Introduction: Cheap, Fast, and Awesome - DIY Photobooth Button

This tutorial is about making an awesome photobooth that can be carried by one person and set up in five minutes. It is not about making one pretty, although that is really a good thing to know. Pretty photobooths are subject to taste, and the most fruitful thing I can suggest to anyone making one is going to Pinterest and browsing around a while. Come back when you want to figure out the photo-taking part.

This is also about how to make one cheap. It will be well made, but it won’t have a printout, screen, or web upload. It turns out most people know how to pose for a shot without live feedback anyway. The upshot of this is that it can be installed anywhere (outdoors, for example) without need for a power cord or giant marine battery.

Summation – this is a pretty button for guests to trigger a camera. It’s cheap, robust, and portable.


A big, giant button

3" dia, 3ft long ABS pipe

3" toilet flange

Flat endcap

Wood for the base

4x bolts (5/16", 1.5" long), and 4x nuts

AA battery holder

Female USB socket

An old Canon camera

A bunch of wires

A tripod


A 1/4"-20 bolt, and material for a pretty, pretty case.

The whole thing put me back about $50. You could easily cut that down if you have some scrap plywood - I felt spendy and went for the pre-cut round.

Note: the button has an LED to illuminate it, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately, the LED uses 12V. Since I wanted to keep everything light I left it un-lit-up and left out the 12V battery. But if you want shiny things, then build it all shiny like.

[edit: I found out the LED just uses a resistor for current regulation. If you want to power the light on <12V, swap out the resistor with the one you need. Remind me to post a mini-instructable on that if you're interested.]

Step 1: CHDK and Voltage Test

For the camera, we’ll be using an old Canon point and shoot. They’re inexpensive enough to leave unattended, and the shots are high enough quality for a nice photo album. Plus you can install CHDK and trigger it remotely.

Instructions for installing CHDK are all over the globenet. Once it’s done, enable the remote trigger.

It’s handy to know how many volts it takes to trigger your camera. 5v is probably a safe bet, but since I’m paranoid, I tested out until I found the lowest voltage that worked. 4.5 did the job in my case, so I designed for alkaline batteries in a 3xAA battery holder. Rechargeables in a 4xAA holder should be safe too.

Step 2: Drill Some Holes and Mount the Flange

For the base, I used a pre-cut 18" disk of 3/4" plywood. Whatever you use, put the flange in the center of the plywood, and mark out the four mounting holes. You’ll be using the slotted holes on the flange. Drill them out with a 3/8” bit.

Then, securely bolt the plastic part to the wooden part. Mentally prepare for it to get trampled by elephants/children/child elephants.

Step 3: Cut a Slot for the USB Port

Using a hacksaw or brand name rotary tool, cut a slot the width of the USB port in the bottom of the pipe. The slot should be long enough for the USB socket to sit just above the flange (about 1 3/4”).

Step 4: Cut the Endcap

The button doesn’t work too well with a bunch of plastic in the way, so take the center out of an endcap. I threw down an extra buck or two for this drain cap, thinking the rings would save me time knocking out a hole. It turned out the thicker plastic made it pretty inelegant to saw through, and the ribs got in the way more than they helped. Next time I’d just get a plain flat endcap (they’re usually white) and drill out the center with a paddle bit. Remember kids, pilot holes first.

Step 5: Wire Up the Switch, Batteries, and USB Port

The circuit is pretty much as basic as it gets. When the switch is closed, the camera gets power. That’s it.

Now wire everything up. Use solder and heatshrink like a pro, or wire nuts if you haven’t learned how and you’re really in a hurry. Then when it’s done, learn to solder and make your stuff more robust next time.

The switch is designed to connect to female spade terminals, likely available at your nearby hardware store. If they aren't, then get creative. You can do this, I believe in you.

Step 6: Install the Switch

Putting the switch inside the button will make it easier for people to hit it. Wire the switch, put the switch in the LED flange, place the button in the endcap, thread on the nut, then click in the switch. It’ll make sense when you’re holding it (doesn’t it always?).

Step 7: Insert the Cap

The beauty of the endcap is that the whole button just friction fits in place. Shove in the wires and stick the thing on.

Step 8: Glue the Port

Plugging and unplugging wires in the field can be chaotic. Best to glue the USB port in place. Hot glue will work for a while, epoxy will work longer. Be careful not to get any glue inside the USB port.

Step 9: Install the Thing

Stick the long part in the other part. Do not aim at face.

Step 10: Bonus Points - Build a Camera Case

For this project, I used an old camera because I didn’t want to have to keep an eye on a nice one and miss out on the party. But I also didn’t want people getting distracted by a scuffed up camera. (People relax more when they assume things will work.) So I made a fancy laser cut enclosure for it. Occasionally people would unscrew the back so they could preview the images. Eh, what can you do?

If you want to make an awesome case exactly like I did, grab some calipers and check out I don’t run it, I don’t know the maker who does, but if you need plans for a precision box in a hurry, it’s awesome. And if you happen to have exactly the same camera as I do (PowerShot SD1100), leave a comment and I’ll upload my pattern. In any case (rimshot), a box is highly recommended to help child-proof the design. At least for a few minutes.

I also had to modify the tripod plate for the case. This was just a matter of replacing the original bolt with a slightly longer 1/4-20 bolt from the hardware store. While simple enough to do, there's still a risk of damage, so I woudn't suggest it for an heirloom tripod.

Step 11: Extra Bonus Points - Backdrop and Props

As fun as a giant button is on its own, a great background is huge, and props will really help bring out the crazy in people. There’s more than enough info out there, and everyone is inspired by different things. So I’ll just say some of the most helpful things I've learned. One, give people a frame to stand behind so they know when they're in the shot. And two, try to get plenty of available light. Dealing with flashes at an outdoor wedding with no outlets isn’t something you should take on if you want to join the party.

And have fun.

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