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The home made photo booth

15 Dec

It started as so many projects do, with a couple of friends hanging out and chatting over beers down in the basement. The difference in this situation is that the friends (Myself and my friend Brian) were both engaged to marry the women who have now become our wives, and we were both knee deep in the helping our ladies put together the plans for our respective weddings.

Photo booths were once so specialized and expensive that you would only see them in high traffic public places. I personally have fond memories of the photo booths in the metro and train stations of europe, and we’ve all seen them in shopping malls and bars. More recently, the availability of inexpensive digital photography equipment has helped drive build and maintenance costs down, and photo booths are popping up everywhere. After being guests at a handful of weddings over the past few years that featured (rented) booths, my bride to be and I knew we wanted one for our own wedding. Enter the beer fueled conversation. With booth rental prices for one evening’s use coming in between $1200-2000 we kicked a few ideas around and decided, as men drinking beer often do, “hell, we could build that”!

Here is what we came up with. Read on below the gallery if you are interested in how it was all done.

We didn’t do much careful planning or detailed design work. The requirements were pretty simple. We wanted the booth to be slightly larger than your average photobooth to accommodate larger group photos. We wanted it to be relatively lightweight and portable, able to be moved by ‘two guys and a truck’. We wanted it to act like any photobooth that you’ve encountered before – press a simple button, make some funny faces, and out pops a strip of ‘film’ with your images. Finally, we wanted it to be nice to look at. This was going to be a major feature of our weddings after all, we didn’t want something ugly.

With those basic ideas in mind, we pretty much went off to the hardware store and got to work. We started by building out the interior frame using inexpensive and relatively lightweight 2×2 timber. Unfortunately the photos I took of this stage of the build were lost but you can imagine a fairly basic frame in the dimensions of 6’2″ x 3’5″ x 2’6″. The lumber was cut and screwed together with wood screws, being careful to maintain the correct (square) angles on the corners. We also built a simple shelf dividing the unit into upper and lower sections, in order to have a place to mount the electronics. On top of the frame we slapped on some nice looking but very light weight 1/4″ plywood to form the body of the booth.

Once all of the lumber was cut and placed to form the body we cutout the holes needed for mounting the screen, button, and lights on the front, as well as the photo slot on the side and the access panel on the back. Using a jigsaw I was able to make precision cuts for these detail pieces, and any imperfections would be covered by trim. As the body started to come together we turned our attention to the finish. There was plenty of indecision over painting vs staining the wood, but in the end we decided to go with a rich dark stain for the body to highlight the wood grain, and paint the trim black. We went with a simple curtain design to enclose the guests in the “booth”, which has provided plenty of flexibility when it comes to transport and setup options. Needless to say we are very pleased with the final look of the product.

The basic electronic components required for any digital photobooth are a camera, a computer (with monitor) running photobooth software, a printer, and a triggering mechanism. There are any number of ways to put something like this together, but here is the approach we used.

  • Camera: Logitech C910 1080p Webcam. This high quality webcam provides very sharp images for our software to work with. I would have like to use a high quality digital camera instead of the webcam, but the software (see below) we chose only supports webcams at present, and the quality of this unit definitely gets the job done.
  • Monitor: I had an older Dell 17″ LCD monitor laying around, but these can be easily found at low prices these days. We removed the internal screen portion from the plastic case, and mounted it inside the wooden frame of the booth so that the screen would sit flush against the front panel.
  • Computer: Older generation Apple Macbook Pro I had laying around. Any laptop or smaller desktop will do however. Just be aware of the software’s system requirements. In this case you’ll want something with a 1ghz process or better and at least 2Gb of ram. I recommend using a laptop with it’s own internal screen (and mirroring the displays) so that you can easily manage the booth while hidden from behind, rather than needing to drag a keyboard/mouse around front to look at the display monitor.
  • Software: Sparkbooth. Runs on Mac, Windows, or Linux and provided great features, and costs under $50. With this software I can customize the interface and photostrip template, upload photos automatically to the internet, and much more. I looked at all of the options on the market today, and found this to be the best choice, short of spending upwards of $500 for a commercial option.
  • Printer: Epson Picturemate Charm. This small but capable printer retails for under $150 and prints very high quality photos at 4×6 which are perfect for cutting into 2×6″ strips. You’ll want to use the 150page glossy paper packs for best results. The printer is mounted above a “photo slot” that we built into the side of the booth, so that when it finishes a print the photo drops down to the delight of the guest.
  • Triggering Button: We used a 100mm illuminated ‘big red button’ which was flush mounted into the front of the booth. I wired this up in a way that makes my computer think it is a giant space bar, which is the key used to trigger the sparkbooth software. (Stay tuned for a separate post on how this was accomplished. ) A standard 12v power supply that I cannibalized from around the house was used to power the light in the button when the booth is on. This took a little effort to perfect, but it has been very worthwhile. The large glowing red button leaves no question in your mind when you step into the booth what you are supposed to do.

Total cost to build including all of the raw materials, electronics and software was just around $900 – well under a single day’s rental for a professional booth. Of course we spent – I don’t know how many hours – building the thing, but we had a lot of fun doing it. At the end of the day we’ve got a truly one of a kind photobooth made to our exact specifications, and you can’t put a price on that.
I tried not to go into too much boring detail on the specifics of construction or design, but if you are interested to know more about any part of this process please feel free to contact me. This booth is also available to rent in Seattle, WA. Contact me for details.

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