Last Saturday (the 11th of December 2016 in case you’re reading in the future) our church had it’s Christmas service. I know this might seem strange as it is so far before Christmas, but as we are an international church in a University town, many of our congregation go home from their studies early and aren’t around closer to Christmas. As such, the 11th it was.
As we were coming up with ideas for what we could do in our church service, we listed the usual ideas.
- Christmas songs
- Gospel presentation
- cakes from around the world (turns out, Malaysia has a green cake)
- and some games
During our brainstorming, I thought about those photo booths at events that are becoming more and more popular. I knew it could be great fun, help create a memory that lasted a bit longer, and potentially lead to people entering more conversations and showing their fun with other people. Especially as I had heard good reports from people in the US over times they had used them at Easter. I knew I’d need to grab a piece of new camera kit to run this, but I had 90% of what I needed. So here is what I used, how I set it up and how you can set up your own too.
Here is the gear I used, then some suggested gear for you to run your own if you need to buy something:
- Fuji x100t camera (35mm equivalent lens)
- Slik Tripod for the camera
- Olympus FL-600r speedlight
- Round popup softbox
- tripod for the speedlight
- adapter for the flash
- Fujifilm Instax SP-1 Printer (this was the magic)
- lots and lots of instax film
- Santa hats
Now you might be able to see how this bag of kit was a bit of a hodgepodge of what I had rather than a clear and deliberate kit. After all, the flash was not the perfect unit and the softbox could have been a bit better. But the killer feature here was the Instax printer.
The Instax printer makes these Polaroid style prints that you can give away. It links up with Fujifilm cameras (like my X100t) and also smartphones. It can’t directly link to a Cannon or other camera but you could work out a workaround like using a Eyefi card/tethering and getting the images from there but the simplicity of using the built in Fujifilm printing function really helped. It also really caught people’s attention as they all wanted to show off their photos.
There’s something about having a physical copy in your hands.
If you were going to do this and buy everything from scratch I’d recommend
- a Camera (a Fujifilm with wifi if you want to use the Instax printer)
- A 35mm prime lens OR a zoom lens with between 28-50mm
- LumoPro LP180 flash
- LumoPro LP605 light stand
- LumoPro LP 697 Umbrella swivel
- Umbrella (larger than a softbox and great inside)
- a trigger (another speedlight or radio trigger make sure it works with your camera brand)
- backup batteries for the flash
- More accessories (such as one of these photo booth props kits)
I’m recommending LumoPro stuff because they’ve got a good reputation and I’ve played with some in the past. If you have other recommended equipment, please leave a comment.
How I Set Up the Photo Booth
I went for a classic one light portrait look with the flash to one side above the subject and pointing 45 degrees down. This gives some nice shadows and makes things look very three dimensional. It also provides a fair amount of space for the people to stand. Here is an image.
The speed light was set on slave mode (I went for ISO 200, f8 and adjusted as I went). On a couple of occasions I moved the light a bit for taller or shorter people and larger groups of people.
There were a few issues that I ran into using this set up. The first was my speed light wasn’t really the right size to fit in the softbox, leading to it coming off on a couple of occasions. I also had some issues triggering my flash in slave mode as it didn’t always pick up the trigger flash from my Fuji x100t. I actually have a radio trigger on order, but they sent me the wrong model last time.
Printing also took a bit of time which could cause delays between images. Sometimes the printer went to sleep, requiring pushing the power button again and then there is the interface which requires you to twice say that you want to print an image. On one occasions this meant that someone had asked for a print and either someone took the print for them or it didn’t go through (maybe the printer was out of film) and that dulled the experience a bit. Plus the whole thing too more time.
The flash also had some issues later on as the battery power waned and finally went out. I had only used my flash on limited occasions and not in long sequences of images over an extended time. This meant that I had no idea how many photos it would take. The answer was a LOT but not enough for everyone. I’ve already gone out and grabbed a new set of rechargeable AA batteries for the next time.
Finally, the problem with a one light set up is that it is really mono directional light. In some cases (especially with larger groups) some people ended up in their friends shadows (sometimes with great effect!) on other occasions you’d get a lot of light drop off between people in the photos from those closest to the flash and those furthest away. On one occasions I grabbed my little Fuji Ef-X20 flash and used it to fill in the far side a bit just to try and reduce the impact of the problem. It ended up working, but it wasn’t the best result.
The End Results
It was a complete hit and I had a great time too. I got to chat with a load of visitors and people in the church who I didn’t normally get to. I missed out on some of the cakes but it was absolutely worth it and I’m sure we’ll do it again.
I don’t think we’ll do it every week but only for a special occasion or event so it stand out.
Here are a couple of examples from the day so you can see the end result: