My Journey as a Photographer: The Moment I Decided I Needed a Studio
Every career has its “I made it” moment. For an actor, it might be winning their first major award. An engineer could experience this moment when they sign their first set of plans as a Professional Engineer.
As a photographer, my moment was signing the lease on my very own studio. After 6 years of calling myself a photographer, I was consistently making enough that I could afford to rent a studio exclusive to Still Poetry Photography.
But I realized something about the “I made it” moment as I signed the lease. Achieving this moment isn’t the end. It’s simply the beginning of my journey to my next “I made it” moment. As I stepped into the space that was now mine for the next 12 months, I realized how many more opportunities I could make happen with that studio.
This journey is only about photography on the surface. It’s really about entrepreneurism and taking risks to grow as a creator.
Here’s a brief look into my journey so far, and why I decided that it was time for a studio of my own.
Starting My Career After College
In May 2019, I graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in English and Communications, a 3.8 GPA, and the accolades that came with acceptance into a lengthy list of honors societies with Latin names.
And I had no idea what to do next.
After graduation, I moved to Delaware with my then fiancé, now husband. As an engineer, he applied to one job and got it, so we moved near his new office. I had a running list of about 75 jobs I had applied to neatly entered into a spreadsheet.
Out of that extensive list, I received one interview. I didn’t get the job.
I started a photography page in 2016 and was good at writing. I decided if no one would hire me, I’d be a freelancing small business owner.
I self-published my first novel in June 2019. To start getting clients, I joined all the different freelancing sites I knew of, focusing mostly on Freelancer, Fiverr, Upwork, and Thumbtack. While making content on the side, I applied for different freelancing gigs. I dealt with more than my fair share of scammers and sexual harassers on different sites.
But I also met Emma Loggins Sprinkle, owner of WBD. Overtime, I worked for her more and more and eventually became the Associate Editor of WBD and writer for FanBolt. I opened an Etsy shop and pushed myself creatively after I lost my full-time writing contract to COVID layoffs.
In 2019, I took practically any job tangentially related to photography, writing, or design just to stay afloat. 2020 wasn’t a great year for anybody, especially undeveloped creatives. I’m extremely grateful we could survive off of my husband’s salary, because I made next to nothing.
Growing and then Exploding
In the summer of 2021, I started to get more requests as a beach family photographer. About twice a week, I would head out to the beach and take family photos of people vacationing in Delaware. It wasn’t much, but it was significantly more than the year before. During this time, I continued to update my website, grow my portfolio, improve my Google My Business listing, and post consistently on social media.
Then in January 2022, I started getting requests from people to book their summer vacation sessions with me. I couldn’t believe people were so ahead of the game that they would book that early. Session requests started trickling and then pouring, and then flooding in.
By June, my entire summer started getting booked up. I would fit in last minute sessions as they arose, but I had less and less availability to squeeze people in.
In June and July alone, I made more than I made in all of 2020.
By mid-July, I had to make the decision to close my calendars for July and August. I had about 3 days total in all of August where I wasn’t shooting at least once a day. It wasn’t humanly possible to take on any more sessions in addition to my writing. I also put my Etsy shop on indefinite vacation mode.
Why I Decided to Get a Studio
Even before I closed my calendars, I started to think about the long term. I had experienced a completely unexpected explosion in growth. I had to turn away clients left and right simply because there wasn’t enough of me to go around.
But what would happen when the summer crowd went back home? Would I still be taking photos every day?
When your main backdrop is a beach, your business can’t survive year round. No one wants to take photos against the crashing waves in mid-December. So I decided I was going to year-round-proof my business. I didn’t just want to be the beach family photographer. I wanted to be a photographer that also takes incredible beach family photos.
I wanted to start expanding my brand. Shoots like smash the cake, headshots, newborn sessions, senior portraits, boudoir shoots, product photography, and stylized fashion photography work best in a studio space.
In the past, I pushed all of the furniture out of the kitchen and rigged up a sketchy studio look with crappy Amazon stands and lights and a king-sized sheet as the backdrop. It wasn’t great. And wildly inconvenient to shoot in your home when it’s only 1500 square feet and home to 22 animals. I needed something more.
How I Found My Space
It was time to have a dedicated space meant solely for me to express my photography creativity. Becoming a studio photographer requires a completely different set of skills than a natural-light photographer. I needed a space to practice and hone those skills.
Finding a space in my budget proved to be a struggle. Realtors consistently ghosted me and almost no realtors post photos of the interior of commercial spaces. But it all aligned when I randomly stumbled upon a place on Facebook Marketplace. A realty company had a side office with a bathroom, kitchen, and separate entrance they were renting out.
I read in one of the photography Facebook groups I’m in that you shouldn’t spring for a studio until you can pay rent with 2 sessions. And this place was exactly twice the cost of my cheapest sessions.
To make it even better, the realtors have an entire pole barn filled with furniture for staging houses. They said I could borrow whatever I wanted to set up different sets in the studio. The stars aligned and I signed the lease the next day.
It’s Not About a Studio
So far, I’ve only had one official session in the studio because I’m simply too busy to schedule any others yet. But I’ve been playing around in what little spare time I have with my new backdrops and lights. I’m raiding Home Goods for props for mini sessions. My friends try on the couture dresses I’ve bought and pose for me while I practice lighting.
At the end of the day, it’s not about getting a studio. It’s about creating an environment for myself that pushes me as a creator and business woman. I’m challenging myself to try new creative ideas.
After shooting beach family photoshoots between 1 and 3 times a day for three months, I’ve gotten comfortable. I don’t ever want to grow complacent as a creator. This studio will give me the opportunity to experiment with new photography genres and techniques.
And it’s an investment in myself and my trade. You need to take calculated risks as a small business owner to grow and expand. Now that I’m making consistent income, I need to funnel some of that back into my business to make it grow further.
And maybe I never make any money from studio shoots. But even if I just use it to grow my skills and challenge myself as a creator, that will show in all of my other sessions.
When you choose to become an entrepreneur, you sacrifice security for the opportunity to create something extraordinary. You’re taking a chance on yourself and relying on determination and just a bit of luck to grow something successful.
This lifestyle certainly isn’t for everyone. But I can’t imagine going back to a 9 to 5 after experiencing the struggles and euphoria of being an entrepreneur.
Author, Artist, Photographer.
Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.
She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.
She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.