Imagine this. You’re at a wedding and experience a photo booth during cocktail hour. You pose for three shots and in less than a minute, the attendant hands you a copy of your photo in a beautiful 4×6 designed postcard. You try it again. And again. You observe what the attendants do. At the end of the evening, you come to a realization.
This photo booth thing is easy! I mean, touch the screen to start the booth and the software does everything else right? It’s automatic! And I can charge $500 for 2 hours of work? Whaaat? That’s amazing! I know Photoshop. I can create those designs too. I can even do them better!
So off you go and purchase the equipment. You buy the best booth in the market after all the best booth means you’ll get the best photos right? You drop thousands of dollars in this new business venture and you finally book your first wedding. You charge $750 for a 5-hour event since this is your first time and you need to develop your clientele and portfolio. It’s a “discounted rate” you tell yourself.
Before the day of the event, you practice by testing the equipment at your home. Start the program, the the screen and presto, just like the wedding you were at, you get the photos taken and the prints that come with it.
The big day comes and you arrive at the venue an hour before you start the booth. Fifteen minutes before you go “Live”, you perform your test runs again. Your photos come out dark. You try again and like before, the photos come out dark. You remember to adjust your ISO settings and the photo is “better” but now it’s a little pink. You glance at your backdrop and see that the backdrop is white! You adjust the f-stop and the ISO again but the white backdrop still appears pink. You start fiddling with the different settings and take another test shot and now your backdrop appears blue! What is going on you whisper to yourself in a slightly nervous panic.
What is going on? Why is it not working?
Minutes tick by and you still haven’t solved the issue. Meanwhile, you notice a line forming as eager party and wedding revelers gear up to have their photos taken. Oh I know, you tell yourself. Let me call John. He has a booth and would know what to do. Luckily, John isn’t at a gig that night and is able to walk you through the settings in your camera. After a 5-minute consultation, you get the correct settings for your photos and the evening goes flawlessly.
At this stage in the post, you’re probably wondering, what is the point of this blog? There is more to photo booths than just “pressing the button to start”. A word of advice that you’ll hear from a lot of booth veterans out there is read the manual. Know your camera. Seriously.
The main piece of equipment in your photo booth is the camera. Learn your camera. Learn the settings. Learn to shoot in Manual mode. Learn photography.
While it appears the easiest to make that call or post a question on a Facebook group, reading your cameras manual and learning how to properly use your camera will be the best for you and your business. There’s a reason why you see these “warnings” in any camera manual.
No time to read the manual? Google it. Go on YouTube. Do something to learn your camera’s basic functions. In this day and age of instant gratification, there is something online that will help you someway, somehow.
I learned photography when I went to college at Cal Poly in the California Central Coast. Back then, digital wasn’t even available to the mass market. I learned using an old film body Canon AE-1 with a 50mm lens. It was an expensive class to take but one that I knew I would enjoy taking no matter the cost. I spent many times rushing to get my film developed only to realize they were either over or under exposed. It was a game of trial and error. With film, there is no room for mistakes. Today’s digital cameras offer us a lot of leeway to practice and perfect the skills. SD and CF cards are cheap and best of all reusable. Take the time to practice.
Operating a photo booth doesn’t make you a photographer. I’m sorry to break it to you. Photographers produce and preserve images that paint a picture, tell a story, or record an event. Their images evoke a feeling, an emotion. In our world today where digital camera equipment is well within reach of most people, every one refers to themselves as professional photographers. But what defines you as a pro? Here’s an interesting article from PetaPixel that describes such a tag.
Photographers have great technical and photography skills and can address any difficult lighting situation from experience. We’ve all heard this joke before and it still rings true. “Everyone is a photographer until they switch the dial to M”. Manual mode on a camera allows the photographer to determine the exposure of an image by letting them select an aperture value and a shutter speed value.
Having the best equipment doesn’t mean you can take the best images either. I remember back in 2005, I knew this kid who beat the best of the best with his tiny 1.3 megapixel camera. He competed against people toting 8 megapixel cameras and he won because he knew how to push the boundaries of his tiny camera and push the boundaries of his imagination. That kid from rural Canada is world renowned photographer Joey Lawrence.
Learning your camera settings and your entire equipment will be invaluable especially in situations when something goes wrong. I often receive messages asking me for my camera settings with the side note that says their photo booth company doesn’t operate in my area so they pose no competition. My usual response has been, it doesn’t matter if you’re in my area. I would still tell you what my settings are because the chances of you getting the exact same settings on your photos compared to mine is very small. It’s all dependent on lighting, distance to the subject, angle of the strobe flash, and many other factors.
The three camera settings that give you control over the exposure – aperture, shutter speed and ISO – can each be measured in stops. Get at least a basic understanding of what a stop is and how it affects your photos.
Head over to your local bookstore or check out Amazon. They got amazing resource books like this that can help you understand and master your camera settings. Master your camera settings and you’ll be greatly rewarded down the road. You’ll notice a huge improvement over your current photos and will make you a better photo boother.
Finally, while there are things that are better learned and addressed through asking others who are more experienced than you, at least be aware of what the camera and equipment issues are doing before simply asking why things aren’t working. It’ll be a much better dialogue exchange if you’ve tried to diagnose and solve the problem yourself first before asking for help.
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Happy boothing! Ciao!