Can you make a year-round living using daylight, clients’ homes and the great outdoors?
A couple was walking up the drive of our house to meet us. They were choosing a photographer and this was the first time we’d meet in person. In fact, it was the last time. I was inside and they didn’t know I could hear them, or that I would pick up on the disappointment in the woman’s voice. “Oh,” she said, “it’s just a converted garage.” We didn’t win the job this time.
That’s when my wife Sarah and I knew it was time to take the next step. There had already been other clues that we’d outgrown our current setup…
There was the time when a client was watching an emotive slide show of their portraits in our lounge, set to music, and our daughter strolled through. Or when a client walked into the toilet to find our son sat there, reading his comic.
We wanted to grow the business and work with high-end clients. We wanted them to spend several thousand pounds. And inviting them into our home and garage wasn’t going to cut it.
That’s why we took the big and scary financial commitment of leasing business premises. We chose a place with the ‘wow’ factor. It was designed by influential architect Peter Aldington OBE and had huge, dramatic doors, an airy lobby and stunning steps that drew you into the heart of the building.
Onwards and upwards
At the back is a world-famous garden. In front is a quintessential England village street, with textured walls and huge, trees. I use a combination of the studio, garden and street outside in almost every shoot. This increases the chance of me capturing something my client will love and shows that, even though I now have a studio, I still choose to shoot outdoors.
That’s where I started. Before we leased the studio, before we converted our garage, like most photographers I had to start with something more basic. I would take a portable flash to clients’ homes, or meet them at woods and parks. When the weather was dry, it worked fine. But in Britain 43% of days are rainy, so that meant we regularly had to postpone outdoor shoots – that’s bad for business.
We wanted more control; We wanted to be able to work in any weather, and we wanted to show clients their portraits in a location where we could display products in a calm atmosphere.
That’s why we converted our garage in the first place. And it worked well enough to take our business to the next level at that time. But now, with a dedicated studio space, I feel incredibly motivated to become the best studio photographer I can be. With multiple rooms on the premises, we can show a client their portraits at the same time as I’m shooting: we’ve doubled our capacity.
In addition, when our converted garage was set up for a reveal, sometimes I couldn’t be bothered to change everything back to a studio setup. Instead, I’d decide to stay outside, which meant less variety. Now that the studio is permanently rigged, it’s so quick to walk in and take a picture that I almost always take some indoor shots, too.
Today when a client walks in, I don’t need to sell my skills. The impact of the space, and the images on display in it, tell them everything I want them to know. The wow factor sets the expectations for a wow experience with me, and that leads to the shared expectation that the client will invest accordingly.
So no, you don’t need a studio. But if you are struggling with growing pains like we were, and you want to impress your clients, it might just be time to take that step and sign that lease
This article is adapted from my article in issue 99 of N-Photo – the unofficial Nikon Magazine,
N-Photo is the only magazine devoted to Nikon photographers. Brimming with expert advice, product tests, tips and tricks, plus beautiful images to inspire your next session, you’ll be motivated to get creative with your photography and learn brand new skills with every issue of N-Photo magazine. Packed full of interviews and masterclasses with award-winning photographers, you will discover how to shoot great pictures, as well as enhance any imagery using Adobe Photoshop and other popular tools with helpful guides and step-by-step tutorials.
If, like me, you’re a Nikon user, please do support the magazine and think about subscribing!