outsourcing vs in-house ecommerce photography

by | Jun 22, 2021

so you’re ready to snap those unforgettable ecommerce product photos. but you’re not sure whether you should work with an internal team – or outsource them. don’t worry: it’s not always clear which option is better for you.

there are pros and cons to both sides. and which one fits better for your business depends on several factors – including budget. time. frequency. and in-house talent.

don’t sweat the decision! just grab a pen and paper ‘cause we’re outlining the main differences you should consider before deciding on outsourcing or using an in-house team to capture your ecommerce photography.

outsourcing vs in-house product photography

there are two different ways you can tackle your ecommerce product photography needs: outsourcing it or using an in-house team to get the job done. both have upsides and downsides. and which option is better for you largely depends on a number of factors.

here’s a quick comparison of the highlights to help you make an informed decision for your business depending on your needs and your budget.

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outsourcing product photography

outsourcing your product photography is fairly common for ecommerce businesses of all varieties and sizes. outsourcing your shoots means you’re turning over the entire ecommerce product photography process to a commercial team outside of your company. you’ll essentially be employing contractors to get the job done.

pros

outsourcing your shoots can save you time AND money. you don’t have to worry about investing in photography equipment. or professional photographers. or editing software. all the magic happens behind the scenes. 

your internal creative team can focus on the things that move the needle in your business – all while your photography contractors do the heavy lifting for you.

the process is simple. you deliver the creative brief and the products. then the outside team gets to work and delivers your polished ecommerce product photos. you’ll get all the results – but with minimal effort on your end.

outsourcing your photo needs can also deliver on quicker results – assuming that your go-to partner doesn’t have an outrageously long lead time. you can typically book photo services a couple of weeks in advance and the turnaround time can be much quicker if you aren’t having to spend time getting your team up to speed.

cons

it can be difficult to control every detail of an outsourced photoshoot. you can keep a close eye on in-house product photography shoots and make sure they’re following the creative brief and capturing all of the angles you’re after. but outsourcing your product photography means you can’t micromanage every single detail of your shoot. 

there’s a huge trust factor when it comes to outsourcing your photos – which means you need to build a relationship with a trusted partner to make sure you get exactly what you want (and what you paid for). it can be done – but you have to do your homework and find a company that you trust to get it done (and done well!)

plus – not every product is easy to ship. one of the downsides of outsourcing your product photography is that you’ll need to ship your products to a location to have them professionally shot. shipping costs can be a real bear for bulky or heavy items – which might make outsourcing your photoshoots a less budget-friendly option.

in-house photography

keeping your product photography in-house means you’re using your internal team to capture your ecommerce photos. everything from the lighting to the models to the location falls under your jurisdiction. you’ll also be responsible for the whole shebang: planning. shooting. producing. and editing. all of which takes a fair amount of human resources. 

some (large-ish) businesses employ entire teams solely dedicated to this creative process. they usually have at least one full-time professional photographer amongst their ranks.

keep it clean

even the most beautiful food photo can become unappetizing if there’s a fuzz on the plate. or a paint brush bristle. or visible soap scum on the fork. meticulously cleaning every item before you snap your photo is tedious but worth it. use a microfiber cloth to clean any utensils in the frame — and touch them only with the cloth or gloves from then on. for food: just make sure to keep a sharp eye on any debris in your food. you can edit these imperfections out post-shoot but it’s better to get it right the first time. remember: your camera lens might have better sight than you do. you want your customers to see a mouth-watering and blemish free treat when they look at your photos.

psst: take a few minutes to dig deeper into how to prep for an ecomm product shoot.

pros

one of the most significant upsides to keeping things in-house means you have ultimate control over every. little. detail. you don’t have to worry about creative directions getting lost in communication. and you can control exactly how your images turn out: starting at the shoot and ending with editing.

this means you also have the ultimate control over your brand. it can be nervewracking to entrust another team to execute and capture your brand in your ecommerce photography. an in-house photography team can help you create that brand consistency that builds the coveted customer loyalty over time

keeping your photography in-house means that there’s typically less wrangling to do. you don’t have to worry about rounding up freelancers or making sure that stylists don’t cancel on you; you’ve got a whole internal team that shows up predictably day after day.

you also will benefit from not having to ship your products to the photo shoot location. skip the cost and the hassle of transporting those precious goods and simply move them to your in-house location. this can be one of the primary benefits of keeping things local – especially if your products are bulky or heavy.

cons

employing a team of creatives to shoot and edit your ecommerce photographs might not always make the most fiscal sense. keeping your shoots in-house means spending labor dollars on overhead salaries regardless of whether or not you’re actively shooting

a good rule of thumb is to estimate how many images you’ll need on a yearly or monthly basis. you might want to outsource your product photoshoots to a product photographer instead.

in-house photoshoots also require their own cache of photography equipment: lenses. cameras. backgrounds. lighting. and software. these costs eventually spread out as you go. but getting started with in-house photography can be one of the biggest expenses you’ll tackle as a business

you’ll also need to budget in time and money for ongoing training for your in-house team of professionals. they’ll need to be able to keep up with the latest innovations in photography technology – which requires regular training as things evolve.

how ecommerce photography studios operate

ecommerce product photography is no joke. full days of shooting take detailed planning and execution. and ecommerce photography studios are where the real magic happens. here’s how it happens:

step one: develop the creative brief

every product shoot starts with the creative brief. consider this the photoshoot bible. it sets forth and outlines brand standards and overall tone/mood. this guiding document helps ensure that there is an aesthetic consistency across all images.

step two: prepare your products

product preparation is key! those babies need to be looking their best when that shutter snaps. that means you need to get them all polished up and ready to go for their close up. there’s nothing worse than a wrinkly or dusty product to throw a kink in the photoshoot process.

step three: source talent

now it’s time to add in the talent. most professional photography studios have a roster of models that they work with regularly. talent selection plays a significant role in maintaining your brand image. using the creative brief as a guiding outline to choose talent can also help ensure aesthetic consistency in the finished images.

step four: nail the props & background

now it’s time for the fun part: setting the scene with props and background choices. props and backgrounds have the magical ability to take even the most average headshots to the next level – so just imagine what it can do for your product photography!

step five: lights. camera. shoot!

the bulk of the work has been done – so now you can get to shooting those images. don’t forget: lighting is essential. this is the point where you’d check. check. and double-check to make sure those images are well balanced and properly exposed.

step six: post-production processing and editing

this step should be minimal – assuming the other steps were followed. professional retouchers can eliminate any final imperfections: pieces of lint. blemishes. and even wrinkles in fabric. there’s not mcuh that a little Photoshop and Lightroom can’t polish out. 

step seven: deliver the final images

hooray! the hard work’s done. it’s time to celebrate and get those gorgeous ecommerce pictures live on your site. then you can sit back and watch as those sales roll in thanks to your customers falling in love (all over again) with your incredible products.

how much does in-house ecommerce photography cost?

full-service photography studios are experts at what they do. it’s easy to book one and they can typically turn around fully edited photos on the fly.

some studios (like soona) charge by the photo – which makes sticking to your budget a cinch since you don’t have to worry about unexpected overages or hidden fees. but not every professional photography studio is like this.

other studios might charge by the hour or day. it’s not uncommon to pay $1,000 – $2,000 for a half/full day. plus – these fees often don’t include some additional costs associated with image production: like editing. reshoots. models. or styling & props.

but choosing to keep your ecommerce photography in-house has costs associated with it to. here’s a breakdown of the investment you’ll make if you decide to head this route instead of outsourcing your image needs.

cost of real estate

the cost of a physical shooting space can often be one of the biggest ticket items when it comes to ecommerce product photography. sure – there are some locations where you can shoot for free. but many locations (like professional studios or commercial spaces) cost a pretty penny to rent for a few hours or days.

but hourly rate rental fees aren’t the only thing you’ll need to consider when it comes to the costs of real estate. even if you’ve got an in-house studio – you’ll still have to consider the overhead it takes to power it and keep it in top shape while it’s not being used.

cost of personnel

finding the right talent can be the most challenging part of establishing an in-house photography team. anyone can point and click with a camera. but finding the best talent that can perfectly capture your products in the most flawless ways is another thing entirely.

the average salary for an in-house photographer ranges from $50k all the way up $90k in high-demand areas – like New York.

but that doesn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personnel costs. you’ll also need to figure in a handful of other talent: like a director. assistants. stylists. hair/makeup. models. and post-production editors. all in: you’re looking at an annual cost of $176k – $208k for an entire in-house photography team that gets the job done from start to finish.

cost of equipment

here’s the not-so-good news: there’s no such thing as cheap photography equipment. there’s only two options: expensive and more expensive. 

you’ll need a variety of equipment to get the job done: lighting. backgrounds. cameras. and lenses. but it’s not just a one-time cost. keep in mind that photography technology is constantly evolving. upgrading your equipment every three to four years is pretty standard and should be done to make sure you’re delivering the highest quality photos possible.

even if there was a cheap option – would you trust it with one of the most essential components of your ecommerce sales? don’t leave your product photography to chance with lackluster equipment or poor lighting. it might just cost you the sale.

outsource your ecommerce product photography with soona

you need fresh content – consistently. which means great product photography is an ongoing staple for any successful ecommerce business.

there are a handful of benefits of keeping your ecommerce product photography in-house.  on the other hand – your team might be swamped already. or you might not need that many product images each year. or maybe your annual budget doesn’t have the room to hire a full-time photography production and editing team. 

that’s where outsourcing comes in. save yourself time. money. and headaches by outsourcing your ecommerce product photography needs to the professionals.

contact soona today to let us help you create those scroll-stopping ecommerce product photos – but without all that internal time commitment and overhead cost.

if you’re looking to ramp up your content game but still feel unsure where to start – check out these resources:

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