Small wedding ideas: DIY photo booth for under $100

Photo booths are a fun addition to any wedding, enjoyed by guests of all ages and producing memories that last a lifetime. But, if you’re looking for a wedding photo booth online, you’ll find that many of the photo booth ideas revolve around photo booth apps for an iPad that takes low-quality photos, or requires paying upwards of a thousand dollars for a “professional” booth. It’s a fun wedding idea, but, it shouldn’t break the bank! Luckily, the ingredients for a photo booth wedding are pretty standard fare. And, with the bill coming to under $100, this is a small wedding idea that can have a big impact!

photobooth

What you’ll need

Digital SLR camera. Any digital SLR made in the last eight years will give you better photos than an iPad. You can buy an old Rebel XTi on eBay for about fifty bucks, but it’s also pretty easy to find a friend with an SLR to borrow. Some SLRs have built in flashes, some don’t; make sure you have adequate lighting if you don’t plan to use a flash. Flashes kill battery FAST so, it’s recommended to go with a spotlight or low-light lens. You’ll want a lens that’s wide enough to get the whole shot, and has a wide enough aperture to work well in low-light conditions (ideally less than f/4).

Remote shutter release/intervalometer. By plugging a remote shutter release into your camera, you can control the shutter by pushing a button on a 10′ cord. Which means you can take a picture with yourself in the shot: a crucial requirement with a photo booth. So, giving guests a button to press is one solution. A slightly fancier remote shutter release is known as an intervalometer, which simply allows you to take a picture every X seconds. For a photo booth at a wedding, 30 seconds in-between shots is perfect.

Tripod. Unless you’re planning on babysitting the photo booth all night, you want to make sure your tripod is nice and stable. You know how guests at weddings can be when they get bubbily. The right tripod will vary based on your camera choice, so make sure it feels stable to you, and not top-heavy. Because guests won’t be interacting with the camera, it’s ideal to put other barriers between the guests and the backdrop — or if nothing else, a sign that says “please don’t touch.”

Backdrop/fun props. At the simplest end of a backdrop, you can hang up a plain-colored sheet or even use a wall if it looks good. If you’ve got better patterns or designs at your disposal, go for it. Just make sure they’re not so busy that they distract from the main subject — the people! And speaking of them, they need fun and goofy props to create the spontaneous pictures you want. Go to a cheap toy store or party store and look for items such as:

  • a Viking helmet
  • oversized novelty glasses
  • cat-in-the-hat hat
  • moustaches on a stick
  • a large frame for guests to frame themselves
  • toy saxophone

Your mileage may vary. If you think something may be too silly, it’s a good sign you should grab it.

photobooth-props

Putting it all together for the wedding

At the wedding reception, you should set up somewhere to the side — even in an additional room. As mentioned before, make sure the camera/tripod is protected or labeled with clear warning signs. The most important thing you can do before the wedding is to take some test shots! You want to check for a few things:

Darkness/blurriness. Especially in a low-light reception, this is important. You want to shoot in Shutter Priority (Tv) and lock in a shutter speed of 1/60 seconds (you can shoot faster if you have a flash). If the photo is too dark, try opening up the aperture or bumping the ISO up to 1600 or 3200. Anything faster than 1/60 will definitely produce a blur, and you might want to try to shoot for 1/100s. Using a flash will definitely help but it can go through the battery very quickly — it’s best to use a lens that’s good for low-light conditions. f/2.8 would be ideal.

Framing. The set up is going to stay the same in every shot, so, if there’s a fire extinguisher in the shot it will be in ALL of them. Make sure the tripod and camera are framing a photograph that you like. Adjust the camera and zoom as needed.

Giving guests their pictures

You may have noticed that this DIY photo booth set up doesn’t have a printer for guests to pick up their photos immediately. That’s because it adds cost, complexity, and a major point of failure. All for a 2″ photo that’s not high enough quality to post online!

Instead, pick a photo hosting site and post all the good photos. Your guests will enjoy seeing other guests’ photos, and they’ll be able to download high-resolution shots of themselves to re-share on Facebook and Instagram (because let’s be serious, that’s where selfies go). We like Flickr for hosting, but Picasa, Smugmug, and Dropbox are popular as well.

Be sure to leave a clipboard near the photo booth so people can sign up to receive an email for the photos!

Renting a setup like this

If you don’t have a friend with an SLR you can borrow, CameraLends can hook you up with everything you need (except props!). If you’re in the San Francisco area, we recommend:

This still leaves you $25-$50 to spend on your backdrop and props. Your guests will appreciate real photos, and you can supply them without spending an arm and a leg.

Rent cameras and lenses on CameraLends

3 comments

  1. Another low-cost (assuming you own a laptop and printer) setup that I’ve used is an app called DSLRBooth on a MacBook tethered to a DSLR via USB. You can create custom templates for a pre-set amount of shots (like the event name on 4 shots fit on a 4×6) and have it automatically print to an attached printer.

  2. If you’re looking for a DIY option that can print as well, check out the Mac app DSLRBooth. Pretty easy to set up with a tethered DSLR and you can get super-professional results.

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