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The PRO-Files: How To Make A Home Studio Work For You

Savvy photographers are always on the lookout for ways to make their businesses more efficient. One substantial savings of both time and money comes from consolidating where we live with where we work via an in-home photo studio. Home studios sometimes get a bad rap, but it’s not always warranted. Here are some reasons why photographers might consider combining home and studio, and a couple of drawbacks as well.

“Clients think it’s cool. The living space is private, so it’s not as if they’re invading our private space. Our studio is in the heart of the revitalized city center, surrounded by businesses & lofts, so it doesn’t seem out of place.”

THE PROS

Lower Cost

The number one reason to combine home and studio is to save money. By eliminating the separate rent payment there’s an immediate cost savings and a dramatically lower overhead for the business, which is further amplified by utilities and other tangential expenses that are doubled with a second property.

Birmingham, Alabama-based photographer Liesa Cole loves many of the benefits of her live/work arrangement, not the least of which is its cost effectiveness.

“My husband and I bought half of a 7,000-square-foot building,” Cole says, “with the intention of building out the space for a studio and adding a story on top for living space. At the time we had a home and a separate studio space. When we did the math we determined that by consolidating we would not only save time, but also save overhead. Streamlining bill paying and overhead is a huge resource saver. Not having two of everything to pay for someone who begrudges time spent doing the ‘business of the business’ frees up more time for creativity.”

Ultimate Convenience

As any office worker who telecommutes will tell you, there’s a lot to be said for rolling out of bed and walking down the hall to your workplace. No, you probably shouldn’t greet clients in your pajamas, but working from home has other big benefits as well—including zero commute and less upkeep. That amounts to significant time savings, too.

“The top benefit for me includes ease of workflow,” Cole says. “I love that I can drift upstairs to spend pockets of time ‘at home’ with the fam, tend the dog, throw in a load of laundry or start a pot of soup and return to work at my leisure. Even though my former studio was less than 10 miles away, it was still a bit of an ordeal to get there. Half the time it seemed like something I needed was either left at home or the studio. Maybe I am just a scatterbrain, but the convenience of housing all of your stuff under one roof is a major life enhancer for me.”

It’s More Personal

In an age where it’s normal to share every waking moment via social media, there’s an actual business benefit to showing clients where you live. It makes for a more personal experience and, done right, it can help to forge a tighter bond with customers that benefits both the bottom line as well as the creative process.

Celebrity portrait photographer Hernan Rodriguez uses the studio in his suburban Los Angeles home for the majority of his portraiture, and he says it’s actually an advantage to bring clients into his home.

“I photograph probably 80% of my people here,” he says. “It builds respect. My celebrities love it here. We have a nice spot in the back where they can relax and it’s just a very homey place for them. I took a census for the first few years and asked if they liked it when they left, and everyone thought it was great. The vibe is relaxing and they are less nervous because the setting still has a sense of visiting someone in their personal space.”

Another Revenue Stream

When you have a photo studio you also have a space that can be useful for other purposes—some of which pay. Cole, for instance, rents out her downtown Birmingham studio as an event space. Sure, photographers who invest in standalone studio facilities also have the option of renting their space to other photographers or for parties and weddings, but for photographers looking for the most cost-effective studio possible, the fiscal view gets even brighter when they factor an additional revenue stream into their home studio plans.

“Capitalize on any potential multi-use spaces in your home/studio,” Cole says. “For instance, we designed the studio to function equally well as a venue for gatherings of 50 or so people, pop-up dinners and production. So the kitchen is used for food shoots as often as it is for events. In this way, we hedged our bets on the ebb and flow of the commercial photography industry.”

THE CONS

Work/Life Balance

Talk to anyone whose home doubles as their office and you’re bound to hear about some drawbacks that come specifically from a failure to separate work life from home life. Deliberate design choices can help to physically separate the two spaces, helping both customers and the photographer. Unfortunately this can also mean sacrificing living space in any area dedicated solely to the studio. Another helpful approach is to be disciplined about avoiding an around-the-clock work schedule.

“For us, the only downside is that people don’t want to leave,” Cole says, laughing. “Since we aren’t leaving and ‘locking up’, people tend to linger. That is mostly a positive, but occasionally you are just beat and looking forward to some down time after using up all of your words on a shoot directing talent.”

Client Hangups

The number one drawback to an in-home photo studio is the question of how clients will react to doing business in a residence. It can cause confusion (customers wondering why they’re arriving in a residential area, for instance) or discomfort for some, but with planning and thoughtful design the challenges can be mitigated. Not all studios are actually “in” the home, for instance. An adjacent structure on a large property can make for an ideal studio, as does living above a studio in a more commercial part of town as Cole does. And even with a suburban situation where the studio is actually in the home, separate entrances and well-divided live/work spaces do wonders to put customers at ease.

“As far as I can tell,” Cole says, “clients think it is really cool. Our living space is completely private, so it is not as if they are invading our private space. We are fortunate in that our studio is in the heart of the revitalized city center, so we are surrounded by businesses and lofts, so it doesn’t seem out of place.”

“Sometimes when people show up to my studio,” Rodriguez says, “they would call me from outside saying, ‘I’m not sure this is the right place. This is a house.’ When they would enter, they would say ‘Oh, I get it. This is cool’. My advice to those who want to start a home-based studio is to be as professional as you can and maintain the appeal of a professional studio. This takes any negative connotation out of the equation, or any preconceived idea anyone might have.”

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