I’m doing a giddy happy dance because I get to share the coolest boutique photography studio tour of my new studio for Sarah Petty Photography in Springfield, Illinois.
When I started looking for the first place to call my studio, I could barely afford a tiny 400 square foot space in the worst part of town. Like every photographer I know, I dreamed of the unicorn photography studio, complete with a natural camera room and closet to lock all my gear in. But 21 years ago, I was lucky to have enough money to even set up shop anywhere at all.
Once I focused on running my photography business using the boutique business model, I was able to make my dream studio a reality. Don’t get me wrong, my dream photography studio didn’t happen overnight. Heck, it didn’t even happen in a decade! I’m a big believer in hard work, dedication, and TIME. And 21 years of tears and triumphs, I still pinch myself that I get to share this photography studio tour with the world.
I’ve had a few open houses to show off the photography studio I’m so proud of, but when I realized I could only reach a handful of aspiring photographers, I knew I had to think bigger. Which is why I’ve created this blog post for you, because no matter where you are in the world, I want to show you a studio that is achievable with a boutique photography business model. Let’s get crackin’ with this photography studio tour!
THE EXTERIOR PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO TOUR
When you approach the studio, the path leads you up the a glass front with fun colors and a huge door that kids have called a “castle door”.
My hubby is an architect who designed the studio in a Mid-Century Modern feel. From the lines off of the roof to the pink flamingos out front, to the numbers out front with our address and our signage, the building looks more like Palm Springs than the Central Illinois cornfield where it’s located.
You can find us on interstate 55, the main road between Chicago and St. Louis. And if you keep your eyes peeled, you can catch the “Sarah Petty Photography” sign peeking through the trees that line the interstate.
THE INTERIOR PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO TOUR
When you enter our studio space, you are welcomed into a living room type setting with a comfy velvet couch with lush pillows, a coffee table and bright colors everywhere. Show stopping examples of our photography adorn the walls. In this room we can great clients, sit with them for a consultation, or they can relax during downtime during their session. Having this home-like room with large portraits on the wall can start their wheels turning about having wall art in their own homes.
THE STUDIO/SALES ROOM
When I started planning the layout of the studio, I knew I wanted to keep efficiency in mind and make the most of the space. That’s why our shooting space serves a dual purpose with our in-person sales room. When clients enter the room, they don’t just walk through any old door, we chose a beautiful reclaimed wood sliding barn style door.
On session day, they enter the room, naturally lit by our 30’ wide by 12’ tall north light window . If you’re trying to picture that in your head, just imagine a floor to ceiling window. I didn’t even know they made windows this big!
The giant windows meet with wide plank tung oiled natural pine floors, which we selected due to the soft nature of the wood and its ability to be distressed naturally in a short amount of time. This looks fabulous in photos, especially when we want to add just a pinch of flare to the backdrop.
On most days, we can shoot with the north light and just a few reflectors to give us natural, flattering lighting patterns. But, any photographer knows that sometimes natural light just isn’t enough. That’s why we built in the option to close a motor-driven blackout curtain over the window and shoot with studio lighting.
Our studio features a custom ceiling-mounted grid system that allows us to hang studio lights and glide them wherever we need light in the room. This is perfect for working with small kids, no wobbly light stands to worry about them knocking over! The main shooting wall is painted a flat white. When shooting we have the ability to light it artificially for a high key look. Or, we can allow it to naturally be any shade from white to gray, based on the distance we place the subject away from it.
Some of my favorite images, though, are photographed on the south wall of the studio, which has several colored paper rolls that give us many options for creating bright fun images. Who doesn’t LOVE a bright orange backdrop? The paper rolls up and down with a chain system, allowing us to shoot on another color in just seconds. And sometimes, we get up close and personal for these portraits using our ring light. This light gives a fun, modern look, with a ring of light in the subject’s eyes, and a shadow around them. It’s our favorite spot to create images with bold and funky expressions, especially for senior sessions.
On the west wall, we have our motorized background rolls that hold our custom-painted canvas backdrops. Why custom painted? We wanted to be able to create images on a backdrop that no other photographer in the world can! With the ease of a remote control, we can raise and lower these one-of-a-kind canvas backdrops in moments.
As a boutique photographer, I specialize in a unique experience for my clients. I want my studio to reflect that. Throughout the designing process, I wanted to create a studio different than your run-of-the-mill spaces. If you look around, it’s pretty hard to find “props” from a photography supply catalog. Instead, we feature vintage couches and stools from auctions and flea markets (Andria and I have squeezed in a couple Saturday morning thrifting trips), whimsical brightly painted chairs, mid century designer chairs, old piano stools and more. We use large textured rugs to anchor our seating areas. For seating choices, we have real furniture like you’d find in a stylish home. And my secret weapon to get photos of kids flying through the air is a tiny little trampoline, like the ones you can find in Gymboree classes.
Most all of these items can be neatly tucked away in our closet that spans the width of the room. So, when our clients come back for their viewing presentation, they’re surprised to find the room has completely transformed. When they last left the studio, it was likely messy from the creative process of their session. When they return, they find it tidy and nearly empty except for a couch, some chairs, a coffee table, and rug in a nice seating arrangement like you’d find at home.
The clients come back in, and we gather and sit together, eagerly anticipating their presentation. It’s absolute magic. With the click of a few buttons, the lights dim, the projector comes to life, and the wall of windows becomes black as the motorized blackout curtain descends. On the enormous wall in front of them, the images from their session glow brightly back at them while music plays, creating a touching and cinematic experience. We laugh together, sometimes shed a few tears, and smile to ourselves as they exclaim “I love that one!” over and over again.
Moving along with the photography studio tour, our studio has a feature I’m pretty sure no other studio on earth has – a gymnasium! Two story walls of windows surround the half court space, complete with a basketball hoop and volleyball net. We photograph high school seniors often and tired of searching for gyms in the area. Now we walk down a flight of stairs to create amazing portraits in the comfort of our own studio with natural light, instead of dingy, fluorescent gymnasium lights.
Down the hall you’ll find my corner office, complete with a fireplace and two bright green armchairs that Andria and I often use for one-on-one meetings. And what’s a corner office without gorgeous floor to ceiling corner windows that gush rays of light throughout the day? Another fun feature is the window that opens up to look down into the gym, perfect for capturing sports photos from above. Often times you will find me standing at my motorized desk, with one of my teenagers curled up in an armchair as we chat about weekend plans or how volleyball was that day. Sometimes, I grab a business book from the shelves in my office, covered with novels and handmade decorations from the kiddos. My favorite books on the shelf? The classic business books that belonged to my dad.
THE FRAMING ROOM/SUPPLY CLOSET
The point of running a boutique photography business is to be able to sell artwork to your clients, which means they walk out of your studio with a glowing grin on their face and printed image, framed and ready to mount. Off of my studio/sales room, I’ve got a giant supply closet, where samples of every single custom frame we offer our client lines the four walls. You can also find leftover equipment from a session tucked away on the shelves that stretch from floor to ceiling in this closet (just because I’m messy sometimes doesn’t mean I want my clients to know it!)
My three teenagers inspired the design of the basement. I wanted to create a hang out space where they could come with their friends after school and on weekends. Most days, I’ll find a kiddo or two playing cards with their buddies on the sectional sofa or flipping through flashcards with a study group. And though I’ve hardly ever photographed a client in this part of the studio, it’s a great space for studio events when I host photographers learning about the boutique business model.
One of my favorite parts of the basement is the kitchen that I was able to convince my hubby we needed! It’s an open area, with an oak high top table that spans the length of the cabinets. It’s perfect for the caterers to set up in when I host client events, community groups and student workshops. You’ll find a stocked fridge with (mostly) healthy goodies so that I don’t go hungry when I’m putting in long days. I’ve got an entire shelf dedicated to chilled Diet Cokes and another for chilled adult beverages.
THE DRESSING ROOM
Closing out the photography studio tour, I’d like to share one of my favorite spaces. Also known as the favorite room of the senior girls I photograph (and I don’t blame them), the dressing room is a spot where my clients get photo shoot ready. With a fully lit makeup and hair bar, clothing rack and full length mirror, clients have everything they need to get ready for their session in privacy.
Looking back 21 years ago to when I first picked up a camera as more than just a hobby, I can’t believe that I’m finally in a place where the photography studio of my dreams is a reality. It didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work to develop the boutique business model that allowed me to build my studio. If you’re looking at this studio, thinking, “Wow, how can I get that?”, I’m letting you know that it’s possible when you start printing your artwork and going boutique. Want to learn more about the boutique photography business model? I’ve got something for you, friend!