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Studio Space Santa Rosa is a haven for North Bay photographers

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Studio Space Santa Rosa was born out of a need for more space.

"We were all working out of our garages and cramped bedrooms," says Josh Katz, co-owner of Studio Space Santa Rosa, Sonoma County's new and only full-service, professional photography studio for rent and hire.

Katz, a long-time professional photographer, was fed up with shooting clients in his home, and two years ago started looking for a place where he could expand his work. When he couldn't find a full-service workspace to shoot in, he decided to create one.

Katz joined forces with friend and fine artist Jeff D'Ottavio, and now the two co-own and operate Studio Space Santa Rosa in an industrial block on Piner Road where they offer photography and video studio rentals complete with seamless backdrops, photographic light packages and their expertise, available at reasonable rates.

The photography came first. The business was an afterthought.

"I've been taking pictures ever since I was a kid," says Katz. "My grandfather was a journalist and shot also; that's where I got my interest in photography originally." Katz's grandfather, David Zeitlin, worked for Life magazine, covering Hollywood in the '50s and '60s.

"I was really fortunate that my parents noticed early on that I had an interest and gave me a camera when I was four or five," continues Katz. "And I've had a camera in my hand since."

Both Katz and D'Ottavio grew up bouncing between family in the North Bay and Los Angeles. Katz went to film school "a couple of times," he says, attending City College in San Francisco and Los Angeles. "I have six years' worth of a two-year college under my belt," Katz laughs, "so I feel pretty confident in my skills."

Katz worked for years in Los Angeles in film and television production before moving to Sonoma County permanently a decade ago. He met D'Ottavio while working at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, and the two quickly bonded over their artistic interests.

With a client list that ranges from Russian River Brewing Company to local bands, Katz knew he needed something more than a room in an apartment if he was going to take his photography to the next level. In addition to his professional gigs, Katz's ongoing personal photo project is an intimate and expressive portrait series, snapped on peel-apart instant film shot with a large-format camera.

D'Ottavio excels in several fine art media, recently working in "pyrography," or wood-burning art. Like Katz, he was dissatisfied working from his home. "We talked about renting a space that we could share for our own work, but never very seriously. Then one day I got a bug up my butt and started looking," says Katz.

He and D'Ottavio found the small Santa Rosa space in August 2014. "There are a lot of places for rent in Sonoma County, but nothing super-affordable," Katz explains. Originally, there were four partners splitting the rent, though two of the original partners moved out of the North Bay to pursue other projects, leaving Katz and D'Ottavio holding a lease that doubled in price overnight.

"We did all the work to get it up and running, get it clean and usable, and all of a sudden it was just us paying the rent," explains D'Ottavio. "It's not really easy to survive off of selling art work. It took about five years for me to get to that point where regular checks were coming in, and it's the same with photography; you can't just snap a bunch of pictures and sell them off and pay your rent."

The two had to find a way to make the space work for them.

"Someone said to me, if you turn this into a studio that people can rent, there's nothing else like that around here," says Katz. "There wasn't a place around here that did what we were talking about doing. I think the closest is San Rafael."

Together, Katz and D'Ottavio built the warehouse space into a professional studio boasting, among other things, a large cyclorama wall that curves from wall to floor seamlessly. Cyc walls are often used in the background of photo and video shoots to suggest an unlimited space behind the subject.

They also bought professional lighting gear that included several soft light boxes and a massive crane for positioning. "A lot of photographers around here don't own lights. They're an expensive investment," says Katz. "Oftentimes, someone will come in to use the space and go, 'Wow, what the hell are those? Can you show me how to use that?'"

"Pretty early on, we realized that it could cater to a lot of different people," says D'Ottavio. "One of our first clients came in and she only shot in natural light, and we have plenty of good natural lights from skylights. And we can mimic any kind of lighting with our equipment."

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