What To Look For When Opening a Photography Studio

At our last meeting one of the photographers that I mentor was telling me that she was thinking about opening a photography studio.  Opening a studio location is a big step for any photographer and should be done for the right reasons.   Our discussion made me think of an article I wrote for the Clickin Moms blog a while ago on this exact subject.  I have not shared it here till now so here it is – better late than never, right?  So if you are a professional photographer and are contemplating whether or not you should open a brick and mortar location check out what I’ve got to say on the subject:


Before you call real estate agents and start checking out listings I want you to sit down and think about WHY you want a studio.  I am a bit ashamed to admit it, but I remember that when I was just starting out in this business over 5 years ago I felt that all photographers who had retail studio space had ‘made’ it in this business and that was THE reason why I wanted a studio.  Having a studio was ‘cool’ and I really wanted it because well, I WANTED it!

I am the first to admit that was NOT a good reason to go and sign a lease for a retail space. 

You need a reason other than ‘because I want it’.   I hope this article will help you decide whether or not now is the right time for you to get a retail space and if the time is right – how to go about doing it.

1. List your OBJECTIVES for having a studio

Okay, we’ve established that you want a studio – after all, show me a photographer who doesn’t, right?   But why do you need it?   And keep in mind that ‘just because’ is not a good reason.  A good way to figure out whether or not you actually need it is to list out objectives for having a studio.

  1. Will having a studio space allow you to take on more clients?
  2. Do you need a place to meet prospective clients?
  3. Are you considering to moving to an in-person ordering sales model, need a place to meet with clients and feel that meeting at a local coffee shop does not go with your brand?
  4. Do you want to expand to another market – such as head-shots, boudoir and need a dedicated space to do that?
  5. Do you feel that having a retail presence will open up more opportunities and separate you from your local competition?

Either one of these may work for you or you have a completely different list of objectives for having a studio space.  Whatever it is, you need to make sure that you have valid reasons for getting a space.

2. List Criteria for your Studio

Based on the why you need a studio you should write down criteria for the studio and rank them in order of importance.  For example:

  1. Location: Do you want to be in a retail location that gets a lot of foot traffic.  If one of the objectives for having a retail space is to get more clientele and to establish yourself as a high-end boutique studio then having a central location should definitely be on the top of your list.  Do you need to be at street level or would a higher floor be fine?  Which neighborhoods or towns would you consider given your clientele?
  2. Price: How price sensitive are you and what can you afford?  If you find a perfect place outside of your set budget would you be OK to up your budget?  You should make sure your studio becomes and asset and not a liability, so plan carefully within your budget.
  3. Light: Are you planning to use your studio for natural light photography only?  Or are you planning to use studio lights, in which case natural light is not as important?   If natural light is important make sure you view the space at a couple of different times of the day and I recommend actually bringing your camera to try it out.
  4. Size: Do you need something large or you can make do with a small studio.  Now bear in mind that the definition of ‘large’ or ‘small’ varies greatly depending where you are located.  I am in the NYC area and I consider a 1000 sq foot studio large.  But somewhere where space comes at less of a premium a 1000 sq ft studio may be considered very small.  So see what works in your market.
  5. Look and feel: What feeling do you get from the studio? Do you want an ‘industrial’ look or something more ‘homey’?   Are you looking for high ceilings and wood floors?   You should make sure that your space reflects your brand.  Keep in mind that there are some things that you can change once you rent the place – with the permission of your landlord of course.  Wood paneled walls can be replaced with dry wall and painted, carpet floors can be ripped out and replaced with hard woods but all of that costs money and you would need to account for that in your budget.


3. Budget for Everything

  1. On-Going Expenses: Besides rent you also need to account for on-going expenses: utilities, cleaning crew, supplies, snacks, beverages, etc.
  2. One-time Expenses: Setting up a studio takes a lot of effort and can take a lot of $$$ as well.   Here are examples of one-time expenses: remodeling (if any), furniture, equipment, samples, Grand Opening and advertising/marketing.
  3. Paying for it: Do you have enough money saved up to pay for one-time set up expenses?  Or will you need to go into debt because of it?

4. Decide on a Budget

Think about how much you can afford to spend on a studio space each month.  Where will those $$$ come from?  Will you be able to take on more clients, or do you need to raise your prices to cover the rent?  You want to make sure that having a retail space will help you add to your bottom line, not subtract from it.  Come up with a budget and see whether or not you can afford to space for a retail space and if so – how much.   And make sure you take into account ‘slow’ season – because you need to pay rent no matter how few sessions you have.  I recommend you to put your ‘rent’ money away for a few months while you are conducting your search. This way you will know what impact paying rent every month will have on your finances.

5. Keep an Open Mind and Look at the Big Picture

When my real estate agent first showed me the space that would eventually become my studio I turned it down right away.  It was small, had outdated dropped ceiling with industrial lights and wood-paneled walls that did not go with my high-end contemporary brand.   But after seeing a few more spaces and not finding anything I loved I kept going back to it because it fit most of my criteria.  It was in a great location, had amazing light, and fit into my budget.  And after remodeling it to make it fit my brand I ended up with a studio space that I absolutely LOVE.

So keep an open mind – don’t discard a place that does not look perfect.  Instead think about how it fits into your criteria and whether you can do anything to it in order to make it your perfect space.

Having a retail space is great.  But like most great things, it also comes responsibility – you need to pay rent EVERY SINGLE MONTH – no matter how many or how few clients you have.  But if you get the studio for the right reasons and get the right studio FOR YOU, you will absolutely love it.  I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I come to mine.

black and white maternity photograph

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