The Lanewood Studio building sits on the base of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, surrounded by sloping hills and vivid greenery. The colorful mural splashed across its side distinguishes the building from the neighboring garages. Inside, the studio is just as appealing. Strings of yellow lights sparkle against the black ceiling while a tall white cyclorama attracts even the most amateur photographer. Quality props like a neon pink flamingo, twinkling Christmas décor and a sunny yellow football line the backroom shelves, topped off by an elegant hair and makeup room, chocolate leather waiting area and a fully furnished bathroom.
Stepping into Lanewood Studio is like entering the land of Oz. But the wizards who founded this facility are more than smoke and mirrors. As attractive as their building stands, the studio’s focus is making sure their clients come out looking larger than life.
The studio’s founders, Corey and Emily Critser, have come a long way before settling into their Chattanooga home. Corey, a Chattanooga native, and Emily from Jacksonville, Florida, met while studying film at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia.
“We met on his thesis film,” Emily recalls. “I was a first-year student, he was a senior, and so when he graduated, he moved to Los Angeles and I was still in Savannah.”
Emily Critser. Photo by Lanewood Studio.
The couple married after three years long-distance and moved to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams. Corey worked as a freelance grip, electrician and camera operator while Emily served as a stunt coordinator’s assistant. After working on several projects such as “Straight Outta Compton,” the couple felt the need for a change.
“We realized at one point we really wanted to work together,” Emily says. “After all, that’s how we met and fell in love.”
The couple packed their Subaru and embarked on a 100 day road trip across America. While camping through 40 national state parks, they also began scouting cities for the perfect place to launch their company.
Upon returning from their trip, they quickly confirmed that California wasn’t right for them.
“We went to the small business development center there in downtown and this award-winning director said he felt sorry for all who decided to start a small business in L.A., because people are not going to help you,” Emily says.
That’s when a certain town they had visited on their 100-day road trip came back to mind. “Whenever we thought about Chattanooga and looked into its market, we realized there wasn’t anyone doing commercial photography like we do,” Emily says.
After a few years living in Chattanooga, the Chamber’s INCubator hired the couple for a project, and Corey and Emily ended up joining the INCubator family. To this day, they still call it a “perfect fit” for themselves.
“We were in the INCubator for three years and can’t say enough good things about that place. It’s just such a truly nourishing community for small businesses,” Emily says.
Corey Critser with dog Scout. Photo by Lanewood Studio.
After buying and renovating their current building, Corey and Emily opened Lanewood Studio in March 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and only a week after opening, the couple had to close their business.
“We were at the height,” Corey says. “Every year we were escalating, escalating, escalating and then it just truncated.”
Despite their obstacles, the couple’s personal life was blossoming. During the pandemic, they welcomed their son Caleb into the world. Almost a year later, their business also received new life.
“I would say we’re about 70 percent where we were business wise, but it is coming back and I am so excited!” Emily says.
As Chattanooga recovers from the pandemic, the future is bright for Emily and Corey. The couple specializes in commercial photography for advertising agencies and marketing teams, but they also rent their photography equipment and studio to other creators. Recently, they also became dealers for an exclusive product.
While some companies define themselves with a cool urban look, spicing up their photos with ripped up brick walls covered in graffiti, other companies like Scotch Whisky brand Johnnie Walker want a clean look where their product is the star. This is where savage backdrop paper, a niche seamless background drop paper for photographers, takes the lead. Lanewood Studio currently has 50 of these backdrops available.
These tools help the Critsers stand out, as companies are looking to outsource from bigger cities due to cost, providing more opportunities for businesses like Lanewood Studio. Major companies are now looking to outsource to professionals like Lanewood Studio for the quality of the finished product and much lower price.
The couple also plans to expand their business. They are looking to host educational groups for community members who are interested in creating content and are also looking to open another Lanewood Studio location with podcasting rooms, sound stages and bigger sets.
Photo by Lanewood Studio.
But the studio’s strengths don’t come only from its vast equipment and entrepreneurial future. It’s no surprise that after 12 years of marriage and more of working together, Corey and Emily are a powerhouse of collaboration on multiple levels.
“We understand marketing and business and advertising. It’s something that we do ourselves, and so we understand things like cover images and social media. So, we understand all platforms that are out there right now,” Emily says.
“It’s wonderful working with someone who knows you better than anyone else and can help you make decisions that you can’t always make on your own. And I think the best part is having someone I can rely on 1,000 percent. Together we make a whole,” Corey adds.
Chattanooga’s media future is already here. Every day, the city opens its doors to developing media and building a family for digital leaders like the Critsers.
Photo by Lanewood Studio.
Follow Chamber intern Josue Vega, as he meets Corey and Emily Critser, owners of Lanewood Studio.