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How to run your own Portrait Photography Studio?

  • Tutorials
  • 30/06/24
  • 12 minute read

Being a portrait photographer and deciding to take the leap of having your own studio really represents that transition from amateur enthusiasm to professional. As we go into the complexities of setting up a successful photography studio, this guide will show you the critical components required:

  • The Studio Space
  • What Equipment do I need?
  • Your clients and where to find them
  • The importance of self promotion
  • What to charge?

The Studio Space

Size of the Studio: The good news is, portrait photography studios don’t have to be huge but the studio should be spacious enough to accommodate various backdrops, lighting setups, and equipment without feeling cramped. A minimum space of about 25 square meters/270 square feet is ideal, allowing you to work comfortably and move around freely during shoots.

Ceiling Height: A high ceiling is beneficial, at least 2.5 meters but preferably over 3 meters. This height allows for more flexibility in lighting setups, such as using boom arms or placing lights at higher angles without restrictions, which can be critical for achieving the best photographic results.

Lighting Conditions: Deciding between natural light and artificial lighting is key:

  • Daylight Studios: These rely on abundant natural light from windows, which can provide a soft, natural-looking light that is ideal for many types of portraits. However, this can also introduce variability depending on the time of day and weather conditions. If you’re aiming for a soft look created by diffuse window lighting, a north facing window is ideal but east (lets in direct morning sun light) and west (lets in direct afternoon sun light) facing windows are acceptable. If you’re aiming for direct sun light a south facing window is preferable.
  • Blackout Studios: These studios have the capability to completely block out natural light, giving you total control over artificial lighting setups. This is essential if you want to use continuous lighting as there’s no ambient light to interfere with it but also makes your life much easier if you want to use the modelling light of studio flash systems that’s important for consistent and repeatable results, which are necessary for commercial and fashion photography.
  • A Mix of Both: In reality, many studio spaces incorporate elements of both daylight and blackout studios with windows that can be used to harness natural light, creating the soft, natural-looking lighting that is ideal for various portrait styles. To transform these studios into blackout spaces, heavy black curtains can be employed to block out all natural light. This setup allows photographers to rely entirely on artificial lighting either using continuous lights or studio flashes.

Heating and Air Conditioning: Comfort is crucial, both for you, your sitters and your clients. Ensure your studio has effective heating and air conditioning systems to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the year.

Location: The studio should be easily accessible for both sitters and your clients. Consider proximity to public transportation and the availability of parking. A central location can be more expensive but might attract more clients due to its convenience.

Backgrounds and Props: Have a variety of backgrounds and props available to suit different styles and client requests. This includes not only different colours and textures like velvet or cotton for backdrops but also chairs, stools, and themed items that can add interest to your portraits. In the post about “What Equipment do I need to start a Portrait Photography Studio?” we give specific advise on the backdrops and support system.

Changing and Makeup Areas: Provide a private area for sitters to change outfits and apply makeup or work with a stylist. This adds a professional touch and enhances the client experience, making them feel comfortable and well taken care of.

Storage Space: Make sure there is Adequate storage for equipment, backdrops, and props helps keep the studio organised and efficient. This is essential to maintain a professional environment and to ensure quick setup changes between shoots. Also to be able to have a clean workspace and a place for all the equipment to be put.

Security: Invest in good security systems to protect your expensive equipment and the artwork within the studio. This might include cameras, secure locks, and an alarm system. Some places have a 24hour front desk.

What Equipment do I need?

Refer to our last article “What Equipment do I need to start a Portrait Photography Studio?” on essential photography equipment to get a detailed list of what you’ll need to set up your studio effectively, including cameras, lenses, lighting, and backdrops. Continually upgrading your equipment can keep you competitive and allow you to produce high-quality work that meets current professional standards. Remember to get your equipment serviced regularly so calibrate your lenses every couple of years and keep the sensor clean.

Your clients and where to find them

Client acquisition strategies for photographers vary significantly between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) markets. Understanding these differences is essential for effectively targeting and engaging potential clients in each sector.

Business to Business (B2B): In B2B scenarios, photographers usually initiate contact. This includes corporate headshots, editorial portraiture, advertising photography and work for talent agencies. LinkedIn is an excellent platform for connecting with professionals who may need personal branding, headshots, or corporate event photography but typically the photographer would research potential clients and arrange appointments to show them his/her Printed Portfolio. Building a strong brand and sharing examples of your work is essential to attract high-paying clients in the corporate sector.

Business to Private (B2C): For B2C, photographers need to be where their clients are. There are several ways of doing this and once you start building a number of contacts it is surprising how word of mouth travels. From my experience, social media outlets such as Instagram and Pinterest are really great. It allows you to curate a body of work that is your brand and build on it and tell your stories and behind the scenes in the reels and stories. People get to know you and your brand and trust happens. This is when people have viewed your work seven times. Marketing experts often refer to the “Rule of Seven” in traditional advertising, which suggests that a prospect needs to see an advertisement seven times before they decide to buy. This rule can be loosely adapted to social media exposure and brand trust. In this field SEO (search engine optimisation) for your webpage is key as often private clients will use Google to find photographers in their area.

This then moves onto content. When you do a job make sure to tag everyone that was on the shoot in it. Make it your business to collect everyone’s social media handles etc. and build partnerships with luxury event planners.

I love the idea of hosting workshops or speaking at conferences that position you as an expert in your field. This attracts clients who seek top professionals for their photography needs. Which leads onto engaging with communities through local magazines, community events, and local business networks can help gain visibility among potential clients or people who value portrait photography. Another idea is to collaborate on projects with high-end brands as this can elevate your profile and expose you to clients who are interested in luxury services. And a last idea is to invest in SEO and content marketing and to appear in searches related to luxury or high-end photography services in your area can draw in clients that are actively seeking exceptional photographic experiences.

The Importance of Self-Promotion

Self-promotion is absolutely vital to attract and retain clients. At a minimum, maintain and update a professional-looking website showcasing your portfolio, a blog to share updates and tips if you like doing this sort of thing but also a newsletter to start gathering emails, and active social media accounts tailored to the types of photography you offer. This can be in story form but also a curated structure in the posts.

Try to meet potential clients in person! Nothing compares to the type of connections you can create when you meet someone face-to-face. For in-person meetings, a well-crafted printed portfolio can make a really strong impression and there’s nothing like beautifully printed work. This is why our Professional Photography Course students finish the course with their own webpage and printed portfolio but if you don’t have access to professional printers we recommend The Print Space off Kingsland Road in London who are also based in Germany for Europe prices and now opening a NYC branch. Attend industry events, exhibitions, and workshops to connect with potential clients and other photographers. And don’t forget to attend networking events that can open up collaborative opportunities and client referrals!

What to charge?

While discussing specific pricing can be complex due to the variability in the field, it’s essential that you understand your market and price competitively yet fairly based on your skills, experience, and the specific demands of the project which is something we discuss in great detail in our Photography Careers Course. Here is a link to Saraya Cortaville’s talk for more in-depth discussion on pricing strategies.

For Business to Business (B2B) your fee can vary substantially between different clients. Most magazines these days offer small fees of about £150 – £200 per editorial portraits and that would include all expenses, whereas corporate clients would typically pay an established photographer £800 – £1,200 per day for headshots of about 25 subjects but this fee includes post-production which can take the photographer another 1-2 days to complete.
Consider offering different pricing tiers or packages to cater to a variety of budgets and needs. Most small to medium sized businesses would pay £300 – £400 for a portrait session.

For Business to Private (B2P), pricing can vary significantly depending on the demographics and location of your clients. The amount you can charge largely hinges on the type of clients you aim to attract. For example, a standard portrait session might cost around £150, but this fee can escalate to thousands of pounds when working for wealthier clients. On average, most photographers find that £300 – £400 per shoot is a reasonable and competitive rate for the majority of their private clients. It’s crucial to assess the market in your area and tailor your pricing strategy to meet the expectations and budget of your target audience, ensuring you offer value while also covering your costs and adequately compensating your time and expertise.



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