DIY photo booth | photo booth on a budget

Every so often, we talk to people who LOVE the beautiful photos we take with our open-air photo booth, but don't have room in their event budget to hire us. We do our best to be creative and flexible with our pricing so that we can accommodate people's budgets for different events, but sometimes it just doesn't work out and that's totally okay.  

When that happens though, I always tell people; if you're not going to hire us, 

DON'T hire a cheap photo booth instead!

You will regret it. Instead, make your own photo will cost less, and you can get MUCH better photos than many of these hucksters will give you.  There's a reason photo booth companies sell their services for bargain basement prices on Groupon and Living Social - because their product belongs in the bargain, err, garbage bin. A DIY photo booth is just what the dudes ordered! 


What You Need

If you're working on a tight (or non-existent) budget, here are a few tips for building a decent photo booth on your own...all it takes is:

  1. A DSLR camera capable of shooting in manual mode 
  2. White seamless paper and backdrop stand
  3. A speedlite flash


#1 - The Camera

For the camera, please don't use a webcam. Webcam photo booths make us sad. :(

Find a friend with a DSLR camera and a wide-angle/zoom lens (most kit lenses will fit the bill); nowadays, every other person you know probably has one of these. The settings you'll be using are pretty simple:

  • Set the camera to Manual
    To keep the images consistent, you'll want the same settings for each shot
  • Set the shutter speed to 1/200
    This is fast enough to stop motion, but won't push your flash too hard
  • Set the aperture to f/8.0
    This will give you a wide enough focus range so that most everyone will be in focus with group shots

You can either mount the camera on a tripod or hold it and take photos manually.


#2 - The Backdrop

No need to get fancy here; the best photographers in the world rely on a simple white seamless backdrop to get the job done and you can do the same. 

For maximum fun, get a stand that can get up to 10' wide, and buy a 9' wide roll of paper.  

#3 - Speedlite Flash

This is where you need to start paying attention; do not, I repeat, do not use the built-in flash on your camera. You don't need powerful strobes and umbrellas, but you do want to create a 'big' light to create the soft, diffuse light which is the key to a beautiful image. In our booth, we use huge diffusers, but you can get similar effects by simply pointing your speedlite straight up and bouncing it off a white ceiling or a nearby wall (which will also give your light some direction).

Sounds simple, right? It is! And it can give you some spectacular results; these images were both taken that way; no fancy lights, just a white seamless backdrop and a flash pointed at the ceiling...not too shabby, huh?

You should be able to end up getting a pic similar to this:

The main thing you want to avoid is direct flash, so if your friend with the camera doesn't own a speedlite lens, talk them into getting one, or pitch in and cover some of the cost in return for using their gear at your gig! Honestly, the ability to direct your flash is one of the biggest improvements you can make as an amateur photographer and anyone who wants to take better photos is going to benefit from adding a speedlite to their kit. 


Other Ideas

The above tips should help you take nice photos at your event; all that's missing now is the are a few things you can add to spice up the party:

  • Props
    Search Etsy for 'photo booth props'; there are lots of fun and affordable props, including some DIY options that you can print/cut out at home. We love Kim's felt props (seen at left), but there are more affordable paper options.
  • Show off your photos
    If you connect your camera to a laptop, you can run a slideshow of the images as you take them...we like Faststone Viewer; it's free and will run a full-screen slideshow that monitors the folder you shoot to so all of the new images are automatically added.  
  • Automate your booth
    If you want to get really fancy, there are some great products out there for automating a photo booth, with everything from taking multiple shots to printing out custom photo booth strips. Our favorite is DSLR Remote Pro, since it's incredibly customizable, but there are other options which might be more accessible out-of-the-box. 


And there you have it! For $100-200, you can have your very own photo booth. If you ever have questions, feel free to drop us a line; we're happy to geek out with you to tweak your setup. And if it all still sounds daunting, you can always call us to see if your date is still available and let the pros handle it. We aren't the cheapest booth (we're also not the most expensive), but we are the best and you'll never regret the budget you spend on a Two Dudes open air photo booth.