For our early Halloween party this year, I wanted to have a simple photo booth, that was easy to use and could take some abuse. What I came up with uses common photo equipment and some easy to find materials, and doesn't rely on 3rd party software or kits.
Be sure to check out the video in step 6!
Step 1: The Braaaaiiin
I used a cheap intervalometer as the brain behind this photo booth. That's an inexpensive, widely available self timer for your camera, simple to pull apart and mess with.
After opening it up, the first thing you'll want to do is get rid of that pesky 3v coin-battery connection, and power it up with something more convenient and reliable. I chose a simple 2x AA battery holder. Trim the long coin wire and solder on your new power supply. You’ll note that 2 of the “negative” leads connect a circuit that allow the camera to be fired manually. You want to use the other one, which goes along with the coin battery.
Now you'll want to add some external controls. You’ll notice that this device has 3 main buttons and a switch / button combo on the side. You’ll need access to all of these except the light button.
The three main buttons are push-down, contact style pads. I’m sure there’s a technical term for these things. I’m also sure that you should probably solder to them via the back of the board instead of the front like I did. C’est la vie.
The first of these that you’ll need to control is the “set” button. I attached a simple momentary switch for this - picked it up at an auto store but you can certainly find smaller, cheaper ones online or at your local electronics store.
The second button you’ll need is the “start / stop” one. I attached this to an inexpensive LED lit arcade button.
You could also remove the board's rocking button and create external controls for this, but since time and space were limited I left these in place. The intervalometer will stay powered for months with the coin battery, so I figured I was good with the AA’s and didn’t have to worry about it staying set the way I wanted.
Don’t forget to trim the camera connection and add some spades - you’re going to want to extend this cord all the way to your camera once you put the booth together.
Step 2: The Brain Case
To house the intervalometer and buttons, I chose a round PVC junction box, which I picked up at a local hardware store. It was just barely too shallow for the arcade button, but by cutting a small hole in the back, I was able to make everything fit.
The board, 2 buttons and 2x AA holder should all fit nice and snug. You’ll note that the board had a few zip-ties around the LCD display - it’s because these cheap boards come with the LCD lightly glued on and they easily detach. Slap these around it and they’ll stay properly connected even when the glue fails.
Before closing up the box, you’ll also want to set the intervalometer. I recommend these settings:
Sound: Off (since you probably ripped the speaker off the board like I did)
It may seem strange to have a length of 1 second, but this really only controls the length of time the shutter is held in the intervalometer itself. By setting the camera to “one shot” or non-continuous, it won’t care that the shutter is depressed.
But wait, what about the LED light on that arcade button? Nearest I could tell, the button requires 5v. I hooked up a 4x AA and dropped in an I-can’t-remember-how-strong resistor. This larger battery holder obviously won’t fit into the box, so it’s taped to the back, conveniently covering the hole I created to make room for the base of the arcade button. How long will this pack last? I really don’t know… left it on for 2 days after our party and it’s still lighting that button up just fine.
At this point, you’re ready to stuff all those wires into the PVC box and start building the booth. Just be sure to run the connection out the bottom of the box before closing it up.
Step 3: The Booth Itself
I’m not going to get into this into too much detail, as you’ll want to build and size it to your own specs. Pretty straightforward, just construct a frame from PVC, long and wide enough for a few people to stand in and to accommodate the lens you’ve chosen for the setup.
To make this booth look like a “killroom” I covered it in several 1 mil clear drop cloths, found at my local hardware store. You’re also going to want a thicker one for the floor while you splatter the blood. I used 3 mil.
The beauty of using a PVC junction box is that it will fit into your frame. Be sure you have enough wire to run through the frame and out to where your camera will be. I recommend using a stiffer hookup wire as it’s easier to thread through the PVC frame.
Alright - time to splatter some fake blood around! Do this early so that it dries a bit. Unfortunately, the type of blood I bought doesn’t like sticking to the plastic drop cloth and would drip down or turn into little beads before drying. I found mixing it with a bit of flour did the trick though.
In addition to blood, we added a hanging light for people to grab and use as a prop while shooting in the booth.
Step 4: What's in the Baaaahhxx?
Since I was trying to build this as cheaply and efficiently as possible, I used Sketchup to see how few boards I could make the box from, and was able to do it using 1 8”x1”x8’. Stoked!
However, I forgot to account for the the minijack which plugs into the side of the camera. No worries though - that’s an easy trim with the Dremel. I do wish I'd choose a 10”x1”x8' board instead.
Again, this is something you’ll want to design yourself, depending on the size of your camera.
I added a small under-camera area to transfer electronics to in the future, to help clean up the trigger sitting on the other side of the booth.
For the base, I found that a 3/4 inch flange and pipe fit over the top of my backdrop/lightstand holder perfectly.
Just be sure to make the box dimensions for your camera AND trigger system. Otherwise you won’t be able to trigger the lights!
Oh and if your girlfriend comes in to talk to you while building the box, be sure to put everything down and pay attention to her. If you try to multitask, you may end up cutting the wrong board, like I did.
Step 5: Zee Lights
Now, here’s something I think I could have done better. I wanted this running off a 2 light system, so I could use my old Vivitar speedlights instead of the larger studio strobes. The day of the party, we blocked the windows and tested the light, and everything looked great.
Unfortunately, we didn’t block all of it, and the test didn’t show real-world conditions, i.e., night. Instead of a glare all around the plastic, I ended up with part glare, part see-through. Still looked good, but not what I intended. Next time, 3 lights and a test the night before instead.
Step 6: Party!
Overall the project was a lot of fun and a big hit at our early Halloween party.
The one complaint was that there was no view-screen, and while I could have used an Eye-fi and an iPad for this, I’m really glad I didn’t, because people couldn’t see the results, they all took a few extra turns in the booth to make sure they got the shot!