Do you REALLY want a studio? Maybe not...even if a friend offers it

Anyone that has followed along with my photography business knows I have been without a studio for over a year and half. They know too about my search for a new studio, and the less than scrupulous types I have dealt with while almost securing three (or is it four?) properties in that year and a half. Each time I came close to securing space, the developer I was dealing with suddenly became very different, and very demanding, possessing a certain attitude. My best guess is that they have lead you on so long, and they know you NEED the space so they think they have some sort of leverage over you and can make new demands and adjustments to the agreed upon terms. This latest "adventure" though is one of the hardest to accept because he was a friend, and a former client who I was trying to help out. 

When he contacted me in mid March, he asked about a space he had obtained from the city, a building at XX S Lasalle St. in Aurora. I knew this building and had been in it before to look at it. It was not what I wanted and it was in need of a fair piece of work to even make it suitable. In my mind, it was about 85% (on a generous scale) of what I was looking for if built out properly. I turned it down. Early April brought another call from my friend and client, this time he asked me what it would be worth to me. I asked him what he needed to get for rent. He's a friend so I wanted to let him down easy but he persisted and I said ok its about 85% there, so 85% of your rent is all I would pay. He needed a tenant lined up to secure other bank loans and the grant I guess. After I told him what it was worth to me I figured our conversation would be over but a few days later he called and accepted. I didn't expect this and was sort of uneasy over it. It was my turn to tell him I'd get back to him. I'm partnering with two other guys and I needed to sit down and go over this with them. They were not enthused. Eventually my developer friend and I hammered out an agreement and my partners were also ok with it. He made it a financial no-brainer for us. Knowing my friend and figuring him a man of his word, I suspended my search for a space in good faith. He assured me he felt he could get me moved in by July 1st. After all, the requirements for a photo studio are about as basic as can be defined for a build out. Plus he knew we all needed a studio. We waited. 

Well July came, and went and the date was pushed to August 1. That got pushed to September 1. Today I was told it would be maybe the end of October and if that wasn't agreeable then let him know because he needed to get it on the market as soon as possible to find a tenant. Basically, a take it or leave it. 

In between all this we did have regular meetings. In each of those I could sense he wasn't pleased with the terms as he mentioned many times how favorable they were to me. I felt uneasy and asked about getting something together like a lease with the terms outlined, etc. Sure he said but it didn't happen. This felt like the last go-around with a douche developer 3-6 months back since it was playing out identically. Each time we met, I got the same story about what a great deal I was getting. He seemed to forget that HE pushed the deal, that I had to sell my partners on the space and it wasn't the ideal place we wanted. I remained uneasy but he is a friend. A client I had worked with so I waited. I saw zero progress from July 1 to today, August 2. Excuses were offered and then on the phone he tells me that with the place across the street opening (a graphics design business thats about 4 years late in opening up) its going to make his property worth so much more. Is it going to make the other vacant 70% of the properties on the street more valuable too? Given a third of them are in bankruptcy court now? Oh, and the pool hall next door will attract class too. So both of us were getting more and more heated, and then he tried to put the whole thing on me but I had made no demands, other than a move in date so it finally came down to his take or leave it. Why would he do this? Its tough to find good reliable renters in Aurora. He thought he had leverage I guess. He had strung me along for months, knew I was desperate for a studio, And I guess figured his building was now worth more so he thought that if at the last minute, at lease writing time he could ask for more and I refused it would then be a "maybe the end of October" thing. Or never. In hind sight, he would probably market it anyway and if he got a better deal or offer, I was out. Who knows? I don't play games like that. 

I left it. 

I don't know what the deal is with Aurora and the developers that have bought all the old, vacant run down buildings. EVERY developer I have dealt with and a few I know that my friends have dealt with are as described above. My friend was someone I trusted and felt I could count on but in the end, he turned out to be identical to the others. Losing the space is one thing, but losing a friend or more appropriately finding out his true colors is more disturbing. I was taxed out on studio searches when he called me in the spring. I'm really taxed out now. Unless I buy a building I don't think a studio is in the works for me. I'll keep an open mind but trusting anyone is going to difficult. Maybe if something is move in ready, no build out, no waiting, then maybe there is a chance. We'll see. 

Working together

I have long advocated for collaboration between creatives. Because I'm a photographer I have always enjoyed working with other photographers. One of my top services as a photography business is actually NOT working behind the camera. It's helping other photographers with lighting and grip, and consulting or helping plan a shoot or production. You may not have the lights or other equipment to bid on or attempt a job. You may need a location, or you may just need some coaching; some brainstorming on how to tackle a shoot you haven't tried before. 

A few months ago, good friend and photographer Jola Wulf inquired about me helping her with a fairly large shoot. She had been contacted about shooting the stills for a dance studio, Dance Dynamics, in St. Charles. Jola is well versed in her style of portraiture and weddings, but she had never shot motion, dance in particular, and she didn't have any of the lighting she needed for this sort of indoor, in-the-dance-studio location shoot. We have worked together a few times before, she knows I have the equipment and knows I have the knowledge to lend a hand. She knows I like to collaborate too and love a challenge. Lighting dancers from around 7 yrs old through their teens (some 34 of them I think?) in a dance studio lined with mirrors on the wall having to freeze motion in air is definitely a challenge. There were action group poses and static group poses required and it all needed to be on a white background. 

Jola did all the camera work, and I handled the lighting and grip and helped out with a few pointers for her position during the image captures and lens selections. I think she did pretty darned good!

No question the lighting was a bit tricky, but many times it is. There are a lot of takes to get one "correct" image too so you shoot in a low continuous mode with your camera and you have to make sure your wireless trigger can send the signals fast enough to your lights which you hope can keep up with the 5-8 frames per second you need to capture the shot. Given the difference in height of the students, and some are floor poses instead of standing poses, the lights need to be moved to provide coverage. Lots of moving parts too with that many dancers covering 30+ "looks". 

I have the lights, and I know how to set them up which left Jola to concentrate on the shot. I covered the lighting, the positioning of them, the changes needed and coached her on where to be to get the best results. She did the rest. This is the way it should work folks. You can achieve so much working together. 

If you are a photographer and you are offered the possibility of a job, and its something that you would want to do but just have no experience, think about using my services (or someone else's) to help you out. Could be an opportunity to shoot dancers, or a very large wedding with huge formal imaging requirements, a large corporate group shot or any complicated shot telling a story. Think about getting help before saying no.

I'm not talking about "second shooter" duties, thats not something I do nor am I talking about renting you a light or two and sending you on your merry way. I don't rent equipment piecemeal. I will consider "partnering" and working as a photographer team but normal rates apply. If you are looking at your own concept shoot, or a real work proposal comes your way and you need someone to help produce the effort, then give me a call. Using me to help learn how to light coupled with my reasonable fees is a lot less cost then buying it all and hiring a consultant! Lets work together. 



Studios, the City and Building owners

Years ago when opening my first studio, there were a lot of vacant buildings in downtown Aurora. A good spot to open a studio. Why was I looking there? Aurora has not enjoyed an outstanding community reputation over the years. People questioned whether it was safe to be there. Well, I was part of a co-op prior to me going on my own full time. The co-op was in downtown Aurora, on Downer Place and it was a wonderful space for studio. I came to like the city, I appreciated its attempts to clean up, make it more palatable to the masses and somehow lots of artists were establishing roots. I think the cheaper rents also had a lot to do with it, along with a lot of vacant space. 

Since that time, the city of Aurora has continued its efforts to develop downtown. So much so that they started giving away empty buildings in need of repair and worked with banks to provide cheap loans, and grants fronting all this with "civic" investment groups hoping to marry the serious business owner/leasee's looking for space with those "new" owners and developers of the empty, free space. A lot of investors were attracted to Aurora because they envisioned growth, really good interest rates and free property. Taxes are relatively low too. They could flip properties and make a killing. What business owner/lessee's like myself started to experience were rapidly increasing leasing prices. Prospectors figured hey, with cheap loans and grants, lets charge 2x or 3x the old price and we can have the spaces occupied while reaping the benefits of low bank rates. Easy money. So developers developed. They seem to be bent on developing the spaces they are basically divided into parcels that can give them lots of units per square foot, but the spaces they create(d) are small, odd shaped and not conducive to what most businesses need. They aren't developing with business in mind; more for how many leases they can get.  So if they create several small spaces from a larger one, they can get four to five leases instead of a larger one. Small leases they think will be smaller payments and easier on businesses. More attractive. What isn't realized is many businesses need MORE space not less. Businesses want to expand, not contract. A business in the wrong space, won't be in business too long. So with development unchecked, Aurora is still very vacant. Years later and down the road, owners will still have vacant spaces and investments to rectify with the bank and they will complain to the city that they can't fill their empty spaces. No one wants them. They created closets and people wanted rooms. 

I'm not going to get into the lying and deceit that these developers trade in (not much anyway)  while courting you as their tenants. They will lead you on, knowing they are killing your business, but thats of little concern. They will try to change the agreement made into another agreement, the old bait and switch. Show one property, make a deal and then "oh wait, its going to take more time so take this one instead" while I work on the other - but don't expect a time line on when the property you wanted to build your business on, the one they "sold" you on, is to be ready. They have to get occupants, their grants depend on it, so they will lie to any extent to make it work. Happened to me four eleven months now. I'm finished with it. I'm finished with Aurora. I don't trust any of the owners and wouldn't occupy any of their properties if offered for free. Every property I tried to lease, four of them, are still vacant. My old studio is still vacant. But it was vacant for nine years prior to me being in it for three years. I think this vacant building thing is the future of Aurora. I hope I am wrong because I got to know several good business owners and people working on Aurora's behalf. I would like to see their efforts succeed but I'm not going to be part of it. I'm outta here. 

Whats ironic about all this is I was prepping for a major change to my business model. I had partners, more influx of cash and equipment. We proposed leasing TWO spaces within a year but we desperately needed one now. But that space we coveted, the one shown to us by the developer and pushed by him, that isn't going to happen. Because he got tied up with the city and their investment group and under contract he has to develop a new, different space because he has loans and grants to satisfy now. So we are out. Of course unless we want to pursue the space he is developing which isn't suitable for anything I can think of, let alone a photography studio. Great job by the investment team of Aurora. Shut out a business to create more empty space. 

I have no idea of when or where I will open a studio. I have a lot to think about. I am in business but my business model thrives on having a studio so I have to rethink everything. I'm working out of a space in my house - and thats not going to make it. I hope to have news someday but right now, I just am not hopeful.