Photography and Social Enterprise Collide at Commons Studio

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Commons Studio is thinking creatively about what a social enterprise can be. The full-service photography studio has incorporated multiple aspects of giving back into its business model.

Founder Matt Reese initially started the studio in 2014, garnering some initial interest but stopping short of full-throttle launch. Something didn’t feel right.

We didn’t have a purpose yet,” Reese says. 

As he began taking on interns and getting more involved with social enterprises in Columbus, the pieces started to fall into place. Then, Reese had many ideas of what the studio could and should be, and turned to social enterprise accelerator program SEA Change to put polish on the possibilities.CommonsStudio-logo

“By the end of it we were able to narrow our focus more directly and be able to communicate who we are, what we do, and what we’re trying to accomplish in a more succinct way,” he says.

With the capabilities of a full-service studio behind it, Commons Studio is moving forward with the two elements that set it apart: its paid apprenticeship program and Shot for Shot portraits.

We’re the photography studio that’s career and community focused on both sides of the lens,” Reese says. 

Commons Studio’s Shot for Shot sessions provide a buy-one, give-one platform for professional portraits.

“With the way that we’ve built the business model, it doesn’t cost the consumer any more,” Reese says.

A consumer pays a rate they might expect from a traditional studio, but their dollars go twice as far, helping beneficiaries of local career development noprofits. Commons Studio has worked with organizations like Per Scholas and Dress for Success Columbus, and is building relationships with other nonprofits and career-based organizations. In the age of social networks, a professional image is more important than ever, and a quality portrait can provide a professional edge for beneficiaries reentering the workforce.

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Commons Studio also offers a paid apprenticeship program that’s unique in the industry. Reese says most photographers take on unpaid interns – aka free labor.

That doesn’t work anymore,” he says. “You have more highly talented photographers than ever before, but they don’t understand the business side of it.” 

The studio’s competitive program takes on two apprentices each semester. It might seem like Reese is training his future competitors, but creating a network of photographers that know how to price their work and run a business actually creates more value for the industry as a whole.

Thus far, Commons Studio’s internship program has primarily taken on college seniors and recent grads, but long-term, Reese would love to create a vocational opportunity for high school students.

“That’s when they are most passionate and most fired up about being a creative professional, a creative entrepreneur,” he says.

Commons Studio represents a business and a platform he would have wanted when getting started. But, he also credits being in Columbus with his ability to build his career this quickly and develop a social enterprise.

“I think a business like this could only happen in Columbus, Ohio,” Reese says.

Now that it’s on to official launch, Reese says the biggest challenge for Commons Studio is spreading the word about who they are and what they do. He’s hoping an IndieGoGo campaign will curb that.

“Our Goal with the Indiegogo is to book 100 professional portraits to paying clients in order to give 100 professional portraits to the beneficiaries of our nonprofits,” Reese says.

He has even more ideas for what a social enterprise photography studio can be; more ideas on how to help people on both sides of the lens.

We’ll see how this first year of operation goes and what kind of revenues come in and then we can determine what the next steps are,” Reese says. 

Sign up for a Shot for Shot portrait through Commons Studio’s Indiegogo campaign

For more information, visit. ColumbusPhotographer.com

All photos courtesy of Commons Studio©. 

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