Idea #3 - Building a photo booth from stock components
Chris Lydle - Chris' Camera Center, Aiken, SC USA - www.chriscamera.com
Inspired by the success of Dan's Camera in Allentown, PA (MMIE #325) I set out to enter the exciting photo booth business. This was in November, because all retailers know you've got extra time on your hands during the last few months of the year ;)
I never accomplish anything if there isn't a deadline, so I signed up to be a vendor at the Aiken's Premiere Wedding Event on January 16th. Having promised to be there, the challenge was to do all the following by that self-imposed deadline:
- Establish a business plan
- Choose a business name
- register a domain
- Create a uniform look and feel for all our marketing materials
- create a web site
- print business cards
- design and print brochures
- oh yeah - create a photo booth!
The business name was easy: South Carolina Photobooths, a division of Chris' Camera Center. We're on the western side of the state, close to the Georgia line, and I thought about calling it Georgialina but went with real words for the title.
And the domain name www.scphotobooths.com was available, so I registered that and built a web site right away.
Guided by the information Mike Woodland had shared with us, I assembled the necessary hardware and software.
The key to success is the software, which you license from Breeze Systems in England. Available in 3 variations, this lets you control 3 camera families that have remote control capability:
only certain models in each family work, but software designer Chris Breeze lists them on his web site.
- Nikon DSLRs
- Canon DSLRs
- Canon Point and Shoot models
I used an old lap top computer and an old 17" LCD monitor in the booth design. Older, non-wide screen monitors are better than current models for this usage.
The camera sits right above the monitor. As primary light I used a PROMASTER fluorescent softbox because it worked well and didn't have to be sychronized.
I purchased licenses for both Canon DSLRs and Canon Point and Shoot cameras. Originally I'd intended to use an EOS XTi because it was the least expensive DSLR with Live View. Live View lets the subjects see themself prior to tripping the shutter. But DSLRs don't let you exercise as much control with the computer, and live view monitors are not designed for continuous operation. Internet reports suggested that under continuous shooting the cameras could overheat and shut down.
Instead I sought out some good used Canon G-series cameras on eBay. (Note - the current model G-11 does not have the remote capture capability. That makes me a little nervous and I'm stockpiling good used cameras for future needs).
Also on eBay I picked up a Sony UP-DR150 dye sublimation printer, which cranks out 4x6 prints at a cost of about 20 cents apiece.. The printer is heavy, about 35 pounds. Sony makes a newer, cheaper model called the UP-CX1 which weighs only 22 pounds and looks a little easier to reload.
The only other exotic hardware is the Stealth Switch, a better tripping button.
Building the box was the toughest part. From IKEA I bought IVAR modular book case components and skinned the system with 1/4" plywood. The paint was leftover from a previous project.
Just about a week after I started on the project the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce announced their annual Christmas party to be held December 14th for members. I asked if I could bring the booth - free - and demo it, and the COC president said "sure." It was a big hit, even though we had no background or booth frame at the time.
And a hotel operator asked if we could do their Christmas party that Saturday, December 19th.
Yes, we could. And we did. And they loved it, even though the booth was completely open - no sides or curtains - and we hadn't programmed voice prompts or even figured out where all the components went!
It was a challenge, but it brought in our first payment for the system and served as a trial balloon.
We close off the back of the booth with graphic posters on foam core, fastened with Velcro to give us needed access.
The Breeze software becomes the spider controlling your camera. You design the images which show on the monitor, including a series that count down the time 'til the next photo is taken. You can also record audio files that play at the appropriate time.
When the subjects press the shutter release button or a touch-screen monitor, 3 or 4 photos are taken in a sequence. The Breeze software generates photo strips - kind of like a customized contact sheet - and sends them to both the dye-sub printer and the computer's hard drive.
That means you can give the sponsor a CD or DVD of all the individual images and all the created strips. Designing the lay out of the strips, and making the image files for the photo booth, was challenging but quite do-able.
Come January 16th, we had a busy day. Of the 800+ paid attendees of the wedding show, about 20% sat in the booth for a sample and almost all who did filled out a contest entry form complete with e-mail. (We promised a drawing for $300 off a 4-hour booking). So we built a prospect list and evoked lots of interest.
Talk about lucky - everyone else who filled out the entry form wins a $150 second place!