How To Find A Good Photo Studio

As a professional commercial photographer, studio photography accounts for roughly two-thirds of all my work. Whether it’s editorial fashion, eCommerce, headshot, family photography or any other content my clients come to me for it’s often a studio venue is the correct location to deliver on the brief.

Cool stuff, there’s plenty of studios about. Hey maybe my client has one lined up already, or I’ll source one close to where they live.

The place will probably have all the right lights and accessories and if there’s stuff I don’t know about the studio guy will be on hand to show me how to set up and help me get the shots I want.
Of course, like many things in photography, it isn’t that straightforward.

In this article, I aim to give a broad overview of studio photography to help you get the best out of a venue.

(It’s a little bit of reading)

You may be new to photography and wary of the studio, you may be a regular visitor looking for that bit of info that just pushes your sessions that little bit further.
Or you could be a seasoned pro who knows and applies most of this already.

Either way, I hope you all can get something from this post.

I will cover off choosing the right studio, how to prepare yourself, your clients and your camera. Basic lighting concepts and how to work with different types of clients.

In short how to take full advantage of studios. I will mostly frame this guidance within the setting of commercial and fashion shooting but the basic stuff here is applicable to whatever reason you need a studio for.

Normal Day at The Office - Photography Studio Backstage
Normal Day at The Office – Photography Studio Backstage

Why may cheap photography studio cost you a client?

When you see a website or online advert for a photographic studio there is typically one thing that is the same for all. They will look Great! Just perfect.

Bright, white, and very clean. Brilliant news, let’s book that one!
All I have to do as a photographer is roll up on the day and shoot. The amazing images of the space and the sample photography that has been captured there tell me all I need to know.

My client is going to love my work and the experience, the price is lower than I expected and I’m going to have a breeze of an afternoon in this super slick space, things couldn’t be better!

Believe me, I’ve been there. Quite a few times.
And quite a few times I realised the shoot is going awry down to the fact I have overlooked what should frankly be very obvious;

Not All Studios Are Equal.

I have found myself shooting from inside the toilet just to get enough distance from my model to have the shoes in the frame, I’ve worked in spaces that were bizarrely colder than the winter chill outside, venues where the floor’s relationship with a fresh lick of paint was ‘complicated’ and even a studio where the proprietor walked onto set every 10 minutes to “check everything is okay” – or in real terms – be nosey and stare at people.

Okay so before we get stuck into what makes a great studio and how best to use it let’s have a quote, photographers love quotes.
Especially from other photographers.
I know loads, but I only care for one and it underpins the whole of this article.

If the sole purpose of all of us coming together is the creation of a photograph there is only one person who has sole responsibility for that happening – the photographer

You can Google it, it doesn’t come up as it’s not by anyone famous. It’s by me. It’s a mantra I live by every time I’m booked to shoot something.

I may have cobbled it together from elsewhere but it matters not. It’s the meaning counts.The buck stops with you. You need to be over every detail.

Pro Image Studio - Few Stands And Lights
Few Stands And Lights, Booms And Supports, Few Softboxes And Reflectors, Cables And Computers, Camera, Photographer, Model, Makeup Artist, Hair Stylist, Wardrobe Guru, Guy Delivering Pizza And That Is All You Need To Press The Shutter 🙂

How To Find A Good Photo Studio?

Right, choosing a studio. Not one where you will be stood on a toilet to get all of your subjects in the shot. Not one where you will be interrupted and not one where the floor or cove or Colorama looks like a 3-day rave finished an hour before you got there.

The first thing I want to know about is space, space and actual dimensions.
Good studios will have a floorplan on their website (something like this: Floorplan of Studio AFloorplan of Studio B ) with dimensions so you can gauge your shoot lines. It also helps greatly to know the height of the ceilings. A low ceiling or cramped venue will potentially cause lighting issues. So it’s useful to see some images that indicate the vertical volume too.

10 Things That Make Photo Studio Great.

If your client is choosing a studio the first thing to do is stop them.
It may be they are choosing on price. Cheaper often means smaller and smaller will limit what you can achieve with your lighting.
Often the lights are awful too. You as the photographer should be responsible for sourcing the studio. Including shooting space these are the key things I look for in a venue:

  1. For general photography, I personally want around 800 square feet of shoot footprint and upwards.
  2. I want to avoid low ceilings.
  3. A basic kitchen is important. A sink, fridge, kettle being the minimum.
  4. Private toilet facilities.
  5. Private changing facilities.
  6. An ironing board, iron and clothes rail.
  7. Makeup mirrors and lights.
  8. A competent inventory of studio lights, light modifiers, accessories and stands. And by competent I mean at the very least 4 or more good branded light heads, a good array of modifiers from different sized softboxes through to strip boxes, beauty dishes and reflectors.
  9. An infinity cove is ideal but if not I want a proper heavy duty wall mounted paper backdrop system instead.
  10. And a comfortable space for others on the shoot to sit and relax.
Light Is A Key - Pro Image Studio
Light Is A Key – One Of Our Sets in Studio B

Booking Studio Time

When booking a time slot you have to consider exactly what and how you are shooting. Again, don’t be lead by others on this.
Let’s say we book at 10am, well everyone has to turn up for then, not an hour before, not half an hour late.

Initial setup of lights, for me at least, takes around 10-20 minutes. Make sure everyone else knows this. It has to happen and it is time you have to pay for.

And have you noticed any extras on the studio’s website that you want to use? Maybe video lighting, or alternative backgrounds, a ring flash perhaps. Make sure you book this also. I expect the studios I use to have one price for the time slot and access to the main bulk of their equipment but I accept specialist equipment is often an extra.

Are you having a hair and makeup artist on the shoot to look after a model or client? If so how long will that take? In my experience, one person in makeup is a minimum of one hour. Often longer. Speak to your makeup artist before you book the slot. If you think you need 4 hours to achieve the photography, you need to book 5 hours of the studio.

If the MUA says hair and makeup will be 2 hours, you need to book 6. You also need to consider set down times. That is tidying up and removal of what the team brought and a reasonable returning of all lights and accessories to where you took them, Aim to leave the studio as you found it.

If there are areas you are not allowed to walk on, such as too close to the infinity cove, ensure everyone knows this. You may have to pay for a repaint if not adhered studios?. I prefer studios where the landlord is not on site, okay so some I have used where they are present are fine as there is usually an office out of sight and they will respect our privacy unless I ask them to advise on something.

But overall you should expect to find your studio owner will let you in, then return to let you out at the end.

The big thing to take from that is you must be capable with studio lights, modifiers, accessories and techniques before you make the booking.
You are paying for studio time, not an assistant and a live tutorial.

This Is How We Do It - Pro Image Studio
This Is How We Do It at Pro Image Studio

Time For Photos.

Right, so we’re ready to turn on our camera. If you’ve shot with studio strobes before feel free to skim over this bit.

What colour, in general, are studios? That’s right, white.
Only I never see it that way, to me, it’s pitch black.
Think like that and you are on the right path.

We use studios to be in total control of the light, so we are going to set our cameras so they see nothing of the daylight or ceiling lights that our eyes need to see where we are going. None at all.
We can’t control that light so we shut it out. We want a totally black photograph. And this is the way we do it.

Camera Settings In Studio Photography.

The camera switched to manual, iso to 100, shutter speed to 1/125th or the max sync speed of your particular brand and aperture to probably F8. Take a picture. Look at the screen. Nothing?
Total black? Good.

Check the histogram too, we want nothing or very very little to have been captured. Now those settings above are not gospel, but they will normally always get you to the start line quickly.

If there is light creeping in consider a higher aperture or look for the source. Don’t be afraid to turn off the house lights or close the curtains.

Product Photography Backstage - Pro Image Studio
Product Photography Secrets, Oh, There Is No Secrets, Just Hard Work

Now We Connect Our Camera To The Lights.

A whole different subject to delve into so, for now, I will just cover the principles. With your camera now ‘locked’ The camera a totally fixed set of manual values it is the studio lights that will be changing to achieve your brief.

Up high, down low, power increase, power decrease, move back, move forward, tilted and adjusted in a myriad of ways and with a host of a softbox and reflector modifiers to utilise.

These are the things bringing the light. And how you work them is how you create your exposure. I’ve purposely glossed over the almost infinite possibilities that lighting control will give your studio photography, and yes the holy trinity of iso 100,1/125th and F8 is certainly open to tweaking depending on conditions and aims.

But the basic principle is hugely important. The camera on manual, shut out ambient light, use the studio lights to create your photographs. As mentioned earlier it’s important to use a studio that is comfortable for your clients or models and anyone else in attendance.

Large Group vs Photo Studio Costs

And remember it is customary for nearly all studios to charge a premium for larger teams. Typically over 5 and you should expect to pay a slightly higher rate so do communicate this and discourage the attendance of people not needed.

Your Team In The Studio

It ain’t a place for a party. But for those there you must ensure they are being looked after.

  • Does your shoot span meal times?
  • Have you allowed for breaks and general refreshments?

Basic pre-shoot communications will establish if catering is required beyond the odd cup of coffee. Either attendees are invited to bring their own or you build it into your service.

An area or room for people to change privately is also very important. Whether a dedicated closet or a changing screen the privacy of those needing to change outfits is paramount.
If you are working with models on your shoot you must go the extra mile to look after them and ensure all present in the studio carry themselves in a professional way around them.

Photography Studioquette

Remember the earlier quote about responsibility, the photographer is in charge. Many times I’ve found myself shooting fashion or lingerie on a tight schedule and it’s often the case that quick, small fixes to hair or clothing are needed.

Ask your model to make the adjustments, or ask them if it’s okay if the makeup artist attends to them if that’s easier. In the rarest of cases, you might think it swifter and better if you look after say a piece of cotton on a hem or a fly away hair. This should only happen if you get express permission from whoever you are shooting.

Permission is king and without you must not consider approaching a model to touch his/her clothing or body. On from that, it’s just as likely that the photographer might not notice things amiss with clothing or presentation.

By the way, I’ve made up the word ‘Studioquette’ but looks like a good fit.

We Are Extremely Nice! - Pro Image Studio
We Are Extremely Nice at Pro Image Studio

Photography In The Studio Is A Teamwork, Not One Star Show.

My maxim is to get it right first time as unnecessary photoshop corrections are a loathsome burden on your editing.
Many times if I’m shooting clothing for a designer who is on set I will tell ask them to stand by my side and observe their product.
Does it look right? Are there any embellishments or details we need to capture?

They will know their clothes inside out, you will be seeing them for the first time. Use their knowledge to adjust things on the fly, not in the edit. If I’m shooting clothing I always request garments are pressed beforehand and brought on a rail or ironed on-site without eating in to shoot time, book longer if needed.

It may be that this sounds like asking the obvious of a client but you cannot expect everyone to know how photography works and some will presume you can just wave a magic wand. Wrong. To my mind, you must communicate effectively so each shot is as close to perfect as you can get it at the time you press the shutter.

It’s not always models and fashion you might find yourself in the studio for. I get a lot of corporate head shot bookings and family shoots. The guiding principles and behaviours still apply but one must think how to tailor a shoot for each type of customer.

A business portrait, for example, might need to be done very quickly. A family shoot could involve young children, babies sometimes. Are there regular sleep times to think about and avoid? How about food and snacks? Can you, the photographer, bring anything to engage with youngsters or can the parents be asked to bring favourite toys?

Summary

The studio is my favourite place to shoot but as mentioned at the start of this article not are all equal and you need a full set of skills and techniques to use all they offer to your advantage. Choose the best space for the brief, with the right equipment. Respect the studio and those present on the shoot and be constantly thinking of things you can do to enhance the experience and the photography.

The creation of a great studio photograph is down to a photographer. The venue, the team, the subject in the frame are the essential supporting cast. A cast for which you are the director, producer, editor and cameraman.

Writing this post makes me wonder why they only give Oscars to the film industry, hey what about us photographers!?

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