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Saturday
Jun022012

DIY Photo Booth Guide

 

Not everyone needs a full blown photo booth rental with props and an attendant at their party. Sometimes you just want to set up an area for your guests to get a fun, maybe silly picture taken on their terms. At its core the first purpose of a photo booth is fun. It's not a person wandering the party taking candid shots, and it's not a photographer with a tripod set up posing a group. The photo booth fills the gap somewhere in between. A secondary objective is some great high quality pictures from the party you worked so hard on.  In this post I'll try to outline some of the different options for a photo booth you can make yourself, and address how you can achieve those two distinct and sometimes mutually exclusive goals.

Ipad with App

An Ipad makes a fun and cheap photo booth

Pros:

  • Inexpensive - If you already have an Ipad all you need is an app and some space and you're set!
  • Little space needed - An Ipad is thin and can be mounted to a wall, or set up on a mount. The only space requirement is room to stand or sit, and maybe a small table for a few great props.
  • Easy to use - By now most people are familiar with the touch interface of an Ipad, and if they aren't it's possibly the easiest technology to figure out.
  • Built in viewing monitor - The Ipad has an excellent display, and it's perfect for framing up your shot. It's a camera and monitor all in one!


Cons:

  • Low Image resolution - Obviously with a camera lens the size of a pinhole you aren't going to get pictures that are magazine quality resolution. The Ipad camera is a webcam and it's main purpose is for video chatting where high image quality is a bandwidth killing feature. Quality takes a backseat to speed in this application
  • No dedicated lighting - Most professional booths employ a strobe, and possibly even some constant lighting to brighten up the images. The Ipad offers no way to connect external lighting to fire a flash when the image is captured
  • Narrow frame - The Ipad camera isn't made for groups. The low resolution and sub-par lighting means you'll need to get pretty close to get the shot; this means you're lucky if you can get two people in one shot, much less a large group.
  • Very Limited Print options - The Ipad can only print on "Airprint" enabled printers, and most apps don't even support printing. So most people will be out of luck if they wish to print, but who prints pictures anymore anyway.

Summary

If you're looking for a good cheap way to have some fun at a party, this delivers. If however you're hoping for any useable images after the party is long over, you'll want to add a real camera and photographer to this photo booth wannabe, or read on for some other solutions.

 

Point & Shoot with PC

While not the prettiest solution, passable images can be produced
 

Pros:

  • Inexpensive - Many hosts will already have both a point and shoot camera as well as a a laptop laying around that can be used for a make-shift photo booth.
  • High resolution - The resolution of point and shoot cameras reached the point of diminishing returns. You rarely see camera manufacturers touting a high megapixel count any longer because the largest size necessary has already been achieved. Of course that doesn't mean that the image quality of every 12 megapixel camera is great.
  • Good Battery Life - Most point and shoots will be able to handle a six hour event, no matter how many pictures you take with ease. Some cameras will even charge while plugged into the USB port on your computer. Just be sure to have your laptop plugged in!
  • Remote Shutter - Depending on your hardware, it's possible that you can utilize a remote shutter for your setup. This will allow your guests to have control of the exact moment the shutter is released and results in a much more pleasant experience for your guests.

Cons:

  • Compatibility Headaches - Anyone who has upgraded their computer only to discover the printer has stopped working knows the headache drivers can be. Be sure to check and double check the exact model number of your camera, and then be sure that it is supported with the software solution you choose.
  • Messy presentation - Laptop on a table with a power cord, camera on a tripod connected to the computer, remote shutter release connected to the camera, this can really drag the aesthetic of your party down.
  • Low quality Lens - A point and shoot camera usually has a very deep depth of field, so that the image is in focus from about 1 foot to infinity. This makes it a little easier to take quick pictures, but doesn't result in the highest quality images, they often turn out a little flat looking, with consistent lighting and focus throughout lacking in texture.
  • Harsh Lighting/ Dark Images - With most point and shoots you don't have the option of using an external flash unit which means your options are limited. You can use the onboard flash, that will cause harsh light from the same direction of the lens, or use the camera with no flash at all which could result in dark or blurred images, depending on the amount of ambient light available.

Summary
This is a popular solution with passable results. The images produced won't win any portraiture awards at the state fair but photo booths have not traditionally been renowned for image quality. If you don't mind trading money for time, the days spend finding the right software and testing your setup could payoff with very little financial investment, and a fun home-made photo booth.

Laptop with webcam

 

Laptop with integrated webcam is not ideal for events


Pros:

  • Compatibility Ease - Webcam compatibility is much easier because a webcam has to communicate with your operating system, which means driver compatibility is far more generic.
  • All-in-One - Many laptops have a webcam built in, offering a more elegant solution than the connected camera


Cons:

  • Low Quality Images - A webcam suffers from quality as well. Even a "high res" webcam isn't going to produce an image that anyone wants to have framed for above the mantle
  • No Remote Shutter - Rigging up a remote control for users takes a bit more work with a webcam computer combo, which means you will have to have users use a keystroke to initialize the camera, which might negatively effect the Photo Booth feel you're going for.

Summary:
For the truly budget conscious this is a great solution that doesn't require a lot of time or money. But having guests hit the spacebar on the keyboard to take a picture that no one will want to keep doesn't offer a lot on the fun scale, nor does it provide a worthwhile keepsake. This solution should only be used as a last resort…no, scratch that even as a last resort this doesn't offer any value for a party.

 

Laptop with DSLR

Great for high quality images but a usually a photographer is required

Pros:

  • Great quality - Even with the kit lens the DSLR, or Digital Single Lens Relay camera is going to give you the best results of this round up. Throw a higher quality lens and you'll have a sure winner. Flicker Stage utilizes a wide angle lens to ensure everyone gets in the group shots.
  • External Lighting - DSLR cameras have ways to trigger a remote flash so you can get some very high quality lighting, resulting in truly social share worthy images. External flash will allow you to bounce the light off a nearby wall or ceiling, or even use a good diffuser to create a soft glow so that all your guests look like models


Cons:

  • Software compatibility - There are only a few software vendors that offer support for DLSR cameras. Be very careful which software you choose to go with, and double check that your camera is supported.
  • Expensive - If you don't have a DSLR, expect to pay at least $800 for a good camera and light kit, more if you want a respectable lens attached to it.
  • Fragile - If you have an event full of guests having a good time, the possibility for an accident involving a top heavy camera tripod combo is high. To protect your investment you will be tempted to have someone standing there actually snapping the picture, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the photo booth in the first place. Isn't a nice camera on a tripod with a photographer just called a photo studio?

Summary
If you already have a DSLR camera or have wanted been looking for an excuse to get one, this might be a great reason. If the goal of your photo booth is high quality images, DSLR is the way to go. If it's just some fun during the party you're after, it might be best to go with one of the earlier mentioned options. For the price of setting up the Laptop DSLR combo you could hire a pro to come out a couple times over if you don't already have some of the equipment.

 

Backdrops
In addition to selecting your hardware you can't forget a few auxiliary items. The background is extremely important. The difference between a photo taken that just has the party in the background, and one with a well thought out backdrop is immense. This can't be overstated. Lighter backgrounds will reflect more light, and give off a light and bright feeling in the images. Darker colors will soak in the light, and make the whole image appear darker. Props are also important. There are only so many times a person can take a picture smiling at the camera.

The backdrop changes the mood of the image dramatically

Props

For staying power, you need to give your guests a reason to take another photo, that reason, is that prop they haven't had a chance to use yet. When choosing your props it’s fun to try matching the props to a theme. Etsy is a great resource for props that won’t be the standard Party City fare. Be careful to stay away from props that hide the face too much, they might be fun, but in a year from now, you’ll just have a bunch of pictures of masks. Also props on a stick are a great choice, because many guests don’t want to take the time or trouble to put elastic or ribbons on their heads, also props on sticks won’t mess up hair and makeup. 

Print or Online Hosting
The last thing I haven't yet addressed is image delivery. The term photo booth conjures thoughts of a strip of photos. I would argue that the strip of photos is a relic of yesteryear. Guests today want to share and store images online. Don't force your guests to take a picture of the blurry strip with a cell phone, just to post that abomination of a picture online. That's not how you want your party to be remembered. My recommendation is to set up a gallery. If you created an event page on Facebook it's a no-brainer, just create a gallery and post to Facebook. Many Evite sites will allow you to send a follow up message after the event, and this would be a great opportunity to send the link to the online gallery, which could be posted to Flickr, or Photobucket, or SmugMug or any other photo hosting site. As a low tech option, you could always create an email list at the photo booth, and send the link to the gallery the old fashioned way! Either way, keep the images digital, as they are meant to be.

There you have it, a guide on some of the most popular ways to your very own DIY photo booth. If all this software, hardware and driver talk is making you queasy, hiring a pro like Flicker Stage will result in a ton of fun during the event, and the highest quality images possible for after the party is over. With a pro, you're not just renting a booth, but hiring a service. You get a magic box that creates fun and memories at the same time. The magic box is just there, and works, and you don't have to think about it. After you account for your time spent assembling and testing your DIY booth, as well as any costs incurred by software, props, and hardware, you might find that the cheapest solution is actually outsourcing this particular element of your event. We would love to help!

Resources:
For a little more time and effort here is an Ipad + DLSR solution that even includes a couple studio strobes.

Photo booth App for Ipad

PC Photo Booth Software

Paper Props

Plastic Props

Photo hosting site

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (4)

I just stumbled upon this site. Thanks for sharing such a valuable discussion here.

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterimm

Wow you are not very smart. Looks like you are telling people exactly which software you are using, where to get it, and how to compete with you. Still scratching my head why I would now hire you for an event when I can DIY it and start making money! Woot woot!

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWow

In reply to Wow:
There are those that would like information on making their own photo booth from someone that has had success making one, and I hope this article serves those people well. On the other hand there are some that value time over money, so I will never have a shortage of people that would rather have someone make the booth for them and handle all the corresponding logistics.

Of course a photo booth is more than just a sum of its parts. Thinking that you could replicate a professional booth by just connecting the same software is like thinking you'll be able to compete with Coca-cola by reading the ingredients on the can.

July 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDamien R. Hutchins

Some good points here, had great time reading this. Thanks.

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