Top Considerations When Building Your Own Photo Booth
Building your own photo booth? Based on experience from building my own photo booths and helping Darkroom customers as well, here are some things to consider when looking at hardware options.
Most first time photo booth builders go for the least expensive digital camera they can find but that may not be the best for your photo booth. First, you need a camera that supports “live view”. Live View mode enables the photo booth software to display on screen “what the camera sees.” All currently available SLR cameras support live view and so do many older cameras. If you have an older camera that does support live view, you may want to start with that. If you plan to offer video recording in your photo booth then do some careful research into your camera. Many lower end models that offer video recording cannot automatically switch between video mode and still photo mode without the operator doing it manually. What kind of resolution do you need? Don’t be lured into that high megapixel camera because of its promise of higher quality, most photo booth strips have an individual image size measured in the mid hundreds not thousands so an image size of 5200x3500 has to be downsized to 500x425 before printing. Using a smaller file size will give you faster transfer from camera to computer and faster printing. (Instead, add to your lighting budget - see below.) For a photo booth you will also want to choose a camera that has an AC power adapter. With constant use an SLR can burn through batteries fast causing delays and lines while you change batteries every 30 minutes. Finally, consider having extra USB cables on hand for your camera in case one gets damaged. New to digital SLRs? Check out this "Ultimate Guide to how to use Your First Digital SLR."
Every photo needs light and there are many options to choose from depending on your needs. If you don’t offer video then flash is a great choice because you won’t need bright lights shining in the subjects’ eyes all of the time. You can use the on camera flash that is built in - this will deliver decent print quality. For much better picture quality that will please your clients go with a separate external studio flash. If you go with an external flash consider one one that does not require batteries for the same reasons as the camera. Be sure to set your timing to allow the flash the few seconds it needs to recycle before the next shot (be sure to run tests before your first event!) And just like the USB cable you should carry a couple of spare sync cables to go from the camera to flash. If you are planning to offer video in your photo booth, then you will need a constant light source instead of flash. LED and compact fluorescents are great options because they don’t get hot like regular light bulbs do.
Three things to consider when weighing your printer options - speed, reliability, capacity and build. All of these things add up to a professional grade dye sub printer. These printers are fast, compact, durable and can go all night on a single roll of paper/ink ribbon. Most models now can output 2 2x6 photo strips in seconds. The cost per print is low and these printers can run for years without any problem. Just like cameras, they need a cable to connect to the computer so bring extras. For a deeper discussion of photo booth printer considerations, check out this blog post by printer reseller Imaging Spectrum: What are the Top Photo Booth Printers on the Market Today?
The brains behind it all, the computer you choose is a balance between power and size. Make sure you have enough horsepower and speed needed to power all of the photo booth options you plan to offer. For example, video can require a lot of disk space for storage so you may need a large hard drive. Also, a really slow processor may result in a sluggish booth experience for the customer. If your budget allows, buy a new or refurbished computer with Windows 8 that you can dedicate solely to the running of your photo booth. Considering an Apple computer? Darkroom Booth software will run on an Apple computer using BootCamp, but save your beautiful, (and expensive) Mac for showing off and creating cool photo booth graphics - don’t risk damaging it in your photo booth.
Flat screens are cheap and come in many sizes. Consider your photo booth build and how the screen will be installed and presented. Touch screens work beautifully with Darkroom Booth software, they are easy to set up and bring a great deal of power to the photo booth. However, touch screens can be more expensive - also consider arcade buttons which can be more cost effective and durable and just might better fit the personality of your photo booth.
Ha! That’s easy - Darkroom Booth - the only software you need for your photo booth.
CLICK HERE for more information about Darkroom Booth photo booth software.
Did I mention to buy and bring extra cables? How frustrating it is to end a photo booth gig early due to a $10 USB cable. There are a lot of cables necessary to connect all of the equipment included in a photo booth and one can get damaged at any time. The best camera, computer and printer in the world won’t work if the $3 cable is broken. Take spares of every cable type. It is money well spent.