Tryout: Canon Selphy as a Reception Add-On

By Kim Larson


I had been struggling for a while to find unique ways to set me apart from my local competition, so when PPA gave me the opportunity to try out the Canon Selphy ES3 printer at a wedding reception I jumped at the opportunity—could this be exactly what I was looking for?


Although I could have just used the Selphy printer to print off a few photos from the day’s wedding ceremony to display at the reception for guests to enjoy, I decided to do something different. With just about everyone owning point-and-shoot digital cameras now, I decided to put the printer on display at the reception so people could print off their own photos. I allowed everyone free access to the printer, with the ability to print photos for the bride and groom, or even themselves if they desired.

To set up the table for the printer, I used a small 24x48-inch folding table and a white floor-length tablecloth. I arranged scrapbook photo corners on white posterboard to display some of the printed photos and left room for simple instructions on how to re-fill the printer should it run out of paper. I also put up a sign in an 8x10 photo frame that announced the bride and groom’s “photobooth,” and a box where people could put the printed photos to give to the bride and groom.


Canon Selphy ES3 Printer: $199 (MSRP)
Printer Ink/Paper Refill Cartridges (100 prints): $30
24x48 Folding Table: $49
Tablecloth: $10
Posterboard and Scrapbooking supplies: $15
Box to hold bride and groom’s photos: $5
8x10 frame: $5

Photo table images ©Kim Larson


The Canon Selphy ES3 printer is the perfect printer for this kind of work. It is not heavy, so it is easy to transport to the reception with its built-in handle. You do not need a computer to use it, and it will accept most digital camera cards. My favorite feature of this printer is the lack of ink cartridges. Because the ink is actually built into the paper cartridge, you never have to worry about replacing ink. This makes it incredibly easy for guests at the wedding reception to manage the printer themselves. The instructions are simple: When the printer is out of paper, you just open the paper door, slide out the used paper cartridge and slide in a new one!


The simple controls on the printer make it easy for guests to use. It’s as easy as inserting the camera card, spinning the dial to select a photo, and pressing the print button. More advanced users may also crop their photos, or add fancy borders and designs to them.

The 4x6 Selphy prints are perfectly acceptable to put in a photo album, display in a frame, or even send as a postcard. While printing, the paper actually passes through the Selphy four times (CMYK layers) before it’s completed. This can be a surprise to someone who has never used the printer before, because on the first pass you think that your photo is going to end up yellow. But then the printer reels the paper back in and prints the remaining colors, and the result is a great 4x6 print!


While testing out the printer to see if it was something I could add to my wedding packages, I presented the option to have the printer at a wedding reception as a free gift to bride and groom. The first bride I presented it to wanted to know if my tablecloth would match her reception table covers, so I decided it was best to leave the printer at home. But since then, every bride I have presented it too has been extremely excited about the opportunity. Here are a few things I believe are key to making the reception printer successful:

Bring an assistant. I think it is very important to have an assistant to set up the table and printer. It does take time to set up the table, and if I do it myself I might miss out on photographing an important part of the wedding day. My assistant prints off a few photos of her own to add to the display and  monitors the printer throughout the evening. She changes media cartridges when needed and assists if guests need help. She also helps me inform guests with digital cameras that the printer is there for them to use, complimentary.


Get the word out! At the first wedding I brought the printer to, I assumed that people would see the printer table and it would become an automatic attraction. I didn’t really advertise the printer to the guests, believing that they would jump at the chance to use it. But it turned out that people were shy—the bride and groom only received three photos in their box—and a total of only 10 photos were printed. The next time I brought the printer out, I made sure to advertise the fact that it was available to everyone I caught using a digital camera. I also asked the bride’s permission to make an announcement about the printer at the reception, which greatly improved the response from guests. Now the average use is about 50 prints per reception.

Be prepared! There are factors that can hinder the success of your reception printer—like what if there isn’t an outlet for you to plug the printer into? I always carry extra extension cords and extra paper cartridges to the reception. It also helps to know the venue that you’re bringing the printer to, so you can plan where to place the table.


With the exception of the bride who was concerned about my tablecloth matching the other tables at the reception, the response from brides has been very positive. They are excited about the idea, and they love to see the photos from the wedding ceremony displayed at the reception.

I have learned that there are technically challenged people at every wedding. These are typically guests of an older generation who are comfortable snapping away with their digital cameras, but are afraid to take the card out of their camera or don’t know how to do it. Usually there is someone of a younger generation to help them out, but not always. At many of my weddings, I think this fear of technology has greatly inhibited the number of photos that could have been printed for the bride and groom.

Overall, the response from guests has been extremely positive as well! I am approached multiple times at weddings by people thanking me or expressing, “That’s such a cool idea!” I did have one guest offer to buy me media cartridges because her grandkids were printing a handful of photos for her to carry on her flight home to Arizona. She was tickled that she would be able to show off her granddaughter’s wedding to people on the plane! But I politely refuse any kind of payment, the positive public relations is good enough for me!


So did the use of the printer at the wedding reception end up being exactly what I was looking for? And is it something I could add to my wedding packages and possibly charge for?

Well, yes and no. As far as I know, none of my local competitors are offering anything like this. The concept itself has given me recognition among wedding guests, and hopefully in the future when they are looking for a wedding photographer they will think of me.

When it comes down to charging for this service, I only feel comfortable selling it to local brides, where I am familiar with the reception venues and it is not too much trouble to travel with all of the equipment. Many times I leave a reception after the first dances, which would mean taking the printer home prematurely, but if it’s a local reception I can always leave the printer there and return for it later. So far, nobody has purchased the service as an add-on to a package; I think many brides feel that the printer table is something they could do themselves. However, I have been successful with using it as an incentive to get people to bump up to a higher photography package upgrade for which I bring in the “Guest Printer” for free. It seems to hold much more value to brides when presented in that fashion.

I still see the printer as being beneficial to my business, so I’ll be keeping it around for a while!


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Comments (11)

I use the Selphy often at events, not just weddings. The best was when I offered prints on the spot at an employee party with Santa. In two hours I photographed over 80 kids, and printed each within moments of taking the image using LR to process. I had two helpers, one to take names and sign a release, the second to put a sticker on the back of the photo with my studio information and hand it to the parents within 2min!

Interesting idea. I love doing things for my brides and wedding parties that helps them remember me and takes my service level up a notch. But I can just hear some of prospective brides saying, "If everyone can make their own pictures and share them with us, why pay a photographer to come to the reception?" These are the same people who, several years ago, would have put disposable cameras on each table instead of hiring a professional.

I also feel like organizing other people's pictures isn't part of the value that I uniquely add as an artist. If you're a photographic solutions provider, printing guests' pictures makes sense. If you're hired because your value add is your artistic vision, then the printing gig is just a distraction.

Just my 2 cents. Anyone else have thoughts about this?


I just don't get it. Where do these silly ideas come from? Why would we ever want to facilitate the creation of guests' wedding photos? It just doesn't make any sense.


I agree with Drew. It's a silly idea. It lowers us down to the "point & shoot" level.


I'm curious about the media card part of the printer - is this saving a copy of the photos printed (the digital file) too? If so, I can see a value for the client but I still not sure about the printing part. Either way, due to the conflict of interest, I think if you are going to have one at an event, then you should include a small charge for the client. From my experience, the guest photographs tend to make our photography look much better - the difference stands out and they are glad they hired a professional when they see what those point and shoots do.

Obviously there are many markets for which this concept wouldn't be appropriate. We asked Kim to try it out to see if it would be a boon or a hassle or somewhere in between and to share the results.

As Kim (the commenter, not the author) points out above, clients should clearly be able to see the value difference between your professional photography and product offerings and 4x6 prints from a point-and-shoot.

I think Larson's biggest discoveries for her own market are that the printer worked well to provide sentimental mementos for family and friends that left a feel-good impression associated with her as a photographer, and that it also worked as an inexpensive incentive that can lead clients to upgrade to a higher package.

Kim - I believe the printer does save the last few photos printed, but as far as I know there is no way to retrieve the actual digital file from the printer, you're only able to display or re-print those photos.

Andrew - very valid points. At this time I rarely attract clients who would put guest cameras on the tables or trade me out for a guest printer. The buzz I receive from providing the service has outweighed any harm that might come to my reputation as an artist.

However, when I do pitch the idea to clients, I do not sell it as a method for guests to print their own photos (even though that is what I let them do). I stress the fact that I bring the printer along to print photos from the day so the bride and groom and guests can all enjoy them--especially if there are guests who were unable to make the ceremony.

I only see two downsides - somebody running off with the machine - and - creating a backlog of non-tech savvy people who need help. I have not tried it however. It sounds cool and fun.

B and H has the device for $149. It is worth a try if it adds value, but no labor.

Those who think it puts a pro on par with the guests need to get more training.

Canon today announced a new version of the Selphy printer - the Selphy ES40. It includes a voice guidance system that vocalizes step-by-step instructions to help you print without the use of a manual.

It seems like a nice tool to have for a charity event where you might want to have a 4x6 printed for children with Santa and they will only have the opportunity to get it then and there (and perhaps they can't afford to have one otherwise with Santa). I can also see it as a special feature where someone says they want to have a print made for each of their guests with the 30 foot Christmas Tree at the party, but I've done these using an Epson R280 printer and the results are professional and the clients not only love them, but have paid for them as pro prints as well. Adding a little printer machine so that the guest will actually be encouraged to be jumping into every pose or in front of every shot I'm tying to take is adding fuel to the fire of the problem we already face every time we are trying to take a shot and have to contend with the 20 or so point and shooters that are asking for just one moment to get off their shot (which takes at least five seconds each for them to get off and just makes it more stressful for the Bride and Groom and the photographer on a schedule). For a professional wedding, I cannot see a benefit to this machine sitting on the table. For a charity Christmas party or event, maybe. For a special request for prints at the time of the event by my clients, I'll stick with my assistant using Lightroom and printing my pro shots on my Epson R280 for the guests or the client. I just think it's more professional. At least that's my two cents.

It is a very nice idea, but then by doing this, not many people would like to pay extra of their income to Pro Wedding Photographers anymore, and of course they can't pay their mortgages.


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