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A Little of My Story-How I Got Started with a Home-based Studio

Posted Nov 26 2009 10:01pm

Capturing the Light;Photography header

As outlined before, in this series, Show me the Money! there will be interviews with professional women photographers in different fields of photography to see how they got started, the challenges they faced in alexandria Joan Rudder-Ward growing their businesses, and how they faced the challenges.

It was suggested to me that I start with myself!  Okay, don't recall interviewing myself before, but I will share information about how I got involved in this field.

Admittedly, when I was growing up, 'photographer' was not in my list of future occupations. That list read more like, 'writer, lawyer, teacher, social worker.  I've always loved to take pictures, however, and looking back over family photographs, it must have come through my mother because she took many photographs of me for the first four to five years of my life (when I was the only child).

I recall the first camera I ever owned was one of those little miniature cameras that I received when I was Briana-image by Joan Rudder-Ward about five or six years old. One of my uncles who was in the military at the time, gave it to me as a gift from one of his tours overseas.  I don't remember what happened to that particular camera (actually, I do...a playmate made off with it)   but I did get one of those Kodak Brownie cameras and  become the resident family memory keeper, taking photos mostly of special occasions and family trips.

Fast forward. After a couple of years of college, I starting thinking about the field of photojournalism since I like to write and take pictures. I took a photography class in college and that's where I actually started my formal education in the field. This is where I got my first taste of the darkroom and where my love for creating black and white imagery began.  When I decided to try my hand at making money, I  started in the field of stock/editorial photography, where I would shoot photographs of people involved in some type of activity, to use as illustrations for books and magazines. This wasn't consistent work as I was going to school and working, and it eventually got shelved for a period of time.

Children on beach-by Joan Rudder-Ward After marriage and two very small children,  I decided to get serious with photography again and my dear little ones were my ever patient models (they remained my  models until they reached adolescence, and then they became more difficult to work with).

At this time I took a mail order course which was offered by New York Institute of Photography. They sent the manuals and the lessons and assigned me to an instructor. I completed my lessons and mailed them in and the instructor would send a tape with feedback. 

Through completing this program, I got the vision for starting my own studio. New York Institute of Photography is still providing photography training. Of course today, with the Internet, things are done online.

When I actually started my portrait business, it was part time and from my home. The way my home at the time was set up, the living room was set off to itself, so since we didn't have much in the way of furniture, and had a family room which served as the gathering area, the living room became my studio, where I set up lights and backgrounds to do studio portraiture. I started off building my business as a child baby hands-image by Joan Rudder-Ward photographer, and here years later, children are still one of my favorite subjects to photograph.

When you're working from a home studio, you don't have that benefit of walk-by traffic, or a way to display your work. So you even the more, need to network others to help promote your work. I did this by making up a sample album to show when I went to places like church, YMCA classes with my children, etc. I collaborated with a children's clothing store that would display my work and in return I would give them discount certificates for their clients. I got jobs and referrals from the local dance studio that catered to children. I had a part-time home studio for about seven years before I went full-time to opening a retail studio.

In that period of when  I had my studio home-based, I had a full-time job outside the home, so I was juggling quite a bit-- family, regular job, part-time job. I started small, saved money, and eventually grew enough business to open a full-time, retail location. (I've come full circle and I'm back with a home-based studio, however the room I use now [different house!]  is set up as a 'creative room'  which encompasses more than just the studio lighting equipment)

In today's economy, I've seen more and more photographers return to being home-based. Some have separate structures on their property where they have the studio (one colleague has a barn), or they have converted part of their garage space.

0cjoy painting If you are starting off home-based and don't really have the room inside your home, some areas that serve as good spaces for shooting are outdoor gardens, patios, or your local park.  In using a room inside your home, you just need to be more aware of adjacent living spaces being in order, food smells from the kitchen, and any other household odors. Outside walkways to your studio need to be kept up, as well.

One way NOT having a retail location or NOT having space inside your home can benefit you is it can force you to be more creative in selecting your shooting areas, which is a good thing because you may come up with a technique and place that's uniquely yours.

I'll be giving more tips and helpful suggestions on having a home-based studio as we continue on. Feel free to contact me at with any questions you may have. I'm even open to having a column devoted to answering your questions.


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