Viki Reed: On Rental Photo Booths vs Photographers

Written by Viki Reed

Rental photo booths are here and we love them. They’re fun and ubiquitous at private parties. But our Viki Reed warns photographers: Watch your backs,.Here’s why, — Event Photography and Rental Photo Booths: Your Price Point Just Went Down

Some of us will hold the line and our reps will cash that check. But for the last six years, technology has offered fun and interactive photography services for all kinds of parties.

Sometimes it’s the classic photographer at the prom from Lifetouch Studios or Olan Mills — cha-chinging away as they sell keychains, flip-books, memory snaps and more, all at the event. These are photographic impulse purchases aimed at the most-passionately thoughtless crowds imaginable.

Then we started to see DJ crews turning up at wedding receptions. These companies were able to turn your event into a throbbing nightclub or personalized karaoke bar. And these days they also bring a string of photographers with them who stalk and rock the party, feeding live shots to the DJ’s flat screen monitors — all  hanging from professional stage rigging right next to their woofers, hooters and strobe lights.

Then the field opened up to professionals who specialized in making event videos and tribute videos that looked better than network television shows. They cover the event live, but their products include pre-production schedules and screening times.

Image credit: Wikimedia

It was bound to happen that the photo booth would eventually become a ubiquitous part of every party. Initially they were true-blue, old-school booths, not the automated ATM-like machines you feed five dollar bills into at the mall. These portable fun boxes allowed guests and party throwers alike to enjoy themselves while developing hundreds of personality-gushing images.

So why did your price point go down? Even if the on-site photo booth is just a trend, it’s going to be around for a while. Every Google search on this service gleaned a few dozen indies and franchise outfits.

These companies are investing and upgrading and selling photo booths as a business model, too, not just renting out booths. The average cost for a five-hour party hovers around $900. And the price increases with the options of custom backdrops, props, photobooks, tabletop event-branded bookmarks, save-the-date cards, CDs, online galleries, photo strips, various print sizes, attendant-free or manned machine, etc …  Plus, there is a flavor of photo booth for every possible personality type — you can request a steampunk hipster booth, a haunted house booth, or a cheesy white-draped booth. The rise of the machines has now made its entrée to the party. May I present, “Lord and Lady TapSnap!”

Oohs and ewes (or ahs if that’s your bag) commence. What is TapSnap? It’s a new franchise business that takes the photo booth into the future — if the future means self-service checkout at the grocery store.

TapSnap is a Canadian-born photo booth that allows you to pick your services from a touchscreen menu on a big flat-screen machine. In many ways it’s a visual callback to the bloodless walking robot from Japan.


Image credit: Wikimedia

But TapSnap isn’t the only automated photo booth out there. Some of the others include ShutterBooth, PhotoboothRoyale, Happymatic, Dustin Izatt Photobooths and Reliable Hardware. Depending on the system you use, you can make a video, draw on the images like your three-year-old child might do with an iPad app, print out via different templates or just view in a gallery and order that way — even instantaneous sharing to social networking sites is a tap away.

As a photographer, what is your fee for shooting pictures and video at a private party? Do you think your clients would happily pay for your services along with a bot-booth-event-maker-steampunk-photo-booth that will cost an additional $500 to $900? It’s hard to say. But look at it from your customer’s point of view. In addition to your photography services (which often, unfortunately, take a back seat to all the flower arrangements, catering costs and location rentals), the event will undoubtedly feature a DJ party service that will offer stills and digital videos (and maybe a mini-movie, too). As a paying customer, what would you do? Say Cheese!

Based in New York, Viki Reed is a senior photographer and pop culture commentator at She’s worked with SubBrilliant News, Anti-Press and Thewax. Check out her work at and email her at or