Do I need one?
The short answer to this is No you don’t. We are very lucky in London to have fantastic diffused light most of the year (meaning it’s grey most of the time!!). This diffused light is great to work with and there is little doubt that you can do most things with natural light that you can do in the studio so when you’re starting out there is simply no need for it. I think if you can master natural light, then you have a great understanding of how to approach studio lighting as well, so what you need to ask yourself is, can you cope with yet more tech to learn about, and what kind of photography do you like to do.
Clearly for on location family photo shoots London has some really fantastic spaces, and my view is that children are better on location than in the studio so that is where I take them. Kids under the age of about 8 are fidgety and playful and frankly don’t want to be in the 1 meter sq spot in the studio where the light is perfect, they want to be by the window, half way up the stairs, looking for the cat or hiding under the table. So I don’t use the studio, I play with kids on location. I find the best lighting and backgrounds then I have some fun with them. If things get tricky, I move on, distract them, take them to a different place. I’ve never had a bad location shoot but I’ve had plenty bad studio shoots with kids.
For newborns – again I think the advantage gained by offering an at home shoot far out ways the advantage of having them come to the studio. They are new parents and usually not very up to spec on how to leave the house with a new baby, so they are always very grateful that I come to them. All you need is a good window and a little space to create studio quality images ..
But for Pregnancies
Having said all that, I do insist on doing maternity photo shoots in the Studio. There is a lot of undressing and certainly to start with, shyness with being the focus of attention, and so I would rather do that away from other people. Yes in theory I could do this in people’s home and I have done in the past, however I have some gorgeous backdrops that just make the portraits more impressive and loads of drapes/clothes that are perfect for maternity shoots. I don’t really want to be lugging around all that stuff, and usually pregnant couples are pretty mobile still so a studio shoot isn’t too much of an imposition.
There is definitely an advantage to having a studio in your home too, as this is a more relaxed atmosphere and immediately creates a less stressful environment for your clients. You can also show them products which for me is great as I don’t do in-person-sales meetings after the shoot, I only provide online viewing areas so they can decide what to buy. So for them to see the quality of the albums and prints they are going to get, it’s great. I’ve not got a solution to this issue with location family stuff yet, it’s a tricky one.
It’s also quite pricey to get a studio up and running. You have the lighting and softbox/modifier costs – I use Elinchrom lighting which is around £1000 for a 2 light basic set up, plus backdrops and spare lights etc. Then of course you need to do some training in how to use the darn things, which is yet another expense. I have 3 different backdrop colours (I use colorama paper backdrops), which will need changing every now and then (hint, don’t allow clients to walk on the background with shoes on!!! the paper will last a lot longer). So you do need to make a reasonable investment in order to get set up, but ongoing costs are relatively low.
So there you go, in my view, if you’re strapped for cash, learn natural light and use that…it’s cheap and plentiful. Then when you have enough money to invest in studio, and only if you really need it for the genre you’re wanting to go into, then go for it.
Hope that helps
Susan Porter-Thomas Photography