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Building a Studio in Cape Town. Welcome to the Roeland Street Photo Studio

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I’ve decided recently to bite the bullet and set up a studio space in Cape Town.  Choosing a space from the stock of commercial property that was available was a slow decision-making process in itself but eventually settled on a 125 sq metre space in central CBD.  I knew the space would need quite a bit of work – basically being an open-plan industrial space.  But the location was great – within a 2 minute walking distance of the two largest photographic equipment sales and hire shops in CT and located in a building that is home to quite a few media, film & casting companies making it a bit of a hub and an ideal spot to inhabit.

The chance to fashion my own space and build a studio from scratch was also an exciting prospect- and an opportunity to make it my own.  Being an industrial space it came with a three-phase electrical system – essential to carry the lighting load on a multi-lighting set and ensure no cut-outs.  Apart from re-coating the floors with epoxy (to take the heavy load of lighting equipment without marking too much), I had to also fit specially made blinds to ensure total blackout.  Again, the location worked very much to my advantage in that there is no direct sunlight on it.  I went for white blinds – in keeping with the floors and walls (except on the shooting side which is brick), but more importantly – the blockout was more than enough to achieve the required blackout when shooting.

I have installed a post-production suite as well, with an excellent Eizo 24″ monitor that will allow clients to live view shoots.  In terms of client orientated comfort I have placed a lounging area with couch (No need to tell me! I know the couch is too close to the shooting area at the mo in the pics – we will re-arrange everything shortly!) as well as a shelving unit to accommodate the international photo mags and books from a range of photogs from all walks of the business. Hopefully this will be enough to keep everyone entertained during the more tedious periods of a photo shoot (though I might be forced to add some more gossipy magazines or even a TV at some stage!).

One small prob is that there is a small sectioned off kitchen area that will also have to double up as a dedicated make-up dresser area.  Fitting everything together and make it work was a headache but seem to have found a solution that works fine.  I had the make-up dresser specially built after speaking to a couple of well-established make-up artists in the business here.  Both seemed to prefer the cold nature of florescent lighting (rather than the warmer tones of the tungsten lighting associated with traditional theater dressers).

Overall, I’m happy with how the studio is coming along, but there is still much to do before it will be possible to launch.  I still have to put in stuff like infinity curves (the backdrops I have now are only for the standard white, black and grey so will play with more ambitious colours here) and of course a reservoir of decent clothes for shoots (looking forward to doing some second-hand clothes shopping soon!).

I have also just started on the marketing side of things (logo, website, postcards, leaflets etc).  I decided early on to split the studio business away from my own freelance photography business.  While the studio will be my base and will be used for my own commercial work (as well as a discreet gallery space to display my some of my socio-documentary art work as well), I came up with a business plan that focuses on multiple revenue streams, including studio hire, commercial, model and family portrait shoots as well as a teaching space.  To achieve this, I thought it best to keep myself and my own business separate from that of the studio’s.  I think the marketing side will be greatly spurred along by the potential choice of studio manager too.  While being a great photographer herself (focusing mainly on the stock side and being part-owner of a stock site) she comes historically from an extensive internationally-based web and social media background.  This will certainly help in marketing and pushing the studio online and to potential clients in future (as well as being friendly and fun to be around as well!).

Dealing with the insurance side of all this was a bit tricky and actually took about 2 and a half weeks of careful negotiations.  At the moment I still insure my equipment worldwide through UK insurers that provide worldwide coverage (as I travel back to the UK at least once a year) as it has proven far cheaper than insuring in South Africa where I am sure higher crime rates here make premiums a lot more pricey.  Now that I have some studio-based items as part of a local business, I could no longer insure certain items through the UK.  Splitting my equipment list between freelance gear that would remain covered in the UK and studio items that would have to be covered locally took some effort.   Then having to set maximum value limits for gear that would regularly leave the studio (at any 1 time) was quite a task but greatly reduced the premium at both ends.  The devil really is in the detail and care had to be taken to make sure that in the worst case scenario I wouldn’t be left high and dry…. But I managed to more than half the total cost from what it would have been had I been insured just in SA.  Honestly, if you are a photographer who takes equipment out a lot, I would definitely recommend Aaduki Multimedia Insurance in the UK (not exactly the friendliest of peeps but great at getting specialised photography insurance cover at decent rates) and the Hereford Group if you are these sides.  The Hereford Group especially really pushed my case and gave great advice in the protracted and complicated process.

I’m in the Karoo (the desert expanse north of Cape Town) at the mo continuing with one of my photo book projects.  I have decided – despite the perfect conditions for time lapse (at a time when the moon is at the beginning of its cycle) – not to indulge myself and to focus on one thing out here (I have blogged earlier this year about having spread myself too thin on the personal project side!)… I love the Karoo – there is a serenity and peaceful aura about it that helps to re-energise and renew myself for life back in the city – even if the pic-taking itself can be hard work – walking around and driving distances in extreme heat and cold nights (which is why I took the afternoon lull in everyday life here where temps can hit 40C+ to write this blog!).  It is as far from the idea of Africa as many of us imagine it as you can get – more akin to the Andean plateau of Bolivia and Peru than any jungle or Savannah plain that is more typical elsewhere on the Continent.  And if meeting wonderfully eccentric folk with amazing stories to tell is your thing generally – then I def advise a visit here!

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