No modern event or party is complete without a few things: a bar, good food, good people and a photo booth. The Christmas party is here, which means the photo booth fleets are busier than ever. For those in business, this time of year is only comparable to the wedding season. In recent years, photo booths have become an integral part of business and personal events. “Pictures or it didn’t happen” becomes “Photo booth or we didn’t celebrate”.
Photo booths are not new: over the course of a century, they evolved from the photomaton, which in 1925 printed eight pictures for 25 cents; to the legendary four-photo-strip machine; to the factory-made stands that have become aftermarket accessories in shopping malls, bars and cinemas. But over the past few years, entrepreneurs have dusted the fun memory machines with a magical feel and turned them into an important part of the events scene.
It’s difficult to say exactly how big the industry is, but Sam Eitzen, co-owner of a Seattle-based photo booth business, estimates it’s now worth at least $ 100 million. LA-based event planner Kristin Banta emailed me that while photo booths have been popular for 15 years, in the past five years they have been requested for “almost 100 percent” of events instead of 1 in 5. Bob Lindquist, Photo Booth Expo press and communications director, told me that he now sees a lot of people booking photo booths but no DJs for their weddings. In fact, I’m one of those people who gave up a DJ for my laptop, speaker system, and DJ Pro 2 – but I rented a photo booth. There is also an increase in all-in-ones, companies that put together a DJ and photo booth operator.
Between 2005 and 2010, the web search for “Photo Booth Rentals” outperformed DJs. Google Trends’ own data paint a similar picture.
Photo booth companies don’t take their namesake that literally, but they still like to leverage that SEO weight. Most eschew an actual stand for a supported camera or a mounted iPad with a dedicated photo app and background, designer wall, or even a complete set. The modern “photo booth” is known in the industry as the “photo experience” or “photo engagement”. Some experiences offer print photos; Some send digital copies to users. (Many do both.) Some companies send attendees to events; others only offer user-related functions.
Industry professionals explore the Photo Booth Expo during an annual photo booth conference
The photo booth market grew thanks to vigilant entrepreneurs with photographic experience, but quickly became much more professional, says Eitzen. He and his brother started the SnapBar as a side business based in Seattle with a presence in Portland, San Francisco and LA. Although they are now working with a manufacturer, they made their first wooden photo booth in their garage around five years earlier. “We were weekend warriors and earned some money on the side,” says Eitzen, who at the time was working at a startup for camera equipment. Business was far better than the brothers expected, which is why they made the SnapBar their full-time job a few years ago. The company, which currently has more than 30 employees and a network of contractors, continues to grow, says Eitzen.
In the world of photo booths, the SnapBar leans towards the upscale range. Packages, including staff and printing, start at $ 1,099. Further prices depend on the customization. Cheaper options on the market typically range from $ 300 to $ 500, and Groupon is also full of discounted rentals, but for the most part, you get what you pay for. Party hosts on a budget can also go the DIY route with their own equipment.
Although Eitzen made renting photo booths a full-time job, they remain a side job for others in the industry. “People figured out, ‘Oh my god, if I paid a little more money I could make these,’ and then the manufacturers got that, and now you can go to any number of websites and have your own booth for buy a few thousand cash – or up to $ 10,000 if you want – and start your own photo booth business. “
That low barrier to entry is certainly part of their appeal. “I’d say 75 to 80 percent of the photo booths here in the US are part-time,” said Ryan Salinas, a Houston-based photo booth entrepreneur. “If you’re smart, you can open a photo booth business for as little as five dollars. Between Amazon and eBay, knowing what you want can be pretty quick to create something. ”
Photo booth hustle and bustle may be appealing, but they’re not necessarily sustainable for those looking to rule a market. “New Year’s Eve is where you’ll turn down events, although New Year’s Eve is a big photo booth holiday,” says Eitzen of his experience in the SnapBar’s early days. “Why? Well, because you’ve been working on photo booth events all year and just want to hang out with your friends.” That’s not to say his exhaustion wasn’t financially rewarding. Eitzen says he and his brother would eventually get US $ 200,000 -Dollars a year in addition to their full-time jobs. But logistically it won’t lead to growth; there are only so many events in a weekend that a one-, two- or even three-person operation can be booked Full-time photo booth business can no longer limit itself to hosting only seasonal weddings or Christmas parties instead of having year-round corporate events. (Eitzen estimated that 96 people attended events at SnapBar on December 3rd, the day we spoke have participated.)
There’s a small home industry that is surrounded and supported by photo booths – ahem, experiences – which means businesses want to pivot instead. Photobooth Supply Co. started out as a wedding photography business, but now sells photo booth equipment to other hopefuls and competes with companies like Prop Culture and Photo Booth International, both accessory suppliers. Eitzen says his company frequently receives requests to build sets as backdrops, a business he believes could be undressed. While the SnapBar doesn’t create art installations, it does create special software for customers. For example, if a customer wants guests to enter badge QR codes to access their photos, the SnapBar, which employs developers, can create this functionality.
Salinas Urbn Events is another company aiming to cover the industry’s software niche. He offers two social photo booths: the Ring Light Booth and the Glam Booth. Both allow party guests to put on virtual accessories and include text in photos and GIF. The Glam Booth includes a custom beauty filter (similar to Mirmir’s most popular photo booth in celebrity circles).
Perhaps another indicator of the photo booth’s success (and perhaps saturation), as in any modern industry, is whether or not it inspires a podcast micro-genre. Salinas is halfway on the Super Boothers podcast, one of several industry insider shows. These podcasts are complemented by online forums and incredibly active Facebook groups that focus on analyzing the market. Salinas also travels internationally to speak about photo booths and photo experiences at conferences. The industry is now robust enough to warrant a conference of its own: the Photo Booth Expo in Vegas. It started in 2015 with more than 1,200 attendees and exhibitors, and according to Lindquist, more than 4,000 attended the show in 2018.
At Super Boothers, Salinas often asks guests why they came into the photo booth. One of the most common answers: “They thought it was a fad and they could make money fast,” he says. “I mean, I seem to have made a quick buck career.”