Intro by Skip Cohen

Sarah Petty’s Joy of Marketing blog should be required reading for every photographer in business! It’s jam-packed with great content. Sarah never slows down on giving back to the business community.

Over the years, at hundreds of workshops I’ve attended, presented at, or worked on as a corporate sponsor, I’m always surprised at artists who think they need a great studio. Over and again, it’s the same story – someday, I’ll have my dream studio.  That wish in itself isn’t bad, but where they miss the boat is not looking at all the alternatives.

One of my most favorite portraits of my Dad and me was captured by Don Blair. It was taken in the Hasselblad booth at a convention! No fancy studio – Just Don’s skillset, a backdrop, and his gear. And it was captured on film, long before digital.

So, stop worrying about what you don’t have and start utilizing everything you can access. You don’t need a studio!  That doesn’t mean you let the dream of having a studio die – just don’t become so obsessed with it that you miss the opportunity to “pivot.”


I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: you don’t have to have a photography studio to be a portrait photographer. In fact, NOT having a photography studio can actually be a great thing. With no property tax, rent / mortgage, or electric bill to chip away at your income, your profits are higher than a studio photographer.

But there are cons to not having a photography studio, too. Especially when the weather presents a challenge. Here are a few creative ideas for photographers to take portraits without a studio.

  1. Short-Term Leases and Pop-Up Photography Studios

Pop-up businesses are the new craze. From boutiques to coffee shops to escape rooms, these short-term spots are showing up everywhere around the country. Especially during COVID times, it can be hard to know where you’ll end up in a year or even a month from now. But one thing is for sure: landlords have plenty of empty spots to fill.


Instead of settling down with your own photography studio, you may want to look into a short-term lease for a studio (30, 60 or 90 days). Whether it’s a strip mall with a vacant storefront or an office building with rooms available, look into property owners to contact for empty spaces near you. There’s an extra element of spontaneity when you launch a pop-up studio in your community, and it allows you to use a time-sensitive, “Get It Before It’s Gone” marketing promotion.

  1. Use A Hotel Room or Airbnb

First of all, who doesn’t love a unique location for each different photoshoot? If a short-term lease isn’t in the cards for you, but you still want your own space outside of your home to do portrait sessions, take a peek at the spots Airbnb or nearby hotels have to offer. You can offer your clients one-of-a-kind portraits, as each session will have a different location and. The best part? No clean up!

  1. Use A Hotel Lobby for a Photography Session

Rainy Day? Or just want an extravagant background with fountains and staircases? Most hotels don’t mind photoshoots in the lobby, as long as it isn’t a major disturbance. Plus many hotel lobbies have great big windows so you can get gorgeous natural lighting. If you feel weird about calling and asking permission, keep in mind that it isn’t an unusual request for hotels to get, as many high school and prom photoshoots happen in their lobbies each year.

It also can be helpful to explain to the hotel manager that you are not using their facilities to promote something for your own profits and that you will aim to keep other patrons out of the images. If you have a specific area in mind that you need to keep completely free of other patrons, offer $100 for an hour of full access to the specific area in the lobby. You can also inquire about slow days at the hotel and schedule your sessions then. Whether it’s a wedding party photo session or a senior portrait shoot, more often than not, hotels actually appreciate being a featured backdrop for photoshoots — it’s free advertising for them!

  1. Shooting at Local Indoor Landmarks

Think museums, public park pavilions, historic public buildings, community centers… Even if you don’t live in a big city, you probably have a local courthouse or city hall that has appropriate scenery for a portrait photoshoot. In my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, there is a historic train station that I still use, every once in a while, for senior portrait sessions and an old state capitol that has fantastic lighting. Although Springfield is somewhat of a historic town, there are other places that still offer great lighting for an indoor photo session.