I have had a working photography studio at my home for the last six years. Luckily, I had enough space to make it fantastic, and I LOVE working from home. But the space I created took time to happen.
Before my garage/home studio renovation, I had only been doing photography part-time. I shared a studio space with other photographers or did mostly location work. Occasionally, I would do headshots in my horrible, cluttered garage…until I was just tired of it and the mess. I was planning to take my photography fulltime, so I decided to get serious and create a dedicated, functional space for my work and a comfortable place for my clients.
My garage makeover happened in several stages. I had no steady stream of regular business when I started, so I tried to renovate on a small budget and utilize many items I already had. When my session calendar was buzzing a year later, I had more revenue to renovate with higher-ticket items such as installing flooring and investing in canvas backdrops, props, and gear as needed.
If you are starting your business, remember - you don't need a lot. I'm a photo gadget nerd - I love gear - but I made a six-figure income my first year in the "garage" with paper backdrops, a painted cement floor, and two strobe lights! Take your time to figure out exactly what gear and props you want so you can spend your money wisely.
Follow along as I share the steps to converting my 450-square-foot garage into a working photo studio
Why Work from Home
I love working at home because:
Overall cost savings. I don't have the cost of renting a studio, especially since rents are ridiculous where I am in Northern California.
Control of the environment. The space is all mine, and I don't have to pick up after anyone but me.
I don't have to transport equipment – I love that everything is always set up and ready for a shoot.
I don't have to worry about being late for work - no commute time.
During the pandemic years, it allowed me to control the environment and keep it sanitary.
Clients are comfortable in a homey setting, which can help them to feel relaxed.
Part 1: Planning & Purging
The hardest part of all of this whole change was clearing out the junk in the garage!
I spent the summer of 2018 sorting through all that excess stuff on gorilla racks I hadn't looked at in years. After throwing many things away, it came down to a "maybe get rid of" pile that still took up 1/3 of the garage.
At this stage, I made several drawings of how I envisioned the space – what needed to be moved or removed – so I understood what I was planning. Since I was doing this on a budget, it also helped me visualize what I could utilize that was already there, such as a gorilla rack, etc.
After much back and forth with my spouse, we slowly pecked away at the remaining pile of junk in the garage. We had a garage sale once we got down to the final, sellable stuff.
Part 2: Budget Friendly Beginnings
In the beginning...
Once the garage was cleared, I gave myself three weeks to reshape the space before my next photo shoot. There were several basic things I could do on a budget that would make all the difference:
Paint the stained concrete floor
There were several options I toyed with around the floor. I loved the idea of a polished concrete floor. Still, the cost was prohibitive, and I was concerned that, in the end, it might be too shiny – reflecting unwanted light onto my subjects. I opted to paint the concrete with 18% grey porch paint. This was a slow process as I had to move everything counterclockwise to get the floor painted.
Paint the walls
Luckily I had finished walls, but choosing a paint took some thought. I decided to go with all white. This gave the space a clean, light feel and allowed light to bounce if needed. We painted the walls and the ceiling.
Remove the garage door motor mechanism
For years prior, when I would do a headshot or quick session in the garage, the clunky motorized garage door unit would always sit in the middle of the ceiling. Although the height in my garage is 9", it always seemed to be in the way when I wanted to raise my strobes. I called a pro to detach the unit and transition the garage door to a chain system that would roll up if I ever needed to open it.
This was a big win!
Remove the overhead fluorescent light
The huge horizontal florescent ceiling light was another eyesore that had to go. I hired an electrician to remove it and install track lighting in a U-shape, pointing away from where I would be shooting (the set area). I also had the electrician check the outlets for the correct voltage and move some outlets to more appropriate places. Even if you use battery-operated monolights, ensure you have the proper voltage so you don't blow a fuse or start a fire.
Note the garage opener on the ceiling, overhead light, and back drop in the wrong direction...but at least the floor was painted!
Move the backdrop holder location
Years before, I had a friend install my Cowboy backdrop holder, which held three 9" paper backdrop rolls. We had installed it on a wall next to the entrance door - This was in the wrong spot! The wrong feng shui! It needed to be against the garage door, so people walked into the space and onto the set. I hired a handyman to reinstall it. Make sure you think about where you want your "set" to be located within your space for maximum versatility and movement with the space.
Installed "reveal wall" shelves
Pre-pandemic, I invited clients back to the space after a session for a "reveal" of their images. I purchased some fabulous wall shelves from Ikea. I do everything via video today, but I still utilize the wall with shelving as a "mood board" area.
With these basics done – I was ready for my next shoot – and I was no longer calling it the "garage" – it was officially the "Studio!" (PHOTO)
Part 3: Upgrades
After a year of working in the space above, I generated enough income to do more remodeling!
I was ready for a lovely floor, so I opted for Vinyl plank flooring that is very durable and water-resistant. I brought home samples and lived with them for a couple of weeks to ensure I loved them before the significant investment. I decided on a wood tone that kept the space light and airy.
Of course, I had to move EVERYTHING out of the studio again. The cost was about $3000 for flooring and installation.
Second backdrop holder
I was also ready to expand the length and depth of my shooting area. I added a second backdrop holder, this time the pole mounts, which can easily be moved anywhere if I change my mind.
At this time, my 20-year-old strobes decided to die on me, and it was time to upgrade and get with the times. I tested both Profoto and Elinchrom strobe lighting systems but decided on Elinchrom. Their modifiers are the best, the system is half the cost of Profoto, and I liked the interface better on their monolights (no, I'm not sponsored by them, but I should be). I was a happy camper with an even more blinged-out studio!
Part 4: The Makeup/Sales Room
Now that my "studio" had become my happy place, it was time to extend the space to be special for the clients – again, wanting everything to be relaxing, airy, and luxurious. Luckily, I had a front living room adjacent to the studio area, which we only used once a year for big Thanksgiving dinners.
Bland front room we never used...
I transformed the room (again on a budget) to highlight my imagery, awards, studio wardrobe, and the products I offered my clients – from wall art to folio boxes. You sell what you show, and you sell what you love.
Mostly, it was about having an excellent space for the makeup artist to work.
Front room reorganized....
To summarize, you can make a tremendous workable space at home on a budget. It takes planning, so start sketching out your dream space and then see how you can transform what you have. Let your space grow with you – don't rush to buy a million dresses or equipment you don't need. Once you start working in your new space, you'll know what you want to expand into.
Have fun and create something fantastic for yourself!