elk rentals: Collaboration is the Name of the Game

By Amanda Baltazar

Erica Leone and Erin Kornfeld on location at Kings County Distillery. In addition to running elk rentals, they shoot together as elk studios.

Erica Leone and Erin Kornfeld love working with almost every client who comes through elk rentals, and that was their precise intention when they opened this rental studio in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood in June 2012.

“We’re really interested in the collaborative nature of photography,” says Leone. “In a creative field you always want to be part of a community. We love that we’ve created a space for ourselves, as well as others, to enjoy. This studio serves as a space to cultivate ideas.”

Collaboration was a natural for this duo, who have worked together as a two-person shooting team—under the name elk studios—for the past five years, ever since they met during a course at the International Center for Photography in New York. The collaborative aspect of their business means they learn from their clients, too, they said.

Since they opened elk rentals, business has gradually grown. The client base is mostly peopled by smaller clients, predominantly in editorial and portrait photography. Passing through elk rental’s doors these days are New York magazine and Refinery 29 as well as photographers shooting for The Telegraph and The New Yorker

“The boutique nature of elk rentals has self-selected a certain size production, given that we are a smaller rental studio,” says Kornfeld. “That said, we have some big-name clients and some lesser-known ones, but they are similar in the scale of their productions.”

© Luke Weisman
Above: Behind the scenes at elk rentals for a back-to-school campaign for office and school supply online store

The privacy that the space offers is often a draw for some of the bigger-name clients, Leone says, as well as its intimacy. “We feel the organic, varied types of clients who gravitate to the space by word of mouth have been both surprising and pleasing.”

The boutique description also lends itself to elk rentals prices, which she describes as “very affordable for Manhattan. That was one of our biggest goals—we wanted to be here for people in Manhattan who usually go to Brooklyn for less expensive studios.” The pair specifically chose the neighborhood of Chelsea as the home of their business due to the proximity of equipment and product stores, as well as clients. 

Elk rentals offers two studios for rent. The north studio is the largest (1,200 square feet), and is a more raw space for set building with 9 to 12 feet of seamless paper setup; the south studio is 850 square feet and has a cyclorama, daylight from the south and west, and is mostly soundproofed, so it works well for video shoots. In addition, elk rentals offers the space for events and also offers pre- and post-production work, as well as equipment rental, though most clients bring their own. 

© elk studios

Leone and Kornfeld love owning elk rentals, but they have found that being business owners comes with challenges. “Being a residential tenant in New York City, you have different rights and responsibilities than being a commercial one,” Leone explains. “Navigating everything on a much larger scale is a growing experience. And not owning the space provides limitations because we can’t modify it enough.” 

Marketing elk rentals has been an exciting aspect of growing the business during the first year. “We started with a number of partnerships and listings in magazines,” says Leone. They also formed close ties with Fotocare, ASMP and APA, and offer the space at no cost to the two latter organizations for events. “That’s because they are bringing in photographers to their events, so [we benefit from the] sheer volume of traffic through the space and exposure,” she explains. 

Fotocare has been invaluable in mentoring them through the equipment side of the business. Fortunately, the pair’s relationship with Fotocare had already cemented through many years of renting equipment for their own photography.

Elk rentals may only be a year old, but its seed has been germinating for a long time in the collaborative nature of its two founders. For those who bring their business to elk rentals, as well as those who run it, working with those you admire and respect appears to be a successful business plan.



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