Build a wedding photo booth on a budget with these 10 components
Photobooths are the big craze at weddings and other special events these days. In every major city, dozens of photobooth companies have sprung up to take advantage of the growing hype. Is it a fad or a trend? I prefer to think it’s a trend that’s only growing and adding more bells and whistles by the year. In the beginning, we had the simple photo booth that spit out prints to eager wedding guests. Now we have portable photobooths that include slow-motion video, flip books, instant online sharing on social media sites, and who knows what’s next…maybe we’ll have a 3D photo booths appearing at weddings in the next year or two (They’re actually already available, but I have yet to see one at a local wedding).
If you’re in the wedding industry and what to throw your hat into the photobooth ring, the barrier to entry is manageable. Most pre-made booths will cost you between $4,000 – $10,000 (USD) depending on the style and what’s included. But for between $1000 – $2000 (or even as little as $500), just about anyone can have DIY booth. It just takes a little design creativity, time, and a relatively small investment to get things going.
I’ve actually built my own portable open-air photobooth. It put it together with the help of a local metal fabricator and assembled the “brains” of the booth using mostly secondhand items I already owned or bought off Craigslist for a song. It works great and guests love it. It fits easily into my car and sets up in minutes. It’s a great addition to our service offering, and our wedding clients love how simple it is. Here are my steps to putting together your own photobooth on a relatively low budget.
- Design your photo enclosure or buy one pre-made: One approach is to design and build your own booth enclosure. It can be made of metal, wood, or plastic. If you’re choosing metal, consider using aluminum because it’s lighter. There’s nothing worse than a booth that’s overly heavy. If you making it from wood, there are a number of options, such as cheap plywood or pine. If you’re considering plastic, talk to a specialist; they can direct you on what type of plastic to use (e.g. acrylic) and how thick it should be. In my case, I chose aluminum and found a local metal fabricator to cut it, assemble, and weld it together for me. The design is up to you, but most photobooths will need a 1) compartment for the “brains” (more below); 2) cutouts for the camera, LCD screen (if you have one and are mounting it inside the box), and buttons for activation (unless you want to have a touchscreen design); 3) a compartment for the printer (if you’re using one) and a cutout for where the prints come out; 4) a place to mount a flash or small studio strobe with something to diffuse the light.A common sturdy DIY option is to build one made out of two stacking ATA road cases. The same type these use to transport sound and stage equipment. There are several businesses that offer ATA case components online. One such company is TCH. Another is Roadie Products, which makes a photobooth case with no cutouts. If you want to buy a fully pre-made enclosure, there are a number of places selling them. There are custom cases and the typical ATA road cases that come in different colors. One company to check out is EZPhotoBooth in California, they have a large number of cases and other accessories available.
- Find an old LCD monitor: Depending on the case you choose, the screen will be mounted on the inside of the box (most common) or on the outside (which is what I did). The dimensions of the screen will determine the size of the cutout if you’re doing the former. If you’re doing the latter, cut-outs don’t matter, but figuring out how to mount on the outside will. I had an old black 15″ NEC LED monitor laying around collecting dust, so I repurposed it into a photobooth screen. The VESA mounting surface on the back of the monitor made it easy to mount onto just about any box or frame.
- Add an old laptop Windows laptop notebook: The smaller the notebook, the better. A budget option is to use an older netbook, which you can easily grab of Craigslist for $100 or less. There’s no need for anything powerful, it’s a just photobooth after all. Just about anything with at least 1GB of RAM, Windows 7, and a decent sized hard drive (e.g. 60Gb or more) to store a few hundred JPEG photos will do. It will also need an external monitor input, and as many USB inputs as possible. One option is a HP Mini 110: It’s relatively cheap, has the hardware and connection requirements, and usually pretty easy to find second-hand. You can also use an hold Mac laptop, but they’re not nearly as budget friendly as Windows netbooks, unless of course you already have one laying around.
- Software: You will need something to run the photo booth. You’ll need software to control the picture-taking, storage, and printing (or online posting) of the photos. Two budget options are: DSLR Remote by Breeze Systems and DSLRBooth. DSLRBooth is the cheapest option, costing as little as $50 for the standard version (I’ve seen a daily deal for it that’s about 50% off too). I have copies of both DSLR Remote Pro and DSLRBooth, but use DSLR Remote Pro more often. It works great, but the custom layout tool is harder to use on DSLR Remote Pro.
- Arcade Buttons: You can use arcade buttons, a usb button (prebuilt), or just purchase a touch-screen monitor to activate your photobooth. If you’re looking for arcade buttons to make your own push-button solution, check out SparkFun for a long list of different button types.
- USB Interface Controller: You’ll need a way to connect the arcade buttons to your notebook. The easiest way to do this is with a human interface device (HID) such as the UHID Nano, which will allow you to connect up to 4 buttons. To make it all work, you’ll also need to download the free U-Config Utility, which will take a little time to figure out, but once you do, it will allow you to program the HID to take arcade button input and translate it into keyboard strokes that control the Photobooth software.
- Dye Sub Printer: If you want to provide prints, you’ll need a Dye Sublimation Printer (Dye Sub). There are several out there you can purchase, and what you’re looking for is something small, supports a large print roll, has a built-in cutter, prints fast (i.e. prints in seconds, not minutes), and is budget friendly on the paper-roll refills. Great news is that printers have been coming down in price, but expect to pay for the pay rolls because that’s where they make their profit. Two of the best low cost options for a photobooth printing are the DNP DS40 and the DNP DS-RX1. I currently have the DNP RX1 and highly recommend it.
- Speedlite or Monolight: The last important component is lighting. The easiest option is to to use any old speedlite. However, if you planning to put a photobooth into a dark space (eg. such as during a wedding reception), you may want to have a lighting option that includes a modeling light (ie. a continuous light that will be on when the booth is open). A good option is to use a budget monolight that has low watts per second (Ws). There are many selling on Ebay and Aliexpress. Something in the 200Ws or lower is all you’ll need, but be sure to get something with a built-in fan if you’re planing to use the modelling light.
- Booth backdrop/tent: This is one of the easier things to obtain for your photobooth. You can use any sort of background support system, but make sure it’s lightweight and fast to set up. You can also check out some cool backdrops on Etsy, there are a few handmade ones there that are pretty cool, but may not last over several events. For something meant for commercial use, check out Drop it Modern for a large collection of cool backgrounds. Visit their deals section and you can find backdrops for around $100 or less. Another budget option is to purchase the Wescott X-drop backgrounds. Just purchase the backgrounds, and not the support system. I wouldn’t recommend using the X-drop support system because it’s very flimsy and won’t last long for a photobooth (trust me, I tried).A booth tent is an optional component which you can use in place of the backdrop support system. A booth tent will finish off your photobooth and give it that enclosed booth look. Many photobooth are going “open air” nowadays, but in case you need it, there are also tents you can purchase to provide privacy to your clients (what do client do in there anyway??). One option is the Eurmax Photobooth tent, but It’s not cheap at around $500USD. The other option is to use a pipe and drape system, such as the one from OnlineEEI, but again, it’s also not cheap at around $540USD.
- A camera: I like using a DSLR for my booth, but you can use just about any camera. This mostly depends on your photobooth software, so check what cameras it supports first. I prefer using a old Canon 30D with a zoom lens. Since it’s got a 1.6x crop factor, you’ll want a wideangle on the lens.
With these main components, you should be able to put together a functioning photobooth that can be used for weddings and other special events. Some other things you’ll want to consider as you’re going about building your booth are: 1) Try to make the booth as transportable as possible, keep it light and compact enough to fit in your car. 2) There will be a lot of wiring involved so make sure you have more than you need. I always find myself hunting for wiring when setting up the booth. 3) Anytime you’re running a photography business, it’s important to have backup equipment, so even though you’re building on a budget, you need to have backup components just in case.
If there are other components you would suggest, post your comments below! Thanks for reading.
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