Those of a certain age will instantly recall that back in the pre-digital days many photographers and artists had to be physically located in NYC, LA, DC, Chicago or some other (then) major metropolitan area to make a living. This has changed drastically over the decades and while there are many reasons and factors at play, below are in our opinion, the major major reasons for this change. Feel free to send us your own comments as to your own experiences.

In those pre-digital days, magazines filled newsstands (remember those?) with pages and pages of glossy ads and wonderful editorial spreads and newspapers commonly put out two editions per day. Cell phone photos and amateurs did not exist in that world. Physical location, your proximity to potential and real clients for photographers and for illustrators was critically important because of deadlines. Deadlines meant (and still mean) everything. Photographers after they clicked the shutter with the perfect photo had to get that film developed either in their own darkroom if they shot black and white film or had to rush to a lab if they shot color slide film or have the film processed at the publication’s own lab. The film, if for an ad, probably went to a retoucher to physically retouch the film, and then it also might go to a separator to make separation films to be sent to the printer to make the printing plates. If you were a photojournalist in town, you quickly processed your film in a Simplex processor or something similar. Feed the film dry and semi dry film came out processed at the other end. Not as fine as a lab, but quick to make deadlines was the order of the day. Regular darkroom processing took too long for newspaper needs. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.

Today of course you shoot it, transfer the file within minutes to be displayed online immediately or even printed without ever producing a plate. Deadlines back then for commercial uses were counted in days, today they are counted in minutes. Photojournalists faced deadlines measured in seconds. With high speed Internet today, location is not as important as it was in previous times. In those “olden” days before digital and the Internet, despite the costs of living and/or working in major cities, photographers had little choice but to carry the overhead of having their own studio. In the pre-Internet age not having a studio meant you weren’t a “serious” photographer. Renting a studio was something reserved “for over the top productions”. And your overhead was built into your fee. Then slowly, as photographers lost the revenue stream from film and processing (that was a big money maker), photographers started to charge for “renting” or use of their expensive studio space to client. As time moved on and the expenses of a studio precluded making a profit, it became more acceptable over time to rent a studio for a particular shoot. Having one’s own  studio was not a “must have”, it was a luxury.

With the advent of digital photography and the ability to instantly transmit images via the Internet, not to mention “WeWork” type offices, the need for physical proximity lessened. As the cost of living and doing business in NYC and DC (among other cities) became prohibitive, photographers became able to ply their trade in less expensive areas of the country. The talent pool of support staff, models, hair and makeup, assistants, also moved and talented people were more dispersed and not just located in the very major city markets. Atlanta today boasts about as large of major film facilities as Hollywood. Highpoint North Carolina always had large studios for the furniture industry and today has many local film production companies, meaning a pool of support people.

The American public and its businesses have for the last 50 years  migrated out of the north east in huge numbers. NYS and NJ are top states in the outward migration of residents moving to other states.  As the population of NY, NJ and Illinois shrinks, the states that have boomed in population include Texas, Florida, NC, SC, GA, AZ and CO (among others).  Photographers, illustrators, celebrities and other businesses have moved out of the northeast to states like TX  and Fl where there are no personal income taxes and other low tax, low cost of doing business/living states.  Some 30 years ago 80% of Ed’s clients lived or worked in (just) the NYC, LA and DC metro areas with the majority in the NYC metro area alone. He now has more clients who live and/or work in distant suburbs of NYC and DC, SC, GA, FL, TX and in foreign countries then clients who either live or work daily in the NYC, DC and LA metro areas combined.

Photographers who actually live, do most of their work in places far from big cities fear that if they put their “real” addresses on their estimates, invoices and websites they will lose business.  A photographer who lives on the beach in say Pensacola, FL, fears that he/she will lose out on a Florida job to a photographer 535 miles away with a Miami address for a shoot in Ft. Lauderdale – 45 minutes from downtown Miami.  A photographer living/working in Asheville, NC who shoots in NYC regularly, fears that if his/her studio address says “Asheville, NC” and another photographer/bidder has a NYC address, the photographer with the NYC address has an insurmountable advantage to shoot a fashion job on location, on 5th Ave. Like the line from the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” from “Porgy and Bess,”  it ain’t necessarily so.

With that necessarily lengthy set up as a prelude…

Many creatives work regularly in major cities in which they neither live or have a studio. Still others reside outside of urban America.  They live and/or work anywhere in the USA, in the EU, South America or Asia and still work regularly in the USA in one or more cities.  There are photographers and illustrators who, unknown to their clientele, live “full time” in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Canada, Florida, Texas or Nevada.  Your stationery whether in the form of an invoice, email or estimate should reflect a physical presence “somewhere”. You can live and own property in sunny Key West, FL but “do business” out of Miami or even NYC.  There are generally no legal requirements that you live and work in the same state.

A major Broadway star who everyone assumes is the quintessential New Yorker lives on a ranch in Texas – no state personal income taxes.  Countless millionaires who own or rent luxury real estate in Manhattan are actually residents of Florida where they avoid NYC’s 13% personal income tax.  The practice is extremely common across all industries and existed well before NYC became the epicenter of the Covid 19 epidemic.  The virus has served to increase the flow of businesses and folks moving out of the NYC metro area with no intention of returning but did not cause it..

Photographers and illustrators err when they omit a business address on paperwork and/or their websites.  By doing so clients can claim that they had no idea where the photographer had business roots and thus without an address elected not to hire a photographer who appears to lack business stability and/or can’t be readily accessible if needed..  Additionally, by having a “real” business address you as the creator can justifiably include in your terms and conditions which state or county in which any legal matter must be decided – typically the state your business is registered in. This saves you time, money and increases your odds of getting paid on time.

You can select a state that has low business taxes, incorporate or file a d/b/a in that state and  emblazon an address in that state on your stationery. Many creatives add language such as, “We are always available for jobs in NYC” or “We have facilities to accommodate our clients in LA”.  You ought to have a hard address at which mail can be delivered and you can use it at least occasionally for some valid, even  minor business purpose like meeting with an assistant or even a client. Virtual offices can serve this purpose and do for many reps and agents who represent that they have offices in NYC, LA and London when they may actually spend 85% of their time in NYC, NJ, CT or PA.

Many creatives, photographers and illustrators today live in towns you have never heard of, living in homes with studios in the garages with the business address being (often) the closest big city ie. St. Louis, Charlotte, Miami, Dallas, Austin and so on.  These folks may or may not visit those cities on a single occasion in a given month.  Paying a negligible amount of money to, in effect, have your business name on a door which matches your stationery is well worth the tiny expense.  Clients are not prone to hire vagabonds and neither judges nor juries are sympathetic to businesses that don’t have “hard addresses” nor (often) lack phone numbers on routine business papers.  Omitting this basic information makes the business look suspect to potential clients, ad agencies, judges and especially juries. Perception often trumps reality.

Traditionally “real” businesses have “real” addresses.  Be comforted by the fact that there are untold thousands of small and medium sized businesses of all kinds who have commenced this practice. There are Fortune 500 companies which have NYC or Delaware headquarters and have less than 1% of their employees located in that city or state.  Couple this with the fact that photo work has like the American public diversified and migrated south, south east, south west and west as that is where the businesses, population and jobs have gone.  The concept of a “staff photographer” receiving a W2  is an anachronism. If you are making money by licensing your own stock nobody cares where you are located. Nobody cares whether a carpenter, plumber or electrician has a “real office” because for nearly a century they work out of a truck and thus customers expect to see a truck. Customers who buy dishwashers “off the back of a truck” have an entirely different expectation – and with good reason.

For the vast majority of photographers there is simply no longer a need to even attempt to maintain a studio or living space in the former “legacy photo cities” of NYC, LA, Chicago….
By dramatically lowering your cost of doing business and your cost of living, you can net more money and live better by looking at locating to the cities that are affordable and growing. Your commercial clients are moving to the very same places. Being accessible to clients to do a job is far more important in 2020 than physical proximity to the cities that are losing the companies which in the distant past employed photographers.

The same geographic trend evidenced in the photo industry is reflected in many major industries. It was not very long ago that nearly all the cars made in America were made in or near Michigan. In 2020 Toyota’s HQ is in Austin and Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Audi, BMW, VW, Ford, GM make most of their vehicles in KY, Alabama, Mississippi, MO, TN, the Carolinas, GA, TX and other locations far, far from Michigan. Insurance companies have re-located from NYC to Jacksonville, FL. The banking industry has moved to western states from the big eastern cities.

A mutual friend of Jack and Ed’s recently did a high end commercial food shoot in his remodeled home kitchen in his suburban home with the client art directing from his home on Zoom with one computer logged in to his capture software and another camera with an overview of the set. The next way of future commercial shoots. The pandemic has fast forwarded art directing and “attending” photo shoots remotely.

So in these days as Ed longs for  days at a Florida Beach (his office is still in NYS) and Jack is very comfortable staying and working out of his NYC apartment (he’s not giving up really good pastrami for a sandy sandwich), the future points to a more diversely located photo and artist industry.

For the vast majority of photographers and illustrators maintaining an expensive urban studio is as valuable to the bottom line as rust is to metal.