Building A Studio
I think it’s safe to assume that it’s most photographer’s dream to open a studio, at least it has been mine for many many years. I think the desire to have a studio is born partly out of a real requirement for space; be it high ceilings or open areas but also the appeal to validate everything you’ve done over the years. It’s as if having somewhere to display and share your works completes your journey as a photographer. In reality anyone that knows photography knows that it’s a journey that never ends and you can never stop learning, but you get the idea!
In 2014 my wife and I took a bit of an unexpected step, we signed a lease on an 18th century barn with a view to hosting our very own studio! The sharp eyed among you may notice I said 2014, but it’s currently 2017! Why so long?!? Well, to cut a very long (and sometimes stressful) story short we added a third child to our family at the same time as renovating our family home. It quickly became clear in late 2015 that to do either project justice we will need to focus our efforts on one at a time. So, we set a target date of early 2017 for the studio launch and here we are!
I thought I’d put some words and pictures together in a post to help walk you through our efforts over the years, but also in the hope that it may aid anyone in a similar position (where-ever you may be) that is considering taking on a studio project. If you don’t have time to read everything below then here is a special synopsis just for you:
“It takes longer and costs more, both in money and grey hairs than you could ever have anticipated. However, it is worth it…..”
Still reading? Great.
The barn we took on resides in seventeen acres of land punctuated by stables, crops and similar outbuildings to ours. It’s a lovely place to work, and boy did we have to work! The original scope was a quick lick of paint, a desk and some backdrops to allow us to utilise the space as a family studio. The more we looked into it the more we understood that it could become something greater, something ultimately more commercial and customer facing. Importantly it could become a facility that other professionals and hobbyists could hire and benefit from. So with this first piece of scope-creep introduced we set to work on what we found when we opened the doors.
Green. Green everywhere; on the floor, on the walls and any woodwork was also green! The reason for this was that the barn was previously used as a golf tuition centre, so it’s entire 900+ square feet where painted over covered to fit the previous theme. We had sat down at worked out a basic layout before picking up the keys. An important consideration of ours was making sure that we retained the open-plan feel of the barn, meaning that we didn’t want to build high partition walls and block lines of sight to the high beams or limited the shooting angles or distances in any way. So we kept our layout simple, but clever where possible. For example, the rear of our changing room room walls would allow the construction of a kitchenette area, whereas the front will act as natural snug for client presentations and seating. Aside from some shelving the studio is comprised of three main zones: 1) The desk & client areas, 2) The changing room and 3) The cyclorama. The first two would be fun to build, whereas the third (the cyclorama) would be a large challenge given it’s size and shape, but more on that later….
Before anything could commence in anger we had to seriously de-green everywhere! This involved my wife spending numerous hours up ladder with copious amounts of brilliant white. It’s worth noting at this point at everything aside from a couple of necessary exceptions (see later) was completed by myself, my wife and my father. Everything from the desk, through to signage and changing facilities was designed a built by us with no trades people involved. This kept the costs down in certain areas, but of course meant that things took longer as we were all working around our busy family lives.
Next stages involved the new carpet going down and the stud work going up!
“A nice building deserves a nice entrance…..”
It was always my intention to try to make a bit of a special desk. It had to be functional of course from an equipment point of view but it also had to make a statement. After all, a nice building deserves a nice entrance in my opinion. I’m not a fan of over-complicating things so I stuck with what I knew, which is timber. I opted for a sturdy l-shape design that would take years of abuse and could be re-painted to keep it fresh when necessary. I designed something quite chunky and thick so that I could create some negative space within it that could be lit with colour-changing LEDs. By this point in the build there was a definite theme developing; and it’s the same theme you see today on the website, our social media pages and in the barn itself: black, grey, white and blue. This scheme is originally derived from our logo, and in my mind it’s important to maintain design coherence within a project. So in keeping with this theme I purchased some lovely dark grey laminate flooring that will be used, not on the floor of course but on the feature wall in the client area and also in the desk. This creates some lovely contrast and gives the LED lighting something to accentuate. The curve was achieved by free-hand drawing on large sheets of paper and then transposing this to the laminate flooring. Finally some min-noggins were secured to the outside of the desk to allow a strip of 3mm MDF to be bent to shape. This smooths out the entire curve and gives the LED strip lighting something to adhere to. Unlike many other ideas, this went very smoothly and we are very happy with the results. When you build something like this it is always important to build in some space for growth and ensure that it can cope with the rigors of being used everyday.
If you’ve stuck with this blog this long you’re probably getting the message that this project has taken quite a bit of effort, and time and money. Whilst all of this is true, there were definitely exciting moments too. In 2015 myself and my wife took ourselves off to the Photography Show at the Birmingham NEC. For those that are not familiar with this event, it is essentially the UK’s biggest trade show and therefore our great opportunity to talk to various suppliers whilst they are all under one roof. When you open a studio there is a lot to think about and plan for. Firstly there is equipment: If you are intending on hiring the studio space to other photographers (as we were) then the level of equipment present needs to reflect how serious you are about your venture. Rigging, stands, lighting and everything in between needs to be of a commercial grade and stand up to the test of time. Next you have print and album suppliers, which will all do their best to peddle their wares and confuse you with the million or so products they all offer. You also have props and backdrops to think about, along with insurance, websites etc etc. So needless to say we approached the show with a plan and a shopping list, which is fun if you like shopping as much as we do. 🙂
The photography show is a great opportunity but also a great day out (if you ignore the traffic). However on this particular day Sarah (my wife) wasn’t feeling 100%, in fact she was feeling pretty terrible. A short test later that day and we discovered that she was pregnant with our third child! Great news on a great day. Prior to finding out the gender of our previous two children we had given them affectionate nicknames whilst in the womb. Our first was nicknamed ‘Nacho’ whilst our second was ‘Nugget’. It seemed only fitting and in keeping with the naming convention that we nick-named our third child ‘Nikon’. So this studio build and the activities surrounding it will always be firmly in our memories.
“Signs Cost How Much!?!“
Whilst all the work on the inside was taking place we were also working out what would be done on the outside of the barn. We needed a sign, a big sign to make an impact on the front of the building. The first port of call was to design one based on our company logo, simple. Once this was done we approached a few sign making companies asking them to quote for a sign that was circa two metres long with some sort of 3D element to make it go pop! Given these companies have all of the tooling I thought it would be a cost effective option…..hmmm, maybe not. With quotes coming in at nearly £1000 I decided that I could make something at a fraction of the price. The plans was to digitally map out a support structure behind our logo so that that letters could be cut from acrylic and supported from behind using steel tubing. The square tubing could then be cut to size, brazed together and then painted brown to merge in with the barn colouring. I hit the first hurdle when I realised that my brazing gear couldn’t heat the tubing to a sufficient temperature enough for the magic to happen. This is where I owe a big thanks to my friend Neil who came to the rescue with his welding kit. One afternoon later and we had a big steel frame made of box steel and also some mounting brackets welded to steel box feet.
The next step was to get the lettering cut from acrylic using a local plastics specialist. I’m glad to say this was relatively cheap and worked like a charm because everything was provided to scale from the master photoshop files. The master plan was to coat the frame in an outdoor metal paint, then use a two part epoxy to mount the letters to the frame. Finally we could mount the entire sign on the barn. This worked very well indeed but wasn’t without a great deal of stress. Having to keep the letters perfectly aligned whilst working with a glue mixture that had a hardening time of only 5 minutes was certainly a challenge!
As you can see from the photos below the sign is now up and looks awesome. Hopefully it will stay that way through all weathers, but only time will tell. All for about £200!
Depending on your involvement with photography you may or may not be familiar with the term ‘cyclorama’. Cyclorama’s are also referred to as ‘Coves’ or ‘Infinity Caves’ or combinations of both. Essentially it is an area (the larger the better) that has curved edges, corners and joins so that reflected light does not reveal a join or edge to the camera. Studio photographers have been using these for years in various configurations to allow them greater flexibility with controlling background light and they are used extensively in high-key setups, often involving a pure white background. Construction of the cyclorama is extremely involved and requires blood, sweat, tears and maths, but not necessarily in that order! So much so that I’m planning on a dedicated blog post detailing how I constructed ours. Hopefully others find that information helpful and it can aid them with their own projects. Because of this I’m going to keep the details in this particular blog brief.
Building a giant stud-wall with curved corners and floor is not easy. The planning had to start early to ensure we had the correct amount of space and materials available to us. Our particular cyclorama is three sided and has a combined length of 16 metres. The barn location we have provides us with wonderfully high ceilings, so we were able to construct the cyclorama up to a height of 4.5 metres. That’s a big wall!
The base framing is as per standard stud construction. The curve supports are constructed from OSB ribs which are then overlaid with multiple layers of thin hardboard, this is what allows us to achieve the required bend. The maths for the corners was difficult and the actual final construction was even more so. The floor is a hard latex finish, designed to stand up to all of the traffic. After plastering, the entire area was painted in matt white with a portion then coated in a specialist chroma-key green paint to allow for easy composite and video work. Visit our other blog post or pop by our studio to see the finished article!
“Onwards and upwards!”
Rather than spoil the surprise and show you every little detail here, I’ll let you explore the website yourself or even better pop into the studio when you get a chance. We are proud of what we’ve achieved even though it has taken a lot longer than originally expected. The effort put into it has at times been exhausting and the time spent away from the family has also taken it’s toll, but hopefully we’ve created a space that people can share and interact with for many years to come. Here are a final few pre-completed pictures for you to check out.
I’d like to take a moment to give special thanks to my long suffering wife Sarah; she has put up with my projects for a long time now and has painted far more surfaces than I dare to count. Thanks to my Dad also, who was always at hand to help move large amounts of sheet material, or be the person up a ladder left holding the heavy sign! Thanks also to my Mum for letting me borrow Dad and for the unwavering moral support. I’d also like to thank the various necessary trades that helped along with the way with the things we weren’t able to complete ourselves. These include people for electrical safety, health and safety inspections and finally the plasterers for doing an awesome job with the cyclorama!
If you’d like to get in touch with any questions about our project or your own then please do. You can contact us using any of the contact links or social media pages shown on the website.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and good luck with everything you choose to embark upon in the future. 🙂