For a lot of us who are chasing a career in photography, we soon come to a bit of a pinch point. We have thrown all our money into cameras, computers, lenses, and lights, so our house is a mess of kit clutter. Here’s how to build your own dedicated studio.
Your incessant search for weather-safe locations is starting to take up as much time as the actual jobs. Perhaps you are fed up of working where you live or you hanker after somewhere that little bit more professional to hold meetings than your local coffee shop. Either way, it’s probably about time to find your first studio.
My first was very simple and cost me next to nothing to set up. I rented a large room above a bar in the city center and purchased a roll of white paper. Apart from that, I had four cheap speedlights, a few shoot-through umbrellas, a desk, and a cheap PC. That was it. From that space and with that limited kit, I shot bags of local work and even some national campaigns. That studio space was far more important than any of the equipment that I owned prior to setting up. Yes, it no longer made the UK shooting a weather gamble, but it was much more emotional than that. Until then, when anyone asked what I did for a living, I’d explain carefully that I was a photographer, that I didn’t need a studio really, and that I was happy with that. I was protesting too much! In the early days, that big step of hiring my first studio filled me with a confidence that was well worth the paltry monthly fee. But hey, I was very lucky to find such a cost-effective deal. Bankrupting yourself to boost your self-esteem isn’t advised. Here are a few factors to consider when looking for your first space:
Find a space that is of use to your clients. Yes, the geography needs to work for you too, but you are secondary. My first studio was in the city center, near the railway station. At the time, this was really important to me. I was quite rightly worried that people would not want to travel far, as I was only a few years into my trade. My current studio is a bit farther out due to my evolved needs. I have better parking, motorway access, and you don’t have to deal with tight roads when bringing large vans or lorries to the studio. If you need a large space, having somewhere out of town can also save you a lot of money, meaning you don’t have to work this into your fees.
Studios come in all shapes and sizes. If you are a tabletop photographer or work in certain small-scale genres, then you can get away with a window, space for a table, and just enough room to fit your camera in. If your work is a bit more varied, then you need to start running some calculations. For example, the highest object/subject, the widest group of subjects or object, and then the way that you like to light. Pull out the inverse square law and chuck a few percents extra in to make sure you can get around your modifiers. Most of us don’t actually need as much space as we think we do. My studio is around 220 square meters, and I always pine for more, but in reality, I would just store more junk in there.
The biggest one is making sure that you can get a full-sized paper roll inside the space. I viewed several rooms before I found one that was both big enough and had access to get a 2.75-meter paper roll in. I couldn’t afford anything on a ground floor, so lifts and staircases were a bit of a problem. Depending on the type of photography you do, it is wise to make sure you can get your products in easily.
I work predominantly with industry people. Having pristine bathrooms, changing rooms, etc. isn’t overly high on my priority list. The heating isn’t the greatest and it is not a pretty place. But it does have two loading bays, which I could not live without. However, if you are working with families or private clients, having a warm, inviting space is important. You need nice bathrooms and well-lit changing facilities as well as a comfy space for the possible relatives of the subject to wait.
You really don’t need bags of photographic kit to set up a profitable studio. I started off with two Canon 5D cameras, a 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm lens, a handful of speedlights, and a lot of AA batteries. My current studio is far more heavily kitted out, but that has taken four years of slow investment and hard work. If you have a camera and a light, you have enough to get going. Don’t let photography magazines and peer pressure tell you otherwise. I know pros who still shoot with Canon 1DS Mark II cameras and the same 24-105mm lens they have probably had for a decade. Their work is still amazing.
Chances are that if it is your first studio, you probably won’t have bags of cash to spend on rent. See it as a stepping stone to being able to bring in more clients. In my simple head, I removed a few of my monthly outgoings, added in the potential income of one additional sitting a month, and came to the conclusion that I could afford £250 a month for a small space to get started with. So, for £3,000 a year (the cost of a full-frame camera), I had premises that allowed me to make far more money than upgrading to the latest pro camera would. Coincidentally, I still use the same Canon 5D cameras for 75 percent of my paid work today as I did back then.
I have found that hiring a good working space has had more worth to me than any of the photographic equipment that I’ve purchased over the years. And this comes from someone who is fortunate enough to have access to some very exotic cameras, lenses, and lights. This year, I have put all of my spare time and money into making the studio an even more user-friendly space. It’s taking a while, as it has to fit in with my shoot schedule, but I am certain the work I produce will be better than if I threw another few thousand at the kit.
For those of you who are looking to make the leap to renting a studio, what are the barriers that are currently holding you back?