If I would ask you to describe the studio space of your dreams, you could immediately explain everything to the smallest details: from its size, the floor plan, the colours, the design, furniture, equipment, gear, props and storage....
Naturally, we all have an idea about this happy space in mind!
When looking into the timeline of our creative journey, first we find ourselves at a smaller or bigger fraction of our own home with camera in hand and some delicious hero in front of it, right? For many of us, this space more or less remains the stage of creation for a long time, while some of us realise a need for change and upgrade to a separate workspace.
But what's the best option for our needs? When it's the right time to upgrade or downgrade? What we gain and what we lose by these changes?
In this episode of the 'Let's Talk About...' blog post series, we will discuss discuss the characteristics of the different studio spaces. Are you ready to figure out which is the best workplace option for your needs? Let's figure this out together!
If you are interested in learning more about camera angles, manual settings on your camera, composition, and food styling tricks and tips, you can check the previous episodes of this popular blog series by clicking here.
My Story Of Downgrade
Last month, my business celebrated its first anniversary in Finland and this milestone did not pass without changes.
After one and a half years of working in a separate studio space, I re-claimed my home studio. Now you might think:
- Are you crazy?! Why taking a step backwards and exchange your separate studio space to a home studio again?!
I totally get you... for a long time I was also dreaming about a separate studio space, and I thought that is the ultimate sign of success in business. I still believe that this is the right direction for the ambitions of us creatives.
My studio went through a broad evolution from shooting on my kitchen countertop to having a separate studio with its own kitchen. By going through these phases in the past years, I gathered all information I needed to make beneficial decisions about my studio space without letting my ambitions affecting the outcome.
This is how I ended up taking this unusual direction of improvement, by giving up my separate studio space and bringing my gear and props home, and here is why...
I loved working in my separate studio space. It had a nice kitchen which I fully equipped, a big fridge and enough room for all my gear and props. It made me super proud that after many years of work in different home studios, that I was able to fulfil my dream and get -and what is more important-, upkeep this creative oasis dedicated to my passion and profession. The past one and a half years in my studio helped me to learn a lot about what I'm capable of as an entrepreneur and how to make things -that I considered impossible- happen anyway.
But I had to realise, that the joy of spontaneous creation nearly vanished from my life.
When you are doing food photography as a hobby, you create with this joy this all the time. When you turn your "passion into a profession", you are not always asked to add your own vision and creative ideas to a client project, instead, you will learn how to listen to others lead, and follow others' creative direction, vision or an external brief. When your schedule is getting full with client projects, you have less time to do the kind of photography you enjoyed a lot when it was only a hobby, so these playful moments of spontaneous creation become very precious to professionals. This is when we are able to make something happen without any pressure, risk, or having to consider the opinion of others... we just keep taking photos for our own pleasure and happiness.
In my case losing the "mojo" did not happen overnight. The process was well hidden behind everyday challenges and priorities, while the anxiety just kept building up, and I kept digging deeper to find out what was causing it without any luck. On a Sunday morning -which I can recall very clearly-, I came to the conclusion that by having my stuff somewhere else, I pretty much disabled the option to create in the moments of ad-hoc inspiration. The realisation was so powerful that made me cry the entire day and when I pulled myself together, I started to uncover what is holding me back from getting the magic back.
In the middle of this process, we made a decision with my partner to move together, which served as an indirect cure to my anxiety. By this, I got the chance to reclaim my home studio if I feel like it, so downgrading was not a direct solution, but it came up as an opportunity.
I decided to consider it, so I created floor plans and measured everything to see how my equipment and props can fit in, without destroying the functionality of our home. As everything seemed to work out for me and also for my family without compromises, I got ready to set up a home studio again!
I am grateful for all the different scenarios in life that allowed me to try different workspaces for my studio and based on these experiences, I was able to clearly define my needs, instead of chasing an unreasonable dream or visualising myself at a place where someone else put me.
In the future, my line of work might change in a way that I will photograph bigger products or people and even expand my team, which will probably make me re-consider having my studio at a separate location again, but for now, I am (back) at the right place!
I wish that at I would have the chance to see clearly what I can win and what I might lose when upgrading or downgrading my creative workspace. Hopefully this post will save you 6 years worth of experimenting and will help clarifying your true needs.
In the following chapters, I will share my thoughts about the different studio spaces, based on my direct experience over the past 6 years. I tried many things that failed miserably in the end, and I had to make many compromises before I discovered, what helps me to maximise productivity at present. In addition to these, I will also highlight important aspects that you might never considered before regarding your present or future studio.
1. Have it all under one roof
Cook and bake in your fully equipped kitchen and bring the heroes right in front of your camera, consider all props you have for styling. No photoshoot needs to stop because you forgot to bring something important from one place to another.
2. Start shooting at any time you feel inspired
Did you see your next hero in those sad old wrinkly apples from your party? Turn on your camera and start the photoshoot! You do not have to pack up and have all the hassle of bringing those apples to another location to be able to capture some nice photos.
3. Schedule work and personal tasks flexibly
As part of the entrepreneur lifestyle, we set our own schedule and prioritise our tasks, but remember: to stay productive in a flexible environment requires consistency in your daily schedule in combination with smart task management.
4. Feel instantly connected to your workspace
As you are working from home, you will easily find your way around in this familiar and dear environment, which makes you more focused and productive.
5. No extra budget needed
You can save a lot on business expenses by not having to buy/rent studio space and cover its running costs. But make sure to check, if your home insurance is covering your gear, props and home operation, otherwise consider getting separate corporate insurance.
1. Get constantly distracted
Get prepared to experience some distraction when the family or your furry friends keep requiring your constant presence.
2. Set clear boundaries for work time
When working from home, juggling between work and personal matters unplanned elongates the time you spend on each task, and also can affect your focus and productivity.
3. Accept limitations in customisability
A home is primarily a home, which hosts your home studio only until it has the capacity to do so. Do not sacrifice the basic principles of a functional home, as it is very difficult to revert it back to normal.
4. Clean up and hide your gear like nothing happened
If you have no dedicated space in the house for your home studio, be it a corner, a room, a workshop or a shed, your beautiful home will quickly turn into a prop warehouse. Draw a line where your workspace ends, otherwise, the private spaces of your house will slowly lose their function, charm and even their ability to make you feel relaxed. Not even mentioning, that this will put a significant amount of additional stress on you and everyone else in your household in the long run.
5. Be OK with a narrow line of work
It is nearly impossible to get hired for jobs where you need to shoot large objects (furniture, cars etc) or build large sets as your available space is limited.
1. Free time starts when leaving your studio
Having a studio outside your home allows to separate work time and free time easier. But remember: as an entrepreneur you are the person who sets your schedule, the level of productivity and the way your time is spent!
2. Have a home without work clutter
As you are storing all your photography gear, studio equipment and props at another location you can reclaim the home studio space and put it into personal use again.
3. Enjoy more privacy
You can invite collaboration partners, co-workers and clients directly to your studio which allows keeping your personal space and home free from any work-related visits and protect the privacy of your personal life.
4. Work without compromises
You can select the studio location and arrange the space in a way that serves your business and processes the best. You can paint the walls neutral grey, attach backdrop stand systems to the walls, and keep your favourite setup in front of the camera, choose the size of the space as it fits the best to your line of work. You don't have to hide or mask anything to maintain the aesthetics of your home.
5. Make a creative mess with no regrets
You don't have to worry anymore about what is falling on your beautiful carpet, nice walls or wooden flooring. If something spills or leaves a stain, you can clean up or re-paint it. You never have to prevent, fix or live together with any damage to your valuable items and furniture at home as a result of a fun but messy photo session.
1. Plan everything upfront
Planning ahead is very important as it helps us to maximise productivity, but never forget that killing unplanned, ad-hoc projects can easily make you lose the option of spontaneous creation. When you have a separate studio space, your camera and basic gear are normally at that location, so unless you constantly move a lot of stuff between the two places, you cannot create -at least not the same quality content as you can do in your studio- whenever you get inspired at home.
2. Take care of constant logistics and transport
You can easily find yourself transferring items, subjects, props, tools, and kitchenware between your home and studio. If you cook or bake something at home that you want to capture, you need to transport the food safely between the two places. These can be solved by making an investment and buying a separate set of all frequently used items and doing 100% of the baking and food prep for the photoshoots in your studio's kitchen.
3. Get used to commuting
You need to arrange a convenient way to move between your home and the studio, be it public transport, or car and cover the commuting costs. Alternatively, you can also jump on your bike and take care of your daily cardio at the same time.
4. Establish connection to your new workspace
Your creativity and productivity can be negatively affected when you move your home studio to a separate studio space until you find your way around and finalise the arrangement in a way that works the most for your needs.
5. Budget for additional costs
Having a separate studio space requires you to allocate a budget for buying or renting the property, paying the utilities, getting insurance, arranging security and equipping the place in a way that you have all necessary items, and machines available. If you are doing food-related work, you also need to consider choosing a place with a suitable kitchen or building it from scratch. The cost of your separate studio space will instantly become the most expensive line item in your Cost Of Doing Business calculation in addition to a one-time cost of all necessary equipment.
Exercise: Evaluate Your Present Workspace
- Read the pros and cons of home studio and separate studio space.
- Get your favourite pen and a notepad (or open a digital note).
- Based on your personal experience consider what is working, what is not working, what would be nice to be different and the goals you are working on.
- Write down these bullet points as your own pros and cons for both the home studio + separate studio space.
- Your notes will give you a clear picture on how to improve your present workspace and also a hint if you are compromising too much -which indicates to consider a different workspace solution-.
I invited a professional photographer friend to process this topic by looking into the different types of photography workspaces in more detail. Welcome, David Pahmp on board!
Who are you and what is your photography specialty?
I'm David Pahmp, commercial advertising photographer – that’s how I title myself and what kind of work I look for. Although it is often beneficial to focus on one area, like product, food, portraits etc, I’ve always had a hard time to leave any of those behind. My number one skill would probably be high end product and liquid photography, but since I want to work with and serve ad agencies, having the competence to manage and combine these, often becomes advantageous.
So, starting out as a graphic designer, using photography as a complementary service to my clientele, a few years ago, I realised this was where my passion lies, and I started to pursue a career as a photographer more wholeheartedly. At that time, I had been renting a small basement space for the little studio equipment I owned, but decided to move it to my home office, as the space didn’t have any bathroom and was not very inviting to work in, nor welcome any models or clients to.
What type of studio spaces did you have during your career?
So, as soon as began to focus more on photography, it was a home studio that was my thing. The backdrop hid the sofa, and clearing the sofa table, I used my living room as both a portrait and product studio. The kitchen served as a makeup station. Here I shot many models for free, and also some paying clients. I remember shooting a rock band, who got the awkward surprise coming to a small home, not a professional studio. But after they started to see the result on the screen, they relaxed and left pleased.
What are the pros and cons of working at a home studio?
One of the top pros working from home is that you have everything right there. If you need a screwdriver, a toaster, piles of books, or whatever, you don’t have to invest in separate sets for the studio. That still is a thing I’m reminded of, over a year after not working at home anymore. Since I ran my graphic design business from home, and already had the discipline working in solitude and with the comfort and distractions from your living space right there, that part wasn’t a problem.
However, a con was feeling awkward to invite important clients over for a shoot. It just didn’t feel professional bringing in an Art Director from a top Ad Agency in your home, even though they were mainly focused on the result. Another part was, when shooting a lot, you suddenly had to leave the set up for days, resulting in not having a living room for that same period of time.
What are the pros and cons of having a separate studio?
My next step was renting a small shop space next door, as a studio. Suddenly I could fit a lot more equipment, props, backdrops, a proper makeup station, a sofa for clients to sit down. Now the business turned a lot more professional in its appearance, and it made it possible to accept bigger assignments, that required more space. Although the shooting space was a bit narrow, it accommodated most of my shoots.
Apart from that, one big advantage was of course you could leave the setup up for as long as needed. If someone called with short notice, everything was more or less already ready to go.
But now you also had to start having dedicated tools, utilities, utensils for the studio, an extended insurance, paying rent, internet, electrical bill etc. The added costs are both recurring and investment based.
Next step for me was to move to a shared studio space. This studio I’m currently located at is shared with 3 other photographers, so now you suddenly can’t leave your equipment setup anymore. That means for even a short shoot, you have at least 30 to 60 minutes prep and disassemble time.
When is the right time to upgrade from a home studio to a separate studio space?
The advice I’ve always tried to live by is – clients first.
You don’t go invest and hope clients shows up, or even get attracted just because you have a photography business or studio. Sure, it helps to convince people if you can show your space can accommodate their needs, but financially, it’s better to rent or borrow what you need until you can afford to increase your costs. For many types of work you also would never need to move out of your home studio. Shooting food, products you really don’t need much space. So, I would say – don’t get a studio until you really can afford and really need it.
What is the best way to estimate the ideal size of a photographer's workspace?
Sure, I love that my current studio space is big enough that you can bring a car in, and on occasion we’ve had models riding bikes in there. But 90% of my work I would never need that amount of space.
This would be my thoughts about studio size.
The standard roll of paper backdrop is slightly less than 3 meters wide. I managed to work in my 4.5 meter wide living room Yes, the lights were intruding on the backdrop a bit, but it worked, and I had to use a wide angle lens for full body shots, so not perfect. A space that’s maybe 6x6 meters, or a bit longer that you can stand further away would be good. If bigger, then you can fit v-flats and really work with more intricate lighting setups. Having enough ceiling clearance is really beneficial, so you can put lights from above.
Products and food:
No matter how much space you have, your set will be small and cramped, because you often want those lights and diffusors really tight. In other words, you would seldom need a space bigger than 3x3 to 4x4 meters. Here you don’t need as much ceiling height, but still it’s always nice if you can place lights and camera where you want them, which includes from above.