Photobooths are fun and printing is slow!

     This past weekend I was asked to run a Photobooth at a quinceañera.  Earlier in the year, my sister had me run one for her wedding reception.  Despite not really knowing what to expect or how to run it efficiently, both booths went, at least in my opinion pretty smoothly.  The second round definitely went a lot smoother when applying the things I learned from the first time providing these services.

     These booths are attended since I am not equipped to have an unattended setup at this point.  I prefer it this way for now as I have a ton of fun doing this as well.  Get to see some crazy people really enjoying themselves, and you see a lot of people who appear to generally be more reserved, get roped into using props and making faces for the camera!

The gear/setup I use thus far are

  1. 2 Flashpoint II 320m studio lights
  2. White or black backdrop,
  3. Canon Pixma Pro9000 MarkII printer
  4. Samsung Laptop
  5. D7000 tethered via USB.
  6. Cowboy Studio wireless triggers
  7. DslrBooth Software

Cellphone picture of my light setup. Simply going for nice even light, nothing dramatic since things were changing so much. To the left there was a table with my laptop and printer.

Cellphone picture of my light setup. Simply going for nice even light, nothing dramatic since things were changing so much. To the left there was a table with my laptop and printer.

I have considered trying to shoot tethered wirelessly via an eye-fi card, but still feel that a corded connection is more reliable.  

     Even after only doing this service twice, I have learned a lot on what works and what doesn't work when it comes to being efficient and not slowing people down.  First and foremost, printing is sloooooow and this is where I went terribly wrong when doing this for my sister.  This is no fault of mine, or really the printer per say, it's just that this printer is not designed to be spitting these out at the speed I would like.  This printer provides excellent quality prints, and I absolutely love it for the price and the larger prints I can get from it. For a photobooth printing on 4x6 cards, I will be looking into other options when the time comes.

     Second major thing I learned was to not use Lightroom for the tethering and printing.  Perhaps there is a way to automate filling out a 2 column layout, each column the same, and then printing, but I have not been able to accomplish that yet.  When doing this over the summer, I had to manually add every single picture, twice, into my print template I setup, then click print.  Having to do that every time a new person or group came through, really, and I mean really slowed things down.  Eventually I just had the DJ announce that printing is a bit backed up, and the strips will be on the table as they come out. That way I could just get the line of people through and then print the shots while they all ate or it slowed down.  This initially made me feel very uncomfortable, but it wasn't as bad as I thought looking back at it because it was all family and friends and no one seemed to mind.  However, providing this service for a true client, that is not something I want to run into.

     Since I knew I would be doing another booth this past weekend, I did a little bit of research into some software that would help me automate the filling out of a print template and then print.  I found quite a few options ranging from perfectly reasonable, to quite expensive and capable of stuff well beyond what I would ever do.  I downloaded free trials of 4 or so different programs and finally ran across one that I really enjoyed.  This software is called  dslrBooth and you can find it by visiting the link there.

     DslrBooth has a very simple UI, but it's easy to figure out and pretty much works right out of the gate.  There are limited printing templates available, but more are being added in the future.  However, the limited number of options still had the perfect one I was after.  A simple 2 column, 4 row layout I could print on a 4x6 card and then cut in half for two strips.  You pick your print layout you want, plug your camera in, and fire away!  As the pictures come in, it displays for a few seconds before counting down to the next shot, fills out the layout, and prints it.  You can have it prompt you to print every time, or not bother you and just print as each set of 4 pictures comes in.  You can add custom branding to be printed on each column as well if you wish.  You can also have this software run completely automated, and countdown with big numbers on the screen when it's going to fire off the next picture.  So you could set this up if you are able to enclose your camera so it's safe and run it unattended.  The prompts are nice and big on my monitor I used, and instructions are simple and clear if you were to run it this way. One additional thing I enjoyed was that the software placed all the strips into one folder, and all the individual original shots into another. With that being done, I was able to then upload all of the strips to facebook, and have all the high res individual shots on my website for people to download and use for other things.  I was able to purchase this software for $50 last week and it became instantly worth the cost the moment the first print popped out.

Here's the 2 column, 4 row layout that I used.  It is possible to add borders or branding if you want as well.

Here's the 2 column, 4 row layout that I used.  It is possible to add borders or branding if you want as well.

     One other thing I learned is ink costs are expensive and black backgrounds really drain your ink!  I knew ink was expensive, especially for this printer.  Running $86 for a full set of 8 colors on Amazon ($106 if you buy from Brick and Mortar or canon stores).  What I had not counted on, was how much additional ink a black backdrop would require over a white one.  Luckily,  I came with plenty of supplies, but I was worried I may run out at one point.  The black cartridge didn't get used at all during this time. It just used every other color combined to re-create the black backdrop.  Using a white backdrop significantly lowers the use of ink, at least with this printer. 

     Being able to automate the layout and printing process made things go immeasurably smoother.  I also had my brother helping me out with cutting the pictures in half to create the separate strips which also helped quite a bit. However, walmart sells a paper cutter for 11 bucks that you could just set on the table and have anyone do it.

     After only running 2 of these booths, I am quite comfortable and confident in being able to provide this service to people I don't know as well.  The software I now have and the process works great!  Throw in a few props from the dollar store and you can have a great booth setup at a pretty reasonable cost.

     The only other tidbit I found interesting was how I never used my tripod when shooting.  If this were automated, of course one would be required, but I never used it except to hold my camera when I had to do something else.  I found I there was a lot of little kids and adults of all various heights that I had to compensate for.  Spent a lot of time on my knees or crouched down, or standing on my tippy toes to get the good shot in.

     If you wish to see the other 100+ photo strips, you can find them on my Facebook page at ZLB Photography.  If you're after the individual larger shots, send me an email and I'll get you hooked up.

     I am far from the expert on this type of thing, but if you're just starting out and thinking about running an attended photobooth, I hope you find this post useful.  If you have any questions about any of this, drop me a line or leave a comment below.