There are many hurdles that a new photographer tries to overcome early in his or her career, one of which is simply that we don’t have the funding and massive budgets that some of our more well established peers might have. When it comes to choosing a location for our photo shoots we often find ourselves restricted. Here are 7 places you can shoot on a budget!
This article will be more geared to the lifestyle/editorial shooters out there. Certain genres of photography such as beauty and to an extent product work will often be far less demanding of their environment and location. However if you find yourself in a position where you need an environment that compliments or is conducive to your work or even a space that is sheltered from weather and peeping toms, here are some ideas to get you on the right path when money needs to be pinched.
The Great Outdoors
For years I would advertise and promote myself as a location photographer. When I was starting out I didn’t really have access to any studio spaces nor the kind of clients who were paying me well enough to rent such places in the city. By taking my work outdoors I was able to bypass my need for a large studio space and it usually had little to no impact on my budget.
It is by far the most dynamic “studio space” that you can have. It comes with free lighting thanks to the giant ball of fire in the sky. Soft and diffuse lighting can be found on cloudy days, under some trees, or behind any sun-blocking object such as a skyscraper. On the other hand, if you want a little more edge, free outdoor reflectors can be found thanks to glass, metallic surfaces, water, or mirrors. All these options mean you can get started shooting outdoors with a bare minimum of equipment. That said it is just as easy to incorporate extra pieces to your arsenal as your experience and budget begins to grow.
Items which I have found useful for shooting outdoors include:
Shooting outdoors also has the added benefit of free set design. Depending on the kind of theme you are shooting most of your elements can be found in the outside world. If you want to shoot rustic or old world then a farm might be your ticket. If you want to shoot swimwear then a quick trip to the beach could solve your problems. If you want to create fantasy a heavily wooded area at dawn or dusk with a few props and some costumes would do the trick. Sets that would take a ton of man hours to create in studio can often be found out and about with just a bit of leg work. Of course the benefits to shooting in studio are many, notably the control, but when you are starting out you really can’t be too picky.
Many new photographer’s also get what I call “travelers' syndrome.” When we travel to destinations beyond our normal reach we often look at things with a new perspective. Every day locations look remote and exotic. We get so excited about these distant locations that often when we think about having to shoot on location we completely gloss over what is available to us locally. Sure, veteran photographers have the budgets to pull off a shoot in some of the worlds most beautiful locations, but don’t let that stop your creative spirit from finding beauty in your own backyard. It’s there, trust me. Perhaps you just need to take a weekend in your own neck of the woods and tag along with some tourists.
Most towns and cities of a decent size will have at least one community center which offers classes of all sorts. These community centers will sometimes have a photography course available as well as basic equipment and a small studio space good for ¾ and headshot work. For a small fee you can have access to the course and more importantly the studio where you can often bring in your own models that you might want to shoot.
Shared Artist Space
This is a slightly pricier solution that entails some commitment, but with just a small amount of income you could be the proud part-owner of a studio space. The details of these arrangements vary so you will need to shop around. Most often the opportunity will be available to you as a sub-lease. You will generally sign up for a 6 or 12 month period where you will join several other photographers or artists who share the same studio space. You pay a greatly reduced rate when compared to outright owning your own place and you will also see savings when compared to simply renting a studio space by the day or hour. Depending on the size of the studio, and the quantity of artists sharing it, you can expect to have anywhere from a couple days to a week of shooting time to yourself every month. Having a schedule made up ahead of time will allow you to schedule and plan your shoots on the days which are yours.
Business owners are our current and potential clients, however, they can also be a great resource. Businesses often times have beautiful showrooms and vast warehouses which can make for great sets or provide shelter from the outdoor elements.
One of my clients some years ago was a custom sofa maker. They made extremely expensive and high end sofas and took great care to display them at their best in a stunning showroom. After doing some work for this client I had built a strong enough relationship with them that they would let me photograph several editorials using their showroom and sofas as the set.
Stories like this are not unique. All you need to do is tap into your current network of family, friends, and clients to see what resources are available to you. It may even be worth your while to offer up some free shoots to local business in exchange for the use of their space on future projects instead of simply promoting your services with rates. Sometimes early on in your career strategic moves like this will be worth more to you in the long run then a one time paycheck.
As photographers, many of us might be self employed, but we probably have a good number of friends who happen to work for someone else. Some of these friends might be in a position to grant you access to shoot at their work place after hours.
I have a good friend and personal fitness trainer who trains and works with his clients from a small but upscale local gym. Any time that I need to do some fitness photography I know that I can call him up and head down to his gym after hours to snap some shots. I have friends like this who work in bars, restaurants, gyms, dealerships, night clubs, country clubs, etc. All places that can make for interesting locations to shoot, and the cost might be some coffee or a lunch.
One of the coolest resources I have been able to tap into are my friends who work in the performing arts. Many of them work in fields such as set design or acting at local community theaters. There are times that I am able to borrow some costumes or even entire set pieces after a show is completed. Not only is this a great resource for materials but you might be able to strike up deals with the theater director to use the space when it is not being used by the cast and crew. I find these directors can be quite open to new talent and are usually generous because they are used to working with developing actors and have a genuine passion for helping up and comers grow. If you can offer to photograph the cast or the show as a bonus then you should rarely have any problems.
Many high schools and colleges will offer a photography class and will have small studio’s available for the students. If you are an alumni of one of these schools reach out to some of the teachers there. My old photography teacher was always very happy to have her old students return if only to swap stories and help her set up and set down studio equipment. If you don’t mind doing some grunt work, this can be another great way to have access to a studio after hours when the students are not using it. The added benefit is that you can have an experienced teacher on set as an extra pair of eyes.
If you have any creative penny-pinching locations that have worked for you we would be thrilled to hear all about them in the comments section. Till next time! Feel free to visit me anytime at Peter House – Commercial Photographer to follow our work.