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Profoto acquires disruptive robotic studio

Swedish lighting manufacturer, Profoto, has purchased a robotic photo studio company, Styleshoots, for US$18 million – the first major acquisition since going public last year.

Maxi Sport, an Italian sports retailer, is a customer of the StyleShoots automatic robo studio. Source: StyleShoots.

It’s a somewhat controversial acquisition, as StyleShoots is disruptive to the traditional professional photography industry. Offering an automated robotic commercial and high volume photo studio, essentially puts a living, breathing photographers, and their crew, out of a job.

Inside Imaging reported on StyleShoots back in 2017, after the company launched its €80,000 robotic studio equipped with a Canon 1DX Mk II camera attached to a 3-axis gimbal with a motor.

We wrote:

‘The machine uses a 3D depth sensor to track a model, who poses inside the booth, and AI algorithms can read the height of the model and assess other pieces of information to capture the best angles. Within the booth are six high-CRI LED skylight panels and six striplights from Rotolight. It also comes with a reversible reflector to bounce light, and a neutral backdrop.

The booth is controlled by a human using an iPad, who uses StyleShoots software to control the brightness and chooses whether to capture stills or video. Everything else, including exposure settings and video editing, is handled by the machine.’

StyleShoots offers other products and services for automating e-commerce studio photography. The company sells the units outright, or for rent with leasing partners in Europe and the US.

Profoto’s strategy is to offer a ‘complete solution’ for e-commerce photography, which has experienced accelerated demand as online shopping matures.

‘With our heritage in fashion and studio photography, and today almost 100 percent of all images end up online, we see this as a very natural strategic step to add StyleShoots and their integrated workflow software and hardware solutions to our studio offering for e-commerce photography,’ Anders Hedebark, the CEO of Profoto, said in an announcement.

Is Profoto disrupting its customers’ market?

The photo booth is a ‘solution to the repetitive type of photography for e-commerce customers’, Hedebark told Petapixel. A ‘solution’ to a business problem which would historically result in a professional photographer being hired!

Although Hedebark clarified StyleShoots ‘would never’ replace photographers. He goes on to make an odd comparison between ‘creative’ professional photographers, and those stuck doing the gruelling repetitious high volume work.

‘We have seen an increase in workflow support for e-commerce photography,’ Hedebark said to Petapixel. ‘This type of photography is more like a factory than what we typically think of as creative photographers. It is repetitive, but the need for it in e-commerce is exploding.’

He claims ‘burn and turn’ e-commerce photographers don’t really want high volume jobs – it’s ‘not the kind of work professional photographers are looking to do’.

‘The need for creative photography to drive traffic to websites to drive conversions is in contrast to the goals of e-commerce photography,’ he said, which is designed to provide accurate visual information about a product.

‘It’s [e-commerce photography] a different kind of photography that no creative is doing today. Creative photographers are doing great work to drive demand, and I recommend they keep doing it and charge for it, that is a key factor! The value for e-commerce companies in having creative photography is huge, and it’s different [than what StyleShoots offers].’

Hedebark describes Profoto’s core business as being ‘creative’ professional photographers. ‘The market is going in two directions: both high-quality work and high-productivity work. A business has to choose, and now Profoto has the ability to do both.’

Some of Hedebark’s opinions come off as a little ‘problematic’. It’s dismissive of high volume product photographers and their work. These photographers may be happy ‘factory’ workers, who simple have no interest in being a ‘creative’. High volume e-commerce photography is the bread and butter for many working pros, and Profoto seems unable to acknowledge this reality.

From a strategic point of view, it’s understandable why Profoto has acquired the Danish robo studio business, but there is no denying it competes with professional photographers. And some of ’em may be Profoto customers.

Profoto ‘to the moon’

Profoto began trading on the Nasdaq Stockholm on July 1, 2021 with the Initial Public Offering (IPO) share price set at 66 Swedish krona (kr), roughly $10.24. With 16 million shares released, Profoto’s business was valued at more than $167 million.

The share price has tracked nicely, coming close to a 100 percent gain from the IPO price. It currently sits at kr121.60 on April 12. The company’s market capitalisation is now kr4.68 billion, which converts to $688 million.

The StyleShoots acquisition has been in Profoto’s sights for some time. In Profoto’s Prospectus, a legal document required to provide full investment details without sugarcoating the risks, a business like StyleShoots was flagged as a potential acquisition.

In the Business Overview, under the subheading ‘Growth within industrial / e-com workflow’, Profoto states:
‘There is also ongoing exploration of opportunities within emerging industrial applications such as robot solutions for volume photography’.

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