Is it a service which can sell well alongside a DJ? What about the cost and time commitment, and just how difficult are photobooths to run? These are questions we spent a lot of time on before we took the plunge, bought a photobooth and started marketing the service to our customers. Like any journey worth making, we had a steep learning curve and, whilst the reality was very different from the perception, we look back now and know that we made the right decision to add photobooth services to our DJ business. Hopefully, after reading this, you will know if this service is one that you could add to your business and – if it is – how to avoid some of the pitfalls.
There are a lot of potential ‘add-ons’ for any DJ – from a few uplighters, to full-on event production, decoration and even live acts. I’m pretty sure that across all of the DJs I know, every type of party service is on offer either directly or subcontracted. So, what makes booths so special and why are we so heavily invested in them?
For me a photobooth is so similar to DJ services, it’s simply an obvious alignment. In a nutshell, a photobooth is a form of entertainment, brings energy to a party, involves dealing directly with guests and so, clearly, sits neatly alongside what we already do as DJs.
Are Photo Booths Here To Stay?
Yes of course we have seen the chocolate fountain come and go, as well as many other event trends, so it’s right to think about the longevity of any service before making a business out of it. A booth can cost a lot more than the kit you need to melt chocolate, and it would be a tragedy to throw that money away on something which will become yesterday’s fad. (It’s worth mentioning here that I know someone who still makes a decent living with his chocolate fountain service – even in a declining market, they are still being booked!)
A chocolate fountain is, fundamentally, an elaborate pudding! It may look stunning and taste amazing, but really the actual product is not much more than a chocolate-dipped strawberry or marshmallow! A photobooth though, delivers an experience. Take a wedding. The guests get to have fun in the booth, taking hilarious photos of themselves looking rather silly, and they then walk away with a memento from the occasion. Crucially, the couple also get a great big album filled with images of their guests having a great time. This album is often the favourite bit of the service for our couples. We receive messages like this all the time:
Hi Pete, hope you’re well! Just wanted to drop you a quick message to let you know - last night Conor and I sat and went through our photo booth photo album. It’s the best keepsake, and our favourite by far to look through. Thanks to you guys xx
Ultimately, a photobooth can be loads of fun, but also provide the keepsake which means the most to the couple, long after their big day. This is very different from chocolate fountains, chair covers, a big dress, shoes and, dare I say it, even a DJ!
What About The Pitfalls?
The equipment is one very important consideration. When we DJ, pretty much every item we use is designed to do the job we are using it for. Of course, your laptop can be many things and use by DJs will have been very low on the designer’s brief. But your console, controller, lights and speakers will all have been purpose-built to do what you are doing with them. This is not the same with photo booths. Pretty much every piece of equipment in the majority of photobooths was designed to do something different. Essentially, a photobooth contains a load of kit (DSLR camera, studio flash, printer etc.) jammed together in a tight space doing things which they really were not designed to do. This means that equipment failures are inevitable.
Plus, there are a bewildering number of options. I have seen everything from a handheld iPad case fashioned to look like a large mirror, to incredibly impressive multi-camera platforms costing tens of thousands. Camper vans, horse boxes, tuk-tuks and even remote-control robots have all been turned into photobooths; the innovation in the industry is exciting and also really quite daunting. Though the fundamentals of each are the same, you can spend just about any amount of money on an almost limitless range of options.
What You Need To Know
It helps a lot to have a good knowledge of cameras and photography. This you can learn as you go along; infact I know we learnt most of what we know now after buying our first booth. However, your photobooth manufacturers’ recommendation (everything in ‘auto’ mode) will need to be unlearnt before you start to produce a product you are really proud of. For the best results, a solid understanding of photo editing software is also essential.
A calm demeanour under pressure will help you a huge amount when it comes to dealing with, for example, a jammed printer. Fending off a line of drunk people crowding out your space and treating your surprisingly expensive props like throw away items, whilst your precious booth is swaying under the weight of very drunk people throwing ill-advised poses, takes a special kind of patience.
I know, as DJs, we see all sorts and have to deal with quite challenging situations from time to time. But with a photobooth you are directly in the line of fire with no DJ console to hide behind. We have seen all sorts of things, including drunk people undoing trousers and performing handstands to do a kind of upside down moony! We’ve also had our camera lens poked (“why won’t this start taking pictures?”) and our props tucked away in pockets, down trousers, chewed and thrown across rooms – people skills are really vital in this line of work!
Finally, researching and buying a booth is just one part of a very big project list. You also have to consider staffing, transport, the additional setup and break-down time, investment in equipment, storage, training, marketing, maintenance – all of which you will do to some degree or another already, but in a brand new area. Still interested?
Photobooths themselves have come a long way in even the short time (three years) we’ve been running them. The market is very different now with what feels like an explosion in types of booths available and the number of people who offer them. The variations in booths can be bewildering – from sub £500 iPad stands to mirror booths that cost over £15,000. At the other end of the scale, anyone can easily kit themselves out with a camera and backdrop and say they have a photobooth company.
And more and more people are starting photobooth businesses. As a member of a number of Facebook forums, I see frequent requests for information on what type of booth to start with, lots of technical questions from people new to the industry, as well as a deluge of complaints from existing suppliers about people offering their services ‘too cheap’ alongside loads of ‘for sale’ posts. Sound familiar?
Like anything we do, we set out to provide a service we could be proud of and that we would want to use if we were organising an event ourselves. Our over-riding principle, from which all decisions are made, is to deliver the best end result possible. Exactly like being a DJ, your end product should provide continual referrals from both your customers and their guests. How you get your result is important, but not as vital as the result itself.
Adding photobooths to our business has been very rewarding. Before launching our first one, Michelle (my wife) was working full-time and only partly involved in our business. Within a year she had quit her day job and was running our booth business full-time and we are now up to four photobooths. It’s more difficult than you think it will be, you will have a lot to learn and you can’t simply just add it on and hope for the best – a solid business plan is a must. But there is real and increasing demand for high quality photobooths run by dedicated professionals.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 92, Pages 44-48.