Eye on Business | To Studio Or Not to Studio

To studio or not to studio?  THAT is the question.

Sorry, could not resist that one.

Have you ever found yourself daydreaming of a studio? An urban space with high ceilings, brick walls and art samples 4 feet high.  One with super sleek floors and equipment that hangs and rolls on casters. And of course, one with with a plethora of assistants working in wardrobe and makeup…then there’s the filming crew filming you as you work for your own reality TV show….

Ok, so I’m getting just a teeny tad carried away.  A girl can dream, right?

Well, this girl, Jodee Ball, dreams big. No, I don’t own an urban studio and BravoTV hasn’t called met, but I do run a small studio.  And if you had asked me 5 years ago if I’d be running my own business I would have answered, “In my dreams!”

I set out to find out what SSG followers had to say about owning/renting a studio space. I think it’s a leap that many photographers dream of taking. Here is a summation of what  your industry friends had to say.

Of the surveys I received back, 10% do not utilize studio, 26% run an in home studio, 10% work out of a studio on their property but not inside their home and 53% rent/own a studio that is separate from their residence and located in their local community or city (I called this option storefront).

My next question was how much money they invested to set up their space including decor, equipment, samples, etc… What I noticed is that those who had studios on their property (not in home) generally spent more to setup their space. This could be because of a structure remodel; however, the range for studios inside the home varied from 0-$20K and the same was true for storefront studios.

Then I asked the first question anyone would ask about renting a studio space. How much does it cost per month including utilities?  I think you’ll be surprised here. Obviously, these are photographers from various parts of the country and in different economies and community types; however, that didn’t really have a bearing on this question! Those who rented a studios had rent ranging from $250-$1400/month. I even emailed one of the photographers who responded because I thought she had a typo on her form -no typo… she pays a whopping $300/month for an urban space in a popular, hip city!

The pros and cons of operating a studio were fairly consistent. The most common positive aspect was the photographers felt they were viewed as “legitimate” professionals in the field. Many also stated they saw an increase in clientele that, in turn, helped with the extra monthly expense. Many of those who operate studios not inside their homes said they like how they can separate home life from work life. And finally, many said they can now shoot throughout the year and this keeps bookings continuous during the months of inclement weather.

The cons were that owning a studio adds extra overhead and can be very time consuming. Did you notice the negative list was much shorter?

The most helpful information came in my last question. I asked the photographers to give any advice they may have regarding operating a studio. The answers were full of wisdom and if you’re dreaming of and looking into opening a studio then read these responses carefully. I thought about giving you a blanket summation of the responses, but they were too good to not quote.

“Know your style first and have a clear plan! Investing in a studio is counterproductive if 90% of your work is done on location and you haven’t figured out the logistics of how/when/why/ you plan to use the space or the expense invested.”

“Business plan, work with your local bank, learn of networking opportunities in your communities. Practice, practice, practice.”

 “Spend as little $ as possible….pay off your business credit card every month…in other words, don’t buy anything you cannot pay cash for.”

“Go slow! We waited three years before taking the plunge.”

“Be smart. Save a lot of money – don’t borrow – then open up. Be on top of your craft, have a clientele… don’t open & then hope to hone your craft & find clients… It’s MUCH MUCH more difficult that way.”

“Make sure you’re fully committed to working a lot of hours to get things off the ground. Whatever you think it will cost / hours it will take, double them. Make a written business plan, (with exit strategy if things don’t work out), and KNOW YOUR NUMBERS!”

 “Take the risk! Its worth it if you use it right! I was so afraid to make the jump on my second studio space because I wasn’t utilizing the first one in the right way, but it was the best business decision I ever made!

Also, timing is everything! It is crucial to snag your space before someone else grabs it BUT its also important to be able to move in during a slow season. Otherwise, you’re paying for a space that you can’t use which makes the move in a MUCH bigger expense. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Painting, hanging up shelves and wall art are all things you can do alone. Plus, everyone needs a shopping buddy for those 12 trips to IKEA! (Yep, TWELVE freakin’ trips!)”

“Make sure it is something you really need and can afford. Having the additional overhead can be a huge burden and cause added stress if you are worried about making it work. How often a week will you be using it? What will you be using it for? Can you share it with another creative? Find a way to make it work for your budget and your clients. Just remember having a studio space does not make you a better or more qualified photographer 😉 I got my office after being in business full time for 4 years, and am thankful for those first years to be able to grow my business and put that money towards marketing and other expenses until I was in a place financially to afford an office/separate studio space.”

“Make it work for you, not the way you THINK it should work, but the way YOU work.

I don’t do large groups in studio, it’s that simple, I don’t do it, I say no. If they love my work, they’ll wait until outdoor season or follow my advice on shooting outside in the cold! I don’t do seniors in studio either…… I only do newborns and small children (maybe Mom and Dad with baby).

Make sure you save money where you can. Ikea has great, clean/simple furniture and displays that will help showcase your work and not take away from it. Don’t go cheap on lighting, backdrops, and products.”

“My two pieces of advice is 1) Utilities Included!! The more you have control of your expenses the better you will be able to keep track of your budget/profit. 2) location, location, location! Choose a place that will help generate business. I market to seniors and therefore being centrally located in downtown Louisville was important. Seniors want the urban feel and my studio is right in the heart of the city where we can meet up & travel by foot to many different urban locations. Secondly, it is centrally located to all the surrounding counties/school districts so there is no excuse to pass me up as a potential photographer. I live in the burbs about 20 min. south of the city. If I had chosen a location where I live it would have limited my potential clientele base.”

“I think every new photographer dreams of having a studio, but I can say I jumped in too soon and lost a lot of sleep. My biggest piece of advice is wait and make sure you can live with giving up hard earned money. I think a lot about the $12K that goes to the studio every year. You truly have to weigh the studio against the money. Make sure it’s worth it before jumping in.”

“You have to look at your business, your finances, your individual situation… Decide what would work best for YOU.”

“Make sure you can afford it and do all the cost analysis of your business. The biggest thing would be having to close it up because you didn’t plan accordingly. Don’t go into debt for a studio.”

“Give serious thought as to how you use the space (client meetings, work space, etc). Be sure the space works for you. Lighting is hugely important.”

“Don’t jump into it impulsively. Make sure that it’s in a smart location, that you are prepared to pay for the initial set up costs, and when you launch it, launch it completely ready to go, not still a work in progress. You want to launch with a bang and let momentum build, not always be in a state of being apologetic and still not having all your samples and systems up and running.”

“Make sure that you plan, plan, plan – you’ll need a very detailed vision of exactly what you want – and work out every kink you can think of before you spend a single dime. Be sure that you want to be “tied” to a studio in the first place.”

“Start small and make sure that you can financially support yourself with the added cost of a studio.”


Special thanks to the following photographers for taking time to answer the survey! They are linked – go say hello!

Tizanna Photography

Cara Dyke Photography

Stephanie Newbold Photography

Joan Sutton Photography 

Danah Zoulek Photography 

Jen Sinclair Photography 

Paul Bradley Photography

Shabby Jack Photography 

Leslie Savage Photography 

Katie Blattel Photography 

Real Promises Photography  and her great before/after studio blog post!

Theresa Marie Photography

Kelley J. Photography

Van de Steene Photography 

Emily Jane 

The Reflections Studio

Shutter the Thought Photography