Miami Studios

By Jay Mallin

Sandy Lighterman’s job is akin to sitting in the ice cream truck at a little league game on a hot day–you just wait for the customers to come to you. In her case, the customers are photographers and movie-makers. 

“They come from all over the United States,” says Lighterman, who works for Miami-Dade County as the film and entertainment industries liaison. Additionally, she says, “a lot [of photographers] come from Germany, Britain, [and] France, and from South and Central America,” adding, “We really have an international mix.” Miami is a bilingual city linked by direct flights to almost every Latin American capital.

Photographers head to Miami for the warm weather and the beaches, but they are also drawn in by the city’s diverse shooting locations, including a thriving downtown, resorts, homes (Alex Rodriguez’s new $24 million home in Miami Beach is available for shoots), and photo studios. 

“There’s one area called Coconut Grove that often stands in for New York’s Greenwich Village,” says Lighterman. Though the city lacks any kind of elevation, Lighterman claims she can offer hills for location shoots: “There are old garbage dumps that are closed, but they are hills, and we have car shoots on them all the time because they have a clear horizon and are green,” she explains. In most of Miami, getting permits for photo shoots is easy, says Lighterman. “If you’re a crew of ten or less, then you can get a blanket permit. You’re [considered] minimal impact, so that makes it much easier to float around and not tell us everywhere that you’re going,” she says.

In addition to great location options, Miami is home to many top-tier photography resources, including photography studios, production companies and equipment-rental companies. One could shoot almost any type of conceivable image there—even, say, one requiring a chimpanzee. 

Paul Lardi, owner of Mobile Arts Production Services, or MAPS, a full-service photo-shoot production company with offices in New York and Miami, faced that challenge recently. A client needed a chimpanzee for a photo shoot, and needed it quickly. The client was adamant, says Lardi, that they were looking for a chimpanzee, not a monkey. “So we said ‘Ok, we’re going to find you a chimpanzee.’ ” The closest available chimp was in Las Vegas and Lardi wasted no time in booking it. By the time he paid for the chimp and its trainer to fly in from Las Vegas, the tab was around $15,000, Lardi says. “But everyone was happy.” It’s that type of industry know-how and dedication that keeps MAPS on the map. Lardi is one of the pioneers of the Miami photography scene, opening MAPS over 17 years ago. Today, his company provides wide-ranging shoot support, including motor home and equipment rentals, photo shoot production—including producers who help find creative talent ranging from wardrobe stylists to hair and make-up artists—and studio spaces (the company has two studios, one in Miami proper, and one in South Beach). One of the most exciting places to shoot in Miami is the growing Wynwood Arts District, a section of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. Founded in early 2003 by a group of art dealers, artists and curators, the district is home to museums, galleries, studio spaces, and retail stores. (Log on to and click Arts District Map for a list of over 100 vendors in the area.) MAPS recently opened a space there called the Backlot. The Backlot provides 10,000 square feet of outdoor space in a private, walled-in complex containing two cyc walls—a truly unique shooting environment. The company has plans to further expand in Wynwood in the future as well.

Mobile Arts Production Service’s Miami studios include a 3,500-square-foot indoor studio (top) and a 10,000-square-foot outdoor space called “The Backlot” (bottom).

Trendy Studio, another hot spot located in the Wynwood Arts District, was opened four years ago by Enrique Lopez, a former investment banker. Lopez’s wife, a successful stylist, inspired him to open his own space. “She is like the Rachel Zoe of the Hispanic market,” he says. Along with studio spaces and equipment rentals, Trendy Studio also offers something unusual: in-house wardrobe rentals and services. “This is something other studios don’t have, says Lopez. “We can have seamstresses on call.” The wardrobe house contains 1,000 pieces of inventory, and photographers shooting in-house receive a 20 percent discount. According to the company Web site, their motto is, “If we don’t have it, or can’t find it, we’ll make it!”

Trendy Studio, a full-service boutique studio, offers “complete photography production facilities and services under one roof,” including in-house wardrobe, equipment and studio rentals. 

Another trusted source for photography gear and studio spaces in Miami is Aperture Professional Studios & Supply. The company offers studio rentals, a gated private back lot and an impressive list of photography gear for rentals. Aperture Professional Studios & Supply moved into their current location at 385 NE 59th Street in Miami just a few years ago, but according to studio manager Sataro Chisholm, as soon as he and owner Howie Shneyer get a break, they plan to merge their two existing studios into one large space. Their current large studio, a 28 x 32-foot space with ten-foot windows, has been popular. In response to a high demand, the new combined space will offer drive-in access. “We have a shoot coming up and they need to put a Ferrari in the large studio. We’ve had those little Fiat 500s in there, [and] we’ve had Rolls Royces in there,” says Chisholm. Still, he isn’t sure if or when he and Shneyer will get the break they need to combine the two studios. It used to be that summer was the slow season in Miami, he says, but “it’s kind of hard to say whether we’re going to have a slow season because last year we didn’t have one.” 

The 2,100-square-foot Studio B at Aperture Studios in Miami. 

“[Photographers] come here for the talent, for the mixture we have in South Florida. I mean, we have it all,” says Andrew Dillon, owner of One Source Studios, a studio and equipment rental company in the MiMo district, just a few blocks from Aperture Professional Studios & Supply. One Source, set behind several royal palms that Dillon planted when he opened the building in 2002, offers two studios. Though not true “daylight” studios, they both have enough windows, says Dillon, that “you don’t get that claustrophobic feeling because you can look outside.” Like others in Miami, he serves mainly out-of-towners, including many Europeans. “Ninety-nine percent of my business comes from out of town,” says Dillon. His biggest client is NEXT, a U.K.-based retailer that offers fashion accessories for men, women and children. NEXT shoots at One Source for its popular NEXT directory, a home shopping catalog and Web site that serves three million customers in 50 countries. One Source hosts other catalog shoots as well. The week we spoke with Dillon, Victoria’s Secret was in for a 12-day shoot. In addition to studio space, One Source also rents a wide array of gear. “We have a very diverse inventory, more than any other rental house here. “We have everything, from A to Z,” says Dillon. 

One Source Studios, located in Miami’s MiMo district, has two studios, each equipped with corner cycloramas, and a large inventory of rental equipment.

As modern and accommodating as Miami studios are, they are often the second choice for photographers working in the area. “Most people come to Miami to shoot in a location,” says Dillon. “They’re looking for a nice house or to shoot on the beach. The studio is just in case it rains. Even the companies that come just to do their catalog, the shoot is split between the studio and shooting on location.”

Along with iconic South Beach, other popular locations include Crandon Park (think palm trees and sand; the area is often used to represent an island), Coral Gables (upscale homes with Mediterranean architecture) and the Moorings, an 18-acre resort on a former coconut plantation in the Florida Keys.

Location shooters regularly “option” Miami studios as backups. “Let’s say you have a one- or two-day shoot,” says Dillon. “Women’s wear, where the model is maybe $25,000 for the day, you have to pay her whether you shoot her or not.” That’s where the studio backup comes in, in case the weather fails. “With today’s technology, they’ll come into the studio and shoot her on whites, and then you see her in the magazine, nice background and everything.” 

Whether your next shoot calls for an unusual mammal, a reliable studio, a graceful wardrobe, a million-dollar home, or (egad!) all four, Miami should be at the top of your list. The city offers an incredible support system and beautiful locations that can’t be found anywhere else.



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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