Over the past two years I’ve had a lot of time to consider what the optimal space would be for me. Keep in mind, in addition to photography I also do a ton of Fine Art Giclee reproductions for painters, photographers, and graphic artists as well. So my space requirements are a little different than the average pro photographer, but not that different.
In 2008 I started my “brick and mortar” business by teaming up with Ian. The plan? Gallery and print shop. Offer clients the ability to select prints in any size imaginable for pieces. That leaves gallery clients more room. “I like this image, but could I get a smaller piece?” Interesting service that very few galleries offer!
Given that part of the business was to be a gallery we needed a retail space with some visibility. The bulk of the space has been allocated to paintings, photos, pottery, bronze statues, etc. Standard gallery. And you need a lot of room to display pieces, believe me. So, a fair amount of space + visibility = pricey.
Now, if we strip out the gallery side and just look at the photography and print reproduction side what’s necessary? Well, in my case, room for 2 44″ wide printers, my computer equipment, storage for canvas, photo paper, stretcher bars, etc. Basically, we’ve fit all of that plus Ian’s framing table and dye sub table in a space a little over 200 square feet. If it was just my gear, 200 square feet would work for the print business no problem. But given everything we have back here it’s beyond cramped and more square footage is required.
The Optimal Solution?
I’ve been looking around since last summer at warehouse space. Realistically all I need is about 600 square feet. Preferably an open space without walls. High ceilings are a big plus! I’ve found these types of spaces, but usually larger in warehouses in the area. Anywhere between 900 and 1100 square feet for $500 – $600 per month. Let me tell you, that’s a substantial savings over a strictly retail space in a higher traffic location with the same square footage!
So, for other photographers out there, what am I saying?
You don’t need to get the coolest biggest building in the world in your local high traffic mall. Honestly, if you’re starting out I don’t see any issue with using your home as the first studio. Keep that overhead cost down! Of course, for me, home is an Airstream so I do need some other type of space for the printers and computer gear.
I know of many professional photographers who have in home studios. That’s a great solution if you can swing it. No additional overhead, and now you’re using your current property for business purposes as well. There might be a write off in there! 🙂
If you’re like me and you don’t have home space available……think small. Remember, off economy, real estate struggling. You can find some deals out there. I’d recommend 500-600 square feet. And watch the lease length. Maybe things don’t work out…..do you want to be stuck in a long term lease? Or, what if things work out great and you need a larger studio space? Once again, the longer the lease the tougher your proposition is!
The start up professional…..
If you’re just starting out, don’t even consider a store front or studio space. Build your portfolio. Build a client base. Keep expenses to a minimum. Let me tell you, this is a feast or famine business for the bulk of us. When you get your name out there for high quality work, then you can start considering larger spaces. Think “location” shoots. Seriously, does a good wedding photographer need a studio space? Nope, you’re always on location.
Bottom line, keep that overhead down gang! And when you’re finally shopping for a space, think about your clientele. Do you think walk through traffic is going to really add to your business (like being in a mall space or something of a similar nature)? Or do you think referrals from happy clients who find you reasonable on pricing because you’re not dumping all of your money into a building? I’ll leave it to you to decide, but I will tell you that most of the successful pros I know all operate out of home based studios, or oddball real estate locations that retail businesses wouldn’t consider.