How To Run A Successful Photo Studio

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published May 10, 2022

executive planning session

Do you want to start a photo studio? While that can be challenging, luckily I have more than a few tips to make sure it is a success. Remember success doesn’t come overnight. The faster you start the process of building a photography business the sooner you will get there.

Table of Contents hide

25 Expert Tips to Run a Successful Photo Studio

Below I have combined my favorite tips on how to run a successful photo studio. I hope you will find the content informative while not too complex.

How to run a successful photo studio

25. You Have to Market your Photography Business

Every successful photo studio needs customers. If you want to be a successful photographer in the photography business, you have to advertise. Marketing yourself as a photographer can be as simple as a business card, or a search ranking.

This is critical: Customers need to be exposed to your business. If no one knows your particular photography business exists, how will they ever hire you?

24. Social Media for a Photo Studio Matters

There is no doubt that social media can drive business to a photo studio. Actually, social media can be great for certain specific photo businesses. For instance wedding photography. There is probably nothing more effective right now for wedding photographers than Instagram. Same for maternity photos, family photography, and engagement sessions. Anything consumer-focused, B2C ( business to consumer), should have a strong social media presence.

However, social media It is not everything. Likes on social media don’t always translate to sales. Business-facing studios or B2B (business to business) often receive little return from social media. When it comes to B2B social media marketing, your time as a studio photographer can often be spent better in other areas.

23. Photography Businesses Need to Spend Money Wisely

Money is the most important factor in any business. Actually, money is everything in business. We, as photo business owners, need money to pay for utilities, pay staff, taxes, and well – live.

If you are spending too much money, you can severally handicap your photographic business. Every dollar spent on a photo studio should be used to drive more revenue back to the photography business as a whole.

How Much Money do Photographers Make?

Like all careers, photographers’ salaries are widely varied. The median is about $43,000 but like most highly self-employed careers earnings can reach six figures. There is no upper limit to how much a photographer can make.

22. Define Your Target Market

Understanding who buys from you is the best way to get more photography clients. As a photo business, you should truly understand want your customer wants. Even better if you know where they live, what their budget is, and what moves them towards purchasing decisions. I really feel that not enough business owners put themselves into their customer’s shoes. Looking at a photo studio business from the outside in will really expose any shortcomings. Ask yourself who would want to hire a photographer? Would they hire me? Why?

21. Niche It Up: What is Your Photography Niche?

Become a photography specialist! This is maybe the best advice as a photographer I can give. Pick a subject that you are passionate about as a photographer and become the best at it.

Everyone wants the best. They might not be able to afford it, but make no mistake it is what they want. Become the best photographer in your chosen photography niche and business will come in.

Architectural photography studio in toronto
Running a architectural photography studio in Toronto has been a great joy for me as an architectural photographer. Photo: Absolute World Towers, Mississauga

20. You Should Advertise Your Photo Studio

Advertising and marketing run hand in hand. They are almost the same thing but not really. All advertising is marketing, but not all marketing is advertising.

You want to advertise your business. Magazine ads, billboards, and web-based are all examples. You will want to find the right forms of advertising for your business. Not everything is perfect and not everything works for every business. For instance, are billboards great for a small photo studio? Probably not.

19. Rent Out Your Photo Studio

Renting out a photo studio can help grow revenue. Photo studio rental fees can be a great way to help cover the costs of the studio. Make no mistake though, just like anything, handling the studio rentals can be a full-time job in and of itself. Don’t expect to be able to do everything, or you can quickly find yourself managing photo studio rentals and overgrowing your photography business. This is why many photo rental studios only focus on rentals.

18. Happy Customers Drive Growth

Happy customers make a great business! Deliver above your client’s expectations and your photo business will grow by leaps and bounds. To be a successful photographer you should be constantly obtaining new clients, and keeping returning clients. This just snowballs over time.

17. Build a Photo Studio by Word of Mouth

Word of mouth marketing is powerful. People will often buy from those they know and trust. A highly recommended photo studio can really drive business. Talk is cheap, as they say.

16. Outsource Tasks You Don’t Like

Boring tasks that you hate can really drive the fun out of a business. Look, we all have to do things we don’t like in life. Not everything is meant to be fun. If your business becomes about doing all the things you hate all the time, you are going to resent it and that business will fail. Find a way to either hire, automate or get rid of tasks you don’t like. You might be surprised at how many tasks you are doing. Never mind, how many tasks you just don’t even need to do.

15. Stay At the Forefront of Technology in Photography

Digital photography really changed everything for a lot of photographers. When I started in this profession, digital photography was just really starting to take over from film photography. So many professional photographers went out of business because they were not willing to adapt to the changes that digital photography brought. I am talking about professional photographers with 20 to 30 years of experience. It was devastating to a lot of photographers.

One thing is certain in business. If you do not grow and adapt to changes in the marketplace you will be left behind. Your business will fail and someone else willing will take your place. I don’t mean to be harsh, but as a professional photographer, you need to understand this.

14. Pick Your Photography Pricing Model

Do you want to be high priced & low volume or high volume & low priced? The more you charge as a photo studio the fewer customers you will have, but often you will drive more revenue that way.

Ask yourself, do you want to be more like Walmart or Rolex? Both strategies can drive a significant amount of revenue for your business. Be warned though if you compete on price like Walmart, you can open yourself up to price wars.

13. What About a Running Wedding Photography Studio?

Sure, why not? There are more wedding photographers than any other type of photographer. More importantly, there are more successful wedding photographers than any other type of photographer. I can’t see that changing for a long time.

You can operate a hybrid model where you shoot both wedding ceremonies on location and wedding photos in the studio. Lots of wedding photographers do this and it can be a great way to deliver some highly polished wedding photos to your client.

12. Define Your Target Pricing, and Customer Base

Pricing a service-based business like photography can be very difficult. It’s not like electronics where you can just check out what your competitors are doing and match it. The cost of hiring a photographer should be directly related to the level of service your client wants and expects. For instance, a luxury photography service would cost more and should deliver a very high level of service.

How Much Does It Cost To Hire a Photographer?

Hiring a photographer can cost anywhere from $50 to upwards of $20,000 per day. A simple photo can be very cheap while a high-level commercial photography production can be more expensive.

11. Commercial Photography Studio vs Professional Photography Studio

Everyone is familiar with the family photo studio, like the Walmart photo studio or the Sears photo studio. Not as many people are as familiar with the commercial photography studio. Commercial photo studios focus on providing high-level photography to businesses exclusively. Think of advertising photoshoots as a prime example.

10. Passport Photos are not Your Friend

You might be tempted to think that having part of your business as a passport photo studio would be good to drive revenue, but think again. Passport photos are so cheap that you would be hard-pressed to even break even on them. They can, however, be a good way to drive new photography clients into your business.

To run a successful photo studio you will have to be careful because these passport photos could easily fill up your day. In the end, you could end up wasting most of your resources on a product that loses money. And, if your studio is overbooked with passport photos, you are not going to be able to take on the kind of paying clients that will grow your business.

9. Owning a Photo Studio vs Renting a Photo Studio

Both owning and renting a photo studio can have different advantages. Renting is cheaper over the short term but can be more expensive in the long term.

Owning a photo studio can be very expensive in the beginning, but over time should become cheaper. A physical storefront can also generate a lot more business if it is in a prime location. You have the potential to grab clients who notice your business by simply walking by.

8. Understand The Laws of Running a Photography Studio

There are very specific laws that apply to running a business. Taxation, permits, and possibly licenses depending on what the nature of the business is. Do you serve food? Do you offer aesthetics, make-up services, etc.? When in doubt talk to a legal professional.

7. Use Business Software

Accounting, marketing, CMS systems and so many more can really help improve your visual arts business. Most importantly it can help get you as a photographer doing more of what you love doing – taking photos.

6. Run a Professional Product Photography Studio

Product photography studios have become more and more in demand with the rise of eCommerce. I remember when I started doing product shots 10 years ago, it seemed like hardly anyone was doing them. Now there is so many product photography businesses it is astounding. A lot of these businesses focus on cheap high volume work. While uninspired these do fulfill a need in the market. Is there still a need for creative product photography? Yes, of course, it is just harder to find it.

What is a Product Photography Studio?

A product photography studio is a business that photographs products. Photographers create pictures that are used to market and sell products. The product images are used in advertising, on eCommerce websites and more.

On a macro level, there is really only two different pricing models for product photography. There is either:

High Quality / High Price

The better the quality of the images the higher the cost. Great product photography really takes time. Any original features, lighting, color, water, and so forth add to the time required for images to be produced

Low Quality / Low Price

Low-quality product photography is really easy. It seems like it is cheap, but it is really not in relation to the value the customer receives from it. Basic images can take maybe a minute to produce – sometimes less. And, they will not sell products as well as premium images.

From a purely business perspective, low-quality high volume product photography is way more profitable than high-quality. If we do the math, the average low-quality product photo costs about $25. If it takes a minute ( probably less ) in an 8-hour day, one product photographer can easily take 480 product photos. That equals $12,000 in revenue per photographer, per day. Personally, I don’t advocate this method of business, but those numbers are astounding.

Professional headshot studio in toronto
Professional headshots with natural background give much warmer results for our clients.

5. Professional Headshots and Portraits are Great to Drive Revenue.

Professional headshots and business portraits can be a great way to add customers to a photography business. Business headshots can often pay very well. The time involved to produce great business headshots and portrait photography is generally not too heavy. The overhead of running a business headshot studio in Toronto is not that crazy. Most of the camera, lighting and studio equipment is not too expensive compared to other photography genres.

4. Explore Outside, and Ditch the Indoor Photo Studio Model

An indoor photo studio is pretty straightforward. The studio photographer generally shoots the same photos in the same space day in and day out. Working at a photography studio is really the 9-5 office job of the photo industry.

You can however go outside the boundaries of an indoor photo studio any time you want. As a photographer who can run a portable photography studio, the possibilities are endless. Why take headshots in the same old boring white background? What if you took a headshot on top of a building? How about an actor’s headshot in a park? Or even an executive portrait on a job site?

What is a Portable Photography Studio?

A portable photography studio refers to camera and lighting equipment that is used on location. The equipment can be packed up, moved and run on batteries. This is a great way to have photo studio-quality images in the field. On-site photography really opens up the limitations of what a photo studio can be.

3. A Family Photo Studio Can be Great For the Right Type of Photographer

Working with families and children really takes the right type of photographer. There are countless photographers that focus on this market, but there is really only a handful of photographers that truly excel at it. If you are the type of family photographer that loves photographing families, newborns, and the like you already know who you are. Or if you have already started down the path of shooting family photography on location. Make family studio photography your business and don’t look back.

Outdoor photo studio
You can build a photo studio literally anywhere! This one was taken outdoors in central manitoba, with portable studio equipment.

2. A Photo Studio Can be Anywhere

Why have one location when you have 20? Understanding that as a photographer you can rent any photo studio you want is powerful. As a photographer who travels, I know this well. Why be stuck to one location? I specifically use another photo studio near me to increase my range of working environments.

Photography is a visual medium. The environment we work in is more important than any other business and I feel pretty good about that statement. Most businesses are suited to a specific location, think restaurant or car mechanic. As a photographer, you can really have so much freedom it is mind-boggling.

1. Your Website is the Real Home of Your Business

No one can argue that the internet has changed everything when it comes to the photo business. I really think that all businesses should take the perspective that the main hub of your business or its true location is on the internet now. All of a business’s processes and locations are now an extension of its digital presence.

As a photo studio, your website is your single biggest advantage. It is your home and you should treat it well.

See our guide on: How to Choose the Best Images for a Business Website

Questions about Photo Studios

Now for some additional questions. I searched around the internet to see what some of the most asked questions were. Here is what I found, exactly how they are written – combined with my answers.

How do I choose a photo studio?

You should choose a photo studio that has a great portfolio that you really like. Look at their past work, their clients, and what they deliver. The price should fit within your budget and they should guarantee the quality of their photography.

What is a photo studio called?

A photo studio is called a photography studio. Sometimes a photography business is referred to as a photo studio. All photo studios are photography businesses, whereas not all photography businesses are photo studios.

How can I make a photo studio at home?

You simply need a background, a lighting source and a camera to take a photo studio at home. It can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. A simple setup that works best is a DSLR, a tripod, a paper or cloth background, and two lights (strobes preferred). You will also want a table for small items or maybe a chair for people.

What is a photo shoot in the studio?

An in-the-studio photo shoot takes place in a photography studio. Photoshoots are often either considered in the studio or on location. So in studio, at the studio. On location, out of the studio.

Why do photographers need a studio?

Photographers use a studio as a place of business for photo shoots. You do not need a photo studio to be a photographer.

Why is it called a photo shoot?

A photo shoot references two things: photo for photography and shoot: the act of taking pictures. Photo shoot is a term coined by the magazine industry to refer to the act of taking promotional pictures.

What can I use as a home photography backdrop?

Photography background paper works the best, but you can really use anything. Some strong contenders are fabric, flooring samples, and sheets of wood. Photographers will also use laminates that imitate various surfaces.

What happens at a photo shoot?

A photographer takes images of a model, product, and various other things. There can be multiple people depending on the complexity of the project or it can be quite small. It’s really not as exciting as people make it out to be.

Well, there you have it. I hope this article on running a successful photo studio has been helpful to you! If you have anything to add please leave a comment below. Any input given is helpful.

Top Photo Studio Toronto

My name is Robert Lowdon and I have been on a personal quest to become the best photographer in Toronto. I run a commercial photo studio that specializes in working with large businesses to master their visual marketing. If you need a photo studio in Toronto that truly understands your business like no other, I would like to meet you.

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