I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: you don’t have to have a photography studio to be a portrait photographer. In fact, NOT having a photography studio can actually be a great thing. With no property tax, rent / mortgage, or electric bill to chip away at your income, your profits are higher than a studio photographer.
But there are cons to not having a photography studio, too. Especially when the weather presents a challenge. Here are a few creative ideas for photographers to take portraits without a studio.
1. Short-Term Leases and Pop-Up Photography Studios
Pop-up businesses are the new craze. From boutiques to coffee shops to escape rooms, these short-term spots are showing up everywhere around the country. Especially during COVID times, it can be hard to know where you’ll end up in a year or even a month from now. But one thing is for sure: landlords have plenty of empty spots to fill. Instead of settling down with your own photography studio, you may want to look into a short-term lease for a studio (30, 60 or 90 days). Whether it’s a strip mall with a vacant storefront or an office building with rooms available, look into property owners to contact for empty spaces near you. There’s an extra element of spontaneity when you launch a pop-up studio in your community, and it allows you to use a time-sensitive, “Get It Before It’s Gone” marketing promotion.
2. Use A Hotel Room or Airbnb
First of all, who doesn’t love a unique location for each different photoshoot? If a short-term lease isn’t in the cards for you, but you still want your own space outside of your home to do portrait sessions, take a peek at the spots Airbnb or nearby hotels have to offer. You can offer your clients one-of-a-kind portraits, as each session will have a different location and. The best part? No clean up!
3. Use A Hotel Lobby for a Photography Session
Rainy Day? Or just want an extravagant background with fountains and staircases? Most hotels don’t mind photoshoots in the lobby, as long as it isn’t a major disturbance. Plus many hotel lobbies have great big windows so you can get gorgeous natural lighting. If you feel weird about calling and asking permission, keep in mind that it isn’t an unusual request for hotels to get, as many high school and prom photoshoots happen in their lobbies each year.
It also can be helpful to explain to the hotel manager that you are not using their facilities to promote something for your own profits and that you will aim to keep other patrons out of the images. If you have a specific area in mind that you need to keep completely free of other patrons, offer $100 for an hour of full access to the specific area in the lobby. You can also inquire about slow days at the hotel and schedule your sessions then. Whether it’s a wedding party photo session or a senior portrait shoot, more often than not, hotels actually appreciate being a featured backdrop for photoshoots — it’s free advertising for them!
4. Shooting at Local Indoor Landmarks
Think museums, public park pavilions, historic public buildings, community centers… Even if you don’t live in a big city, you probably have a local courthouse or city hall that has appropriate scenery for a portrait photoshoot. In my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, there is a historic train station that I still use every once in a while for senior portrait sessions and an old state capitol that has fantastic lighting. Although Springfield is somewhat of a historic town, there are other places that still offer great lighting for an indoor photo session.
5. Convert Your Garage Into a Photography Studio
What makes for great natural lighting, open space and is right in the comfort of your own home? If you have a garage, you can make a simple garage studio that has all the pieces you need for a quick setup and tear down. Many successful Hollywood celebrity headshot photographers use this exact method. Your garage is a safer space to set up for a portrait session during COVID, because there’s a lot of open air (and it only takes 7 steps!). Utilize on street parking during hours when you need the garage.
6. Look For Studio Space At An Art Collective
Not only is an art collective and an excellent place to network with other talented photographers and artists in your area, but you might be able to find some space there to use for shooting portraits. If you live in a smaller town, there may not be an art collective nearby, but most cities have somewhere the local creatives gather. Often artists pool money together to rent warehouse space for their studios. Just because you don’t see a local art collective in your city already doesn’t mean that YOU can’t put something together! Network with your followers and friends on social media to see if other artists might be interested in a shared space.
7. Shoot Portraits In Your Client’s Home
As much as I love having my own photography studio, certain types of sessions, like newborn sessions, are almost BETTER when they’re in the client’s house. Having a session in your client’s home is a way for them to feel more connected to the images when they look back years later because they’ll remember what it was like to bring their baby into their home for the first time. It also ensures that each of your sessions is different because their own home makes the session and images more unique. Plus, many new parents would rather skip the extra trip of going to a studio when they can just enjoy the session from their own home.
Again, if you aren’t ready to commit to settling down in a brick-and-mortar studio just yet, opting to have sessions in your clients’ homes saves you the stress of committing to just one location. Who says you can’t do sessions in different states if you don’t have your own studio? Bring your equipment with you (and a ring light if you have one!) and get ready to have a photo session they’ll remember forever.
8. Make an At-Home Photography Studio
Sometimes, it makes the most sense to set up a mini studio in your own home. If you’ve got good lighting and backdrops, there’s no reason you can’t take awesome portraits from your humble abode! While natural light is ideal, it isn’t always possible to set up your at-home photography studio right next to windows. If you’re struggling to get good lighting, it’s worth it to invest in a dimming ring light. Just this one piece of equipment makes such a difference in the image quality. When it comes to backgrounds, you can use a clean wall in your home. You can also buy a premade backdrop and stand, or even hang up curtains or bedsheets as a backdrop. If you’re planning on having an at-home studio for a long time, here are a few home studio backdrops and support stands on Amazon.com and at select Walmart stores.
You Can Succeed Without a Photography Studio
There’s no right or wrong way to use different locations for your portrait sessions. What matters is that both you and your client are comfortable with wherever you decide. There are pros and cons to having a studio and there are pros and cons to NOT having a studio. It comes down to your own circumstances as a photographer for whether or not a studio is right for you.
If the time comes to have your own studio, you can always rebrand your photography business to fit the needs. Take it from this genius mom who went from no photography studio, to in-home studio, to a shared studio with another photographer. Whatever path you choose, there’s one thing you need to hear. You can be just as successful of a photographer without a studio as you can be with a studio if you’re willing to put in the work!