deteriorated. Painting your own canvas is a great option, in fact, you can paint several canvases for the price of one canvas at retail.

There are other options for a studio as well. You can make your studio in your basement or in your garage. I purchased a model home and it came with a finished garage where the home builder’s sales office was once located. It had a separate entrance, so clients only needed to enter my home to use the restroom.  That was the most convenient location for a studio that I have ever had. If I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat.

CO/OP Studio Space

Other studio options you can choose from studio CO/Ops or hourly studio rentals. CO/OP Studios are where you have one calendar and you have a certain amount of hours you can use the space. I did this once when I was still searching for a permanent studio. It was helpful and I enjoyed the setup. It came with lights, backdrops, and everything you need for a successful photo shoot. You just bring your camera and a subject. I also used hourly studios. They are great as well. They usually have features that you cannot fit into your studio budget. One studio had a wet studio. That feature was amazing. They had a drain in the floor and water above that you could attach a hose with a sprayer and they also had a shower attachment.

Depending on your area, you might find another business that would share their space. I have a friend that rented part of a warehouse from a furniture supply company. They had endless props to use and it saved money on rent. This space was just for his photo shoots and nothing more. He met his clients in public spaces to review selections.

What if I can’t afford a studio you ask? Well there are options for that as well. I have a portable photography studio setup and have purchased reusable poly-fabric in several colors and I taped them to an old cardboard roll from a paper backdrop. I take my two backdrops, lighting setup and camera wherever I am needed. It is a serious pain though. There are so many things that could go wrong with this option. You could have to make two trips and no parking is available.

I often shoot in my clients home. If you are lucky, you will have a big beautiful home with great options to use as a backdrop. Keep in mind, not all homes are the same. I once photographed a client in his home that was the size of a cracker box. This house was fine for people to live in. They had a sofa and two chairs in the living room. Now add a backdrop holder with the 6-foot backdrop, Light stands, and lights. Yes, that is the recipe for a disaster. It is important to note that you should review the space before you arrive for the photo shoot. I get all information during the consultation.

Other factors you may not have considered with on-location photo shoots. Pets and pet hair. Dogs and cats are just like kids. They refuse to perform and will do what they want when they want. I have had several dogs lift a leg to my light stands before. I had a cat climb up my backdrop and knock it down.

My favorite thing and most important thing for you to consider with on-location photo shoots. Are you ready? Not many people think about this because it is not sunshine and rainbows. Bugs! I am not talking about your average spider. I am talking about the kind of bug that loves to hitch a ride home with you and multiply. Yes, cockroaches, bed bugs, and god only knows what else.

On location, you have to think about personal security. People are not always predictable. As a photographer, it is your job to get the best image possible. To do that you have to make the client feel special. At times you need to get them to smile. When they are in their own environment, they may feel comfortable to make unwanted advances. This can happen whether you are a man or a woman. Carry pepper spray!

Now is a great time to tell you that once you arrive, before you unload a single item, look at the space. Make sure setting up is easy and you have enough space. Spend this time to look for any and all indications for undesired guests. No matter if you are a little uncomfortable or really uncomfortable, leave! It is perfectly fine to hightail out of there. It may not result in a good google review but at least you are safe with no extra guests.

The space you create for your studio is completely up to you and as long as you are the only person using it, go low budget and get creative. You can fill it with garage sale finds for props. I used old wood shipping crates, pallets, wooden boxes that I painted, and lots of chairs. If you or someone you know is handy, you can build a panel system with backgrounds that just slide out.

If you choose to do on location and set up a studio in your clients’ space, bring portable props. Investigate and make sure that it is acceptable to your standards, in other words do your homework first.

In other locations, you can choose a park or in the mountains. On the beach or in the city. I have photographed many times in alleyways that were loaded with trash and graffiti. It was the perfect backdrop for the look and feel I was going for. I have shot on location in bars, event centers, mechanic shops, and in-office buildings. You can photograph in abandoned buildings but before you get yourself into hot water and trespass, get permission. Make sure it is safe. It would be a travesty if your model or client is hurt during the photoshoot.

Now, Let’s talk about another expense that unfortunately, it is absolutely necessary. Insurance! You need to have insurance to cover your equipment and business if you have a studio. If you are on location it is a good idea to cover yourself in case of injury. If your client gets hurt, they could sue you and the property owner.   

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