A Guide to Building a Successful Photo Studio.

( or Switching Careers in My 50s Thanks to COVID! )

Take Me Straight To The Tips | Show Me The Equipment List

Introduction: Embracing Change and Building Success

Hey there, I’m Robbie Ewing, and I have a story to tell. Just before the pandemic hit in 2020, I made a fortuitous decision that changed everything. At 50, I wanted to get back into photography to spark my creativity. That move eventually led me to run a studio rental business. Here’s my guide on how to build a successful photo studio.

railway arch interior
It was a bit rough to begin with…

Discovering Opportunity Amidst Adversity

Let’s rewind to 2019. As I celebrated my 50th birthday, I was dissatisfied with the monotony of my main business. I decided to pursue my photography more professionally. Securing new business premises towards the end of 2018 gave me the perfect opportunity to construct a dedicated photo studio space, initially intended solely for personal use.

My vision was modest—to sell photo prints, create unique home accessories featuring my artwork, and occasionally undertake portrait or product shoots. Yet, a simple request from a neighbour opened my eyes to a broader revenue stream: renting out my studio space for various photography needs. Thus, Arch Photo Studio was born, and with a few advertisements on platforms like Gumtree, the venture began to gain traction.

My Friends Tim & Jayne Visting the Studio For Camberwell Winter Arts Festival – Dec 2019

Then a global pandemic happened…

When the pandemic swept across the globe, it dealt a severe blow to my main business, Dimensions Displays. Anticipating the downturn in the exhibition and display sector, I decided to pivot towards the studio, which had shown promise before the crisis.

Looking back, I realise I should thank my previous landlords for their greed. They hiked up the rent twice in two years, forcing me to find a new place. But ironically, if it weren’t for their greed, I wouldn’t have moved to a bigger space 18 months before the pandemic hit.

Honestly, I fared well during the pandemic—no one I know died, and I stayed healthy. Plus, I received enough government support to keep my business afloat. But most importantly, the pandemic forced me to make a career change.



During the first lockdown, I built the studio website and revamped my photography portfolio website. I also spruced up the studio by painting walls and adding a kitchen.

Interestingly, I now run three businesses from a single location, just a mile from my home in south London. The studio wasn’t initially planned, but it worked out well.

Unknowingly, I’d begun a mid-life career shift. My photography side hustle and studio rentals became my main focus, with Dimensions now being my secondary income.

Tips on how to build a successful photo studio on a Budget

Scroll to the bottom if you want my basic equipment list.

Build Gradually

You don’t have to purchase everything at once. I’ve acquired photography gear since 2005 when I first got a digital SLR camera, so I had the essentials to begin. As I earned money, I reinvested it in equipment. For my 50th birthday, friends gave me money, which I used to buy a set of three LED panel lights. This allowed me to offer basic video lighting services when I opened the studio.

photo studio equipment included

Multiple Lighting Options

To ensure your studio’s success, you’ll require both continuous and strobe lights. These days, video is just as, if not more, important than still photography. Therefore, you’ll need a variety of video lights alongside flashes.

When it comes to studio flash options, the major players include Godox, Elinchrom, Profoto, and Broncolor. Among these, Profoto and Broncolor are considered the pricier options. I use Godox Pro units, which have proven reliable and cost considerably less than Profoto.

As for continuous lighting, you have several choices, including Godox, Aputure, Nanlite, Neewer, GVM, Smallrig, and various affordable Chinese alternatives. Once again, my preference lies with Godox and Neewer for their reliability and affordability.

Prioritize Space

You’ll need more space than you think, especially if you’re hosting editorial fashion shoots and film crews. With makeup artists, hairstylists, photographers, videographers, BTS photographers, models, stylists, clients, and assistants, you could have up to 10-12 people in the studio, along with all their equipment. Stylists, in particular, need a lot of space for prepping and hanging out clothes and storing their cases.

Make sure your studio has a reception area for clients to wait, a bathroom, kitchen, changing area, storage, and an office. Ceiling height is crucial too. Many people appreciate my studio because the ceiling is high – 4.75 meters at the apex—making it easy to boom overhead lights.

I would recommend at least 60sq metres as a minimum. Anything over 100 sq m would be ideal.

Start with Essentials

When I started in 2019, I used an 8-year-old Nikon D800 camera until August 2021. Initially, I relied on three SB900 speedlights, but I soon realized I needed proper studio lights for convenience. When I began renting out the studio, I invested in 2 Godox AD200 and 1 AD400 strobe lights, along with 3 GVM LED panel lights and a couple of Godox 60W LED spots. This gave me a basic kit for filming and stills

Choose the Right Location

You need to be located where there’s demand for studio spaces, like big cities such as London, Manchester, and Birmingham. People from all over south east England come to use the studio because they can’t find one in their small towns. Being based in south London gave me a slight advantage as there are fewer photo studios here than compared to east London areas like Hackney and Shoreditch.

Filmmakers carry a lot of equipment, so having parking is important. Being on the ground floor is useful for easy access and for people with disabilities. It’s also helpful for moving large items like furniture.

Focus on Marketing 

To boost your studio’s visibility, don’t rely solely on Instagram. Additionally, build a fast, mobile-friendly website, list your studio on Google Maps, and register with studiohire.com ( UK only ). Boost your website’s SEO, invest in a link-building service from platforms like PPH, and actively pursue Google reviews.

When I started, I used ads on Gumtree and Instagram to attract clients. Initially, I offered studio rental at a low rate of £20 per hour, appealing to budget-conscious customers. This strategy brought in revenue without the need for extravagant features, which clients weren’t expecting at that price point.

Deliver Exceptional Service

To build your business, rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat business—they’re guaranteed ways to grow. How do you ensure customers return and become your advocates? By delivering exceptional service. Go the extra mile, make them free coffee, offer free behind-the-scenes images of their shoots, and accommodate them if sessions run over by 10 minutes. These gestures create satisfied clients who willingly promote your business. i helped lots of people out with their lighting setups during the first two years of operation. I now charge for this service but it helped build my client base in those initial years.

Lighting Modifiers

Enhance your selection of lighting modifiers and offer them at no additional cost. Many studios in London have limited equipment, but providing a wide array of modifiers sets you apart and emphasizes excellent service. Numerous returning clients choose my studio for its inclusive kit and extensive modifier options. Consider this: how many studios provide two stage spot gobos as part of their package?

Simplify Pricing

Adopt a straightforward pricing structure inclusive of all services, minimizing confusion and enhancing client experience. Our pricing is straightforward—pay per hour, and everything is included. We offer two options: basic hire, where we set up the lights and backdrop for you to start shooting, or we can provide lighting assistance throughout the shoot. With us, you have the flexibility to choose the level of support you need, ensuring a seamless and productive experience.

photo studio props

Props, Furniture, Fabrics, and Storage

Props and scene-building materials are vital for creating captivating shots. From stools and chairs to backgrounds and fake plants, having a variety of items on hand enhances your creative options. As you accumulate more props, you’ll need ample storage space to keep everything organized.

Build a Collection of Fabrics & Curtains, Tablecloths, Throws

Fabrics offer a cost-effective way to transform your sets and adjust the ambience of your studio. By curating a collection of fabrics, curtains, tablecloths, and throws, you can easily modify your space to suit different themes and styles.

Invest in Quality Grip Equipment 

Investing in quality tripods, light stands, booms, and grip equipment is essential for supporting your expensive lighting gear. While it’s possible to cut costs on items like umbrellas and softboxes, skimping on stands can compromise the safety and stability of your setup.

Tethering & Software

For efficient studio photography, tethering is a must. Invest in reliable tethering software like Capture One, which offers seamless connectivity and superior performance compared to alternatives like Lightroom. Buy or build a simple wheeled tether cart for sitting your laptop on.

Other Essentials When Building a Successful Photo Studio

Equip your studio with a heavy-duty clothes rail, clothes steamer, multiple power outlets, extension leads, heaters for comfort, a vacuum cleaner, and various sizes of step ladders.

Mirrors

You’ll need plenty in different sizes – illuminated make-up and full-length mirrors are essential. We’ve got 6 mirrors. They also double up as props so consider their aesthetics when purchasing them.

Studio Sound System

Create a welcoming atmosphere in your studio by providing background music. A quality sound system enhances the experience for your clients. Consider repurposing an old amplifier connected to a laptop for streaming services like Spotify, Radio, and YouTube. Ensure you have a sufficient audio cable length for versatility and add a Bluetooth connector for easy smartphone streaming.

Lead Generation

Renting out your studio not only generates income but also serves as a networking opportunity. By offering photography services alongside studio rentals, you can attract clients who require both services, expanding your business opportunities through referrals and repeat bookings.

Conclusion: From Passion to Prosperity

Amid uncertain times, I seized an opportunity to turn a hobby into a successful business. With resilience and these practical tips on how to build a successful photo studio, you can also start your journey to entrepreneurial success in photography. Every challenge is a step toward your goals.

Build A Successful Photo Studio Equipment List

  • Studio Flashes x 4
  • Triggers for The four major Camera brands
  • Video Lights x 5
  • Selection Of Light Modifiers – Octobox, Standard Reflectors, Strip Boxes, Umbrellas
  • Paper Backdrop system
  • Range of Seamless Paper Backdrops
  • Heavy Duty C – Stand x2
  • Light stands – 3 x Heavyweight, 2 x Lightweight
  • Sandbags
  • Clamps
  • 4 x Black/ White Polyboards & Stands ( V-Flats for our North American Readers )
  • Full Length Mirror
  • Steamer
  • Clothes Rail
  • Selection of Stools
  • Simple White Tables & Chairs
  • Sound System and Bluetooth Receiver
  • Set of small steps

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