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Side Hustle #46: I’m a Photo Booth Operator

by J. Money on Thursday, February 6, 2014

gangsta photo booth

[We've got a GREAT hustle for you today - #46 already, can you believe it? - by my man Ryan Schmitz as part of our Side Hustle Series. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!]

Photography has always been a passion of mine. So one day when glancing over the business section of Craigslist for my city, I saw “photo booth business for sale,” which intrigued me enough to click the ad. It said something like:

“Zulabooth Photo Booths, Makes over $30k per year, seller moving and must sell, easy business, only $15k for the whole thing!”

After reading lines like that I thought it was a bit too good to be true, but still emailed the owner for more information.

After stopping by to see the booth, how it worked, and ironing out a few more details, I felt comfortable this was a legitimate business. Not only did the owner have payment records for the year (in which he made $37,000 gross in 2011), he also seemed motivated to get rid of it since he was moving out of state and I was the only interested party.

After negotiating back and forth I finally purchased the booth for $6,600, but ended up then also working 10 scheduled events without payment to finalize the contract. (Editor’s note: that’s a hustler right there! Getting creative and doing whatever it takes to get a good deal.)

Running a booth is a piece of cake once you get the basics down, but the hardest part of the business is getting noticed. So if you’re good at marketing you’ll do well.

Does it Require Technical Expertise?

A little bit of familiarity with camera settings such as ISO, shutter speed and aperture definitely help, but once you know the basic settings you’ll use at events it really doesn’t change much. You can practice these settings in your living room to get comfortable before working your first event. I practiced on friends and myself for hours to get comfortable.

You’ll also have to learn a software program and know how to hook everything up, but after a few hours it’s pretty easy to master. Once you’ve got that down you literally just stand at the event, talk to people, babysit the booth to make sure it doesn’t run out of paper, make sure the guests are behaving, and overall ensure everyone is having a good time.

zulabooth photo booth

The Benefits of Running a Photo Booth Business

Freedom to decide when you want to work is a big one. In the winters I often turn down events simply because I don’t want to work them, or if I have plans for a certain date I simply email the person back thanking them, but saying we’re booked.Then of course the biggest benefit is the money. I typically make $100 an hour gross profit before taxes are accounted for.

If I work two events in a weekend it’s quite easy to make $1,000. This is all received before I even show up to the event as I require a deposit to hold the date, and then payment in full before the day of the event. I used to bartend and work the same hours, and would be happy if I made $200 a night. The photo booth allows me to make upwards of three times that much and do a lot less physical work. I also created a Solo 401k so that I can funnel a lot of my side business income tax free for retirement.

The Downfalls of Running One

The vast majority of events I work are Friday and Saturday nights in the summer ,which means it definitely digs into your social life. Booths at weddings are huge, so you also have to deal with some drunken idiots at times, especially the guys who like to occasionally take off their pants and snap a picture of their you know what. (Editor’s note: My friends are these people he’s talking about, haha… Personally, I prefer to go the photobomb route ;)).

It seems that the biggest hassle is playing the role of bouncer and reminding people to behave. During the events since there are often a lot of drunk people I also have to constantly be watching the booth to make sure nobody is tipping it over or doing anything that could damage it.

Another downfall is that you’re at the mercy of obtaining leads, which for me are mostly based on my photo booth rental website. If you don’t know how to market the business online, you’re probably not going to do well. But since I know a fair amount about building websites and getting a decent ranking, it has helped my business a lot. SEO is probably the most important marketing activity you can do. If you don’t know SEO, hire someone or use Google Adwords to pay for clicks. But all that will cut into your profit margin.

Advice For Those Starting Out

If you’re at an event with a photo booth, start talking to the person there and ask them if they can show you how it works and give you any pointers. Other than that, I would call photo booths in your local market to get a general idea of how booked up they are, and the average price they’re charging so that you can create a basic business plan to see if you’ll be able to turn a profit. Likewise if you’re building a booth from scratch, search Craigslist to find anyone getting out of the business , or to find your equipment such as your printer, camera, or laptop used for a cheaper rate.

If you’re willing to sacrifice your weekend nights in the wedding season, aren’t afraid of peer pressure from drunk people, and have a few thousand to invest in to get it up and running, a photo booth is a great way to make some decent money and pay off chunks of your bills each month.

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Ryan blogs about photography over at Digital Photography Hobbyist where he shares a more detailed article on how to start a photo booth business for those interested.

PS: You can find all 46 other hustles we’ve listed so far here. And if you have one of your own you’d like to share, you can shoot that my way here. Thanks!


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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 a terrible husband... February 6, 2014 at 6:55 am

I’m not much of a photographer but it seems like it might be a nice business to scale even, paying a young photographer a couple hundred bucks to run the booth and saving up for multiple booths. Since you get paid up front it might be pretty simple. And it could free up some nights, although it adds some management of people to your plate.

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2 J. Money February 6, 2014 at 10:42 am

That’s what I was thinking too. Exactly what they’d bring up on Shark Tank – though they’d add “Anyone can do this!” haha…

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3 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist February 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Hey terrible husband (nice name :) )

I’ve thought of this a bit. However, the biggest issue is transporting the booth. It works if you have a large truck and drop off the booths before the event and pick up after, but if you don’t have a large vehicle and if the events are spaced far apart in terms of distance and time slots, it doesn’t flow very well. The other option is to have your employees use their own vehicles (which would need to be fairly large), and then of course there are insurance and trust issues with that. At this point I have too many other projects to try to build up the photo booth business and make it scalable, but it’s a nice side income with high margin.

Nice shark tank reference J!

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4 Matt Becker February 6, 2014 at 7:45 am

Nice gig! I definitely get that dealing with drunk people all the time is probably annoying as hell, but I’m guessing you get some pretty good stories out of it too!

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5 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist February 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm

You see just about everything :)

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6 Brian@ Debt Discipline February 6, 2014 at 8:27 am

We attended a Holiday part in January and there was a photo booth set up. A single man operation, basically set up and break down of the gear. The guy had a bunch of props, hats, etc that you could ware for you photos if you wanted. Lots of interests during the party for the photo booth.

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7 J. Money February 6, 2014 at 10:44 am

The props totally make it more fun too! Engagement is always good.

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8 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist February 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Yes, the more ridiculous the better. Everyone opens up a lot more if they have goofy props.

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9 Becky @ RunFunDone February 6, 2014 at 9:37 am

That’s a pretty fun side hustle!

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10 Lauren May February 6, 2014 at 9:42 am

Sounds like a fun hustle! It seems like just about every wedding has a photo booth these days, so I can see how you must keep busy during wedding season.

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11 Cat@BudgetBlonde.com February 6, 2014 at 10:03 am

Sounds like a great hustle. I’d probably pay a college student to do it for me though!

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12 J. Money February 6, 2014 at 10:49 am

A good idea, but man – I’d be worried about the equipment the whole time :( You’d have to find someone you really trust and is good about that stuff, which I’m sure you could.

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13 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist February 6, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Yea, I’ve had a few friends work events, but the biggest issue is transporting the booth (who’s vehicle do you use?), and trusting them to not break anything (the printer alone costs a grand). If you trust someone and have time to train them and they know a bit about photography, may be worth a shot.

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14 Crystal February 6, 2014 at 10:13 am

Great side hustle! I know photo booths have become a big deal here in Houston. Good luck at continued success!

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15 Anne @ Unique Gifter February 6, 2014 at 10:51 am

Wow, that’s a solid sideline gig! That is also sweet that you worked out a way you could buy the business that wasn’t all cash. I’ve been to several events where the photo booth wasn’t even staffed at all, but I guess it would depend on the event and booth style.

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16 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist February 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Yea the booth style would play a big role. When I’m working events I don’t keep my eye off the booth because people get pretty rowdy. They start leaning on it, spill a drink in it, etc… so it’s pretty trusting to leave it unattended (at least at a late night evening gig).

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17 Mel @ brokeGIRLrich February 6, 2014 at 11:49 am

That’s crazy. I had no idea they could bring in that much money. My best friend recently had one at her wedding and it was probably the biggest hit of the evening. It seems like a business that has staying potential.

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18 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist February 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm

I hope so :) So far people contacting me has been a pretty steady stream.

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19 Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life February 6, 2014 at 12:54 pm

As a small, young lady, I don’t know if I could deal with the drunkies. I’ve been harrassed enough times to keep far away from those kinds of situations.

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20 Michelle February 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm

This is something that we have actually been thinking about. We know of someone who personally does this, and it seems like a good way to make some money.

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21 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist February 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.

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22 Done by Forty February 6, 2014 at 2:03 pm

That’s a pretty cool side business. I did a search for a photo booth here in the valley — no luck so far. I’ll keep an eye out. :)

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23 J. Money February 7, 2014 at 8:45 pm

You could own the spot!

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24 EL @ Moneywatch101 February 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm

I have to agree pretty cool side hustle. Good luck in 2014.

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25 Karen @ Money Saving Enthusiast February 7, 2014 at 8:11 am

I think you just discovered my dream job. ; ) That sounds like a cool gig. I love photo booths. I even devoted a whole board to them on Pinterest.

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26 J. Money February 7, 2014 at 8:46 pm

You do?? Haha… you never surprise me :)

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27 Ryan @ Impersonal Finance February 10, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I’m no photog, but my wife is. Definitely something I’m going to do some more research into!

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28 joy April 26, 2014 at 5:52 pm

I just started this a couple of weeks ago using my Nikon D3000, an Epson printer and a backdrop. I booked my first corporate event and it was awesome!

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29 J. Money May 5, 2014 at 12:03 pm

How awesome – congrats! Good luck with it all! :)

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30 Geraldo July 9, 2014 at 4:12 am

Started my photobooth about 5 months ago and been totally worth it. A bit of an investment to start but believe me you recoup your money in very little time. Upside, you get to meet loads of people, big parties, nice food lol and if lucky meet some celebs. Downside: if you dont mind loosing your saturday and friday nights then you should be fine. Planning to leave my day job soon because i cant cope with orders working 9 – 5. Totally worth it.

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31 Bone-Daddy November 25, 2014 at 12:35 pm

That’s great! I’m thinking of starting my photo booth business soon, any other advice? I
Super excited! How do you advertise? Or where? What are the most used props? Any flyers I can get ideas from?

Thank you in advance, looking forward to hearing from somebody who is actually in the business :)

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32 patty August 17, 2014 at 4:22 am

I just opened my photography business back in march of 2014, and I just booked my first large event. They requested a photo booth, and I told them I will make it happen… I have all the props and am getting the back drops soon, but my question is about the dye sub printers… I have an iPad air, and was hoping to use that for taking the pictures, so I can keep my professional camera to use to take pics of the party.

I have researched tons of printers but none seem to say mac or iPad comparable.. I am really interested in the mitsubishi and the DNP8 as I would love one that prints out 8×10′s..

can someone please help me with this? What printers/software do you use and how is the quality of the print? Thanks so much… :-)

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