Starting a Business

How to Start a Photo Booth Business

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Opening a photo booth business doesn’t require a very high skill level and is a fun business. If you want to know how to start a photo booth business, with some technical ability and between $5,000 and $10,000, you can make upwards of $100 per hour or more.

You may need a basic understanding of camera settings like ISO, but you don’t need professional skills. There’s no adjusting settings for each person or group, just a few setting tweaks throughout the event.

Books and online guides help you understand camera settings for making the adjustments you need. Once you have the instructions, practice the settings at home or have friends and family test your photo booth until you become comfortable.

In this article, we’ll give you the basics for starting a photo booth business. You’ll learn about common beginner mistakes and how to avoid them and the equipment needed for your new business.

Photo Booth Business: Ready Made or From Scratch?

You have two choices for starting your photo booth business: buy a current business or build your own. It’s possible to find a ready-to-go business, straight from the box. Look in local trade journals, newspapers, or Craig’s List for photo booth businesses for sale.

If you can find them, these ready-made businesses are ideal and may come with a built-in customer event base. But, expect a steep price. Ready-to-go cost $10,000 and up, depending on how well established the business is.

When building your business from the ground up, start with an entry level investment of about $5,000. The only drawback with building your photo booth is not having a ready-made event base. It takes starting at the beginning and putting in the work to advertise your business.

We’ll help guide you, by listing the equipment you need, later in this article.

Technical Knowledge and Experience

Having knowledge about camera settings, like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, helps, but it’s unnecessary. Once you learn the photo booth camera settings, they seldom need changing. Practice adjusting your equipment before your first event until you feel confident in knowing what you’re doing. Besides the equipment, you must learn the software program and the equipment setup procedure. There’s not a huge learning curve, and it only takes three or four hours to master.

Once you have your equipment set up and ready to take pictures for the event, it’s time to relax. Your next job is socializing with the attendees, monitoring the equipment, and helping the guests have fun.

Photo Equipment and Hardware

The Photo Booth

You have two styles to choose from for a photo booth; an enclosed booth and open air or modular booth. We recommend the modular booth for its easy transportation and ability to adjust the size. An enclosed booth is hard to transport and limits how many people fit into the photo area.

Besides easy transportation, modular photo booths offer easy setup and takedown. The modular booths have more versatility with room for upgrading and expanding as photo booth technology advances.

The photo booth only pricing starts at $2,500. Buying a complete package is the best pricing option over custom build your setup by the piece. Photo booths come in standard packages with everything you need, starting around $8,000.

The Camera

Starting a photo booth business doesn’t mean buying gold standard cameras. A medium range DSLR with video function works well. We recommend the Canon T6 or 60d, or their equivalent, for your setup. Both offer video function and work well with the software we recommend. Consider adding a wide-angle lens to your camera for better picture composition. The Canon T6 pricing starts at $500.

AC Adapter

There’s one camera accessory we consider a necessity for all photo booth cameras; an AC adapter. This accessory lets you plug a camera into an electrical outlet ensuring your camera never runs out of power during an event. The adapter eliminates the step of stopping the photo booth action to change out the batteries. The  Canon T6AC Adapter Kit has a starting price around $130.

Laptop Computer

For your photo booth set up, you only need the most basic laptop. You can use a PC or Mac, new or used. The only requirements are enough memory for storing pictures and enough power to operate the software. The most basic new Dell laptop starts around $250.

Software Program

For software running your photo booth operations, we recommend Breeze Systems DSLR Remote Pro. You want great features, which Breeze has, but you also need an easy to use software. When helpers run the booth, a simple to use program is key.

Breeze Systems offers touchscreen or pushbutton guest operation allowing for live screen posing. Breeze software takes an automatic photo series, then prints an event memento for guests. The software has video, color, and black and white options and has customizable printing options for event or business promotions. Breeze Systems DSLR Remote Pro software pricing starts at $275.

Monitor

Like the laptop, you only need a basic color monitor, but you need a touch screen. We recommend the 22-inch View Sonic LED monitor. Mount it to your booth for easy use. The View Sonic Touch Screen Monitor starts $257.

Printer

When choosing a printer, do not skip on quality. You want a machine that delivers high-quality print and speed for printing guest photos. The DNP DS-RX1 Printer offers quality and a print speed of 1-minute for guest photos. The DNP DS-RX1 Printer bundle pricing starts at $900.

Lighting

Photo booth lighting is as diverse as the people posing for pictures. You can have an expensive setup or the barebones with prices ranging from frugal to extravagant. But, regardless of the package you choose, expect a price tag of $1,400 and up for professional quality lights, stands and umbrellas.

Photo Booth Supplies

A photo booth business takes a continual stock of supplies. You want to keep extras on hand, so you never run out.

Photo Ink and Printer Paper

You never want to run out of photo ink rolls and printer paper. The only place you can find print supplies is online. Because of the lack of local suppliers, it’s best keeping backup supplies. We recommend carrying two refills, besides the standard supply, for each event. The extra supplies sound like overkill when one ink refill and a paper roll lasts about three to four events. But, things happen. When you work an event where the photo booth goes viral, the extra supplies come in handy.

Two rolls of DNP photo paper and two ink rolls cost around $180.

Photo Props

Photo props are an optional supply, and their use varies by the scheduled event. We suggest bringing a varied supply to every event you work. You can store them in the compartment at the bottom of your booth. Props take up little space and weigh almost nothing. The most popular props are crazy hats, fake mustaches, and silly glasses. The photo booth props cost is minimal, at around $15 to $40 for each event. 

Turn Key Set Up

If starting a photo booth from scratch seems too daunting, consider a turn key set up. Going the turnkey route takes the guesswork out of equipment and supplies with a complete setup in a box. Photo booth manufacturing companies, like Strike a Pose, offer an all-inclusive package in their product lineup. The full package includes everything you need: portable booth, touch screen, lighting system, camera, software, and printer with pricing around $8,000.

Miscellaneous Expenses

Transportation

While smaller setups may fit in a large car, chances are, by the time you pack the equipment plus the supplies, you only have room for the driver. How you haul your equipment is a big consideration when planning this business. An SUV can transport the smaller setups, but for bigger photo booth setups, a large truck is the only answer. The transportation issue and the overhead involved makes a smaller portable system more desirable.

Gas Costs

Gasoline is a standard cost of the photo booth business. There’s no avoiding the cost cutting into the booth profits. Several variables affect how much you pay, starting with your transportation and how it uses gas. Once you consider the photo booth business, mileage plays a key role in the planning. You must decide the distance you’re willing to travel. Do you want to limit travel to 50 miles or book events as far away as 200 miles? Gasoline cost and vehicle maintenance add up, so make this a priority when planning your business.

The Memory Books

We recommend adding memory books to your photo event pricing. You can add a la carte charges for the books, making a great memento for weddings, reunions, or company parties. The standard photo booth setup prints two picture copies per each photo session. One picture goes to the customer, and the other goes in an event memory book. Memory books have minimal cost at $15 for a book holding 200 pictures. Find a memory book for your next event here.

Helper Expense

For larger events, you may need a helper for a smooth-running photo booth. The pricing on this varies depending on the laws of your state and whether you hire at an hourly rate or a flat price contract rate. Going it alone gives you a higher profit margin, but you may have a few giant events requiring help.

Advertising

Advertising is a standard, non-event specific cost. If you want a successful business, you must advertise. We recommend a business website as your first advertising task. Whether you have a site built or build it yourself, a company website is essential. People wanting a photo booth for their event, start by looking online. Most of your clients will make photo booth reservations through your website.

Another consideration is building your website before you gather your supplies. Since most events take advanced planning, having a website lets you find the market demand before spending thousands for equipment.

When promoting your website, you have several options, including online networking and SEO for search engine ranking. Make your business prominent on the popular social media and event specific outlets.

Free Promotion Outlets

  • Facebook – Separate your personal Facebook account from your business by building a page. A Facebook page lets you distinguish your business and offer promotions related to the photo booth.
  • Yelp – Free local advertising directory for offering promotions and getting customer reviews.
  • Twitter – Free social platform for quick promotional links.
  • YouTube – Marketing with video is a popular advertising platform. Add SEO keywords to promotional videos targeting the local market. Keywords with the city name and photo booth rental is a great targeting practice.
  • Google Places – Add your business listing to Google’s local directory and help visitors find your photo booth business online.
  • Flickr – Share photo booth pictures for search engine ranking of your photo booth’s local keywords. 

Paid Promotion Outlets

  • Groupon – A possible source of gaining bookings by running promotions.
  • Google AdWords – This advertising campaign charges by the click based on your specific keywords. Takes careful setup to avoid expensive advertising.

Event Specific Promotion

  • Wedding Wire – An online directory of wedding vendors. Add a free business listing or buy featured listings that target the bride and groom.
  • Bridal Shows – Offline advertising by buying booth space at area shows.

Miscellaneous Promotion

  • Business Card Hand Out – Get business cards made and give to everyone including your barber or beautician, the grocery store clerk, or your kid’s teacher.
  • Flyers – Make flyers for advertising your packages and specials and post on message boards in your area.
  • Networking Through Friends and Family – Word of mouth is great advertising. You never know when your buddy says “I have a friend that owns a photo booth.”

Recommended Website Building Tools

For this article, we won’t go into detail about how to build a website. We will highlight services to consider for helping you build your photo business site.

  • GoDaddy for a Domain Name – About $10 a Year
  • A Hosting Service for Your Website Like Bluehost – Less than $100 a Year
  • WordPress for Building Your Site – Free Content Management or Consider a Website Builder
  • Google Analytics for Traffic Tracking – Free Traffic Tracking Tools
  • Google Webmaster Tools for Site Ranking – Free Tools for Better Site Ranking and Google Compliance
  • Wufoo Webpage Contact Form – Free Contact Form for Embedding on Every Page

Recouping the Investment

A common question is “When will I get my investment back?” Considering you have a moderate pricing structure for your market, a $5,000 investment return gets seen at about ten events. A lot of variables come into play for this payoff figure, including event sizes and costs for operating the events.

Other Business Needs Outside the Standard Equipment and Supply Needs

After deciding on a photo booth business and a plan for booking events, there are a few standard business considerations. There is more work to opening a business than just buying equipment and marketing your services. There are common start-up and ongoing expenses regardless of the business you start.

Insurance

Not only is carrying insurance a good idea, but some event venues require it. Insurance reduces the business owner’s liability from an event goer injury. The insurance rates and coverage vary by state, so check with an area agent.

Structuring Your Business

You have several choices for structuring your new business. We suggest a consultation with an attorney to decide which of these structures are best for your business.

  • Sole Proprietor – Most small businesses start out as a sole proprietor. This structure means the owner is the business. Sole proprietor allows you to register your business name with the local government offices. Learn more about a sole proprietor.
  • Partnership – This structure is for two or more owners, many times a husband and wife team. Each owner has ownership in the company. Learn more about a partnership.
  • Limited Liability Company or LLC – This structure shelters the owner from the risks of the business. If legal issues arise, the assets of the owners have more protection than a standard sole proprietor or partnership. Regulations and the application costs vary by state. If you’re considering a Limited Liability Company, find more information here.

Using Contracts

Always get advice from an attorney when writing contracts for your business. The following list includes things we think are important additions to writing customer agreements or contracts. Your situation might be different, so consulting an attorney is advisable.

Some considerations to include in a customer contract are:

  • Event date.
  • Event location and phone number.
  • Main contact person name and phone number.
  • Event beginning and end time and the time needed for setting up and breaking down the booth.
  • Upfront deposit and the amount if required.
  • Stipulate reasons for loss of deposit.
  • Date required for full payment or balance.
  • Late fee policy for payments not received before the event.
  • What payment forms you accept.
  • Event cancellation policy.
  • Policy regarding damage done to the booth and equipment by a guest. List the charges and how you base the charges.
  • Policy for downtime during an event. This downtime is for unforeseen circumstances or any adjustments needed for the photo booth. Adjustments include changing paper and ink rolls. The downtime policy needs a clear statement in the contract.
  • A section in the contract outlining your release from liability clause. It’s advisable to have your customers sign a separate release plus add the contract notation. The liability clause further protects you from liability for accidents and injury during an event.
  • Things happen, illness, vehicle breakdown, equipment malfunctions, theft, and dozens of other issues. Consider a cancellation clause in your contract. It should state you can cancel before the event for things beyond your control. Also, include you will issue a full refund in this case.
  • A waiver to use the pictures for commercial purposes. Event pictures make great portfolio additions, but you need agreement from the customer. The contract is perfect for adding the commercial picture waiver.

Our Top 8 Tips to Help You Run Your Photo Booth Business

  1. Use Good Equipment – Equipment is one area you don’t want to take short cuts. Items as small as a camera adapter can make or break an event if you use sub-standard You want long lasting equipment that ensures smooth running events.
  1. Extra Supplies at Each Event – Always carry two extra rolls of paper and ink film. You never know if you’ll have technical problems or a constant line to the photo booth. Never skimp on backup supplies.
  1. Time for Set Up – Allow yourself time for setting up the booth. You want the time to do a few test photos for camera settings and light adjustments. If you’re going to a large attendee event, chances are you have limited parking options for unloading equipment. Always add transporting your equipment to and from the building to the time equation. Never let it cut into your event reservation time.
  1. Event Confirmation – Always call the event coordinator the day of or the day before the event to verify arrival time and unloading and set up areas. The confirmation call is the time for verifying you have everything you need. Verify a nearby power supply, and carry extension cords since it’s doubtful the customer will supply them.
  1. Guests are Your #1 Focus – Put your smile on and leave it there for the whole event from setting up to leaving. Everyone loves a happy and personable photographer. Put the cell phone away or leave it in the car. Checking the cell phone is a serious breach of etiquette when running an event.
  1. Yes, You Can Say No – The photo booth operator is like a bouncer. People get carried away when using a photo booth, and the bouncer ensures their proper behavior. The photo booth operator may tell anyone acting inappropriately, no.
  1. The Outfit Matters – Always ask the event director about the dress Different events need different attire, and you don’t want to stand out for dressing wrong. If you’re working a picnic or carnival, shorts and a shirt are better suited than a suit and tie.
  1. Always Follow Up – Follow up with the event coordinator the next day or the first business day after the event. Confirm the delivery date and method for the customer’s images, memory book or other products. Thank them for the chance to work at their event and offer your service for any future event.

Starting a Photobooth Business: Final Review

We’ve given you a bare bone outline of what you need to start a photo booth business. It’s not all-inclusive, but a learn as you go system. Other things may need further research, but it’s a starting point to give you enough information for an informed decision.

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