You have a chance to open the photography studio of your dreams, but should you?
It’s been your dream since the first time you picked up a camera, “I want to open a photography studio where I can have swanky gallery nights and take the amazing pictures.” Well, I am here to tell you that you can follow your dream, but be ready for a healthy dose of reality to come along with it.
First of all, before you start looking around for photography studio spaces, you need to calculate the cost of having a studio and how much you actually make. Be realistic with yourself.
You can’t pay rent with false realities of income.
I was in business for about 5 years before I started seriously looking for a studio space, but if you were to look at my bank account you would never know it. Broke. Broke. Broke.
Like I assume most of you, I was working a full time job and trying to balance a social life in the mix of all that it takes to run a photography business.
I graduated college with a degree that got me a corporate job, right in line with what everyone else expects. Though it was nice to have a steady income, I was miserable. All I wanted to do was photography.
Starting a business did not come cheap. There are lenses, camera bodies, light modifiers, strobes and so on that I had to buy. I spent a ton of my income from my full time job on building up my gear. I could not afford to just buy everything all at once, I had to get it little by little.
Eventually, our house was getting full of photography equipment. I started to really look at how much I could make with photography versus how much corporate America could pay me. Was it a HUGE difference? Yes…and not in the good way. But, to me, following my dream was worth the chance. I quit my full time job and found a part time position at a school.
Giving up a full time salary did not happen without serious consideration. I spoke with my boyfriend, who I was living with, about finances and the “what if I fail and can’t pay for things” conversation.
It. was. not. easy. But it made a world of difference knowing I had a supportive, dream pushing boyfriend who is now my fiance. (He proposed to me on the opening night of my studio…initiate melting hearts now…)
I took a cut of about $15,000 when I left my corporate jon. Again, FIFTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. That’s a lot of money to give up, not to mention giving up valuable resume bragging rights of corporate promotions and professional development. (ick, boring.)
Instead of looking at that money as lost, I looked at it as a goal.
That is the minimum amount of money I had to make in my first year of opening my studio to prove it was worth it. This came with a realization of every dollar I spend.
Now that I am responsible for paying myself, I see money differently and make purchases with the “that cost as much as a photo session” state of mind.
If you are considering putting in your two weeks and never looking back, make sure you’re financially prepared to do so.
Did I feel completely confident that I would make that money back? Not at all.
Did I have a ton of money in the bank? Nope (like a laughable amount).
Did I have an absolute break down questioning my photographic abilities? Multiple times.
Even with all of that, I went for it. Thankfully I had a supportive boyfriend to reassure me and a financially savvy sister to help push me toward my dream.
Three Dreams Photographers Have about Opening a Photography Studio
- Dream #1: Having a studio will mean I can make more money because I will be able to do more sessions.
- Reality: Be prepared for everything. Yes, it is true that your business may pick up now that you can photograph newborns or boudoir sessions without using your clients home, but you still need to make yourself known. It does not happen over night.
- Tip: Make sure you have enough money saved up as a reserve to pay for at minimum two months worth of your bills.
- Dream #2: I already have a camera, I won’t need much else.
- Reality: You’re renting an empty room. You’ll need to set it up so it can function as a studio. You’ll want things like backdrops, a system to hold those backdrops, a sitting area where you can do those in person sales you’ve been telling yourself you were going to start doing, maybe a dressing room area or a desk, or how about props and where those are going to go. There is a lot more than just a camera, though that is a good start.
- Dream #3: Pay rent and start shooting
- Reality: Insurance, permits, inspections…. When I first toured what is now my studio, I was studiostruck, I guess it is kind of like starstruck but with a studio…anyway… I WANTED it.
It was so gorgeous with it’s huge industrial windows, amazing floors, and in an awesome urban setting. I was ready to start hauling my gear in and set up!
When my brain finally came back down from cloud nine I could hear the realtor saying things like liability insurance and occupancy permits and inspections… wait what?
You’re telling me I can’t just give you money and start shooting? Nope.
First up, depending on where you live, the local government may require you to apply for an occupancy permit. This might cost anywhere from $50 to a couple hundred bucks. It depends on if they need to inspect the space.
Tip: Ask your realtor if someone has used the space before you. If so, the city might be able to skip the inspection, saving you a couple hundred dollars.
Then comes liability insurance. The insurance world was and still is completely foreign to me, but thankfully I was able to just call the same guy who provided my car insurance.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask your insurer all the questions that come to mind. I probably asked him a hundred questions.
What does this cover?
What happens if someone gets hurt at my studio?
What happens if I get hurt?
Is my equipment covered? and on and on…
My realtor provided me with a list of insurance requirements that I was able to just show my insurer. He knew exactly what to do and walked me through the whole process. That is what they are there for, use their knowledge!
I was able to get the insurance coverage I needed for the rental unit as well as cover my entire business for under $1000 a year.
Some people will say that you should not open a studio without already being super busy and financially stable solely from your photography income. Though that is wise, I found that if you are willing to really push yourself to make money you can be successful.
My business grew so much after having more time to focus on it and opening my studio. BUT IT WAS AND STILL IS A LOT OF WORK.
Just follow that dream.
If you have determined you are going to open a photography studio, check out the 9 things you should ask and do before opening it.