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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Prop Room
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.
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!
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
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).
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!
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.
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.