Studio Space Santa Rosa is a haven for North Bay photographers

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.”


The space has been used for product work, fashion work, music video shoots, “and some work I don’t know what they’re doing in there,” adds Katz. “It’s pretty open to whatever someone can think of.”

Still, even with everything coming together, Katz and D’Ottavio could never have imagined what happened last April.

“We ended up moving due to circumstances that were out of our control,” says Katz.

“The neighbor burned the place down,” interjects D’Ottavio.

Just as the business was starting to gain traction, an accidental fire in the unit adjacent to them damaged the facility and all the equipment and work they had put into it. “I got a call from the landlord in the middle of the month, which I let go to voicemail, and then we came in that morning and the place was boarded up,” remembers Katz.

Luckily, their landlord and insurance helped them out of a potentially business-ruining mess. They moved to another, larger space in the same block and set about building Studio Space Santa Rosa from the ground up—again.

“It is what it is,” says Katz. “We were out of business for a couple of months, but in the end, it all worked out. It’s weird to say that a fire shutting down your business is a pretty painless experience, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but it worked out.”

It took another three months to get back up and running, including buying all the lighting again and building a new, 18-foot cyclorama wall. Still, they both see the move as a blessing in disguise.

“We have a huge amount of space now, and people seem to enjoy having that large space to work in,” says Katz.

Since reopening last September, Studio Space Santa Rosa has continued to grow its client list and has been busier than ever.

The new, bigger space also allowed Katz and D’Ottavio to begin hosting monthly pop-up gallery art shows, an idea they talked about but never realized in the original space.

Each month, Studio Space opens its doors for a one-night showing of photography and art from local talents like Sara Sanger and Zohn Mandel (see “Behind the Lens,” p14), as well as Katz and D’Ottavio’s works and those from emerging artists who wouldn’t have the chance to display their art publicly anywhere else.

“We know how hard it is to get your work seen. So we decided once we got this space and could do the gallery shows, we wanted to give people a place to show their work where they haven’t been able to before,” says D’Ottavio. “And if that can encourage more people to do this stuff, get people painting and taking pictures and learning their craft, that’s perfect. That’s what we’re here for.”

For photographers interested in utilizing Studio Space Santa Rosa,
the time is now, as Katz and D’Ottavio are also offering a New Year’s
special with 20 percent off the usual rates. For more information, visit




What is your Hometown?

I grew up in Forestville, but moved to Santa Rosa the minute I could.

How did you first get into photography?

I was attending the Santa Rosa Junior College as a teen, and had done some modeling as well. I felt really uncomfortable in front of the camera. A lot of my early experience around photographers didn’t leave a great example for me. I really didn’t even see myself in that position, as I wasn’t really pushy or driven to manipulate people, which was my experience working with photographers as a young woman.

Once I started taking classes at the JC, I realized that I could put my own vision into what I wanted to photograph. By the end of the semester, I was building my own darkroom and scraping all the camera stores for affordable options. I went fast from 35mm to medium format to large format. Within a year, I was hanging out at the local photo stores all day, eventually getting a job at a photo store with some great folks.

Do you have any other formal training?

I have a BA in fine art with an emphasis in photography from Sonoma State University. I’m glad to have gotten a broad degree that included general education, sculpture and drawing; the skills learned in other classes are the ones that I come back to really often. Even math class has proved itself useful to me!

After college, I transitioned to assisting other photographers in Sonoma County and the Bay Area, and the humbling nature of finding out that college didn’t really prepare me for much in the professional photography world was pretty jarring. I learned fast, and at the time, film was being replaced by digital in the pro world, so I got to learn Photoshop and some amazing technology on the job.

Who are your favorite photographers? Are you inspired by any particular photographer’s work, either growing up or currently?

Much like the local music scene, my inspiration is my peers, for sure. Brian Gaberman has always been a great photographer, and extraordinarily technical but with so much soul in his photos. He photographs a lot of skateboarding images, which is something I don’t even know much about, but his composition and use of blacks is great.

It’s always inspiring to see photographers who can work in the commercial world and still have their own voice. As far as “famous” photographers, I’ve always loved Wolfgang Tillmans, who I will never photograph like at all, but his sense of humor and use of a flat natural light is something I am pretty in love with. Anton Corbijn has taken some of the most iconic music portraits of my generation.

What cameras do you use the most and why?

I use Canon cameras. I shoot with a Canon 5DSr and a Canon 5D Mark III. I’ve invested in some great lenses, like tilt shift and wide aperture lenses, which have helped me transition my look in digital photography from the one I developed using a Mamiya 645 film camera and 4-by-5 field camera.

And lights! Everyone always wants to know about the camera, but it’s equally about controlling light. I use a lot of strobes in my work, but am trying to get back to more natural-light shoots.

What kind of photography do you do professionally?

I currently work as a full-time commercial advertising photographer specializing in wine, food and cool people.

What kind of photography do you do for fun or art?

I still have some fun projects with musicians, which is what I originally wanted to do. I occasionally even shoot a music video. I shoot a lot of stuff for my own band, the New Trust, which feels really good to represent our music and us in a visual way we can control. I’m so lucky to get to work with great friends and artists locally like the Velvet Teen, Emily Whitehurst, Ashley Allred, and will forever keep doing it.

Do you have any dream photo projects?

My goal this last year was to work with a larger team, using stylists and professional models more for projects, and it’s made a huge difference in my work. I got to shoot an amazing campaign for Sonoma County Tourism, and I feel weirdly emotional about getting to have a small part in representing this place and helping to make our imagery for tourism inclusive, diverse and fun.


What is your Hometown?

I’ve never really known how to answer that question, since I grew up in so many different places in California and other states. My mom currently lives in Napa, so that’s usually my go-to answer. I’ve lived in Santa Rosa for eight years.

How did you first get into photography?

I always had disposable cameras as a kid. I grew up enjoying observing people and life around me and capturing things that seemed really special.

Do you have any other formal training?

My mother showed me the ropes of a 35mm film camera before high school. Since then, I have taken photography classes as high school electives, college courses and some alternative courses at the RayKo Photo Center in S.F. But honestly, most of those classes felt really restraining to me, although fundamentally important. I tend to learn more by messing around and experimenting on my own.

Who are your favorite photographers? Are are you inspired by any particular photographer’s work?

I’m really inspired by Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus and Francesca Woodman. All of these women capture a darkness in humanity that I really admire and appreciate. I have always been intrigued by the concept of Cindy Sherman’s work, although I have never been comfortable with her actual images. I love the amount of vulnerability she encompasses, and that her work reflects self-exploration.

What cameras do you use the most and why?

For 35mm film, I use an old Minolta that I scored from Sacks thrift store years ago. That thing is my baby. I have an ongoing love affair with my old Polaroid land camera, although I haven’t been using it much lately. Digitally, I just upgraded from a Nikon D80 to a Nikon D750, and I often use that for paid work. I’ve noticed that Santa Rosa isn’t a big Nikon community, so I hope there won’t be a mob standing outside of my house with pitchforks now that I outed my love for the Nikon digital platform.

What kind of photography do you do professionally?

Portraiture is my niche. Portraits of women are my strong suit, although I have been trying to break out of shooting primarily females. I have done a lot of fashion work as well, and I also love working with musicians. Some years, I run a special on awkward/weird holiday family portraits, which is always a blast.

What kind of photography do you do for fun or art?

I enjoy quirky stuff and getting creative with people in collaboration. I have a habit of doing very impromptu shoots when they’re for fun. Creatively, I work best on the fly. Spontaneity has always added something magical to my work, and I cherish the creative energy that comes with it. I haven’t ever really been one for planning, but I love grabbing a friend and going out to the coast or setting up my lighting in my studio and just having fun together.

Do you have any dream photo projects?

I have always secretly wanted to be a photojournalist and travel the world capturing moments of the human experience. I think imagery is such a strong way of communicating, maybe more so now than ever, with how the internet and social media supplement our daily lives. Our culture is so tapped-in right now in such a fast-paced way that I would want to capture some real grit and glow of the world, and share it in hopes it can reach people in some way and connect people’s hearts to the bigger picture for a moment.;
[email protected].


What is your Hometown?

I was born in Healdsburg. I have continued to live in Sonoma County for the last 25 years. Right now, I live in Roseland with two roommates in a wonderful restored 1930s turquoise home with a colorful garden and a wood stove.

How did you first get into photography?

Since about the age of 13 I remember playing with cameras. It wasn’t until I purchased my first camera [Olympus Stylus] at the local Goodwill when I was 17 that I began photographing more purposefully and intentionally. My grandfather always had a camera on hand. He didn’t treat photography like a fine art per se, but was a big believer in preserving memories, especially of his family. My grandmother, on the other hand, explored photography for the fine art that it is. She shot film, both 35mm and 120. She even built a darkroom attached to her house and began printing.

Do you have any other formal training?

I’ve played with cameras for many years, but it wasn’t until about four years ago that a friend named Zachary Sumner took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I started taking classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College, where I have been a student off and on again for the last five years. I also work at Jeremiah’s Photo Corner in Santa Rosa. Working there is helping me stay consistent in my desire to experiment more in photography.

Who are your favorite photographers?

Alec Soth is someone who I recently discovered. He is a Minneapolis-based photographer, who works primarily with an 8-by-10 land camera. His work entitled Sleeping by the Mississippi was what got me hooked. Ren Hang is a phenomenal photographer, I am deeply inspired by his portraiture. He is a master at flash photography.

What kind of photography do you do for fun or art?

I’ve currently been focusing on portraiture, combined with some landscape. I spent the fall working with my roommates, creating a portfolio of masked portraiture. This coming year, I am taking time off from school so I can start working on personal projects and client-based work. I also plan on scanning and compiling a body of work of my grandmother’s negatives and photographs, and sharing them.

Do you have any dream photo projects?

I would love to photograph the drag community. I am deeply drawn to drag culture, and I would love to document the process, the motivation, the creative energy, the love, the struggle, the fight they endure while crafting female/male illusion. I am obsessed with queer culture.

[email protected];


What is your Hometown?

I was born in Santa Rosa in 1975, raised in Sebastopol.

How did you first get into photography?

I’ve always loved music, photos and videos. In 2004, I had a bicycle accident that caused a spinal-cord injury and landed me in a wheelchair. At the time I owned a pizza shop, Borolo’s Pizza. In 2009, I sold the pizza shop and started a record label with my good friend Jeff Mahoney called Burning Token Records. We bought a professional video camera and began making as much content as possible for our website. We grew Burning Token into a multimedia company, making commercials, wedding videos, sport videos and music videos.

Do you have any other formal training?

In 2010, I bought my first DSLR camera as a second video camera, and I started shooting photos with it, mainly of bands at live shows. Through the process of filming and taking photos of hundreds of bands, wedding and sporting events, I learned how to work my cameras and compose a decent shot.

Who are your favorite photographers?

I watched documentary’s on the legends of landscape photography like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, as well as modern photographers like Trey Ratcliff , Aaron Nace and John Paul Caponigro. The photography community in Sonoma County is full of so much talent. Bob Bowman, Mike Shoys and Diane Hill have all been such a huge influence on my work.

What cameras do you use the most and why?

Nowadays, I’m using the Sony
a7r II for my landscape photography, and I use the Canon 5D Mark III for portrait and product shots. The Sony makes beautiful large prints.

What kind of photography do you do professionally?

I still film and take photos of bands or business products through Burning Token. I also have prints of my work available at my website.

What kind of photography do you do for fun or art?

Once I discovered night photography, it became a full-blown addiction. I started to photograph around sunset and into the night. Sonoma County is an amazing place for night photography. We have the Milky Way visible at our coast and the brilliant lights of San Francisco one hour to the south. There’s something so peaceful about being out at night and capturing it with photography. In 2015, I started making prints and showing at galleries and coffee shops. And for 2016, I made my first Sonoma County calendar.

Do you have any dream photo projects?

I plan on doing a calendar every year and maybe even a Sonoma County coffee-table book by the end of 2016. Also this year, I plan to venture out into California. Places like Yosemite and Death Valley are at the top of my list.;
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