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.

———
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!

{ 47 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.

Reply

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…

Reply

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!

Reply

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!

Reply

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

You see just about everything :)

Reply

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.

Reply

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

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

Reply

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.

Reply

9 Margie Maldonado February 18, 2016 at 7:26 pm

We are currently selling our photo booth. Just bought it 4 months ago and it was used on 3 events. Unfortunately, it needs a person that would be able to attend the photo booth, and its been very difficult for me. So, I am looking to sell the photo booth, if you know of anyone, kindly let me know. Margie (215) 609-0634, thanks.

Reply

10 Cindy May 3, 2016 at 12:46 am

Have you sold your Photo booth?

Reply

11 Lisa Tuthill August 8, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Did you ever sell your photobooth?

Reply

12 J. Money August 9, 2016 at 9:05 am

I shot Margie an email and she confirmed that she did indeed sell it .

Reply

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

That’s a pretty fun side hustle!

Reply

14 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.

Reply

15 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!

Reply

16 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.

Reply

17 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.

Reply

18 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!

Reply

19 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.

Reply

20 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).

Reply

21 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.

Reply

22 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.

Reply

23 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.

Reply

24 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.

Reply

25 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.

Reply

26 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. :)

Reply

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

You could own the spot!

Reply

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

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

Reply

29 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.

Reply

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

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

Reply

31 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!

Reply

32 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!

Reply

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

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

Reply

34 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.

Reply

35 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 :)

Reply

36 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… :-)

Reply

37 Jess January 6, 2015 at 2:06 am

You can check out my page on face book for ideas
Emerald Photobooths Pty Ltd. I love my business and
coukd write a book about Photobooth parties!!

Reply

38 Abigail Adetitun April 9, 2015 at 3:06 pm

hey i’m reallllllly interested in starting this business I just wanted to know how much to spend on the overall booth and its technology. I recently saw a really good Photo Booth on a site that was $9950 all inclusive of camera equipment and pod booth. does this sound realistic. what sort of price should i be looking at to start the business.

Reply

39 Lauren April 18, 2015 at 9:08 pm

I’m also considering starting a photo booth business and since I’m not handy, I’m going to buy one. Any ideas on booth vs. open air models? Any thoughts on lighting? Some say strobe is the way to go. Thanks !

Reply

40 Tracy August 4, 2015 at 8:56 pm

hi there, first off…thank you! this information has been so useful. this business is something im starting on my own as well and have no clue where to begin. im not sure of the quality and comparison upon the different supplies to purchase. do you have any recommendations of bigger bang for the buck, cameras, printers, booth style set ups, etc? the internet has so many options, but it would be nice to hear it from someone in the industry. thanks again so much. i look forward to hearing from you back.

sincerely,

Tracy

Reply

41 Mark Lizada February 13, 2016 at 5:12 am

Great read.. I started my photo booth rental company in 2011. I quit my job day job of 11 years to pursue the business full time. It was the best decision of my life.

When I first started the concept of a portable photo booths was still new. So we had to be innovative and build our own. Actually I paid someone to do it for me because I simply did not know the process or even touched a electric saw in my life.

I bought everything piece by piece. Wired everything together. Figured out how breeze DSLR remote pro worked and read the manual over and over again. We even made our own velvet curtains from scratch.

2 years in the business we were doing more than 20 events in a day. Being that busy is not always a good thing. It comes with a lot of sacrifice and no sleep.

I’ve scaled down to a cofortable level since then and pick and choose events that we want to do.

Much has changed since then and now photo booths are becoming the norm at every event. The style of photo booths have evolved and the technology is a lot better.

For those who have been in the industry for awhile will need to change or be left behind.

For those wanting to get started. My advice is just to GET STARTED. Write out a plan or even a list and start executing that plan.

I started with a box, then I bought a printer, etc etc. Do anything that will make you move toward that goal of owning a booth.

There are definitely a lot of options out there. Just do your due deligence and read and research so you can find something that fits your needs, taste and personality.

Reply

42 J. Money February 29, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Fascinating! Thanks for jumping in, Mark! :)

Reply

43 Godfrey February 20, 2016 at 11:30 am

Great read!!! Thanks a lot for this. I’m in the process of researching about photobooths, but I got my answer now.

I mostly do wedding video/photography and thought a photobooth might be a nice extra income. I usually do not like to spend alot of money (like to get it in instead) so I will be building my own. Already got an extra camera as well as a dye-sublimation printer :)

Now, just for my portable fold-up booth which could be easily transportable. As backup, I will use a selphy printer :)

Thanks once again for the great infor here everybody!!!!!

Reply

44 Lizzette Soto May 12, 2016 at 4:18 am

Did u ever start the photobooth if so how did it go.

Reply

45 J. Money February 29, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Glad you found helpful!

Reply

46 Jackie Spell September 6, 2016 at 1:01 am

Great info here!!! Back in 2009, I breathe and eat everything about photo booth. I remember joining the Photoboothtalk.com website and seen the biggest photo booth in the world. They were so big you needed a SUV or bigger to transport the photo booth. During that same time, I stumbled on mvsstudio.com website. They had the most skinniest, smallest, and sleek-style photo booth I have ever seen. This is back in 2009 or 2010. They were my first stop in buying and wanting a photo booth that I could setup at events. I was the ‘Go-to-Camera-girl” in my town and if I had this same photo booth, I would have been set for life. I punched an open air photo booth (no enclosed & no drapes) in 2014. Before that (2011-2013), I used the Alien Bees ABR800 on a tripod and handed over the remote control for the clients to take pictures of themselves. Or you can check out my old Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/HarlemPhotoBooth/photos/a.191021740927885.53910.191021624261230/757082180988502/?type=1&theater

One thing I would like for you to take away is when you purchasing a photo booth make sure it is easy for you to setup and use (weight less than 50 lbs). Purchase from a company that has outstanding customer service. Check out Minbooth.com or ShutterQue.com and tell them Jackie from NYC sent you.

They are amazing and will help you with each step. See if you could purchase the Shell (photo booth housing). You don’t need the items inside because you might have that in your house already. You might have cables, strobe lights, or a tablet already. If not, then purchase the entire setup and you will be fine.

Reply

47 J. Money September 6, 2016 at 11:48 am

Thanks for jumping in and sharing! This is awesome :)

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: