Ecommerce Design / Ecommerce Expertise / How To Sell Online

A Cost/Benefit Analysis on The Great Product Photography Debate: DIY or Outsource

/ 3 min read

There comes a time in every growing company’s life when the big question surfaces: should we really be doing all this ourselves? It seems like we’re spending a lot of time on things that aren’t our core strength. How do we scale efficiently? What can we outsource, and how much control do we have to give up?

The answer to these questions are, of course, different for every company. To help you reach a decision regarding efficiently scaling your product photography operations, we’ll break down the strengths and weaknesses of each option.

Let’s explore DIY product photography and outsourced image editing.

Do It Yourself Product Photography

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DIY product photography keeps merchandising decisions in house.

Pros — Total Control

Delegating creative work can be difficult for business owners. If you perform every portion of the workflow yourself, or in-house, you can be as hands-on as you want. You can outfit your photography studio, build your production team and perform every step of the photo shoot and post-production processing.

Cons — Inefficiency Costs You Money

Time is money. Even if you are skilled in each step of the product photography workflow, you can only work on one thing at a time. If you are performing administrative work, setting up a studio, shooting, post-production processing images, publishing them to the web and messaging customers all on your own, there is little time left to grow your business. And without an efficient supply chain, your competitors will routinely beat you out.

Inevitably, as you grow, you will build a team. You will find people you trust to perform specialized portions of your production, and areas in which they are skilled and able to produce high-quality work quickly.

Outsourcing Product Photography Editing

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Outsourcing can save time and money.

Pros — Save Time and Money

The best outsourcers fit into your production flow like any other team member, but are cheaper and able to handle a high volume of work. You should stick to your strengths and then look for outside expertise in other areas. If you’re able to find an isolated and repetitive task, especially a digital task, it’s a good candidate for outsourcing.

Let’s look at a theoretical example involving post-production processing. Imagine you have to edit 1000 product images for your website. Each image will take you roughly 10 minutes to edit, depending on the product and complexity, meaning that you will spend around 166 hours editing images (1000 images / 6 images an hour). Alternatively, you could hire an in-house graphic designer to do the editing for you. At 166 hours, this translates to roughly one month’s work at a conservative cost of $4,500 USD (according to Indeed.com’s salary report for experienced graphic designers in the U.S.).

The number of hours will rise if you’re selling in multiple marketplaces, like Amazon and eBay, in addition to your own website. Each marketplace has its own standards, which means you have to edit each image multiple times.

Now, let’s try the same exercise with an external partner. Because third-party partners often specialize in product image editing and have large staffs around the globe, delivery can be guaranteed within 24 hours or less. If a third-party partner took on the same job of editing 1000 images, expert image editors would deliver the same batch of images in 24 hours or less instead of 166 hours, at a cost of $1450 ($1.45 per image) instead of $4500. This is a time savings of 86%, savings of $3,000 and a 68% reduction in costs.

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More people + lower prices = faster and cheaper.

By allowing a third party to do the work for you, you can get 29x the number of images edited during the month and get your new products online weeks earlier. So, instead of spending 166 hours in post-production, you can focus on launching new scaling strategies, including sourcing your core product at a cheaper price, looking into new shipping methods or providing fantastic customer service.

Cons –– Searching for the Right Partner

As you make the switch to outsourcing some of your photography needs, often the greatest challenge is finding the right outsourcing partner. You need to ensure you don’t lose quality or control over your product images.

Think through the following 10 questions when considering your ideal outsourcing partner:

  1. How much time will I spend preparing to work with this partner? Consider the time needed for detailed guides/instructions.
  2. Can the partner achieve the quality and delivery times I am looking for?
  3. Does the partner offer a quality guarantee?
  4. Does the partner have professional references?
  5. Is this a socially responsible company?
  6. How much time will I save by working with this partner?
  7. How much money will I save by working with this partner?
  8. How much time will I spend following-up with the partner to get the job done?
  9. How easy will it be for me to communicate with the partner? Consider language, time zone, communication type, 24 hour support, etc.
  10. How does this partner handle mistakes/errors?

Don’t force a fit. If you’re not certain of a partner, either move on or consider a short trial. Some extra patience and research during the early stages will pay off and help you craft a long-term partnership.

The Winner? You.

As you consider whether outsourcing product photography is right for your business, keep your options open and don’t rush the decision. It is possible you need more time performing DIY image editing before you know what to request of outsourced image editing. Make the decision that’s right for you today, but always keep the future in mind. In all, long term planning is the key to building an efficient product photography workflow.

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