How to Start a Photography Studio

Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with a knack for taking pictures? Turn your photography hobby into a profitable business by starting your own photography studio. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered with a thorough overview and step-by-step guide to opening and running a profitable photo studio.

Pros and cons of starting your own photography studio

While running your own business can offer you a ton of freedom, it also comes with its own challenges. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of becoming a professional photographer and running a photo studio so that you’ll know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

Pros

–   Make money doing something you love

–   Flexible schedule

–   Less time and money spent on travelling to photoshoots on location

–   Clients come to you

–   Don’t have to bring heavy camera equipment around to shoots

–   No expensive rental fees for temporary studio space or camera and lighting equipment

–   A professional photo studio makes your business seem more legitimate

Cons

–   Large initial investment for everything from camera gear to lights to photo editing software to the photography studio space itself

–   It can be very expensive to rent a space for your photo studio, especially if you want a location that is central and easy for clients to get to

–   Unless you get very lucky you will probably have to spend money renovating your photo studio on top of the rental fee

–   As a service-based business you may deal with difficult or demanding clients

–   It can take some time to build up a consistent income from photography

How to start your photo studio business

As with any new business, there are a lot of choices and investments that you have to make upfront in order to run a photography studio. This step by step guide will walk you through all of the details you need to consider in order to make sure that both you and your business are set up for success.

Choosing what services to offer

Before you do anything else, it’s a good idea to have a brainstorming session and hammer out what different types of photography services you plan to offer in your photo studio. There are so many different types of photoshoots, from newborn photography to portrait photography to more imaginative, conceptual compositions.

If you already have a passion for a specific photography niche, go for it! Knowing what type of photography you want to do can help you get specific about your target audience, so you’ll know who to market to and how. However, if you’re not quite sure whether you want to pursue product photography or portrait photography, or you’re looking for the most financially viable niche, you can do some market research into the types of photography that are most sought after in your area.

Don’t forget to think beyond traditional portrait photoshoots or family photos sold to individual clients. There are all sorts of businesses that need photos for their social media presence, packaging, and advertisements. Start brainstorming some local businesses that might need photos to get the ideas flowing. For example, real estate agents and home stagers hire photographers to capture a home that’s on the market. Skincare brands may require both portrait photography and product photography. There are endless examples of potential clients all around you, so keep your eyes open and you’ll start noticing all of the ways that photography is used out in the world.

Best photo equipment and gear for your photography studio

These days, amazing quality photos can be taken right on your smartphone. However, if you’re going to run a photo studio business, there are certain necessities that you’ll need to invest in to stock up for client photoshoots. We’ll go over all of the basic camera equipment and accessories you’ll need, as well as any additional items that you may need for the specific types of photography that you offer.

There are things that every professional photographer needs in their toolkit, on top of your camera of choice, and then there are the add-ons that you may want to invest in as your business grows. When it comes to your camera accessories, you absolutely need to have multiple adaptors, batteries, and memory cards on hand. Having your camera die on you during a photoshoot is bad news at any time, but when you have paying clients coming into your photography studio for a portrait photography session, it’s going to look extremely unprofessional if you can’t find an extra battery for your camera or your SD card is unexpectedly out of space.

While this isn’t an absolute necessity, having a computer on hand to tether to your camera during your photoshoots can save you all kinds of time in the long run. That way, you can instantly check your lighting and composition at a larger scale, rather than relying on your tiny DSLR camera screen. This will save you having to reshoot product photography or spend excessive time editing out problematic details that you didn’t notice at the time.

On that note, you’ll also need to invest in a reliable photo editing software for post-production. There are plenty of free and paid options available, so do some research and get familiar with your program’s capabilities before you take on any paid photography gigs.  

Photography studios require a lot of electrical power, so you’ll probably need a few extension cords and power bars. Any lighting that you use that isn’t battery operated will require a plug, in addition to your laptop and camera battery chargers.

While natural light in a photo studio is great, weather conditions can’t always be relied upon, and using exclusively natural light limits you to working in daytime hours only. Here are some common types of lighting that you would find in a photography studio and what they’re used for:

LED lamps

These lights provide a continuous light source, meaning that the composition is evenly lit. They can be customized with filters in a variety of colours, and are useful for close-up photography.

Speedlights

Used for flash photography, speedlights can be used to create intense shadows on your subject. They are generally relatively small, lightweight and inexpensive compared to some other types of lighting, making them a good option if you’re just getting started. However, on the downside, they may not be powerful enough depending on your intention.

Studio flash

This is a more powerful light used for flash photography. It is more expensive and much heavier than speedlights, and it requires a sturdy light stand. These types of flash can sometimes overheat and need to cool down before they can be used again.

Beauty dish

If you’re planning on doing a lot of portrait photography, a beauty dish is designed for beauty photography in the hair and makeup industry. The softness it provides is somewhere between that of an umbrella and a softbox, and it can be used to create a strong catch light in your subject’s eyes. However, since a beauty dish picks up on every little detail, it will bring attention to any skin imperfections, so be conscious of when you pull out this type of lighting.

In addition to lights, another thing you will definitely need in order to run a successful photo studio are light modifiers. These can be used to diffuse light so that your light source is not pointing directly at your subject like a spotlight, creating a more neutral, even lighting throughout your composition. In general, a larger light modifier will result in a softer (and thus weaker) light effect. Here are some standard light modifiers that you may need for your photography studio:

Reflectors

They bounce light from your light source back onto your subject for evenly diffused light.

Umbrellas

Lighting umbrellas are made of translucent, reflective material that can help to create soft, consistent lighting. They are the least expensive light modifiers available. They can be useful for portrait photography, but they don’t allow for a lot of control on your part when it comes to light spill.

Softboxes and octaboxes

These are used to light your model without lighting the background by spreading light across a smaller area. They provide softer lighting than an umbrella and are more expensive, as they allow for more control over the light.

Scrim

A scrim is a portable option for a flat reflective screen that disperses light.

Gels

Unlike some of the other types of light modifiers, which need to be positioned around your subject on stands or held by a studio assistant, gels are inexpensive and can be affixed directly to your light source. They are translucent and come in a variety of colours and shapes, and can be used to create different light effects. Using directional lighting combined with gels, you can change the colour of one aspect of your composition, like the background, without affecting the rest of the photo.

Flags

A flag does the opposite job of a reflector. You can use anything black as a flag to block the light and prevent it from moving around your photo studio. Some reflectors even come with one side black so that you can use it for either purpose.

When you’re just getting started with running your own photography studio, there is absolutely no need to blow your entire budget on all of the different types of lights and light modifiers. Start out with 1-3 manual speedlights, and remember that you’re going to need light stands for every light that you use. Heavier lights require more sturdy light stands, and this is not the place to cut corners and go for cheap, unreliable gear. You will also probably need some sandbags to anchor your light stands during photoshoots so that they don’t get knocked over by you or your clients.

Another item that you’ll need at least one of is a backdrop. If you’re lucky, maybe your photo studio will have a blank wall that you can use as a neutral backdrop. However, there are tons of situations where you will need your background to be a different colour, and this is where backdrops come in. Not only do they change the vibe and colour scheme of your composition, they also offer versatility especially in a small photo studio, because any space can instantly be turned into a photoshoot setting. Backdrops can be made of paper, fabric or vinyl, with a variety of options in each of these categories, so you can completely personalize your photography studio to every different situation. Paper backdrops are typically the least expensive option.

In addition to all of your gear, your photo studio will need to be stocked with furniture and props. What you need will differ depending on the types of photos you specialize in, but every photography studio at least needs a simple chair or stool that can be used in any type of portrait photography.

If you’re going to be doing family photography or newborn photography, you may need to invest in things like a couch, cozy blankets and pillows, and toys or costume accessories for the little ones. For still life photography, you’ll need some sort of table or counter, and a variety of props to set up your still life composition. Even if you’re shooting content for a client and they’re providing products for you to photography, in order to create engaging product photography, you may need to source other complementary items to round out your overall composition.

For food photography, you may need a large dining table and chairs, as well as table settings. You may also need a functional kitchen if you’ll be photographing cooking processes for cookbooks or recipes.  

Since all of the bright lights you’re using can cause your photo studio to get overheated, a fan can help regulate the temperature so you and your subject are more comfortable. Fans can also be used creatively to introduce movement into portrait photography.

There are endless gadgets that you can invest in, but when you’re just starting out, focus on the things you need right away, like basic camera accessories, lighting and light modifiers, and some simple furniture.

Finding a location for your photo studio

If you’re going to offer in-studio photoshoots, you need to find a studio space that will suit your needs. Let’s talk through all of the features to look for in an ideal photography studio space.

Studio space is expensive, and while it can help you appear more professional, you should wait until you have a steady, reliable income before you invest in a physical photo studio. Some photography niches are by definition location-sensitive, like real estate or wedding photography, so if that is your specialty, it may not make sense to rent a photography studio at this point. Instead, you can create a portable photo studio and offer shoots on location, and you can still do photo sessions in outdoor spaces or daily studio rentals. If you’re trying to keep things low budget but you still need a physical studio space, consider turning your spare bedroom or living room into a photo studio while you build up momentum in your business.

If you primarily focus on product photography, your photo studio requirements are going to be much different than if you do a lot of portrait photography. A physical photo studio may allow you to offer multiple mini sessions one after another, but then you’ll need to rent a space that has a waiting room as well as the room you take your pictures in.

Since your clients will be travelling to your studio for their photoshoots, you’ll need to ensure that the location is easy to get to. Rental prices get higher the closer you are to your city or town centre. Also remember to factor in the cost of renovations, insurance, hydro, electricity, wifi, and any other ongoing expenses that you’re going to have.

How to get your first photography clients

So you’ve got your business set up and ready to go. Now it’s time to turn your attention to finding some clients. There are many ways to go about this, so we’re breaking down some of the most effective methods for finding clients, and how to convince them that your photo studio is the right fit for them.

As soon as you decide that you want to pursue opening your own photography studio, you should get your Instagram profile set up. Make sure that your contact information is easy to find, and that you’re clearly explaining to potential clients what it is you offer, who it’s for, and how they can get in touch with you to book your services. Keep posting your photos and use location-specific hashtags so local clients can find you.

Eventually, it’s a great idea to use a website builder to start your own online portfolio website to set you apart as a professional photographer, but in the meantime, social media is the perfect place to start generating buzz for your new business.

If you’re really struggling to find clients or you don’t have enough examples of your work to sell people on your services, you can try offering deals and referral rates, or even free mini photoshoots in exchange for a testimonial, which you can use to bulk up your portfolio.

How to run a profitable photography studio

Now that you’ve got a complete understanding of how to set up your photo studio business and start getting clients, you’re well on your way to running a successful business. That said, having a profitable photography studio is all about marketing what you do so that new potential clients and collaborators can find you. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to marketing your photo studio.

As your business grows, you need to have a professional website portfolio if you want to be taken seriously as a photographer. There’s no shame in reaching out to friends, family, and coworkers, sharing your new website and business with them, and asking them to pass your information along if they know someone who needs a photographer! As long as you’re not being pushy, people will be excited to hear what you’re up to and happy to help out with word of mouth.

Depending on your niche, you could start attending events and trade shows, and setting up a booth with your best industry-specific photography.

As well as offering photoshoots, you can sell prints online, or even sell your photos to stock image sites, where you’ll receive a small payment every time a user downloads your photo.

There are so many factors that go into creating and running your own photography studio, but don’t stress about everything being perfect right away. As your skills and knowledge (and income) grow, you will have a better understanding of what you need, and you will be able to invest your money wisely rather than blowing it all on extras that don’t actually fit your level of experience.


Ready to start your business? Ownr has helped over 20,000+ entrepreneurs hit the ground running quickly – and affordably. If you have questions about how to register or incorporate your business, give us a call at 1-800-766-6302, Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm EST, or email us support@ownr.co

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed.  All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.