Party photo booth instructions, notes, tips

There are already a few how to’s on this, but I thought another couldn’t hurt.

I got the idea for setting up a photo booth at a party from Lucy Knisely’s flickr stream. I loved the idea, and immediately thought “I should do that!” But it took me a while to actually act on it. Recently I hosted a party that was a perfect opportunity for the photobooth- a costume party with a theme of “dress as your favorite Nicolas Cage character.”

Nic Cage Party Photobooth

Following are some brief notes on what I used to set it up.

FYI, I used a Canon 300D SLR for my photo booth with a 1.8 50mm lens. This camera is over 6 years old but still worked fine for this, you could probably pick up an old digital SLR like this pretty cheap nowadays.

Where to put it?

Photo booth set up I stuck my photobooth in my studio, which had advantages and disadvantages. It was nice because there was plenty of room to set everything up. The downside was that it was away from the party, so a few people never got photographed. I’d like to find a way to put it on my main level, but it takes up quite a bit of room so that may not be possible.


You need a camera with some kind of remote release, or someone to man the booth. The ideal way to accomplish this is to have a camera with a remote release jack. Most SLR cameras have this, and a few point and shoots. You can buy wireless remote releases for your SLR at amazon. I already had a wired release, but it only has a 3’ cord. I made this longer by buying a 25’ 3.5 mm audio cords and 2 2.5 to 3.5 converters. This ended up being cheaper for me, but your mileage may vary. Photo booth set up

If your camera does not have a remote release jack, you could have someone else take the pics (I ended up manning the release cord anyway for much of the night), or you could use the self timer. One final idea would be to use the remote capture software that came with your camera hooked up to a nearby laptop, possibly combined with a 2 second timer.

Booth Setup

To set up the “booth” you just need a tripod and some kind of backdrop + lights. Position the camera beforehand, and if you have manual settings on you camera it’s best to figure out the best focus, aperture and shutter speed settings beforehand and set them. This will make the pictures quicker, because the camera won’t have to refocus every time. I used painter’s tape to mark exactly where people should stand. At first I thought it was too small an area, but I realized that you probably don’t want it bigger than about three people wide because you end up with too much space if only one person is being photographed.


Photo booth set up For lighting, I used a couple of bright “daylight” lamps pointed at the subjects at about a 35 degree angle. I got these at Menards (local hardware store) for $20 or so each – they’re the brightest lamps in the house. Basically you just want to have some light on the left and the right. Don’t use the on camera flash if possible – it will cast a shadow on the backdrop, and will tear through the camera’s batteries. With the amount of light I had, I was able to have a 1/25th of a second exposure and a f/2.8 aperture at 400 ISO. 1/25 is a bit on the slow side, but I needed the aperture to have the depth of field I wanted. For non camera nerds, just know that you’ll need as much light as you can get and you should experiment a lot with your set up before you use the booth to make sure the amount of light is sufficient to get sharp pictures. If you are using a point and shoot, try out different camera settings to see what works best. When you are testing the booth, make sure you test it with some action shots rather than just standing there. The good news is compact florescent bulbs make it easier to get a lot of light without having to use a flash. One thing to be aware of is mixing lights – i.e. one incandescent bulb and one compact fluorescent. It’s better to stick to the same type. If you do, you should be able to use the auto white balance on your camera with good results.

If you’ like to read more about setting up lights for good portrait photography, you could start with this article on lifehacker, or pick up a basic photography book at your local library.

Saving the images

Nic Cage Party Photobooth I hooked up my camera to the laptop so the images saved directly to my hard drive and people could view them right after they were taken. While not strictly necessary, it’s neat to see the pics right away. If your camera has a video out you can probably use that to preview the images.

Improvements for the future.

I have had my eye on a Canon t2i for a while, and when/if I ever get one it will improve my photobooth process in a few ways. First and foremost, it will have a faster usb connection so pictures won’t take so long to save to the hard drive. The fact that there is an HDMI out will let me use a monitor to show people exactly what the camera sees. Also the remote capture software for the newer cameras is greatly improved from what I hear.

Other improvements I would like to make which have nothing to do with buying new equipment are:

  • displaying the photos in progress on my TV (using something like
    this process @ lifehacker, see “Set Up a Real-Time Slideshow”)
  • better lighting so I can get a faster shutter speed
  • props
  • perhaps moving the booth downstairs
  • new, fun backdrops. I have Ideas.

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