Finding & Building a Photography Studio: EpicMind's New Home
It's been yet again what feels like a century since I've last posted, but I've been wanting to share with you the development process of our new studio (well, it's closer to 8-9 months that we've moved in now). We ended up relocating our studio just a few minutes drive away, by the waterside in another lovely historic building, this time, 100+ years old - the Dompark Complex; Old buildings make for amazing studio spots I think.
Viewing from the entrance.
This is now my second true rental location for my studio; before that I operated from home. My previous studio was a dream come true, sadly, one that became a nightmare rather quickly as I realized what I needed and didn't need in my studio. What was "cool" at first became stale rather quickly. Before choosing your new location, I highly recommend you make a list of "must haves". When I first moved into my previous studio, I was impressed by the overall "vibe" in the building - bustling with young companies in a booming part of town. Sadly, there was little or no mixing between the various companies (150+) in a sort of marketplace where businesses could mingle and perhaps share work. People in the hallways would just walk passed you looking away or at their smartphones and trying to "look smart". I was quite put off - the "vibe" in reality was but a puff of smoke. Don't get me wrong, as I said, the location looked great, but a business is there to perform a task, not inflate one's ego.
Another problem was the shape of the studio: It was a long and narrow rectangle with a closed off room in the middle. Because of this, there was plenty of lost space because of walk areas. We had 1200 sq.ft of total space, but effective space is what's important: after removing walkways, storage and chair areas, the square footage was much less. Cost per usable square footage was high in the end. Our lounge area was stuck with our video shooting area. We didn't even have a lunch table or a tap with running water - all things that weren't properly thought out before the studio was leased.
Lastly, the windows were only at one end of this narrow rectangle. My office was in the closed off room with NO windows at all. This gave us a dark studio, which is great when shooting, but with little natural light and Canada's long winters, seasonal depression easily affected us when were weren't shooting. Working in the dark, and then going home in darkness can affect the personality of the team over the long run.
Out with the old, in with the new: The search began.
6-8 months before my lease was up, I began jotting-down possible rental locations as well as the needs and "like too have's" for a new studio. Things such as how many shooting setups and how much area they needed; a kitchenette (I don't need a full kitchen as I don't shoot food really); a change/makeup area; a storage room for equipment; an area for retouching and graphic work and finally, my office. Location was also very important - I wanted to be close to downtown Montreal as well as remaining relatively close to home.
The shooting area of our new studio.
I knew wasn't in the position to buy a building, so I visited plenty of office spaces, all of which were lofts with large areas. Rent is unfortunately a big piece of a business' operating costs, and the prices varied greatly based on services offered, location near public transport such as subways, etc. I had set a monthly budget and went around looking. Sadly, a few spots I really liked were way overkill in size for my needs and budget. You need to be smart and think big, but not TOO big either where one bad year of business and you're finished. Having my list of wants, and budget figured out, and having started the search early, I found a place that allowed me to double my space, but for a few hundred dollars more a month in rent. It had a slightly larger footprint then my old studio, but with 18' (5.5m) ceilings, I was able to build a mezzanine which increased the square footage, but not the rentable square footage. In the end, it saved me money by avoiding renting a larger surface area elsewhere.
A Blank Canvas
The new studio before we leased it and did the build-out.
When the lease was signed, the room was basically a big empty space with a very high ceiling and three huge 15' (~5m) windows. Using the architectural floor plans provided, I sat down with my assistant and drafted up a basic idea of a mezzanine that would maximize the space for all types of job. The shooting area was quite large allowing three concurrent product photography stations or two photo and one video station. For fashion, we have a long shooting corridor when needed of around 30' x 20' (9m x 6m) as well as a makeup/change room. Once the first floor and mezzanine areas were defined, I decided to make a virtual mockup using my favorite 3D software, Maxon's Cinema 4D alongside the amazingly quick VRAYforC4D render engine. In my spare time (which really doesn't exist) I love CGI and modelling with it - especially interiors. So after a few days I modelled and then rendered-out several views and angles with quite a bit of detail. I provided those images alongside revised floorplans and electrical diagrams to the contractor who would put paper to reality.
CGI done in Cinema 4D and Rendering done with VRAYforC4D. Various different renders I designed before anything was built/setup.
Dealing with the building's contractor was a pain sadly and something I would compare to dealing with my 3 year old child. Needing constant supervision, errors, omissions and/or shortcuts were occurring. Luckily, after 45 days, construction and painting was finished. I was ready to move into the studio "of my dreams". The joy of having large windows with plenty of light was something that made my entire team happy - I only needed to find custom curtains for those huge windows. Luckily, the curtain and drapery makers for the Cirque du Soleil are based here in Montreal, once hired,they quickly and easily made us some. Once installed, we were ready to start a new journey at Epicmind Studio.
My office on the mezzanine.
Is a Studio Forever?
Will this be my final studio? My gut tells me no, but for the next few years, it's my 2nd home. A place I hope to use lots and make plenty of beautiful work for current and future clients of mine. Like any place, you will realize some shortcomings and never know where your business will take you or how your needs will change through the years. This is the fun of running a business, it's forever changing.
Anyways, hope this little glimpse into my studio as well as my decision making process enlightened some of you. The process of finding, configuring, and working in was a pure joy this time around. If you have any questions, it will be my pleasure to reply.
Client and employee comfort was something I wanted in the new studio. Nespresso helps us all "stay sharp".