In-house vs. Outsourced Product Photography – 10 Questions to Ask

If your business requires product images and you are deciding between in-house product photography and outsourcing ask yourself these 10 questions, the answers will help you make the right decision:

  1. How many product images do you need?
  2. Is your project one-off or ongoing?
  3. Do you need still images, 360 images or both?
  4. How easy are your products to ship?
  5. How tight are your deadlines?
  6. How flexible is your budget?
  7. How much control do you need / want?
  8. Can your business handle added distractions?
  9. Do you have the required expertise?
  10. Are you equipped for the logistics?

Depending on your business, the answers to some questions will be more important than others. As an example, let’s say your answer to many of the questions indicate that an outsourced product photography solution is best, but your answer to question 7 ‘How much control do you want / need?’ is ‘total control’, your final decision will likely be in-house product photography.

What is In-house Product Photography?

In-house product photography allows you to capture, edit, and format product images using internal resources, equipment, and systems at your place of business. In-house systems have a combination of the following:

  • Photography studio – set-up in a warehouse, distribution center, store or office.
  • Product photographer – with product photography experience.
  • Photographer helpers – to prepare products for photography and repackage after photography.
  • Tracking systems – to manage product numbers and image views.
  • Image editors – to edit, review and format images.
  • Quality control resource – to ensure image quality meets internal and external standards.
  • Project manager – to manage the project.
  • Reporting systems – for project progress and production reporting.
  • Workflows – for ordering, delivering, and returning products to and from the studio; photography; image editing and formatting; image QC; project reporting.

What is Outsourced Product Photography?

Outsourced product photography involves contracting out your project to a service provider or a local product photographer.

Although service providers and local photographers offer different service levels, in general, outsourced product photography includes:

  • Product delivery – In most cases you will be required to deliver your products to the service provider or local photographer. Although, some local photographers will pick up your products and take them to their studio. As well, some service providers offer full service onsite solutions that involve shipping a fully equipped studio to your business avoiding the need to ship products.
  • Product photography – supplied by the service provider or local photographer.
  • Image editing and quality control – supplied by the service provider or local photographer.
  • Product return – the product will be returned to your place of business.
  • Image format and delivery – images are formatted to your requirements and delivered to you.

10 Questions to Ask – In-house vs. Outsourced Product Photography

1. How many product images do you need?

Determine the total number of product images you require. Here’s how to do it:

  • Generate a list of all your products that need images.
  • Sort this list by product category.
  • Determine the image views required in each product category e.g. category A – front, back, top, bottom; category B – 3-4 top, side, close-up.
  • Multiple the total number of products in each category by the number of images required for each category.

Let’s look at a few general examples on how the number of images can affect your in-house vs. outsource decision. These examples do not factor in your answers to the other questions; they simply consider the number of images.

Total images = 1,000

This project is too small to justify purchasing equipment, developing processes and hiring expertise; outsourcing would be the best choice.

Total images = 35,000

This project is large enough to justify investing in an in-house system. It would also be cost prohibitive to ship this many products to a service provider or local photographer; in-house would be the best choice.

2. Is your project one-off or ongoing?

If your business introduces new products on an on-going basis and these products need images then the time and effort required to setup an in-house product photography system may be justified. If your imaging project is one-off, investing in expensive photography equipment, people and processes may not make sense.

3. Do you need still product images, 360 product images or both?

To get a realistic idea of the scope of your imaging project think about the kind of product photography you require – still product photography (front, back, left, right etc.), 360 product photography (rotating product images) or both.

Due to the high cost and complexity of 360 product photography, if you need 360 product photography only or a combination of 360 and still you may be better off outsourcing your project.

4. How easy are your products to ship?

Some products simply do not lend themselves well to shipping for product photography purposes. If you manufacture heavy equipment parts weighing 200 pounds each, you definitely do not want to ship thousands to your service provider. In this case, setting up an in-house system or hiring a service provider to come to your business with a fully equipped photography studio may be the best approach.

5. How tight are your deadlines?

Businesses often oversimplified product photography and only to realize afterwards that it is more difficult than they initially thought. For this reason, most in-house product photography projects experience slower production than forecasted. This creates pressure as deadlines are missed.

If your deadlines are flexible and you have the time to develop, implement, and learn your product photography system, an in-house system may be best. On the other hand, if your timelines are tight, outsourcing may be the way to go. A reputable service provider will provide you production and quality guarantees.

6. How flexible is your budget?

Again, because product imaging is more complex than businesses think, more often than not product photography projects take longer and cost more than budgeted. Additionally, most in-house systems lack image production management software to automate repetitive tasks and provide productivity tools to photographers, image editors and project managers. If your budget is based on conservative production numbers an in-house system should work fine, if not you should consider outsourcing.

7. How much control do you need / want?

Some businesses do not believe in outsourcing, they build everything in-house and maintain complete control. If this is your company philosophy, regardless of how you answer the other 9 questions, you will likely opt for an in-house product photography system. In this case adding 3rd party image production management software to your in-house system will provide you with all the workflow tools for management, productivity and quality.

8. Can your business handle added distractions?

Anything that is not related to your core businesses can often be a distraction. Product photography projects have the equipment, people. and processes that need to be managed and maintained. The studio will need a constant flow of products to and from. Product images will need to be captured, edited, QCed, formatted and distributed. The list goes on. If your business can handle introducing a function like this then an in-house system is a good idea, if not outsourcing is the way to go.

9. Do you have the required expertise?

Product photography projects require the following expertise:

  • An experienced product photographer
  • Experienced image editors for editing, QC and formatting
  • A project manager
  • IT resources for systems development and maintenance

If your project has the scope, hiring this expertise will be worth it, if not outsourcing is the best choice.

10. Are you equipped for the logistics?

Product photography logistics include:

  • Ordering products from inventory and delivering them to the photography studio
  • Returning products to inventory
  • Preparing products for photography
  • Repacking products after photography
  • Reviewing images for quality
  • Formatting images for various uses

Also consider the space required to efficiently operate an in-house product photography studio. It could be anywhere from a few hundred square feet to 500 plus. It is preferable that the studio is isolated from the general workforce traffic common to most warehouses and distribution centers.

If your business has the space and logistical capacity for the activities listed above, in-house product photography is for you, if not consider outsourcing.

In-house or Outsourced – What Do You Think?

I hope the information in this post was helpful in making the right product photography decision. If you have any questions please post them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond. If you found this post helpful, please share it!

Image credit – Horia Varlan

Patrick Weilmerier
Patrick Weilmeier
Patrick leads Visual SKUs marketing activities and is focused on understanding customer needs, aligning with sales to generate opportunities, expanding markets, and growing revenue.

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