How to rig up a photo booth for your holiday party

Whether you’re having an ugly Christmas sweater party or a fancy-schmancy New Year’s Eve bash, a photo booth is never out of style. It'll make your party more fun, your guests will cut loose just a bit more, and you'll definitely be the host with the most. And honestly, they’re not as hard to set up as you may think. Here’s a few ways to get it done.

Using a DSLR and tripod

The easiest way to do this is with a DSLR on a tripod, since you can use a remote shutter release or even tether the camera to your computer. (If you don’t own one already, try to borrow or rent one.)

Nikon's wireless shutter release is only $20.

Pretty much every DSLR has an optional remote shutter release, so check the manufacturer’s website or Amazon for the one you need. Wireless is preferred, of course. That will let your guests take their own pictures, so you don’t have to stand by the camera all night. You might want to label the remote with a helpful suggestion that guests return it to the props table when they’re finished! (Yes, there absolutely needs to be a props table. We’ll get to that later.)

Using your computer

If you have an iMac or Mac laptop with a built-in camera, you could just use Photo Booth. It’s a full-screen application with a friendly photo-booth look, so people will know right away what they’re supposed to do.

Photo Booth has fun effects built in, and it's so easy to use.

Usually you’d trigger a new Photo Booth shot with the keyboard’s space bar, or with the mouse. Luckily, a utility called Remote Buddy will let your guests take photos and switch between effects using the Apple Remote instead. That way you can even set your iMac up without the keyboard attached. Just make sure no one can trip over the power cable.

Windows users should check out Sparkbooth (which is also available for the Mac). The free trial adds a watermark to your photos, but it’s a great way to get everything set up and tested before you pull the trigger for a license.

Sparkbooth isn't cheap, but it has advanced features like automatic printing and sharing, which add tons of value.

Sparkbooth is even cooler than Photo Booth because of all its extra features tailored to parties. You can set up custom templates for your photos and have them automatically printed as they’re taken, for example, or uploaded to Facebook, Flickr, Smugmug, and other social networks. If you don’t want people grubbing up your space bar to take their pictures, it even works with some fun USB buttons.

Using your tablet

If you really don’t want to subject your computer or your DSLR to the potential thrills and spills of a rowdy holiday party, your tablet could do in a pinch. You’ll need to attach it to a tripod. Your best bet is the iStabilizer tabMount, which is designed to grip any tablet in vertical or horizontal orientation, even if you’ve got a case on it.

The tabMount can connect any tablet to any tripod. Now you're in business.

If you’ve got an Android tablet, take a look at Party Photo Booth. You can set up your template ahead of time, and then put it in “self-serve mode” and it’ll walk your guests through the process of having their photos taken with the front-facing camera. Pics can be uploaded to Dropbox or Facebook.

On the iOS side, Photo Booth is included on every iPad with a front-facing camera (which is all of them except the very first one), or you can try something more full-featured like Wedding Booth and just try to ignore the wedding theme.

To shoot remotely, pick up a Bluetooth wireless shutter that works with either iOS or Android devices.

Using an instant camera

By far the easiest option, although it's also the most expensive since you have to buy film. Lots and lots of film.

You know what shoots and prints all at once? Duh, instant cameras! While we’re still waiting for the Instagram-friendly Polaroid Socialmatic camera, you can get the Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S right now, complete with tripod mount and 10-second self-timer that can take one or two shots. The film isn’t so cheap—$14 for 20 exposures, but the mini prints are adorable.

Props, backdrop, and lighting

Obviously, you’ll want to set your tripod and camera up ahead of time, and do plenty of tests to make sure it’s all working the way you want. Put an X down on the floor with tape where the tripod will go (because you know it’s going to get moved or bumped at some point). Then put more tape down where the people will stand—indicate the center of the frame, as well as the outer edges.

If you’re using a DSLR, set the focus and zoom up for a group of a few people, and make sure the background is big enough to fill the frame around them, so you don’t see bare, boring walls poking through.

About that background: Your photos will look boring if everyone’s just standing in front of a wall. So get creative with a funky backdrop. You could pick one up on Etsy (or just pinch their ideas). But it’s easy make your own, with anything from a pretty piece of fabric, enough crepe-paper streamers to cover the whole wall, or even just a bunch of dollar-store tablecloths cleverly hung.

The right backdrop and props will make your photo booth that much more festive. Just watch out for glare if you for something this sparkly.

Once your background rocks, take it up a notch with awesome props. Since it’s the holidays, you could scour the “seasonal” aisles of your local drugstore, discount store, or even dollar store, for stuff like mistletoe, Santa hats, reindeer-antler headbands, and elf ears. Photojojo sells some fun props too, like a chalkboard speech bubble, the ubiquitous mustaches, and these cute pennants.

Fact: People love mustaches, whether you buy these from Photojojo or make your own.

DIY props are fun if you’re in the crafting mood. These free printable templates from HGTV include New Year’s Eve-appropriate props like a glitter mask, party hats, and mustaches. And here’s another tutorial for making your own mustaches-on-sticks, always a popular option. But don’t overthink it—chances are between you and your best friends, you can scour up some props from your own closets: silly hats, feather boas, a fake tiara, whatever’s around.

Print and share

It’s perfectly acceptable to wait until the next day so you can apply some quick edits and crops, then email the pics around or upload them somewhere like Smugmug (so guests can order prints) or Dropbox (so they can just download the pictures themselves).

But depending on how you’re shooting your photos, you may be able to automate printing them right at the party, for guests to take home.

Many new Wi-Fi-equipped printers have their own email address—you just send a picture to that address and boom, it’s printed. If you’re shooting with an iPad, you can set up an IFTTT recipe using the iOS Photos app (where your pictures are saved) as the trigger, and the action could be sending that picture to your printer’s email address.

Give Wappwolf "one-folder access" to your Dropbox, and it can send those pictures to Google Cloud Print for you.

Sparkbooth (for Mac and Windows, mentioned above) has an auto-printing function, but it’s also capable of saving your photos to Dropbox. And the Party Photo Booth app we recommended for Android can save to Dropbox too. And if you're using a DSLR, an Eye-Fi card can send photos to your Dropbox too.

That’s handy because of a service called Wappwolf can then print those photos for you—think of it like IFTTT for Dropbox.

First of all, give Wappwolf “one folder access,” so it can’t see every single thing in your entire Dropbox. That creates a Wappwolf folder (nested in the Apps folder of your Dropbox), and that’s where you should tell your photo-taking app to save the pictures. Then as the action, choose “Print via Google Cloud Print,” which can handle JPGs. To get the Google Cloud Print service talking to your printer, start here.

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