I recently had the privilege of being asked to do a photo-booth type shoot for a combined 18th and 21st birthday party.

Naturally, I had grand ideas about what to do on on the shoot, and being and ex boy-scout I have a tendency to over prepare, so I started planning and getting advice early on on how to handle this particular shoot. It was a little nerve wracking as it would be my fist shoot with my new lights outside of my lounge...... anyway.

The best advice I got was actually from Danie Bester who suggested that creating some depth to the shots by perhaps shooting into the party, rather than against a flat back drop would work much better. I took this to heart and arrived at the venue the day before the party to check the layout out and have a chat to the birthday brother and sister about their ideas and discuss mine with them. We all agreed on the layout and the space I needed and I was on my way home to pack the kit for the next day. I had grand plans for a cool 4 light setup.

Being over cautious though, I essentially packed every bit of photography kit I owned into my car, just in case, and it was a good thing I did.....

Upon arrival at the venue (one and a half hours before the party kicked off)  to set up, I was greeted with a scene that was not quite what was discussed the day before... Two beer-pong tables and a gift table were now taking up more than half of the length designated for the photography area. The door to the bar, which was supposed to be closed and covered up, was now permanently open, essentially narrowing the width of the area available by a third. Delightful.

No matter, after a quick chat to the birthday duo, they agreed to move the gift table to the DJ area and it was decided that the option of shooting into the party was a no-go as the beer pong tables had to stay and those would not make for a great back ground. So, with limited space I made the decision to raise the black backdrop (I had white and black, but the rest of the decor of the party suited the black more) and switch to a basic 3 light setup;

As I was unsure what was coming with regards to group size and hair & clothes colour, I put up two lights with shoot through umbrella's up front at about 50% each giving flat, but predictable light and setup a third light  at 60% behind and peeking over the backdrop with a soft-box to create the separation. I opted to not max the lights as I knew the shooting would be fast and furious and even though I had spares, stopping to replace one light would kill the flow.

I then created a line on the floor with tape to serve as a marker for the "subjects" then tweaked the power on the lights for consistent F/11, 1/160th shooting at ISO 250 and bob's your uncle, a few test shots and tweaks later, I was ready to go.

Then the nightmare began..... :) Actually, I am being a little harsh, I really had fun and the booth was a big hit with the party goers and the "clients" were exceptionally happy. But from a photography perspective it was a difficult shoot.

From the get-go, the booth was in high demand and a queue formed very quickly. Each shot involved different size groups, mixed hair and clothing colours..... some were no problem while others, caused exposure issues with the black background and there was no time to make light adjustments for each shot. The space was so limited I often had party goers standing in front of the lights. I calculated that I was taking a new shots of new people, every 20 seconds!

After a short while, a new issue arose as soon as one of the taller guests walked "on-set". Due to the low ceiling, the soft box at the back was quite low and now either slightly intruded into the shot, or created a halo effect on the taller subjects. With no option of raising the soft box, I framed as best I could, moved the taller people when possible and prayed that I could edit the worst ones.

I also realised about a third of the way into the shoot that perhaps I should have setup the lights for f/16 and ISO-400 to get a bit more DoF for the larger groups. However in the interests of consistency and keeping the flow and buzz going, I stuck to the original formula and made sure I took at least 2 shots per pose.

Over-all, it was a fun shoot and I learned a huge amount. My over preparing allowed me to adapt to the changing situation and still give decent results. Looking through the shots and critiquing my own work, I can see the problems created by myself, the environment, the setup and to some extent crowd control and for the next time I try this I hope at least to avoid some of the same pitfalls.

And by reading this, I hope at least some of you can take away some of the positives and negatives of my experience and incorporate it into your future endeavors. 

Here are a few samples. Happy shooting! :)

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Comment by Tiaan Reyneke on September 30, 2014 at 6:47

Glen, I like your idea. I will remember that one with the "auto" photo option.

Comment by Kevin Richards on September 29, 2014 at 19:09
I am relieved to find out that we have all had interesting photo booth experiences! :)
Comment by Glen Fouche' on September 29, 2014 at 6:59
Hi Kevin, wow it brings back memories... I wish I had an opportunity to read your article first as it would have guided me to other ideas, and helped break the box idea I have been stuck with. I had a similar situation, and the client at the last minute decided that a photo booth inside (Alice Art Gallery) would not work so outside on the patio would work... Hello... How do you cover people, and yes it rained ... And I was told the day before...
I had to buy a canvas gazebo so that the sun would not influence my lighting, and I used the gazebo frame poles to drape my black cotton sheet backdrop over.
The entrance was covered by the white cotton backdrop and served as an opening with sufficient privacy to allow guests to let their hair down.. Oh did I mention my shoot was at a bachelorette party.... Say no more... Hence no sample images either...
Lastly I taped my tripod to the floor and used a cable release which was programmed to shoot 5 shots every 5 seconds.... ( with instruction.. Press here once only.. And smile)
That way I was not involved and it gave the lights and people enought time to compose.
I like your idea of the third light over the top of the backdrop, and as I was not going to be able to pose people, I chose a couch from the venue and had it covered with a (what was avail) red duvet. It worked well with the black backdrop, and the couch kept the people inside the frame...
Lessons learnt, frame wider as people may stand etc on the couch, allow opportunity for a group to fit into the gazebo, as the couch needs space behind for standing subjects...
Comment by Kevin Richards on September 28, 2014 at 12:52

Thanks all. :)

Tiaan, the props were arranged by the client, I brought the picture frame though.

Comment by LEON PELSER on September 25, 2014 at 14:51

Brilliant  Kevin...tx for sharing!!

Comment by Salomie Klingbiel on September 25, 2014 at 12:59

Great post Kevin and great shots!

You described your experience so well!  I also had a recent Photo Booth experience. It also went well overall, but nothing went as planned and it caused me a lot of stress.  I similarly experienced a queue of people and very little time, space for the booth and opportunity to really relax and think things through.  I also had to keep shooting, posing and had to deal with so many different characters.  You don't always have enough time to plan for everything and one must get creative on the spot.  

Another guest was also by my side the whole evening shooting and he even hi-jacked my photo booth  at one stage while I was inside shooting the dance.  That really got my blood pumping.  At times I was posing the group shots outside and while I posed them he took the shots.  I really did not know how to improve the situation and I just jokingly and tactfully told him that the Photo Booth is only for the Photographer.  This was my first matric farewell that I had to cover the Photo Booth and the event. 

Another photographer was working as my second shooter, but we went way over the time originally agreed with the client and what we got paid for.  The requests for photos was really demanding.  I learnt a lot from this opportunity and I will definitely do things differently next time. 

Comment by Tiaan Reyneke on September 25, 2014 at 11:33

Did you bring the props or is it stuff that the guests brought with them? The people here want to have fun and the photos must look like they are havving fun. In the 2 examples I think you did a wonderful job of portraying this.

Comment by Danie Bester on September 25, 2014 at 11:15

Great post. I just hate Photo Booths, but I don't tell my clients. Especially if there is a few extra bucks to make :)

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