Top 5 Studio Location Hacks
So, where should you shoot if you don’t have a studio? I have been in my studio for 7 years, but my first year was all about trying to find locations that fit what I wanted to show on my portfolio. I knew I had to have a bit creativity, a good deal of boldness and a ton of finesse to get what I wanted and I was all about the hustle. You know, sometimes I consider ditching my studio and going back to that just to get outside of my own comfort zone. So, if you don’t have a studio, or if you’re just looking for a few ideas on how to get out of the studio and shake up your look, read on. We’re going to hack the studio today.
This one is obvious, yet so tricky and a bit time-consuming, but holy moly….it can be so worth it if you’re willing to put in the time. I get a lot of photographers that tell me this never works for them because they can’t seem to find places that are private enough, or their client just isn’t bold enough to do a shoot outside. To me–you’re just not taking the time you need to look harder. I once knew a photographer that only shot outside, never knew where she was shooting until she and her client would take a drive everywhere and anywhere until she found the right place that complimented the wardrobe and the style of the shoot. Now THAT’S dedication. I’m not asking you to do this, but you do have to put in time, both on and off shoot days. If you can make the time, I highly recommend you take lots and lots and lots and lots of loooooooong drives looking for spots you never knew were there for a shoot. Wherever you live, I guarantee there are some pretty amazing locations you either don’t remember or didn’t know they were there. Take a hike in the woods, a drive along the coast, a walk along the lake, creek or river. Something else to consider: sometimes the location is the least important thing in your shoot. Take a drive or walk at dusk during the golden hour and look for all the cool places the sun lays low during that time. I’ve done most of the things I’m telling you to do and it has always worked out for me. As for your client’s confidence? That’s up to you too. You have to reassure her that you’re only going to choose a place that is remote and safe, but at the same time, she needs to be OK with someone biking, walking, hiking or driving by. I always carried a beach towel or robe with me in case I needed to toss something over a client but truthfully, I never had a client that was not only totally fine with this, but actually loved the adventure of it. After time, you should start to stockpile these locations and build a bank for yourself for future shoots. But I warn you, once you start scouting for locations it’s pretty hard to stop. You’ll find no matter where you are, you’re scouting, even absentmindedly.
I did A LOT of this. I had no problem telling clients we’d be using their home for their shoot and the only push back I ever got was, “But my home is so boring.” Then I’d tell them it has nothing to do with the background and they were just going to have to trust me. The number one thing I did upon entering a client’s home was look for the light. Where was it coming in hard, soft or not at all? Right there was how I planned my entire shoot. I also knew if they had a bare wall, a bed and a couch I was going to rock it out. And if the light wasn’t what I wanted in one or more of those locations, I knew that set was going to be a dark, moody, grainy set. I also realized the value of carrying a set of white sheets, a faux fur blanket and a large whiteboard with me on all shoots. That way, I could strip a bed if I didn’t like the sheets or toss a blanket over a chair, couch or even on the floor if I needed to cover something. The whiteboard was my reflector. I never liked the harshness of real reflectors, though I always carried one juuuuuust in case the house was so dark I needed it. Listen, most homes will not be what you want them to be in decor, so you have to learn to think outside the box and make it about the light and the client. I have done shoots in dozens of homes and have always hit paydirt, and so can you.
Wait–don’t knock it. Remember, as I said above, you don’t need the Ritz, just light. Some perks of shooting in your own home are that you can rearrange some spaces to get what you want. You know your home the best so look around and see it through different eyes. Look where the light comes in and how it sits different times of the day. Now move a chair there or a bench and clear the decor around it. BAM. I bet you could easily put together 3 spaces in a pinch that would kill. Also–you’re in the comfort of your own home, so changing wardrobe is easy and so is providing a comfortable space for your client to relax….and, you know…it’s free. And since you live there, you can arrange and rearrange to your heart’s content for your shoots.
Yes, this one costs some money but if this is important to you then you either have to eat the cost or, better yet, build it into your pricing. If you build it into your pricing and you use it, awesome. If not, that extra bit is yours. I actually still do this a lot just to get out of the studio. I have a giant list of Airbnb’s I collect and research in my area and the surrounding areas. All I look for is something unique. That’s it. If I come across a client that wants a shoot that matches the style of one of the Airbnb’s on my list, I offer it to them at their own cost. Not all take me up on it and that’s ok with me, but if I just can’t get it out of my head, then I rent it on my own dime at times. In fact, sometimes I rent Airbnb’s for 2 or 3 nights and do a slam where I crunch in as many shoots as I can get so that the place is not only paid for, but I make a nice profit too, AND it brightens up my blog posts and social media. But never ever be afraid to give that cost back to the client. If you’re concerned that they won’t like incurring the cost, like I said, build it into the price and tell them it’s included. I like to rent for 2 nights because I don’t like being rushed, but there are times I can’t do that, in which case I ask for an early check-in and/or I will have my stylist do the hair and makeup at my studio before we check-in, which you can also do at the client’s home, to save time. You can fit in at least 2 sessions on check-in day, and depending on where you are and what time of year it is, make them dark and moody if it gets dark early. You can also fit in 2 the next morning if you start early. And always always always ask for a late check out and do this on the first day of your stay. If it works out in your favor, yay. If not, no big deal. I know a lot of photographers have issues with Airbnb’s because the folks they are trying to rent from will usually say no if you tell them you’re doing a photoshoot. Why are you asking them if you can do a photoshoot in their rental?? Would you ask the front desk attendant at a hotel? Nope. So why would you ask the person renting out a home? Unless it says photoshoots are not permitted in the rules, then you’re just fine. That house/apt/whatever is a rental. You do not need to ask permission for anything unless it is a house rule you want to break. Be respectful, take care of their space, leave it like you walked into it. But otherwise, permission is not necessary. If they find out you did a shoot and come back unhappy, apologize and explain to them that if you knew that would be an issue you would never have done it, but why would you think that was an issue?? This is a rental and you treated it as if it were a hotel room. So long as you followed their house rules, you are fine.
Collaborating for a Space
I used to do this a lot. If you have any small boutique hotels in your hometown, get to know the female staff members/owners. I would find a few and offer a free on-location shoot in their hotel to the highest-ranking female staff member in return for using a room for a day to fit in as many shoots as I could. It worked out beautifully. If there were no high-ranking females on staff, I would offer to take photos of an event coming up, or headshots of the staff, or updated photos of their hotel. And this doesn’t just have to be for hotels. Any location that is owned by someone can be contacted to collaborate with. Remember: you have a skill EVERY BUSINESS NEEDS. Work that skill! Another way to collaborate is to get friendly with a few wedding planners. Bridal boudoir is hot and if you can collaborate with a planner to get some of her brides involved in a Boudoir Bash for a day, you’re golden. Wedding planners are the bomb. They know everyone and they know their town/city, including where all the best locations are and the awesome thing about involving a planner is that THEY do the negotiating. So you can offer a Boudoir Bash, where you are offering her brides a “special package” rate only available to them and on one day only. The planner can then negotiate with hotels and other locations to be able to hold the shoots at the perfect location that she knows her clients will love (and love her for making it happen). She can collaborate with florists to have arrangements and bouquets available, local clothing boutiques to have clothing available….etc etc. She looks like a superhero and you get the benefit of all of her connections. It’s a win/win/win/win…you get it. Have any clothing boutique stores in your town? Get to know the owner and….well, you know. By now you got it. I once walked by a vintage/ second-hand furniture store and walked right in and asked if I could do a shoot there on the day they were closed. One of the craziest shoots I ever did….looooooooved it! So, put your scouting eyes on, pour in a huge dose of creativity and a bucket of chutzpah and you will have yourself endless places to shoot. The perks? You’ll never ever get bored and your portfolio will never be boring!