2011.05.19

Last year I was invited to a co-worker’s wedding. And, since so many weddings nowadays involve being creative on a budget, they had a photo booth there that they set up themselves using Sparkbooth, a great little Adobe AIR-based application. A few weeks later we were having our annual work party, and I was tasked with making a photo booth a reality. Since then I’ve been working on building a better photo booth experience.

NOTE: Need a button? Now you can buy one! Visit our store or Etsy.

For the first one I set up, I used my MacBook Pro. We connected a Sony PD-150 video camera via FireWire and selected it in Sparkbooth rather than using the built-in iSight camera. (The iSight is a small camera, with a tiny lens, so the video camera ended up providing a better image.) We also put a little sticker on the space bar that said “PRESS HERE TO TAKE PHOTOS” and hoped for the best. It worked, but there were just too many moving parts to deal with, like the camera on a tripod behind the MacBook, and a light clamped onto the tripod. It wasn’t elegant.

The Sparkbooth software is great and provides a ton of features, including the ability to upload photos to Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, Posterous, or a dozen other sites. There are some optional features that would require a keyboard—if you prompt people to enter their name, email, a comment, or choose if they want the image uploaded or not—but the main interaction is through pressing the space bar to start the picture-taking process.

If you need a space bar, you may need a keyboard… unless you build something that can emulate a space bar. When I saw The AWESOME Button on Make, I knew what I had to do. I had to build a button.

Ready for Pushing
The Button

The button is simple, and built into a metal case. It should stand up to abuse that a normal keyboard might not, and it’s pretty simple. You can’t really press the wrong button, there’s only one.

Once I had the button, I set about getting my old iMac set up as the photo booth machine. Not being happy with the built-in iSight (the iMac is about 4 years old, and it’s definitely not as good as the latest round of iSight cameras), I ended up taking the Canon ZR800 from Time Lapse Bot and using that. It worked OK but wasn’t ideal. I didn’t want to have to deal with a tripod and more cables, etc. (I even ended up testing a floor-mount camera holder I built which took pictures of shoes for a specific event—don’t ask!)

Ultimately I settled on using a Logitech HD Pro USB Webcam C910. Its image quality is much better than the iSight, and there’s just one cable to plug in. Just one problem… while it worked fine with my MacBook, no matter what I tried, I could not select it in Sparkbooth on the iMac. I tried everything, including different versions of Adobe AIR, different versions of Mac OS X, reformatting the drive, a clean install… nothing would work. I ended up disconnecting the built-in iSight thanks to some help from iFixIt.

The Photo Booth
The Completed Photo Booth

So I now had the button and the camera. I then needed something to hold it all together. I wanted a stand to put the iMac on that was about the right height for a “typical human being,” and by that I mean: about my height. (You can also easily adjust the camera by just tilting the iMac a bit.) I ended up building a simple pedestal out of plywood and painting it white. I used thin plywood to save on weight since it needs to be somewhat portable. You can’t see it in the photo but the back has been left open, and there’s an internal shelf for the keyboard and mouse. I keep those handy in case of trouble, or if I need to change any settings in the software. The shelf actually helps structurally as well.

For the light, I used a small IKEA clamp light (you’d be amazed how hard it is to find a small, good-looking clamp light.) There’s an L-shaped piece of plywood behind the iMac that’s held onto the stand with a c-clamp. It works for now. I may upgrade the light in the future.

Booth Photos
Photos from the Booth

Here’s a selection of photos from the first official use of the Photo Booth. (Yes, there are two Munchkins on the back wall—it was a “Wizard of Oz” themed party.) I’m asking for a bit of forgiveness in calling this a “Photo Booth” at this point because, while it does take photos, there isn’t an actual booth yet… I need to save something for Phase II of this project…

Stay Tuned!

NOTE: Need a button? Now you can buy one! Visit our store or Etsy.

14 Responses to “The Photo Booth”

  1. Jens SchwoonNo Gravatar says:

    Hi

    Awesome design. It looks really great. I like the button, its alot like the old arcade machines from the 70th. I also use Sparkbooth – now testing V3.0 – it is really great. But what is also very great is “psremote” with greenscreen-functionality. Mainly it was only a remote software for Canon Cameras, now it can do alot more. There are also some helpful links to other OneButtons Solutions…

    http://www.breezesys.com/PSRemote/photobooth.htm

    Stay on “photoboothing” ;-)

    Best, Jens

  2. Thanks! I have heard of PSRemote before but sadly the “Windows only” part is a deal-killer for me. :(

  3. KANo Gravatar says:

    Have you told you how much I loved this? Because I loved it.

  4. nikNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Pete
    This may not be exactly what you’re looking for but here’s an example of a time lapse photo booth that Chase Jarvis did…really funny at some points. He’s a super-talented pro photographer based in Seattle & Paris.
    http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2009/12/chase-jarvis-frames-21112-party-pictures/
    Your photo booth is awesomely cool…I love the design! Best of luck to you & Milwaukee Makerspace on Gallery Night!

  5. Nik, I’ve seen the work Chase has done, and it’s pretty awesome. I also love the fact that he shares so much of what he does. Good stuff!

    Also, I’ve done a bit of time lapse stuff myself. ;)

  6. Eric FNo Gravatar says:

    Hey-
    Great post. What did you use as a printer?

  7. Eric, no printing… it uploads photos as they are taken, and can be provided to the host/guests after the event.

  8. mikeNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Pete

    What you did here is just great. You have inspired me to make my own DIY photo booth. I copied your system (imac, c910 webcam and light) but unfortunately i couldn’t do the button :( So i will use the imac’s keyboard. I plan to put a red sticker with the text “press me” on the spacebar. My first test run will be in a family birthday gathering this weekend. From there I can assess if i will eventually rent this out in the future. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Mike

  9. Mike, glad I could be of help! I’d love to see some photos of your system. And if you need a button, this post might help: http://rasterweb.net/raster/2011/05/09/the-button/

  10. mikeNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks very much for the link Pete. I’m from the Philippines and these boards have limited availability direct to consumers here. But I think I may be able to source it from technicians (hopefully!!) Sure Pete I will share the photos of my system shot at the actual event. BTW, getting the C910 to run on my IMAC was as easy as doing it on the macbook. I’m really glad I did not have to go through the process of disabling isight.

  11. ChrisNo Gravatar says:

    How do i attach the button to my computer

  12. Chris, the Teensy connects to the computer via a USB cable. (The same cable used to program the Teensy.)

  13. HelenNo Gravatar says:

    were you able to set it up to print the strips automatically?

  14. Helen, I don’t print the photos. It’s all digital, they can be automatically uploaded to Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Posterous, TwitPic, etc…

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