What’s clicking? Self-shoot studios capture the hearts of the camera-shy

Ara Luna
What’s clicking? Self-shoot studios capture the hearts of the camera-shy
No professional photographer is present at self-shoot studios. Customers are typically handed a palm-size control to use as a remote shutter button.

Jeyson Cabantog’s Korean drama-loving girlfriend watched an episode of Goblin one night in April 2020 when she came across the concept of a self-shoot studio. 

She immediately sprung from the couch she was lazing on to pitch the idea to him, hoping this would bring their once-thriving photobooth business back to life.

“We had zero clients — those who usually book us for weddings, debuts, and corporate events — for a solid year,” the 29-year-old Boholano recalls their experience during the height of the pandemic. “There was no money coming in, and all our equipment gathered dust.”

After several months mulling over the feasibility of a self-shoot photo studio venture, the couple took the plunge. They laid out their startup arsenal at their redecorated workspace: a professional lighting setup, a DSLR camera mounted on a tripod, and a full-length mirror-like TV monitor. 

DIY. With this kind of setup, you’re in control. Courtesy of Nyaman Self Shoot Studio

And just like that, Nyaman Self Shoot Studio was open for business in Bohol.

No professional photographer is present at self-shoot studios like Cabantog’s. Customers are typically handed a discreet, palm-size control to use as a remote shutter button. 

“You could strike as many poses as you want in front of a camera under a capped time,” the professional photographer explains the concept. “Depending on the package you bought, you could choose which portrait shots to print and take home.”

The ‘self’ appeal
FUR BABY. You can bring your pet along for a portrait session. Courtesy of ATOMM Studios

It’s only the month of March, yet all slots are fully booked until May at ATOMM Studios

Stationed along Batasan Hills in Quezon City, the Philippines’ first self-photography studio’s two months’ worth of advanced bookings is a testament to the astonishing interest for a private photoshoot experience. 

The seven-man founding team had to open an additional 125 slots — which were quickly snapped up within the day — and extend operating hours to accommodate increasing customer demand.

According to ATOMM Studios creative director Merphi Panaguiton, the appeal lies in making their clients feel “safe and free to be themselves.”

FRIENDS. Shoots are a great way to spend time with your pals. Courtesy of ATOMM Studios

“We wanted to create a safe space for introverts and camera-shy individuals who wish to have professional photos taken,” Panaguiton recalls during the early stages of the studio’s inception. 

She also shares that ATOMM’s clientele primarily consists of creatives, young couples, groups of friends, families, pet owners, and individuals who want “me” time.

Family-owned business Ssoluz Cafe and Studio, on the other hand, points to romantic partners and barkadas as their usual patrons. 

“Most boyfriends tend to hold back their cheesiness towards their beau when a stranger is present during a shoot,” a representative candidly shares their experience with customers. “They are generally more game to be sweet and cute with their poses when alone in the privacy of our studio.”

When guffaws fill the air of this Taytay, Rizal self-shoot studio-slash-coffeeshop, it simply means that a closed group of friends are occupying the space. The roars of laughter are prompted by the inhibition-free wacky poses that they do when hamming in front of a camera by themselves. 

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Another draw for studio-goers is the comprehensive carte du jour of food and beverages available at Ssoluz Cafe and Studio. “We offer various pastries, drinks, and a selection of pasta,” the representative adds. 

In Davao, AA Gallery’s unique selling point compared to other self-shoot studios in the city is that they specialize in producing only monochrome photos.

“Black and white photos never go out of style,” affirms 25-year-old owner Andrea Liao Amparo of this choice. She also serves as the self-photo studio’s creative director.

Taking creative control
BLACK AND WHITE. Journalist Chrislen Bulosan strikes a pose. Courtesy of AA Gallery

Being in front of the camera is all in a day’s work for journalist Chrislen Bulosan. Still, she considers herself awkward when posing for a photographer’s shot.

One thing that the 25-year-old Davaoeña likes about self-photo studios is that the TV monitor allows her to check her appearance in real-time. Thus, it allows her to find her most flattering angle before pressing the remote shutter.

“Another great feature about it is that I have the whole half an hour to take as many pictures of myself and then pick the best ones for review,” Bulosan gushes, referring to her first solo self-shoot session at AA Gallery. 

For IT project manager Micah Chel Gomez, surprising her financial analyst boyfriend Mark Kevin Lucas with a trip to ATOMM Studios remains one of their most memorable dates as a couple so far.

BOOTH-STYLE. Couples can be as cheesy and weird as they want to be. Courtesy of ATOMM Studios

The pair regards themselves as the adventurous type, often on the lookout for new experiences to try together. Booking a photo studio for their exclusive use was one of them.

Gomez discovered that having the space all to yourself and moving at your own pace gave them creative freedom in terms of expressing themselves authentically when facing the camera. 

“Basically, you can do whatever you feel like doing during the shoot!” Lucas adds.

A fight for space?

Coin-operated photo booths share several similarities with self-shoot studios — both are self-operational, convenient, and accessible.

With such photo services giving people the independence and ease to have quality portraits taken, does this mean traditional studios — those that hire full-time photographers to service clients — face a serious threat to obsolescence?

Not exactly, says Madison Base, a former in-house lenswoman at one of the top photo and video studio chains in the country.

She believes that professional photographers will always have a place in the industry despite self-shoot studios mushrooming steadily around the Philippines. 

Base also says that self-photo studios offer cheaper packages because they eliminate the middleman in the shooting process: the cameraperson. Rates often start at only P300 compared to conventional portrait studios that charge at least P520 minimum. 

CLIENTS. These studios welcome all kinds of clients. Courtesy of Nyaman Self Shoot Studio

“It’s important to remember, however, that you’re paying a professional photographer’s time, signature creative output, and wealth of experience when you shell out extra for a traditional photography studio,” the 37-year-old freelance filmmaker expounds. 

“Not to mention the human interaction they share with their clients.”

Thus, Base foresees that traditional photo studios are here to stay. Along with self-shoot studios and photo booths, all three services essentially cater to different needs. 

“There’s no denying that there is a considerable market for camera-shy customers,” she notes. “But I’m certain that the self-shoot service will eventually become a staple add-on option in standard photo studios.” –

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