You’re working on a campaign for a luxury jewelry brand. For the sake of authenticity, you decide to photograph their collections on-location at the flagship outlet. However, things don’t go according to plan. First, your lights can’t be set up as required without rearranging the jewelry displays. You can’t rely on the outlet’s lighting since it doesn’t creatively fit the bill, casting stray shadows that are too distracting. Then a high-profile customer just walked in and wants to browse each collection in private, putting you in an unexpected timeout. Once you get going again, the manager tells you that time’s up. They need to move some of the items back into the vault.
This hypothetical scenario may be far from reality, but the point is obvious enough: there are countless variables to contend with at a photo shoot on location. For certain specialties like still life, portraiture, and fashion, attaining the desired look depends on maximizing control, and one way to achieve that is by using a photography studio.
Table of contents
- A Photography Studio vs. A Soundstage
- Factors to Consider When Choosing a Photography Studio Rental
- Photography Studio Rental Costs
- Trends and the Future
- About the Author
A photography studio is an invaluable resource for all serious photographers. Aside from adding an air of professionalism and quality to your shoot, they afford the ability to control many of the variables of an on-location shoot. Admittedly, not every shoot requires this level of control, but many do. Unfortunately, it’s impractical (if not impossible) for most photographers to own and maintain a fully capable photography studio — this is where rental studios come in!
Studios are controlled environments that protect the shoot from the impact of the weather, natural light sources, and the time of day. They permit photographers to design the set to the project’s exact specifications. There will usually need to be a lighting setup involved, but the light-sculpting possibilities are much greater in a studio setting. What’s more, you can shoot all day if you want or need to! So what do you need to consider when renting a studio?
A Photography Studio vs. A Soundstage
While conceptually similar, photography studios and soundstages have some differences that should be considered when selecting a space.
- Soundstages are specifically designed for sound recording, meaning the building has been soundproofed and is not susceptible to outside noise.
- Since they’re designed to be soundproof, there’ll be no windows around, cutting out any source of natural light a photographer can lean on for a shoot.
- They often have ceiling rigging for heavy-duty continuous lighting, like those used in television and film productions.
- Because these spaces need room for crane shots and large, gimbal-mounted video cameras, they are frequently quite spacious.
You probably don’t need a soundstage if you’re not shooting a video production. Stick with the studio!
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Photography Studio Rental
A studio’s location is a pivotal factor, shaping the ease with which your team can convene and collaborate. Whether it’s the availability of parking or the studio’s proximity to public transportation, these logistical elements often become critical in the decision-making process. The ideal studio isn’t just a space; it’s a conveniently accessible hub that enhances your team’s productivity.
- Is it easily reachable by public transportation? Or are there ample parking options? This ensures convenience for everyone involved in the shoot, including models, crew, and clients.
- How noisy or distracting is the surrounding environment? If the studio isn’t soundproof, there’ll be an entirely different climate when comparing one in a city against another in a suburban or rural setting.
- New York-based product, food, and drink photographer Will Styer put up a question himself. Are there helpful resources nearby? “It’s always good to be central to things in case we have to run out and get something.” These resources could be nearby supply shops, catering, and more.
Having worked professionally in the photo and film world for over 20 years all over this sprawling metropolis, I can say unequivocally that LOCATION IS EVERYTHING!! When prospective photographers inquire with us, they are often thrilled to find that we are smack in the middle of Hollywood and close to many of the bigger stages, production vendors, and media agencies booking them as shooters. We are one of only a handful of affordable photographic studios in Hollywood Proper, and the bonus of the beauty of our historical space is also a big selling point. Photographers are creatives, and they appreciate working in a studio with so much intrinsic charm.
Most of the other aspects we’ll explore in this article will be determined by the location. For instance, it can influence the availability of certain amenities. Even a studio’s size is influenced by location. High property costs in cities may lend themselves to smaller studio spaces, while those farther away from cities could be much larger as property values drop.
How big is the production? Studios, like photo shoots, come in all sizes. Remember what lenses will be used; there’s nothing worse than trying to execute a shot with a long lens and backing up, only to hit a wall behind you.
How many subjects are you going to photograph? What kinds of sets are you building? How many people are you having on set? Are you planning on using very wide or long lenses? You want enough space to comfortably accommodate the set and lighting setups, equipment, your crew, any clients present, and, of course, all of the talent.
Usually, the larger the studio, the more variety it can entertain. At Kansas City’s Cap Gun Studios, Sonya Andrews welcomes a range of clients and creatives through the door.
We are centrally located just a minute west of downtown Kansas City and have 5,000 sq feet of space with an overall old warehouse vibe. But it’s also versatile, so you can make the space look like anything you want it to. Commercial clients like being able to spread out and have flexibility in setting up the space to their exact needs… Then fashion photographers rent the space for the variety of locations and backdrops within the studio, making it feel like the photo shoot is happening in different environments. Portrait photographers like our space for this reason as well. Videographers also rent our studio for commercials and music videos, but generally, it’s a better space for those that don’t need to roll sound because we don’t have a soundproof room.
You’ll also need to factor in ceilings. High ceilings are almost a pre-requisite for any studio worth its salt, due to the nature of light stands and adjustable light modifiers. Will often finds himself in studios due to the precision required for still life photography.
High, clean ceilings without a lot of fixtures are very important to get the light looking the way I want it. I also like to bounce light off the ceiling for fill sometimes, and having a lot of sprinklers, air ducts, overhead lights, etc., can really get in the way. Solid floors are important as well; wooden floors will transmit a lot of vibrations from people walking around, creating movement between shots. This makes compositing difficult later.
What kind of equipment are you bringing along to your shoot? This may not concern you if you’re only carrying a camera and a speedlight. However, if you’re loading in a multi-lighting setup, camera accessories, props, and set pieces, you’ll want to go from street to studio as efficiently as possible. Does the studio have hand trucks and dollies for you to use? Is there a large loading dock where you can on- and off-load equipment? If the studio is not on the ground floor, is there a reliable freight elevator? John Champlin of LUX-sf studios in San Francisco stressed the importance of knowing a photography studio’s setup ahead of time and ensuring you’re in touch with staff before showing up.
Definitely visit if possible, or at least take a virtual tour or consult a floor plan. Also, talk with the staff, preferably whoever will be staffing the day of your shoot, to get a read for the kind and amount of help they might be able to provide. Try to eliminate any potential surprises beforehand!
The last thing you want to do is walk bulky Pelican cases full of heavy equipment up and down three flights of stairs after a long shoot day!
Photography Studio Equipment
Many photography studios rent out gear that you don’t own or those that are cumbersome to bring with you. Some studios will have just lights and backdrops, while others have a more full-featured kit list, including everything from cameras and lenses to digital tech stations. A studio with rentals is no substitute for a dedicated rental house. However, utilizing studio equipment can decrease load-in time or act as a plan B if you forget an essential piece of equipment. At Lux-SF, John mentioned,
We have a service where we source all the lighting and rental gear so that everything is in the studio and ready to go at call time. So, in the morning, you’re skipping the step of schlepping a bunch of metal in from your vehicles and starting directly with lighting your set. Little things like that can really add up and allow you to use your day’s energy to execute real creative work and spend less on more mundane tasks.
Studios may include equipment in the general rental fee itself, and in other instances, they may rent out various items on an a la carte basis. They may charge standard rental rates by the hour or day, and some venues will have tiered rental packages to suit different needs.
The actual shooting space may be the most essential aspect of a studio, but many ancillary facets vie for equal importance. The reliance on each will largely depend on the assignment you handle.
- Changing and Makeup Facilities: Photo shoots often involve wardrobe changes and makeup touch-ups. Having dedicated changing rooms and well-equipped makeup areas within the studio enables models, subjects, and crew to prepare and transition seamlessly between different looks. This convenience saves time and ensures a smooth workflow during the shoot.
- Restrooms: If a photo shoot involves multiple wardrobe changes or a certain level of physical activity, as is common during indoor sports and fitness shoots, look out for studios with restrooms and shower areas.
- Refreshments: Working through a shot list can take hours, so having food and drink around can prevent energy levels from flagging. At the very least, it lowers the probability of grumpy talent and crew.
- Kitchen: For a food and drink photo shoot, opting for a studio without a kitchen would make matters exponentially more difficult. You can find spaces dedicated to these kinds of assignments, where fully-equipped kitchens with all the appliances you could dream of are at your disposal.
- Storage: Studios with ample storage space allow photographers to securely store their equipment, props, and personal belongings. Having designated storage areas ensures that valuable equipment is well-organized, easily accessible, and protected during the shoot. This helps maintain a clutter-free shooting space and promotes efficient workflow.
- Accessibility and Safety: Amenities such as ramps or elevators ensure the studio is easily accessible to individuals with mobility challenges. Safety features such as fire extinguishers, emergency exits, and first aid kits are an absolute must in a studio. By default, studios should have these.
Studios can turn specific amenities into formidable strengths. Sienna emphasized the facilities that make Historic Hudson a paradise for food and product photography.
Historic Hudson Studios was expanded and remodeled by myself, a food stylist, and my partner, Renee Anjanette, a food and product photographer. We have deep connections to the food photography industry in this town, and we wanted to create a space designed with food, beverage, and beauty shoots in mind. So often, the kitchens in studios are afterthoughts, or small cramped areas meant as employee break rooms. They’re not at all equipped to handle the needs of a food stylist. So we outfitted our studios with four fully functional professional kitchens, so the folks who shoot here would have plenty of space and the proper equipment to create their best work comfortably.
We are also directly above The Surface Library, a prop house curated specifically with tabletop photography in mind. Their inventory is hand-picked by the two extremely talented prop stylists that own the company. Combined with The Surface Library, Historic Hudson is truly a one-stop shop for anyone producing a food, makeup, or beverage shoot.
Architecture and Aesthetic of Photography Studios
The look and feel of a studio can facilitate a certain ambiance, making it another vital consideration for some productions. For example, Historic Hudson’s industrial aesthetic, a rarity within LA’s city limits, has drawn crews of documentary and celebrity-centered productions. History may also play a part since the building served as the studio for legendary fashion photographer Herb Ritts. In Kansas City, Cap Gun also sports a similar look via its warehouse building, providing creatives with a distinct look to harness if they wish.
Internet and Cellular Connectivity
In the digital age, having reliable and high-speed internet connectivity is crucial for photographers and clients. Its importance has multiplied post-Covid. Now, remote liaising is a standard part of the workflow, so a choppy network connection will hinder this process, leading to miscommunication and preventing reliable file transfers. To avoid this, you should test the studio’s service pre-shoot to learn what you can expect. The same goes for phone service as well. Studios often live in old industrial buildings designed before the advent of mobile phones. They can be very unfriendly to wireless signals.
Your creative inclinations or the client’s requirements may encourage you to use either natural or artificial lighting. Ultimately, the choice will determine the type of photography studio you choose. Most studios will be well-equipped for strobe and continuous light setups, but you’ll need big windows if you want real natural light. You’ll also need to know what time of day those windows get their best light and adjust your shoot times accordingly. A pre-shoot scout will help nail this down so there aren’t any surprises on the day of your shoot.
There are benefits and drawbacks to harnessing both natural light and artificial light. However, you may not have to choose one or the other. Most studios allow for both options, offering you much more flexibility. If you want a softer look and a heightened sense of realism, you can lean on those windows for assistance. For more customization, you can get a helping hand from lighting equipment. If you wish to do away with natural light, a studio should be able to provide blackout curtains.
Because electricity is so essential to photographic lighting, it can be easy to assume that the studio you rent handles your equipment’s draw. In most cases, you might be right — but it’s wise to take a glance at the specifications of the studio. A typical full-fledged shoot can have a significant draw. Confirm that there are ample outlets and the necessary amps of power for all the equipment you’ll be plugging in, including your lighting, laptops, fans, phones, etc.
Photography Studio Rental Costs
The importance of price differs dramatically from shoot to shoot. A big-budget production needing only the highest quality studio may consider other factors first, but this won’t be the case for a low-budget production. Studios typically rent space by the hour, half-day, or full-day. Day rates vary but usually stay within the $500 – $1,500 range, and studios often offer packages that deliver value on the dollar depending on the amount of time booked. John told us that studios can be very willing to accommodate.
Checking what gear and props the studio has and is willing to include with your rental, or give you a rate on, can really save time and money. Remember, it never hurts to ask!
Trends and the Future
Depending on the geographical market, photography studios could be experiencing different realities. For Historic Hudson, business has reached pre-Covid levels since they expanded in September 2022. But Sonya describes a different reality in Kansas City, involving a market in decline while another is rising.
Post-COVID, we have seen a decrease in commercial projects needing space to rent. I can’t be 100% certain about the factors that have influenced that. But I think part of it has been a shift towards more UGC (User-Generated Content) in advertising online and tighter advertising budgets as costs have increased. Also, more people are doing in-house product photography with simple iPhone setups that don’t really require the space of a studio rental. In addition, office space is a bit cheaper right now, and more people are working from home. So companies have more room to dedicate space to an in-house photo setup.
What we’ve seen more of in terms of rentals are social media influencers/aspiring models that want photos in a unique/edgy space, new and established photographers who cannot afford their own studio spaces, and independent filmmakers who need a large space with a warehouse-type vibe for their projects.
While interest may be waning in some quarters and growing in others, the selling point of a photography studio remains unchanged. It’s a playground for photographers, with toys and tools that assist the creation of images with a greater degree of control. And that’s a worthwhile proposition for those who aren’t planning on just winging it or leaving things to chance.
About the Author
Sankha Wanigasekara graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Entertainment & Arts Management. Since 2017, he’s worked at Wonderful Machine as both researcher and publicist, currently writing and editing a variety of articles in the publicity department. You can find more of his work on Medium and connect with him through LinkedIn. This article was originally published here and shared with permission.