1/1/2012 8:30:00 PM

Photo Booths have become extremely popular in recent years, and are a frequent mainstay at weddings and parties.  Most people really aren't familiar with the important parts of a Photo Booth.  We're asked about them frequently, and thought that people might benefit from a quick rundown of the basics.

Firstly, the days of the chemical Photo Booth are pretty much over.  Although people don't always know it, Photo Booths today are almost 100% digital.  Personally, I haven't seen a chemical Photo Booth in years.  Even if one were still operational, it would be doubtful that it would appear at a wedding... The consumables would just make it impractical.

BoothStrips.jpgSo... What's a digital Photo Booth?

Fundamentally, they're a computer-based system.  Obviously, most Photo Booths share these common traits:

  • They take pictures
  • They make prints

Beyond those basics, you're going to find a lot of differences.  Photo Booths aren't very standardized.  It's only in recent years that commercially manufactured models are commonplace.  A lot of people manufacture their own, for a variety of reasons.

The most important parts of a Photo Booth are the camera, lighting, and the printer.  There is world of variation out there.

The camera (and lighting) ultimately determine the quality of the pictures.  Some Photo Booths use a simple webcam.  Higher quality units use a compact camera.  The best Photo Booths use full DSLR cameras.  You may not notice the quality difference as much at small sizes; but it becomes apparent should you view the images at larger sizes later.

HalogenWorklight.jpgLighting is important for any Photo Booth.  You may not realize it, but it plays a big part in the final image.  Much like anything else, you'll see a wide range of solutions in the marketplace.  The lowest quality Photo Booths will use simple halogen lights, like you would obtain from Home Depot.  These lights are continuous (they're on all the time), generate a lot of heat, and are not color calibrated.  You will often notice an "orange" color to your photos when these types of lights are used.  Better Photo Booths use color-calibrated fluorescent bulbs.  They are still a continuous light, but don't generate heat, and give reliable color to your pictures.  The best Photo Booths will be equipped with color calibrated diffused flash units.  They are easy to spot, as they have a distinctive flash on each picture.  A flash-equipped Photo Booth will have the best ability to "freeze the action" and will give the best color for your pictures.  It also serves to let your guests "know" as each picture is taken.

The printer makes a big impact in two different ways.  Print quality is the first that comes to mind.  The second item is equally important, but often not considered. Speed.  The speed of the printer is usually the "weak link" in a Photo Booth.  It's the most frequent cause of backups and delays.

There are two types of printers commonly used in Photo Booths.  The most common are inkjet photo printers, like you might purchase for your home.  They are less expensive for the photo booth operator, but suffer several drawbacks.  Firstly, they are usually the slowest type of printer; with a set of strips taking as much as 60 seconds to produce.  Inkjet prints also need some time to dry.  If touched too soon, they will smear and make an inky mess on your hands.  The second type of printer that you are likely to encounter are dye-sublimation printers.  These are typically much more expensive for the Photo Booth operator to purchase; but produce a superior product.  Dye-sublimation printers work differently than inkjets.  They use a ribbon and thermal head to produce their images.  The paper supply typically comes on a roll, and can produce hundred of prints before maintenance.  Dye-sublimation prints are laminated as part of their process.  As such, they are never wet; even when touched immediately.  Dye-sublimation printers range in speed from about 25 seconds down to about 10 seconds for a pair of strips.

Other things to consider:

Since most Photo Booths are fundamentally a computer, they are usually capable of producing reprints.  Reprints inflict an extra media cost on the operator.  Some operators limit the amount of reprints, in an attempt to contain costs.  Others do not impose a limit.  Check on this when doing your research.

If a Photo Booth is equipped with an DVD drive (or USB port), you may be able to get a copy of the digital images.  The digital images is where the capture quality of the photos really becomes relevent.  If the Photo Booth is of high quality, the images can be printed or viewed at large sizes.  A single image can easily be enlarged to an 8x10 or larger if the Photo Booth is equipped with a quality camera.

Redundancy is important.  Equipment breaks.  Some operators will carry backup equipment in case of a problem.  The most fragile part of a Photo Booth is the computer.

Ok.  Internals aside, what about the "actual booth"?

Photo Booths are largely divided into two types... Enclosed Photo Booths and Open Photo Booths.  A bit of detail on each:

EnclosedPhotoBooth-192-200.jpgEnclosed Photo Booths are typically smaller than Open Photo Booths and require a smaller amount of floor space.  An Enclosed Photo Booth will typically range from 2.5' - 5' wide, and about 6' - 7' long.  Some Enclosed Photo Booths are "boardwalk" or "arcade" style, with a rugged metal shell (reminiscent of their days in malls and arcades).  These "hard wall" Photo Booths are typically delivered via truck and lift-gate.  They are usually equipped with wheels.  In contract, "soft wall" Photo Booths are purpose-built for events.  They are typically not even designed to accept money.  They aren't hardened for arcade use, but designed for portability.  A "soft wall" Photo Booth will typically allow a larger number of people in the picture, due to their inherent flexibility.  Secondarily, a "soft wall" unit can often be maneuvered into more difficult spaces, as they weigh far less than their armored counterparts.

Some questions to ask when considering a Photo Booth company:

  • What type of camera / lighting / printer does the booth have?
  • How often does the Photo Booth need maintenance?
  • How fast are prints produced?
  • How many sessions can be accomplished per hour?
  • Are the digital images included in some manner?
  • How many people can fit in the picture? 
  • Is a loading dock / elevator required?
  • Is any backup equipment provided?
Posted By Kent Judkins, Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:36:00 AM
This is a very well-writtten guide. Thanks for the information.
Posted By benson, Monday, January 05, 2015 12:07:00 PM
thanks for the guide it has realy helped me. i need a photography guide will you help me? my email: mbenten2010@gmail.com