So you've been considering making the leap from amateur and enthusiast to professional. You've got the gear you need to start, and your skills are up to snuff. You've thought about marketing and promotion.
There's just one thing that stands in your way: a studio.
If your intended photography business has anything to do with taking portraits of people, then you'll probably want a studio to call home. The problem is, this can cost you $1,000 to $2,000 or more per month after you consider rent and other costs.
That's a hefty financial commitment to make, and it presents a bit of a catch-22. If you don't have a successful photography business, how do you afford to the rent for a studio? And if you don't have a studio in which to shoot clients, how do you grow and develop a successful photography business?
While you could always take out a loan and gamble on your success, here are four other options that let you work with clients, build your brand, and grow your business before you commit to a full time studio of your own.
Partner With an Existing Photographer. You're not the only one struggling to pay the bills and fill up a shooting schedule with clients. Chances are, there's a photographer near you with a studio that isn't being used 24/7. The rent is already paid, and every hour that studio sits idle is a wasted resource.
So don't hesitate to reach out to other businesses and try to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. One of my old students interned with a local photographer for a few months, and he agreed to let her use the studio for her own work. She had to share some of the proceeds with the studio, but she had nowhere else to shoot and this allowed her to take a few clients on the side and start building her brand.
Rent a Space by the Hour. Instead of striking an agreement with a potential competitor, you may be able to find a studio space that you can simply rent by the hour. If you work near a major metro area, then you shouldn't have trouble finding a handful of places like this. Contact the owner, find out their hourly rates, and visit the facilities.
If it's going to cost you $40 an hour to rent the studio, then simply build that into the price of your portrait session. After all, when you rent your own studio you'll have to cover the cost of that rent, and this is a good way to ensure that you don't undersell yourself.
Work Outside, or On Location. This is probably the most common tactic, but it works. The great outdoors are, well, free! Scout a few parks in the area, and make a short list of nice shooting locations. There's a park down the road from my house with a gazebo, a large lake, and some scenic woodsy areas. I routinely see people there on the weekends with a photographer, either for portraits or as part of a wedding.
The only problem with this is that you're at the mercy of the weather. No one wants to have a portrait session outside in the rain, and I suspect few people want to pose outside in the wintry cold for an hour, either. It's hard to book things with absolute certainty when you don't know what the weather is going to be like.
Travel to the Client. There is another free alternative, though. Travel to the client's home. Assuming you have a portable kit, you can set up just about anywhere. I've set up my stuff in a tiny kitchen before. Throw up a backdrop, and no one will know from the pictures that you weren't actually in a studio.
You'll need a portable background stand, a muslin backdrop, a few light stands, and a few speedlites. This is perfect for strobist style portrait photographers. I can fit a full three-light kit into a duffle bag and haul it around in the trunk of my car.
Set Your Budget, and Settle Down When You're Ready
All of these options let you launch your photography business without actually owning your own studio. This way, you can estimate your monthly budget, build your clientele, and set up your own studio when you're ready.
The important thing is to build this cost into your pricing from the beginning. Otherwise, you'll have to raise your prices later to support an actual studio, and you don't want to do that.
For example, let's say you estimate a budget of $2,000 per month for your studio. You build $40 per hour into your price for the studio. That means you'll need to spend about 50 hours shooting each month to keep the bills paid. When you can consistently book that much work on your schedule, you know you're ready!