Lanewood Studio's space inside the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's INCubator is sleek, modern and overwhelmingly cool — a lot like the photographers who work inside it.
Husband and wife Corey and Emily Critser have modeled it to look like the big picture studios they worked in while living in Hollywood. The 950-square-foot open space features mostly neutral colors, a mounted flatscreen and viewing room for clients, a hair and wardrobe area, and of course, an espresso machine on the back counter that keeps them going on the long days.
Their 2-year-old Cavachon pup named Scout Yosemite Critser — who has his own Instagram account — greets all who walk through the studio's doors.
"We really wanted to work together here and that was the whole idea for the studio," says Emily, a 27-year-old Jacksonville, Florida, native.
"Lanewood Avenue was the very first place we lived when we got married," she adds. "It was a little apartment in Hollywood right on Sunset Boulevard and about a block away from the Chinese Theater It's the place where we started our lives together."
Emily and Corey, who is 30 and grew up on Signal Mountain, met while studying film at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. After graduation, the couple married and settled in California for a few years to pursue their dreams — Emily as an assistant to a stunt coordinator director for big films, like Batman and Straight Outta Compton, and Corey as a freelance photographer and camera operator.
Life in Hollywood can wear on a person, though, and Emily said they weren't sure it was the best career choice for them if they wanted to have children. So, in 2015, they packed up their life, hopped in a Subaru and traveled across the country for 100 days, visiting 40 national parks and various family and friends as they tried to find a new home.
But after 100 days, they settled on a place they had been visiting for years — Chattanooga. They traveled all over the country and settled on Corey's hometown.
"It's funny because this wasn't even on our list of places to live," Corey says. "It was just visiting my parents."
Emily said there were more than 600 photographers in their Hollywood zipcode alone, so Chattanooga seemed like a welcoming environment to start a commercial photography business. Since starting up two-and-a-half years ago, the couple has landed some big clients such as Bellhops, Walden Security and many others, including editorial magazines and restaurants in town.
"Our style of photgraphy is very cinematic, and I think it has to do with our background," Emily says. "We absolutely believe it takes a village. Nobody just goes out and shoots a film all by themselves – it requires a team."
Corey describes their relationship as "symbiotic." Many times Corey will be the one shooting and Emily steps into the role of director, chatting with the subjects to make them feel more at ease.
"Now I can just look at her and know what we need to be doing on set," Corey says. "We just fall into these certain roles, and every time we shoot, we make sure to let our subjects know who is in charge of that shoot."
David Martin has worked with the Critsers in offices and even rock quarries on top of mountains in the 18 months he has known them. Martin worked with the Critsers when he worked at Bellhops, Briteside and now, they are the first photographers he calls for clients at his own public relations firm, Heed Public Relations.
"I think they've got a really cool story – it's a story Chattanoogans love," Martin says. "They came from a major market and could have chosen to go just about anywhere but they chose to come here."
He described the couple as "dynamic" and people who "hustle very hard."
"They put their subjects at ease and capture their subjects in the most natural way possible," he says.
While the Critsers have experienced a warm welcoming since opening in Chattanooga, Emily said they still have high aspirations for the next few years, including a new studio after they finish their stint at the INCubator. They also hope to bring their work to larger markets and pick up more national clients.
Emily and Corey said they like "bringing things into the modern age" and provide an iPad to clients they photograph during the shoot, so their subjects can critique and tell them if they want anything done differently. While some photographers might be wary of sharing photos before editing them, the couple said they just want to make sure everyone walks away happy with the final product.
"I think it's just a matter of confidence," Corey says. "We are confident in what we are doing. I love shooting and I want people to be happy with what we are doing."