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5 Key Tips to Optimize Photo Studio Space and Your Physical Workflow

Part 1 of Kevin Mason's studio design chat on The Creative Operations Podcast.

Screenshot 2022-10-05 at 1.05.44 PM
Head of Community at Creative Force
Head of Community at Creative Force

Pretty much all of us in the creative world know which spaces are conducive to us doing our best work. Achieve the right floor plan, lighting, noise levels, and (for the more idiosyncratic among us) a dozen other must-haves, and-voila-our creative throughput flourishes.

This is especially true for creative production teams in the photo studio environment. Space breeds productivity. To understand the considerations for planning physical studio space, Daniel Jester, host of The Creative Operations Podcast, talked with Kevin Mason, who has the perfect background to provide expertise on the matter. Kevin is a Berlin-based photographer who shot for Amazon and Topman, among others, and now consults in creative production through his company, Studio Workflow Limited. But get this: Kevin's education is in interior architecture, and that knowledge positions him to consult for some major studio builds.

Be sure to catch the full pod for all of Kevin's insights. You can find that on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website. For a bundle of helpful tips on matching studio to workflow, read on.

Solve the Problems You Have

When Kevin consults a group that wants a new studio, he knows that team is out to solve a problem. But are the issues resolved by a new or renovated studio really the most pressing ones facing the team? If not, the studio is unlikely to be considered a success in the long term.

"Do you have a capacity issue, for example?" Kevin asks. "That's a very relevant thing for a lot of people. Or is it that you're trying to bring new brands on board, for example, and you want a flagship studio space you can show off. They're very different things, and they're very different models you'd end up with and, subsequently, very different designs you'd put into that."

By consulting clients through these questions, Kevin sometimes finds that the prevailing answer to their questions is something other than a new studio. When clients with existing studios approach him for consultation, he asks-at the risk of talking himself out of a job to review their current studios, in case they don't need new space.

Pursue Property with the Help of People Who Will Use It

It's interesting, Kevin says, that so many studios leave the real estate decisions to a select few, leaving out the creative team that will need to work in that potential space. "People will come to me, and they're like, 'Oh, we've done the building search,'" Kevin says. "And when you find out who did the building search, it's someone not connected to the business unit at all."

That's not to say that studio operations should halt so that stylists and photographers can try the real estate tycoon life. There are plenty of qualified people to lead those searches, Kevin acknowledges-it's just nice to get better input from the people who need to make it work.

Workflow and Space-Which One Shapes the Other?

We can all agree that workflow and space affect each other. If a studio is conducive to a team's process, results will be optimized. But it can also be said that an optimal team will shape their work to match their studio and what projects it allows.

So when it comes to space and workflow, the question is which one comes first.

The digital nature of e-commerce content shouldn't keep a team from thinking in terms of physical space and what it dictates, Kevin says. "People come up with a digital workflow but don't think about the physical properties of the space itself," he says. "How does that pertain to moving product around? And the teams you're connecting with digitally, are they near each other? Those aspects."

In a talent-driven creative field, it's natural to think about the team's abilities and to pursue space that fosters those projects. But Daniel acknowledges that sometimes the responsibility is on the team to do what they can in the space they have.

"Somebody comes to you and says, 'We need 30 sets,' and I think it's smart to ask why, because it turns out, well, we shoot only 10 products per set per day," Daniel says. "Maybe we need to figure out a way to increase that. Maybe there are ways we can increase that that doesn't feel like a lot of additional work for everybody on those sets. And then we can reduce that number in half, potentially."

But there's a baseline of work that your studio team needs to do, and it's important to match your space to what's essential. For instance, if your studio brings in a high volume of product, and that product is sizable, you probably can't take your studio several stories high.

"Where do you bring the product in?" Kevin asks. "Are you on the ground floor? Because I've had situations where the studio has said, 'Well, we're going to be on floors five and six,' which immediately is, like, oh, OK, that's tricky."

Plan for Two Years From Now

Finding a studio that matches your current process and workflow might sound like a success, but in this endeavor, being current is being late. Daniel recalls a studio manager contact who was newly hired and handed a brand new studio. But the employer was growing, and by the time this contact started in the manager role, demand for the studio had already outgrown the new space.

"It was a furniture company that shot furniture," Daniel says. "They had this really smart rack system in their storage area where they could store sofas up high. And it was very secure, but they'd already filled it. We went out the back door of the studio, and the entire rear parking was filled with shipping containers that were filled with unassembled furniture waiting to be processed."

For Kevin, it's a two-year view. Run projections on where you want to be in 24 months. What will your storage needs look like? How big will your team be, and how will they flow about the space? Maximize the longevity of your studio build-out or renovation by anticipating the scope and nature of your growth.

Reflect Your Brand in Your Amenities

Our favorite workspaces come with a few perks because all of us need pampering from time to time. "A lot of the time, creatives have shot in editorial studios-they've come from a background where they get a bit more space and good feelings about the place they're walking into," Kevin says. "How do we build on that? How do we try to create that for people?"

Especially for "elevated e-com," as Kevin puts it, the experience for models and creatives should be not just good but reflective-something that "makes them understand a little bit about the brand story they care about to some extent."

This is about the curation of your studio space as well as its location in your region. "If you're going from a train station in a minicab to an industrial state, and you walk past loads of different warehousing to get somewhere, each one of those can kind of help knocks back the brand story a bit," he says. "So as a model you're maybe kind of a bit more disengaged than you'd be if you'd just stepped off the train into a really nice atrium or something."

And Kevin says there's a time of day when these dimmed brand experiences come back to haunt your productivity. "If there's nowhere you can go and take a nice break, then your afternoon dip, which happens in every studio, can become really significant," he says. "If you can't get a good lunch, then again the posing maybe doesn't get so good or teams are not engaged."

So as you think about your studio build, think through which parts of a person's full-day experience-from the work commute to the snack break-can be quality and even reflect the mission of your brand. If your brand boasts sustainability, do your amenities reflect that? Whether the brand is athletic, luxury, or bohemian, there's a way to create full-day experiences that mesh with the tone you want in your creatives' expression.

This is just Part 1 of our recap from Kevin's stop by the pod. Take that as a sign that you'll want to hear the full info-packed chat. Stream it on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.