PetaPixel

I’m Teri Campbell, and Here’s a Tour of My Food Photography Studio

studiotour

Younger photographers may not understand it, or even feel the same way, but for photographers of my generation, your studio was not just a place to take photographs — it was a reflection of you. It told the world who you were. If you didn’t have one, then you weren’t really a photographer!

If your studio had a cyc wall, that was even better. It meant not only had you mastered a rarely used carpentry skill, but that you could shoot cars! Even so called “location shooters” had studios – to meet with clients or to do the occasional model shoot.

Not anymore. Today, owning a studio is viewed by many as an antiquated burden that even many professional photographers shun, opting instead to work from home, or sometimes share space with another photographer. Weekend warriors have no need for a studio and don’t understand why anyone else would either.

Teri Campbell

Teri Campbell

But there is a reason they exist. Studios are a great place to store your equipment, to meet with clients, and to work in a controlled environment. For certain types of photography, having a space where you can control the lighting and atmosphere is a necessity.

But in the end, a studio is more than simply a place to work. Just like a painter who chooses to paint in a studio, the photographer’s studio is a place of creativity. Surrounded by inspiration and the tools required to do the work, a studio is not just an office, it is the photographer’s muse.

Typical photography studios are defined by their high ceilings, lack of windows, piles of equipment and sparse furnishings. But when I began renovating my current studio (twelve years ago), I knew I wanted something different. I wanted a space that was bright and would made my clients feel at home. A space that was full of color and energy. A space that told my clients that I understood (and appreciated) good design.

I also wanted to create this kind of space because of the type of work I do: food photography. It takes time: it takes time for the food stylist to prepare the food, it takes time for us to position the lights and get everything ready. If the clients are standing on concrete floors and staring at cinder block walls, they might start to get a little antsy. If they are sitting in a comfortable chair drinking coffee, they are not in my face wanting to know “how long is this going to take!?”

Here’s a behind the scenes look at our studio and how we use it.

The Kitchen

kitchenlounge

I shoot food and only food, so a big kitchen is a must! Just like at home, clients love to hang out in the kitchen, but that can make it difficult for the food stylist to do their job, so we created a “living room” right next to the kitchen where clients can relax (or work) while the food stylist gets things ready.

That way, they are close enough to see what’s happening and answer the occasional question, but they don’t have to be in the stylist’s space, while he/she works.

kitchen3

When it’s time for lunch, we simply use the table (on the far left side of the image) for everyone to gather around and share a meal. Next to the lunch table is a private office. Years ago in a previous studio, the open floor plan meant the only space with a door was my office – and I once found a client sitting at my desk making a phone call. Since then, we have always incorporated private spaces for clients.

kitchen2

What you can’t see in this image are the double ovens, meat slicers, deep fryers, pizza oven, and the walk in freezer. We also have a large pantry, stocked with all the essentials and a little bit more.

The Studio

studio

Brick walls and a neutral color palate are the defining features of this space. High ceilings allow us flexibility in placing the camera and/or the lights. Behind the roll gate (to the left of the image) is where we store our equipment. This not only keeps the studio less cluttered, but it makes it easy to lock up when necessary.

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To make sure the walls didn’t reflect any unwanted color onto the set, we painted them gray. But there are times when we will intentionally use the large wall to the left as a bounce card to reflect light onto the set.

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The black Gator-board panels you see below the lateral windows can slide up, (when the counter balance on the brick wall is lowered), making the studio very dark – but it’s also nice to be able to leave them open on weekends without fear of someone looking in an open window.

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The Prop Room

prop1

When we moved into our current studio, I debated the merits of maintaining such a large prop room. Wouldn’t it be better to just rent the props we needed and not have to store them? I came to the conclusion that having the props on site was worth it.

Imagine shooting a line of breakfast sandwiches for packaging. The layouts require the use of a plate under each sandwich, and a year from now they want to add a few more varieties to their line-up. Odds are they will want it to look like everything else, so having that same plate can make a big difference. It also means they will come back to you for any line extensions.

prop2

And having so many items on hand makes it easy to describe to a prop stylist what it is you are looking for. You can point to a glass and say, “this color,” and then point to a plate and say, “but this size”.

For editorial or cookbook projects we have almost everything we need right here. No shopping required!

prop3

The last reason we continue to grow and maintain our prop room is because styles change. Stores have become so homogenized that you can often find plates, blenders and even toasters in this season’s hot “new” color, but you can’t find anything that is say, blue. Well, we bought it last year and kept it in our prop room – so we have that blue plate our client really wants!

That’s another good reason to have a studio: I’m able to keep my props close at hand.

The Entertainment Area

entertainment1

As I mentioned earlier, I like to keep my clients entertained, and what better way than with a pool table? (A 1937 Brunswick. It’s a beautiful piece of furniture if nothing else).

entertainment3

We also have a DVD theater and a workout room. The latter of which was suggested by clients while over indulging at our breakfast bar, or on the afternoon snacks. But they really don’t use it much – kind of like the people who say they want healthy options but still buy the triple bypass burger!

entertainment2

The theater was designed as a place for the client’s support staff (e.g. corporate chefs, home economist, interns) to hang out and watch a movie until we need their expertise. Kind of a “green room” for photographers. But it has also been used as a nursery… and a sick bay.

entertainment4

Photographers studios are as varied as the artist who inhabit them. Each one having its own unique character and design. Here’s to hoping you find yours!


About the author: Teri Campbell is a photographer and photography author based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the owner and creative lead of Teri Studios. In 2012, Campbell published the book, Food Photography & Lighting: A Commercial Photographer’s Guide to Creating Irresistible Images. When not in the studio, Teri is a frequent speaker at photography and food industry related events around the country.


 
  • 1243maxe

    sorry but i can´t imagine something more boring then food photography….
    sure someone has to do it… it´s just that i find it booooooring

  • John P. Hess

    That studio is a thing of beauty. As a filmmaker that recently moved into a studio space – I can 100% relate to your thoughts about a studio being a place of inspiration.

  • Patrick Downs

    Wow! Amazing space.

  • edlau

    I think the reason most photographers don’t have a studio is because of the high cost of rent in most major cities, not because it’s an antiquated concept. If you’re using it as a space to meet clients, I’m sure you’d want a location not too far from the city. I’m sure most of us would love to build our own zen temples of photography if it were affordable.

  • Beth

    That’s it! I’m moving in!

  • Peter Acker

    I think I want to live in that studio……

  • harumph

    That’s for shooting food!? I’ve seen studios for shooting cars that aren’t even half that size.

  • J Hofman

    I wonder – do clients ever think they are paying for a “Ferrari” photographer with a high overhead when they see a studio like this? Sometimes I think there needs to be a balance between form and function to give the client a “feel good” about expenses.

    BTW – I’ve been a client more than a photographer.

  • pete n pete

    I would be fortunate to have a studio half this awesome. I’m extremely jealous!

  • alexp

    from my experience, most clients look forward to leaving their office for a day or two, and if it means they get to hang out in an awesome studio and be treated liek royalty, then they will be swayed by this type of show (assuming they have any kind of budget). It’s all about the show.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    this is great, but I’m not a food photographer so my ideal studio would be something like Yuri Arcurs’ studio, that’s heaven. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4oVa1c67Bs

  • sean lancaster

    Maybe a single sample photo of food that emerged from that studio would have been nice, eh?

  • Ares

    Just under the heading “The Kitchen” there is a blue link to his recent KFC shoot.

  • sean lancaster

    Thanks.

  • KewlDewd

    Good point. That also crossed my mind. He must only work with super high end clients with super high budgets.

  • KewlDewd

    Wow (is the best word I can think of for this) I’ve dabbled in food photography (and video) and have been thinking of dedicating more time to it. I would LOVE to spend a day or a week with you in that space. If I lived in Ohio I would totally offer to assist for free.

  • A_Lwin

    I dream about having a studio like this, perhaps not for the purpose of food photography, but a studio with different spaces.

  • Daniel Lowe

    It’s a nice studio, but I don’t think he’ll really be an “elite” photographer until he adds a bowling alley and a helicopter landing pad.

    /sarcasm

  • Jeremy Madore

    Sorry, but you lost me right here: “Younger photographers may not understand it, or even feel the same way, but for photographers of my generation, your studio was not just a place to take photographs — it was a reflection of you. It told the world who you were. If you didn’t have one, then you weren’t really a photographer!”

    I don’t pursue a studio because, time and again, I hear INDUSTRY, CAREER PROFESSIONALS, such as yourself, GRIPE about the costs of overhead and how hard it is to make ends meet and how much of a burden a studio environment is. In the past when I have asked for advice both on forums and local photographer meetups, not ONCE has anybody ever said “Yes, pursue a studio”.

    I’m a young photographer, and I DO UNDERSTAND the value and the meaning of having a studio which is WHY I want to have one. But when physical studios are closing all around me, WTF would push me to get one if I’m essentially slapping a ‘sell by’ date on my forehead?

    Awesome studio, drool worthy really. I would JUMP at the chance to work in your studio if the opportunity presented itself – even going so far as to clean your bathroom.

  • John Moore

    Pretty awesome studio. Must be some good money in food photography. :)

  • ATrapAtNoon

    Absolutely they do – that’s kind of the point ;) I want clients to walk into my studio and think, “I’m going to spend a ton of money here.” Of course, I want the “Ferrari” clients…not the KIAs. I’m sure this photographer, being a food specialist, is catering to people that want it done right – and he’s clearly set the stage for that expectation to be met.

  • ATrapAtNoon

    People don’t tell you to pursue a studio because 1) they don’t want to be responsible for your failure, and 2) they don’t want added competition from another photographer that now has a studio.

  • Foodie

    This guy must make a mint shooting food to have a place like that