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DIY Photo Booth Using Sparkbooth

I started this project for a kids church event.  Then people saw it and wanted to rent it so now among friends and family it gets moved around and has seen a lot of smiles.  Add some props and people of all ages will jump into this thing.

Here’s a brief look at how it was built.

Construct the booth

I started with an old entertainment center.  First I cut it down to a width I wanted (about 24″) and reassembled.  This was the cheapest way to build it for me.  I made an area for the monitor, button, and used the door on the bottom for the computer.  Power strip is mounted in the bottom.  The back of this stand is closed up with a piece of 1/8″ plywood.  I added wheels to roll this without a dolly.

The main things to consider are:

-You need to mount lights that will illuminate your guests in near total darkness
-Focus on getting soft balanced light to the guests
-The monitor cables and power will need to reach the computer you use
-It should be stable enough to not get pushed over
-You need a front facing button that guests can push
-Lighter is better for transporting obviously (but still something I didn’t prioritize and should have)

IMG_20130402_161302 (Custom)

The lights

I used fluorescent but incandescent would probably be a better color of light.  Fluorescent light tends to not be flattering for photography.  The 18″ T5 bulb I used was from Walmart for $10 each.  It has been enough light but I think I should include a warmer light as well.  Maybe something top mounted.  The T5 fixtures were then hidden behind frosted Plexiglas to diffuse the light and hide the ugly fixture.

IMG_20130405_125006 (Custom)

Computer

I used an old broken laptop.  It had a badly damaged display and broken cooling fan.  I use the laptop VGA connection to run an external monitor.  The only problem is the power button on the laptop must be pressed on the actual circuit board and it’s a very very small button.  I can use the build in wifi from the laptop as well.

IMG_20130404_160958 (Custom)

Sparkbooth Photobooth Software

I’ve tried a few other software packages with limited success.  Sparkbooth is the best.  If you want a Facebook/online only method this is exactly what you want.  It also prints to any printer but i’m finding guests don’t even care if they get a photo strip if you have it available on Facebook.  Sparkbooth has always supported webcams but they now have software to supports DSLRs as well.

See what Sparkbooth is all about.  Download a trial.

Camera


I’m using a Logitech C920.  Which is the best camera you can get at the time of writing and it’s only $75 on amazon.

Monitor


I’m using an old Dell 17″ LCD that was destined for the garbage.  It’s not very bright, it’s heavy, it’s thicker than I’d like – but it’s free.  Also needed a flush mount VESA wall plate to attach this to the booth.  $10 Amazon.

The Button

I used the $12 Hulk Smash Button by Dream Cheeky which is also branded as a “Stress Button”. Both available on Amazon of course.

After some research (4 hours) I found this button is just sending SHIFT+ALT+P to your computer when you press it. That’s it… the software just listens for that sequence and activates the Hulk software based on the SHIFT+ALT+P it gets. Now that you know this you can install AutoHotKey to map to the SHIFT+ALT+P key sequence and automate just about any task you want. It’s actually a cheap and wonderful button if you don’t install the included software and infinity expand it’s uses with AutoHotKey instead.  AHK is well known and supported.

Here’s some more detail on the AHK setup.  Installing it is very easy.  Once it’s installed and you have it running, you should see it in the system tray as a green “H” icon.

Right click the AHK icon in the system tray, click “Edit this Script”

Add the +!p::send (Space} line of text as seen in the below screenshot.  It should be added to it’s own line with no spaces before or after it.

ahk_help

I painted the button to match the black booth.  I suggest 5-6 thin coats of spray paint.  Let it dry for 30 min between coats if you have the time.  After many button presses it may wear off the paint around the outside of the button where it rubs against the base but this has been a very reliable botton.  Kids really smash it sometimes.

Canopy

The canopy is an extremely high quality tent made by Eurmax.  It’s 5′ x 5′ wide and 9′ tall.  It sets up quickly and you can use this indoor or outdoor.  I’ve also not purchased the tent sides with it but instead used heavy theater blackout curtain to block all outside light.

Final Product

IMG_20130405_124946 (Custom)

Other Tips and Tricks

Position the backdrop from 5 to 6 feet away from the camera.  If you are doing an “open booth” which means no tent or booth but it’s a larger backdrop you may want to me as far as 10 feet away from backdrop.

Use a lighter color backdrop with texture.  My black backdrop works but can have trouble auto-focusing.  Also a lighter backdrop will even out skin tones when the auto white balance of the camera focuses and adjusts.

If you do this outside with natural light you can’t use a black backdrop.  The auto white balance will cause anything in front of the camera to be way over exposed.  Maybe you will have better luck, I’m always trying to get better images in different situations.

Light is the most important part of good images.  Experiment with lights, angles, distance from camera and backdrops.  Variable natural light can be an enemy if you want consistent shots.

Use props, it’s a great way to get people into the booth

Samples

2013_09_14_194235 (Custom)

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2013_09_14_190518 (Custom)