[Note: This is the first in a series of articles we’ll be developing for photographers. Look for our full-length tutorials and courses that will be coming this summer, where Dana will be sharing her experience and advice.]
For many photographers starting out in the business, your “studio” is wherever you happen to be shooting. If you’re a wedding, landscape, sports, or nature photographer, that could be your car. If you’re a portrait photographer, your studio may be your living room, a garage, or whatever location you happen to be shooting in.
But as your career progresses, you’ll find that not only are you accumulating a collection of lighting equipment, cameras, lenses, wardrobe, sets, and more that need a safe, organized place for storage, but you need a quiet, secure place to work, and shoot.
Ultimately, bringing your photography business to the next level means finding a dedicated studio that’s right for you and your clients.
Every photographer probably has an ideal studio that they’ve dreamt about. Something with large windows and lots of natural light, plenty of room for sets, space to use those larger lenses, dressing areas, and a dedicated workspace for editing. But depending on where you live, a space like that may not be realistic.
The first step when considering a dedicated studio space is determining how much it will cost for you to run your business every month. This will need to include the cost of your studio space, as well as utilities, insurance, parking, commuting, deposits, and any other costs associated with working out of a space that you rent or own.
Once you’ve figured out what your expenses will be, you’ll need to calculate how much income you need to generate each month just to pay for your studio. Just how much are you averaging on a monthly basis, and can you afford the studio and your personal expenses?
One option you may need to consider is a shared space with one or several other photographers. If you know other photographers that would be interested in sharing a studio, you then have to ensure that the building management will allow multiple tenants, subleasing, or sharing spaces.
2. Location, Location, Location
Your studio’s location can have a huge impact on your business for a couple of reasons. One, how much of a drive is it for you? If you’re working out of your home now, how is a 30 minute, or 60 minute commute, each way, going to impact your productivity? Two, is it a convenient location for your clients? Will they need to make a drive to get to you, or will it be centrally located? And third, is your studio in a location where there is a lot of competition? Will you need to work extra hard to get your website and Google listing ranking on the “near me” search results because you’re in a saturated market?
3. Lighting Conditions
Depending on your style of photography, lighting in your studio needs to be a major consideration. If you shoot using natural light, you’ll need a studio with large windows that ideally face either north or south for the most even light during the day. And depending on what you shoot, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re on a second floor or away from a street, so you have some privacy and fewer distractions during your shoots.
If you shoot using mostly studio lighting, you’ll need to ensure that your space can accommodate a variety of lighting setups, including overhead, back lighting, large diffusers, large softboxes, etc., as well as store your lighting when not in use.
One of the most important considerations for a studio is the actual space you need. Not just space for shooting, but space for sets, storage, editing, meeting with clients. Be sure to measure so you know just how much room you’ll need for backdrops, lighting setup, and more.
Think about whether you’ll need furniture, props, different sets, backdrops, seamless, etc. For example, if you shoot boudoir, will you need a bed, a lounge, a sofa, or something else? If you shoot groups, how large are your walls or backdrop area?
Will the space accommodate the lenses you like to use? Can you back up far enough to shoot longer glass? The last thing you want is for your studio to limit your options as a photographer.
5. Will It Fit Your Business Model?
Speaking of space, does your business model focus on only digital products, or are you going to be selling physical products like prints, print packages, albums, framed or mounted pieces, etc.?
If you’re selling products, then you’ll want to have your samples on display for clients to review, and ideally you’ll want an area to meet with your client for an ordering session.
6. Bathrooms & Changing Areas
As you start looking for studio spaces, you’ll probably be surprised to discover how many have no bathroom accommodations. Obviously this isn’t great if you’re spending more time in your studio than you are at your home (we see you, you workaholics.)
The lack of bathroom accommodations can be particularly concerning if you do maternity photoshoots, or don’t have a changing area in your studio. The last thing you want is for your clients to have to traipse down a shared hallway in their skivvies.
I’m sure we don’t need to tell you, but cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, sound equipment, and computers are all very, very expensive. Ensuring that your studio is secure ensures that your equipment, which is key to your livelihood, can be stored safely.
Things to consider are: Does it have security, good locks, secure windows, good outdoor lighting, alarms, and/or cameras? Is the studio in a safe area, where clients (and you) will feel comfortable parking at all hours of the day, and then walking to and from the studio?
Lights, computers, and battery chargers can be electricity hogs. If your photography depends on any of these, you’ll need to make sure your new studio has plenty of conveniently accessible outlets to power your tools, but also that the infrastructure can support them. For instance, are you sure that that outlet isn’t connected to an outdated circuit breaker, or isn’t using some old knob and tube wiring? Seriously, it’s not unusual to have substandard electrical, particularly in older buildings that haven’t undergone renovations in a long time.
And don’t forget heating and cooling! Large spaces tend to be very difficult to heat in the winter, and very difficult to cool in the summer. Particularly if you have large windows and tall ceilings, which are both great for photography, but awful for HVAC. Make sure your studio will have the right heating and cooling to stay comfortable, without costing you an exorbitant amount.
9. Is Your Space Ready to Go?
So you have a space picked out, but is it ready to go, or will it need some renovation? Is your landlord going to ensure that it has been cleaned, or has a fresh coat of paint? If not, how much is it going to cost you to update it? And what will your landlord allow you to change? Is it just a fresh coat of paint that will be needed, or is there more work that will need to be done before it’s usable? You’ll need to carefully consider the time and expense of any work that needs to be done to get your studio ready for business.
10. Can You Picture Yourself “Living” There?
If you’re like us, you spend a lot of time both shooting, setting up, and editing. A LOT of time. It’s what you do for a living after all, right? So that means that you’ll probably be spending a good portion of your day in your studio.
You’ll need to make sure that the space feels right, that it’s comfortable, that it’s conducive to creativity and concentration. A space where you enjoy being, and are proud to bring clients and friends.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re looking for a studio space that’s right for you and your business. And in our experience, no particular space is “perfect”. But don’t settle for something that you’ll regret in a month or two, or that’s going to impact your finances. Don’t hope that you’ll be making enough to afford the space, but instead make sure that it can be cost effective as well as help your business grow.