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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.