There’s more to running a photo studio than having the equipment and the space to rent out. A knack for customer service and project management is the key to a successful photography business.
Capturing portraits of people for posterity, in a room with controlled lighting, is a centuries-old business model. The first known photo studio was owned by French photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, who set up one in Paris in 1853. He was among the few photography masters who intentionally took photos to make money.
Today, despite the advent of compact digital cameras, many still seek the help of professionals for well-taken photos. Those who prefer to open a photo studio, however, fi nd that the business aspect, more often than not, matters more than the creative side.
BUSINESS PROPOSITION. “When you open a business, you look for new areas you can explore,” says Katya Guerrero, co-owner of Pioneer Studios, a 260 sq m boutique rental studio in Mandaluyong City. Basically a family business set up in 2009 and run with her sister and their photographer-husbands, Pioneer Studios was their answer to an industry that lacked commercial studios up to international standards.
Aside from filling a gap, a photo studio owner-wannabe might also present a new way of doing studio photography. The Stork Studio, opened three years ago to specialize in child photography, aimed to set itself apart from commercial mall-based studios.
“People got used to going to the mall to take pictures of their kids. Our style is that we’re pro photographers who specialize in children,” says Sofia Genato, half of the tandem behind the Makati City-based studio.
On the other hand, Guerrero’s advice is to research a lot about the industry. “Look at international standards, but look locally as well for your competition.” That’s how you’ll know where you could stand competitively in the market, she says.
LOCATION AND SPACE. “You have to be accessible. People should know where to fi nd you,” says Guerrero. The kind of service you intend to provide to your target customers should be your guide in finding the right place for your business.
Guerrero explains that buildings with high ceilings and vast spaces like former commissaries and warehouses are perfect for this kind of business. “That’s the way it is: you get a space then you convert it into something useful,” she says, adding that rental rates in warehouses are relatively lower than in commercial buildings.
On the other hand, the first home of Stork Studio—which started out as a Saturday gig for Genato and freelance photographer Stanley Ong—was literally at a “grandmother’s den.”
After two years of saving up, Genato and Ong moved the studio to an old yet huge house in a village in Makati City, where they set up two studios, a mini playground at the waiting area, and an office.