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If you are about to be married and you’re an avid tinkerer, dabbler or hobbyist—and you are looking for some creative and fun ways to shoot, or include, photography at your wedding—you will be interested to know we have a bunch of ideas right here for the do-it-yourselfer in all of us. If you’re a professional photographer and have similar proclivities and you aren’t able to hire enough assistants to cover every corner of the room, you might want to read on also. From constructing your own photo booth, to “toy” cameras and DIY lighting, the engaged couple and the seasoned pro may find plenty of homespun ideas here to mull over until the big day arrives.
One of the most exciting, creative and hilarity-inducing things you can add to your wedding-day arsenal is a digital photo booth with which guests can interact and enjoy. A lot of them will feel a part of the show when using props, creating unique portraits or facilitating others (likely their own friends and family) as they explore the creative options of the booth. This setup can garner great photo ops without your having to be there! Every wedding photographer can appreciate extra shots and candid moments—especially if they don’t have to constantly chase after them.
Now, of course, there is no one way to make a photo booth—it wouldn’t be “DIY” if there were! But there are a few key elements you will need, and we have the tools and equipment that will help you create and personalize your photo-booth plans, in addition to the basic elements.
First of all, you need a camera—there will be no photos from your booth without one. Now, seeing as this is a DIY project, you may not need to buy the “Ferrari of DSLRs.” But as you’ve heard before, you do get what you pay for, so the following options are available for varying tastes, styles and budgets.
For the pro photographer, you are already photographing weddings, and multiple camera bodies should be no surprise to you. So, since you should have multiple cameras available, a DIY photographer would think, “use one of the spares!” This is obviously a quick and convenient method of constructing a DIY photo booth—by simply repurposing one for use in this project, which is the name of the game, after all. Whatever you use to shoot weddings professionally will work just fine in a photo booth. The only caveat is that your spare bodies may be worth more than the rest of the equipment in the booth, so exercise caution when using a precious back-up camera in this public space—strangers will be using it, or things connected to it, so be prepared with explicit instructions and up-to-date insurance payments.
Another benefit, should you have issues with your main camera, is that this one is available just on the other side of the room. Though the photo booth will have to be shut down if it has your only spare working camera, you will have a back-up handy should you need it, and with a good number of candid guest portraits already on the memory card.
If you are hesitant to use one of your professional back-up cameras in your photo booth because it may defeat the entire purpose of being one of your back-ups, then borrowing, renting or buying another camera becomes the next option. If you’re setting up the booth for your own wedding, too, you can check out used cameras for great deals on a camera that you may not mind taking a beating at the hands of revelers. B&H offers popular models from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and more. (You may even find a rare camera that, while not fit for a photo booth, may delight your camera collection if it is missing from your roster.) However, because this camera is just going to be used for candid shots in the photo booth, at a fixed distance, the idea here is that it can be a much less expensive model than your main camera and can be outfitted with a less expensive prime lens.
While a DSLR is recommended for its picture quality, versatility (in applications other than a photo booth) and the option to use lenses you already own with it, you may wish to go with something smaller, less costly to replace and easier for others to use if they must. Entry-level DSLRs, like the Sony SLT-A35 or Nikon D5100, and mirrorless camera systems are also ideal in that case, and you may even find some that are still compatible with your professional-quality lenses.
Choosing the tripod to support your camera involves a similar selection process. You can use one you already own, or buy a new one that can serve as another backup to your usual wedding photography gear, if you’re a professional. Make sure the tripod is sturdy (Gitzo GT-2531 Mountaineer), and that you get a tripod head if one is not included with the legs.
Now that the camera and tripod are set up, you’ll need an easy way for guests to use it, so they aren’t put off by a complicated process. Using a camera remote or wireless shutter release will allow guests to take their own shots easily, when they’re ready, without a designated camera operator attending to every photo. Just make sure you choose the right one for your camera model and test it before the day of the wedding so that you learn how it works with your camera, and so that you resolve any operational issues before the big day.
Another interesting way to fire the camera remotely is to hook it up to a notebook computer loaded with software programs designed especially for photo booths. While this can take a bit of extra preparation and installation, the software will guide you through the process and get the guests taking their own portraits relatively easily. There is a wide variety of camera cables available to aid you in connecting your camera to a notebook. They may have even been included when you purchased your camera.
So, you’ve got the photo half of this completed, now let’s move onto the booth. The construction and shape of your photo booth can vary widely depending on the types of venues in which it will be used, and its intended dimensions. Will guests stand or sit in the photos? Will it be indoors or out? Don’t forget posing stools or chairs if you’ll need them. At a minimum, the booth should be tall and wide enough for two people to either sit or stand side-by-side in a photo. Depending on the venue, you’ll have to decide on whether to leave the booth open or enclosed.
A simple backdrop with a support kit (Impact Background Support Kit 10 x 12’) will suffice for removing distracting background items from view and for adding the illusion of a “studio” to your photo booth. This setup works very well for outside weddings, where the stands and backdrop can be arranged in minutes to look like an indoor setting regardless of the surrounding environment. It can also work indoors, in nearly any room, only taking up a small portion of a party room or dance hall. You could even set it up in a hallway, inviting guests who walk through to stop for a photo. For a more traditional photo-booth look, several of the support kits can be arranged to close off a section of the area, providing the participants with some privacy in order to create amusing and hilarious poses more comfortably.
The lighting you can use for open or enclosed booths varies as well. Natural light can either be a blessing or a curse; reflected sunlight in a shady spot provides the right kind of light for portraits, so avoid placing your booth in the bright sun since it will simply make guests squint in their portraits. You can place reflectors 45 degrees off to the side to add a little extra soft light that will fill in shadows of the main light falling on the subjects.
If your booth is indoors and you set up with just a flash or speedlight attached to the top of a camera, make sure to bounce it off the ceiling, if there is one, an adjacent light-colored wall, or use a bounce card, diffuser, light shaper, mini softbox or snoot to further diffuse and even out the light. On-camera flash will be one of the harshest options, so utilize any of these helpful accessories to combat unflattering results. A Honl Photo 5" Shorty Speed Snoot/reflector, for example, will provide customizable options for many given situations because you can bend and mold the shape of the reflector.
The better your lighting is, the more professional these photos will turn out, while the professional you’ve hired for the day can focus on the main event. If you’re doing this totally DIY, and you need more information, B&H offers books and tutorials on lighting that can very much help get you started. Take some time to set up and test the lighting for your booth before things start; when your setup is near perfect, you’ll be able to leave it knowing that everyone’s candid moments will be caught and will come out looking great, adding an extra dimension of spontaneity to the wedding album.
For more complex lighting systems—if you and your booth can accommodate them—you can of course add light stands, softboxes, umbrellas and myriad other lighting devices or accessories, really enhancing the look and performance of your photo booth, rendering photos that appear more pro studio-like than not. The guests will love the high-quality photos coming from the booth and will likely want to make more photos as a result!
Now that you have all of the necessary ingredients for taking photos in your booth, you need a way to distribute or display these photos to the guests, preferably as soon as the photos are taken. One of the most popular ways to do so is by connecting your camera to a notebook computer, which in turn is connected to a portable printer, so you can quickly get the photos from the camera to the printer for a true photo booth-like experience. If you opt for this type of setup, note that it will take a bit of technical computer knowledge to get everything connected, and because there are so many possible combinations of computers, cameras and printers, we cannot go over the specific technical details for each brand or combination of brands here. Be sure to assemble components that are mutually compatible, for trouble-free operation.
A simpler method for showing the self-portraits is to connect your camera directly to some type of display, so that guests can still get the instant gratification of viewing their silly face-makings and candid moments; offer to send prints or digital files to them at a later date. Most DSLR cameras and digital camcorders will feature a mini-HDMI port, and may even include a mini-HDMI cable that can attach to many displays, monitors and laptops. There are even computer-monitor adapters available to convert HDMI to older-model displays that have VGA connections.
If, after all of these materials and components, you no longer feel that constructing an entire photo booth yourself is an option, you still have a few ways to pull this off, while keeping the same level of fun and excitement. One ultra-modern way to have a photo “booth” without having to close off a physical space is by using one of the several apps available for tablets that are designed for Android (Sony’s 32GB Tablet S), Windows (Gigabyte 320GB Slate) or Apple OS (the new iPad 32GB). An added benefit of using a tablet as a photo booth is that it will also be available for your personal use, such as for toting your digital portfolio.
There are some photo-booth apps that feature a guest book as part of the software, so as guests are taking their photos—which you could still have happen in front of a curtain, backdrop or within an enclosure—they can sign their names and leave a message for the bride and groom. These further enhance your presentation of photos by giving guests a way to view them as a slideshow right away, rather than waiting on prints. Don’t forget to secure the device with a lock or security case designed for your tablet, like those used in retail stores. If you happen to be using an iPad 2 for this, the Kensington SecureBack Security Case is available, though not yet for the new iPad.
If you don’t have the time or desire to use any type of photo booth for your wedding photography, there are various types of fun and unique cameras that offer different styles and looks to the images they produce. The Holga starter Kit from Lomography is a great option for low tech medium-format photography, while many of Lomography’s other cameras offer more off-the-wall looks and styles.
Of course, the popular instant-photography manufacturer Polaroid has a few options up its sleeve, including a hybrid of old and new technology, the Z340 Instant Digital Camera. With it you still get the exciting instant gratification of Polaroid pictures, plus the convenience of 14MP digital files for you to edit, crop and share. This could bring a New-Age look to a classic type of photography that may remind guests of a Polaroid camera they used to own, and they may relive the fun with this new digital version.
So, whether you are a seasoned do-it-yourselfer, a professional photographer who wants to add a special twist to recording a wedding day, or if you just want to set something up on your own for your special day, these projects will allow you to capture very unique images that vary from standard wedding photography. Of course, these are only a few of the options available to the DIY Wedding Photographer. Taking time to brainstorm ways to make your own wedding album, or the professional’s brand and style of wedding photography different than all the rest, can really pay off.
We cannot emphasize enough for the professional how quickly a good idea can spread through your clients, their families, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. If each of them simply tells one other person, you’ve potentially created business referrals for years to come. If you decide to pursue this idea at your own wedding, think of how many natural, unguarded moments your photo booth may capture on a very memorable occasion.
Wedding photographers: What are some of the creative projects you’ve come up with or constructed for shooting weddings? Feel free to share them with us in the Comments section below!