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How Much Does It Cost to Have an In-house Photo Studio?

How Much Does It Cost to Have an In-house Photo Studio?

Squareshot reveals and explains all the nuance of how much it costs to set up a photo studio in New York specifically and the USA in general. We’ll try to cover every meaningful aspect of the price of setting up a studio for product photography.

Liz Kasian

Mar 25, 2020

How to set up a photography studio and when it’s worth doing it

Have you been commissioning as much of the product photography, that you even started contemplating on how much it costs to build a photo studio of your own? 

Have you been struggling with all the shipment and logistics of organizing a photoshoot – to an extent, that you start believing that an in-house photo studio might be a better option?

Are your ecommerce products so expensive, that secure delivery to a photo studio and insurance against theft is the highest cost when it comes to product photography?

Is it worth for your ecommerce business to build an in-house photo studio or is it still more feasible to keep outsourcing your product photography?

Read on to find out. 

Squareshot reveals all the nuance of how much it costs to set up a photo studio in New York specifically and the USA in general.

We’ll try to cover every meaningful aspect of the price of setting up a studio for product photography, using average prices and of course suggesting saving tips where it's possible. 

How ecommerce photography studio works

To start vivisecting the cost of setting up and running a photo company, let's look at how an ecommerce photography studio works.

First, there is a studio itself – a physical building, that you rent or own to be able to arrange photography shoots in there.

Second, there is photography equipment. It ranges from expensive to very expensive, as cheap is not an option on a photo equipment menu.

Third and most crucial for the success of this mission, there is human capital. Namely, as a minimum, any photo shoot needs: 

  • a photographer
  • a retoucher
  • a photo studio administrator or a manager

We call it crucial, as we know how hard it is to find a brilliant team member, that delivers the needed level of quality. It is not as simple as just buying the most expensive equipment available or getting the most state-of-the-art building. It has a success factor, called talent – that is hard-to-detect, leave alone hard-to-get on the market.

Photo studio costs structure scheme

Those are just major pillars of every photo studio, let’s look at each of them in detail now.

Expenses for real estate or an office for the studio

There are several ways of how to approach the first and most fundamental need of setting up a photo studio – getting a space for it:

  1. One can buy an office / an apartment or a piece of real estate to arrange a studio inside it.
  2. One may already have some unused space within its company.
  3. One can rent a room or a flat to set up a photography studio inside it.
  4. One can rent an industrial space (B-class is the best price-to-quality match) or rent an already prepared for a shooting studio space.

For the purpose of this exercise, let's have a look at renting a piece of real estate to start their production of product photography.

Size parameters of a photo studio:

Ceiling height is crucial for a photo studio and works as a filter for real estate hunting. You need at least 4-5 feet of space above a person of, say, 6 feet for lighting equipment. So to be able to photograph models with your ecommerce products, you need ample ceiling height of 10-12 feet.

Otherwise, unless there are groups of models, that you need for your shoots, 10x15 feet is a very minimum recommended length/width of the rooms for a studio. 30x45 feet is a good-sized studio, that will allow for proper shoots with models. 

Such ample minimum width is related to the fact that the recommended distance between the subject and the background is at least 5-7'. Plus another 10-15' feet between the subject and the camera.

minimum photo studio size parameters

Housekeeping spaces of the photo studio

If your photography needs are constant, it is suggested, that the studio is going to be utilized for an entire working day by several people.

As a minimum, this suggests 2 main areas:

  1. Product preparation area – office for a retoucher & a manager, product storage space, model makeup room, bathroom – can be either separate rooms or one multi-purpose space.
  2. Product photo-shooting zone – the shooting area with a backdrop, lighting, tripods and the rest of the equipment.

Cost of a photo studio rental in New York

Let's take a look at market prices on the real estate market of New York for a property suitable for a photo studio.

In our final calculation, we use the price of just $32 / sq. ft. for New York, even though the SquareFoot.com produces an estimate of $63 per square foot per annum in New York for offices of just above 1000 sq meters.

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2015.05.09.png
Print screen: price for office rental in NY approx 1050 sq f

Cost of a photo studio rental in the USA

The USA on average will have rental prices lower by a third, than in New York. So let's assume the rental price of $22 per sq. ft. per annum for the US.

To summarize, you will need at least a 1000 sq. ft. office or an apartment to set up a photo studio:

  • $33+ per sq. ft. per annum in New York /min $33K per annum/
  • $22+ per sq. ft. per annum in the USA on average /min $22K per annum/.

Cost of personnel for an in-house photo studio

The other most vital part of the cost structure when talking about the pricing of setting up of an in-house photo studio is salary paid out for the team.

We will leave recruitment costs out of this calculation, to keep the helicopter view of the cost structure and not to overload you with the details. 

The salary of an In-house product photographer

The annual salary for an in-house photographer in the USA will start in early $50K and go all the way to the late $90K for top talent in New York. 

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Print screen: Indeed.com

In-house product photography team salary

We have created a quick table for you based on the averages provided by Indeed.com, so you can see how much a team of 3 for a basic photo studio costs per year in salary and insurance only.

Photography studio team cost by Squareshot based on Indeed data

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Print screen: Indeed.com

Once again, this is one of the key cost centers, that needs the most attention. The talent can make it or break it for the photo studio owner. So while the cost is huge, there is no saving on this one, as top talent costs a hefty buck but brings the best ROI.

In-house photo studio equipment costs

The photography equipment needed to perform the basic product photography in the in-house photo studio:

  • Camera & lenses
  • Lighting
  • Backgrounds

But you should understand, that:

  • technology evolves by the minute and renewing your photo company equipment is a 3-4 year cycle cost.
  • just as with any other products, like cars or hotels, or clothes – there are budget series, reliable middle-class product lines, and premium products. 

Equipment needed for in-house photo studio

Camera & lens kit

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR Camera with 24-105mm f/4L II Lens Basic Kit
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 1
Average price: $4000
(Here and further, printsreens are from bhphotovideo.com)

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.09.02.png

Tripod

Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Aluminum Tripod with 405 Pro Digital Geared Head Deluxe Kit
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 1
Average price: $660

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.13.12.png

Strobe

Profoto D1 Air 500W/s Monolight
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 3
Average price: $1325

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.16.49.png

SoftBox

Profoto RFi 4.0 x 6.0' Softbox
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 2
Average price: $570

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.20.07.png

5' Softbox

Profoto 5' RFi Octa Softbox
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 2
Average price: $425

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.22.14.png

C-stand light stand

Avenger C-Stand Grip Arm Kit (Black, 10.75')
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 3
Average price: $188


Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.32.09.png

Backdrop AKA Background

Savage Widetone Seamless Background Paper (#01 Super White, 86" x 36')
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 1
Average price: $50

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.36.27.png

Background paper hold system

Impact Varidrive with Silver Metal Chain
Pieces needed for in-house photo studio: 1
Average price: $65

Screenshot%202019-09-27%20at%2017.36.13.png

Check out the sum up we compiled below for you to estimate the cost of in-house photo studio equipment:

Full list of equipment with prices for an in-house photo studio set-up

Photographer's equipment

Camera + Lens Kit – $4,000.00

Tripod – $660.00

Sync – $90.00 – you need 4 of them, total $360.00

Cable – $56.00

– $1,500.00

Strobe – $1,325.00 – you need 3 strobes, total $3,975.00

Softbox – $570.00 – you need 2, total $1,140.00

Softbox – $425.00

C-Stand – $188.00 – you need 3 items, total $564.00

Backdrop – $50.00

Backdrop hold system – $65.00

Hooks for backdrop – $17.00

Photo table – $800.00

Accessories, as clamps, tape, dust remover, other small stuff – $300.00 (you'll need to renew it once in a while)

Software: Capture One Pro 12 – $300.00

Mannequin/Male – $606.00

Mannequin/Female – $740.00

Desk – $199.00

Chair – $50.00

Total for photographer's equipment: $15,807.

Retoucher's equipment:

PC – $1500.00

Tablet – $330.00

Software: Adobe Photoshop CC – $240.00 – this is a yearly price, you'll need to update it once in a year.

Desk – $199.00

Chair – $50.00

Total for retoucher's equipment: $2,319.
So, total for your little production team, both photographer and retoucher is $18,126.

Costs of storage for a photo studio

Keeping things nice and tidy in the trade as full of accessories, props and equipment parts as photography, it is wise to arrange some storage space inside a studio. 

With price range for all sorts of wardrobes and closets varying from 100 dollars to the sky, we found Zuck Sutton’s solution savvy.

He used a DOMBÅS storage locker at just 129 and combined it with Seamless Paper Storage Holder to affix at the side of that locker for further space efficiency.

Expenses for management

Just as we mentioned at the beginning, this is only a bird’s eye view of the costs any company faces when setting up an in-house photography studio.

There will be costs, like utility bills, internet plan cost, recruitment fees, maintenance fees, etc. As they are quite diverse we are not enumerating them for this exercise, but keep in mind, that these miscellaneous costs may go up to another $2-3K a month.

Total Budget for an in-house photo studio

So if we sum up all of the above expenses that an online store owner will face to set up an in-house studio, the annual price in New York will be approximately $260K and in the USA on average $218K.

This translates into $21,7K monthly in New York and $18,2K monthly in the USA.

detailed budget for in-house photo studio

Final Words: when and why is it better not to set up an in-house photo studio

OK, to arrive at a definitive conclusion on whether this is worth for your ecommerce business to get around setting up an in-house photography studio, let's contemplate the benefits of it irrespective of the costs.

Benefits of having an in-house studio

Availability: you are the only client of your studio – you can dispose of it anytime you need to. Yes, when you don’t need it, you still pay for it though.

Logistic costs: you don’t need to pay for delivery and costs associated with it. Premium brands face the major issue of insurance for shipping the pricey pieces, for example, watches and jewelry worth several tens of thousands.

Consistency: you always have your images taken by the same team in the same setting by the same equipment. Unless you commission all your product imagery to the same photo company, this is a solid advantage, that you don’t get with different freelancers.

Quick turnaround: this is a combination of availability without having to wait in line, team members needing fewer instructions as they know your products and no time wasted on shipment. 

Control of quality, brand standards: even if you have some turnover on your marketing team, your in-house photographers may be well aware of the routine and be the point of contact and storage of wisdom in terms of all brand product imagery.

Pitfalls of having an inhouse studio:

Costs: however big or small your photo needs, you are still responsible to cover the cost of rental, talent, purchasing photo equipment and covering utility bills.

Seasonality & work load distribution: well, there are peaks prior to Xmas and Thanksgiving; and dips after the Christmas and during the tax payment period in spring. All clothing ecommerce stores have at least 2 collections in a year to be launched: SS and FW.

This translates into unstable workload for studio. Even if your management team is well-organized, chances are there will be times when you have to pay for overtime to your inhouse photography team and there will be times when they will have nothing to shoot.

Turnover: photographers are artists and they require extra care in order to remain in one workplace for long. With huge demand in freelance photography, many beginners quickly learn how to diversify their revenue streams with freelance projects.

Dispersion of focus: It is a phase too familiar to every entrepreneur. We have all been there. You try and DIY as much as possible to cut costs. You try and micromanage. Then the burn out comes.

The bigger companies will outsource every part of the process - they have learnt it the hard way: this is how you save money. The main thing is to find a reliable supplier. Then an owner can concentrate on marketing, manufacturing, scaling. Creating an in-house photography studio is like starting a new business from scratch. Make sure it makes sense for you

When do you simply have to build an in-house photo studio as an ecommerce buiness owner?

There are some cases when brands have no other option but to establish an in-house photo department.

Some of them are:

  • you are a brand with premium products, that costs a fortune to ship due to high insurance costs /think expensive jewelry/
  • your store sells big antique pieces, unique and too fragile to ship /think antique furniture/
  • you are a huge ecommerce store with fluid inventory, that is being constantly topped up and the volume of product images needed exceeds 8,5K per annum.

When is an ecommerce business owner better off outsourcing the product imagery?

Well, the answer is based on the mathematics of the above figures as well as the maximum capacity of images, that one studio of 3 persons is able to produce daily.

As illustrated in the table below, the actual amount of images, that a 3-men studio can produce in a year is around 8,5K images.

One of the simple ways to approach the math further out is to assume that if your ecommerce business needs less than 8,5K images produced a year, your in-house studio will be costing you money. As in: you have paid for rental, talent, equipment – and they are not working towards your company’s goals.

The other way to do the math is to multiply the number of images your business does need per annum by $30 /approximate rough per image price for apparel/ and see if that figure is below $260 K for New York and below $218K in the USA.

Say, you need to do 4 shots of 70 pieces for SS and 4 shots of 100 pieces for FW collections. All in all, 280 for Spring Summer and 400 for Fall Winter, which equals to 680 shots per annum. For the exercise's sake let's assume the average price of $30 per image. That is $20,4K in image photography production with a pro photography studio, like Squareshot.

It is pretty obvious at this stage, that there is no way an ecommerce business with that kind of volume in product photography needs could benefit from setting up an in-house photo studio. The company will be much better off commissioning its product images to a company with an established reputation.

production capacity by one photo studio

If we were to summarize it in a nutshell: unless your business needs 8K+ photos per annum, you’ll save more outsourcing the product photography to a reliable supplier with a reputable name on the market.

Final thoughts on setting up an in-house photo studio for eCommerce.

While photography is not exactly rocket science, there are nuances to every trade. Product imagery is of utmost importance for eCommerce business of all shapes and sizes, this is why every decision related to it should be made after thorough considerations.

If you still have second thoughts, let's try a little something – we offer you a $100 to try the serive. See if you'd like the result, and decide if you want to come back for more.

We have now armed you with all the theory of setting up an in-house photo studio. The decision is fairly simple, yet many nuances go into the calculation. Hope, you have all the information to shoose wisely!

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