A while back I wrote a blog singing the praises of a particular studio in LA, Pillar Box. I was there again over Thanksgiving weekend, and thought about what I look for in a studio and what I definitely don’t look for.
Amenities: The first studio I rented, which shall not be named as it no longer exists, was basically a bunch of seamless paper rolls in a large garage. It had a few lights that had non-functional bulbs and no sets to speak of. The way it was set up, it was also impossible for anyone other than the owner to switch out the seamless. A good studio at the very least has more than one direction the photographer can shoot in, and some kind of set area where couches/ tables/ unusual props are. As far as backdrops go, the wider variety the better, but specific ones- black, white and grey- should always be on hand. My last studio rental in Brooklyn, Starr Street Studios, didn’t have enough white on hand to shoot against, and as a photographer who generally shoots against white it was an obvious flaw. The air conditioner was also too weak to cool a warm upstairs studio, which detracted from a comfortable shooting atmosphere. Some places feature no air conditioning at all and these places are more scams than studios.
Lighting: Studios should come with studio lighting. It seems common sense but a different Brooklyn studio rental (Forgotten Works Studio) had no lights at all, which meant 4 hours of barely lit window lighting and high ISOs. The lights should have wireless transmitters, be actual strobes (not weak hot lights) and there should be a variety of soft boxes/ umbrellas, not just a few of the same things.
Cost: For still photography a studio rental should be around $40-$50 an hour unless they have some real specialty scenarios, or a lower weekday rate. A particular place I was at called the Jesus Wall in LA tags on extra per person within the studio, which mean a rental I tried to book in 2013 would have been a lot higher than my 2012 rental just because of one extra person. Sometimes you have to read between the lines in the price. One that is $100 an hour in Seattle, Urban Light, has fantastic sets, though when the owner told me to “feel free to stay longer” he neglected to mention he’d charge actually me $100 extra and I failed to ask- several studio owners don’t mind if you go over by 15 min or a half hour, especially if people are running late.
Owner Ettiquite: The ideal studio owner is on time, helps set up, and disappears, but if available if something is needed. I’ve had owners not be on time, or just let me in and vanish from the premises without letting me know where, say, the wireless triggers are, and in the worst case, the owner lingers around being pervy.
Although these are the criteria I gauge a studio by, my needs are by no means everyone else’s needs. Forgotten Works may not have had lights but it was the cheapest for a day rate, had a nice studio owner, and anyone with their own lights would have a ball there. A photographer should plan according to their needs so their studio experience is a productive one and not a few hours of accommodating unpleasant surprises..