Six Ways to Find Free or Affordable Studio Space

Six Ways to Find Free or Affordable Studio Space

For many photographers who are primarily outdoor shooters and don’t have their own studio, finding an indoor space to shoot on a budget can be difficult. With the winter months fast approaching, shooting outdoors is going to become an even greater challenge. Here are six places you can find indoor space to hone your studio photography skills, for free or cheap, while you wait out the winter.

The photo industry as a whole (with a few notable exceptions) tends to slow down during winter, and for good reason. Shooting in the cold can be miserable for models or your portrait subjects as well as the photographer. Also, in many places, especially with deciduous forests, the previously lush and beautiful backdrops of the spring, summer, and early fall turn into ugly brown messes. While outdoor winter portraits can have a certain magic to them if the conditions are right, the easy way to keep shooting through the winter months is to shoot more in the studio. Try looking at a few of these options to find an affordable space to use.

1. Your apartment, home, or garage

While it’s far from ideal, many wildly successful photographers have built their careers starting with the work they shot in their home or garage. Sue Bryce comes to mind as a notable example. While it’s convenient that you won’t have to haul your gear across town, space can be a huge, limiting factor here, as well as image. If you’re shooting for a paying client, while it might be okay, you will want to look at other options if you want to maintain a certain image.

While shooting in a tight space is a challenge, it is a useful skill to have. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to shrink and simplify my lighting setups while maintaining image quality so that I can take those light setups on location for a client. If you shoot all winter and learn to make fantastic photos in your living room or apartment, I guarantee you’ll come out of it a better photographer.

2. School space

If you’re a student, you should look into what kind of space you can use at your school. While photo schools have dedicated studios for their students to use, most universities allow their students to reserve a conference room or other university space. Some let you check out space as a student, and others require student organization or club affiliation. If the latter is a case, join the photography club and ask to do a shoot. If your school doesn’t have a photo club, that sounds like a good excuse to organize one.

University photo studio

A space I was able to use for free as a student at my university. A wide open room with tall ceilings and plenty of natural light made it the perfect spot to set up my studio.

3. Craigslist

Craigslist is a great place to find cheap space that isn’t actually studio space. Many people with room to spare are looking to make a little extra money from their space on the side and would be happy to rent on a day-to-day basis. Try contacting people who have postings on Craigslist with a proposition. Many businesses that aren’t operating seven days every week, such as small yoga or art studios, warehouses, or other small businesses, may be willing to rent to you at a very affordable rate. Of course, you’d have to provide all your own equipment.

Craigslist studio

An inexpensive day-to-day studio rental I was able to find through contacting someone on Craigslist. The space was used part-time as a yoga studio.

4. Work for someone with a studio

This might be one of the best ways to get studio space without paying for it. Working for another photographer who owns a studio or working for a rental photo studio could lead to free studio time. If you build a good relationship with the photographer or studio, they may allow you to use the studio when they don’t have any shoots booked. You may even get to use their equipment, much of which you might not have if you don’t have a studio of your own.

Rental studio

If you work for a rental studio, you might be able to use a space like this (and possibly equipment) when they don't have any shoots booked.

5. Studio co-op

It will cost you a small chunk of change, but many cities have studio co-ops that you can join. A membership to these studios gets you a set number of hours per month that are typically booked on a first-come, first-served basis. This could be an excellent route if you want affordable studio space and have limited options. Perks include the potential to network with other photographers who use the studio, while disadvantages include limited scheduling. So if you have clients with demanding schedules, you might want to go another route. If you can’t find a studio co-op near you, you can always get a group of your photographer friends together and form your own.

Photo studio co-op

This space was a photo studio co-op that allows its members to book a certain number of hours in the studio each month. While this one was particularly small, you might be able to find a larger space if you look around.

6. Your clients

While you probably want to keep things strictly business-oriented, if you’re using their space, some of your clients might have access to good indoor spaces that you could use as a temporary studio. Most people who aren't photographers don’t really have a great idea of what it takes to set up a photo studio, so make sure you give them a set of minimum dimensions of free space you’ll need for the shoot, and there’s a good chance you could shoot at their place of business or a place they have access to.

Client studio space

This was an impromptu studio I was able to set up in my client's place of business, a hair salon, where I was photographing them.

What are other free or affordable places you’ve used as a studio? Leave a comment below and share some ideas for finding studio space that others could try.

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15 Comments

colin murray's picture

I make my studio in (including lighting) available to new young professionals or students aspiring to be professional for no charge as long as it doesn't interfere with my work, my way of giving back...We're in LA, ping me for more details

Bill Peppas's picture

Thank you for your generosity Colin.
You're a good man!

Femi Orokunle's picture

This is an awesome offer Colin! Sent you a contact sheet through your website

Terrell Henry's picture

I need something like this in NJ/NYC.

Justin Scarpace's picture

How can I reach out and discuss availability with you? I am a student in search of a studio space.

Thank you!

oscar campos's picture

In the US there's also a service called Breather "Find beautiful, practical spaces you can reserve on the go" http://brt.hr/UWB3AT

Brian Schmittgens's picture

Cool concept. It's a shame it's only limited to a few cities.

Tom Lew's picture

I run a studio in Brooklyn.. would love to offer it up as well for any Fstoppers readers on the grind!

Philip Vukelich's picture

That's great Tom! Spaces is especially hard to come by in NYC. I am personally dealing with that myself at the moment, having recently moved to the city and am now living in BK.

Lane Shurtleff's picture

Be cautious with using non-commercial spaces from Craigslist. Liability and insurance are a good idea if you go this route. Here in Northern California (where EVERYBODY is a photographer, lol)lots of community colleges and schools offer programs with available space.

colin murray's picture

This is true, we carry both general and professional liability insurance as well as being licensed by the city to operate a photo studio. If you are shooting clients DON'T take them into a space where you are opening yourself up being sued if it all does wrong....

Eric Lefebvre's picture

---Dance Studios.---
There is a dance studio in my area that has several rooms that they rent out for classes or functions / meetings or for photography. Their rooms are (in square feet) 260, 650, 700 and 685 and and two of those can combine into a 1300 square foot room.

If you have 5 or less people, the 650, 685 and 700 square foot room goes from 15$ to 20$ an hour depending on how long you rent the room for. 1 hour = 20$, 8+ = 15$. The 260 square foot room is too small to use unless you are doing just head shots really.

If you have 6 to 30 (or if you want to rent outside their business hours) the prices double.

---Private Studios---
Some photographers that are lucky enough to have a studio sometimes rent it out. There are also some kind souls who will offer FREE rental for personal projects. We have one studio where I am that does this and I read an article about a large company making a HUGE studio space available for free for non commercial projects in ... was it New York or LA? Can't remember.

There is one studio i rent sometimes here that includes paper backdrops and lights on rails. his rates are pretty darned affordable.

$105 weekday, daytime time slot (from 8 AM to 4 PM)
$85 weekday, evening time slot (from 5 PM to 9 PM)
$130 entire day, weekday or weekend (from 8 AM to 10 PM)
$220 weekend (Saturday and Sunday, from 8 AM to 10 PM)
$450 work week (Monday to Friday, from 8 AM to 10 PM

Andrew Feller's picture

I used a yoga studio for a year, it was a great arrangement for a while... I traded them 1 shoot per month for their Instagram and Facebook posts in exchange for use of the space when they weren't having classes... plus all the students knew me as "that photographer that comes to class", got a couple of head shots and a wedding out of that plus an unlimited supply of models for personal work...

One caution would be make sure you are very clear upfront on the arrangement with "borrowing" a space, things did not end well when the owners had a dispute and split the business, a lot more to it tho, and I inevitably lost my sweet free space :/

Marco Smith's picture

A few months ago I came across this "Airbnb for photo studios" called MisterLocation (www.misterlocation.com). I used it in 3 different cities up to now, only positive experiences so far!