Why You Might Need a Photography Studio
The photography studio has been the traditional workplace for the professional photographer since the earliest days of commercial portraiture. Back in those days, cameras were large and heavy and the “photo lab” was on-site. A studio afforded the photographer the ability to work from a fixed location, control their environment and backgrounds, and have customers come to them, instead of the other way around. Some of these are still practical reasons for some photographers to own their own studios.
But does the average portrait photographer really need a studio these days? Cameras are much smaller now; almost all the gear a photographer uses is extremely portable. And it’s relatively easy to do good photography in almost any environment. So if the controlled setting of a studio isn’t always necessary for good, professional headshots and portraits why do some portrait photographers still prefer working in the studio?
Do You Need Studio Space?
When considering setting up or renting studio space, think about the final product you want to deliver and whether or not it’s possible in the spaces that are already available to you. Things like framing up your shots and the field of view (FOV) you’ll be working with should be considered. Do you have enough room to work?
For example, a standard head-and-shoulders portrait can be created against a short roll of seamless background paper (about 53” wide). You don’t want to use a wide angle lens up-close, so something in the 85mm range on a standard full-frame camera should do the trick at about 10 ft or so from the subject. I’ve gotten good results with a 50mm in close quarters, too. If you’re shooting groups, you’ll need something equivalent to a 9 ft-wide roll of seamless and at least 15 ft of distance from the subjects.
There’s also lighting placement to consider. Most homes and apartments have 8-9 ft ceilings, which is a limitation when it comes to using very large softboxes or lights on booms. If you have a space with at least 12 ft ceilings, you won’t have that problem.
Your personal preferences and working style are also very important considerations when it comes to making decisions about studio space. Here are some things to think about:
Are you comfortable having clients and/or models come to your home or other personal space for photoshoots? I’m generally fine with that, but I can understand how some might not be comfortable with people and their friends or family being in their homes, especially if they don’t really know them that well.
Maybe you’re worried that clients might not take you seriously if you do the photography in your own home. I’ll mention here that for several years virtually ALL of my boudoir work was done in my own home. My clients had no problem being photographed in my living room and even the garage. The most important things to them were enjoying the experience and the resulting photographs and albums.
Your subjects will accept where and how you work, within reason, as your way of working your photographic magic. But if you’re uncomfortable or feel your space is lacking, they might sense this and it will make them uncomfortable, too.
When a Photography Studio Isn’t Needed
So, there certainly are some potential benefits to using a studio as your working environment. But does shooting in a studio help you make better photos? Not necessarily. In fact, it could be more trouble than it’s worth.
A studio is kind of a blank canvas. That’s exciting. But it falls on you to create the entire environment depicted in the photographs. You can do that with set-building and styling, or with basic backdrops like fabric and seamless paper backgrounds. If the studio has “character,” it probably has the potential to serve as its own background. If not, you might have to get creative.
If, even with a studio to work with, all you’ve ended up doing is hanging up a roll of seamless, and that’s all anyone sees as the background in the final images, was the studio space even necessary? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.
Working in a photography studio just for its own sake shouldn’t be a given. Maybe you prefer the look of real-world environments for your portraits. If you like the look of outdoor photography, street portraits, editorial-style images with a sense of nature or urban settings, you’re not going to want to be stuck in a studio.
Full-time boudoir photographers might find it beneficial to invest in their own studio space, props and decor. Part-time boudoir photographers wanting posh environments will probably save a lot of money by just shooting in a hotel room rather than trying to recreate those looks in the studio. Many boudoir photographers, like myself, don’t prominently feature the boudoir environment as much as creatively “hint” at it in the photos, focusing more on the subject. So, an actual boudoir set or environment isn’t always necessary.
In general, if your working style and requirements don’t call for a studio, a studio might actually place limits on the ways you work best.
I Use a Photography Studio, Sometimes
I’ve considered running my own studio. But at this point, that would require work that goes beyond what I got into photography for in the first place. I’d have to focus my efforts on booking clients all the time, or renting studio time to other photographers just to afford the space. I don’t think I’d be interested in doing that right now.
I have, at times, purchased monthly time in a professional studio. Block rates tended to be less expensive than standard rates. But I had to pay a set amount every month and find available slots in the studio’s schedule because other photographers were also booking blocks. Once the time was paid for, I had to use it or lose it. And frankly, there were times that I had the studio booked and, for one reason or another, a shoot didn’t happen that day. So, that was wasted money.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the time, I made very good use of the studio. Yes, some of the shoots could’ve happened outdoors or at my apartment. But there were plenty of times I was glad that the shoots were happening at the studio location. I will continue to rent studio space on an as-needed basis. But those times have been few and far between in recent years.
Should You Rent Studio Time?
If you own your own studio, and it doesn’t suck your time and money away from other important things, I don’t see much of a downside to it. But if you’re thinking about booking time at a studio, consider that it’s just a room after all. And this room’s got rules you have to follow, and insurance requirements you have to meet. Still, although working in a studio won’t make you a better photographer, it can make shoots easier and more enjoyable sometimes.
Some studios have nice amenities for you and your crew. Like rest areas, makeup and wardrobe areas. And, yes if you do have a crew, you might want to do your shoot in a proper photography studio just to keep things manageable. Personally, I don’t want a bunch of people milling about, having unsupervised access to my home when I’m behind the camera.
Some studio rentals allow for the use of lighting and gear you don’t otherwise have access to. This is a great way to save money and experiment with lighting equipment you don’t own. Plus, you don’t have to lug lighting gear to the studio if it’s already there!
It all comes down to practicality, money, and usefulness. I don’t usually have the need to work out of a rented studio, but there are times when it makes sense.