Handmade photo booths are popping up at all kinds of parties, from lizard-themed kids' bashes to elegant outdoor weddings. It doesn't take much to create a successful booth, and hosts who have done it say it's a fantastic way to capture a memorable event.
"I like photo booths because it's fun for the adults, and it's fun for the kids too. And it's a focal point of the party," said Suann Song, a stationery designer who owns the Simplesong letterpress studio in Alexandria, Va., and runs the kids' party blog Hip Hip Hooray (hiphiphoorayblog.com).
Song preaches simplicity when it comes to setting up a photo booth. She has used them at parties for her son, Ike, including his vintage election-themed third birthday ("I Like Ike" was the party's tagline).
She says a "simple, but bold" backdrop is a good starting point — a simple pattern or a solid color makes the photos pop. A curtain, sheet or a large piece of fabric makes a good background. Song used a vintage shower curtain for Ike's election-themed booth.
Brooke Premo, who turned her Birmingham, Ala.-based photo booth business, Playing Grown Up, into a full-time job, suggests the large rolls of paper that are available at teachers' supply and office-supply stores. Or try a bunch of colorful balloons or some streamers (hang them vertically to create a "curtain").
"It's fun to add some texture or color," Song said.
But how to hang it? Outside, Song suggests stringing a rope between two trees and hanging the backdrop over that. Handy types can build a frame from PVC pipes, available at building-supply stores. Indoors, simply tape the backdrop to a wall or use removable hooks. Remember to make the backdrop a bit wider than the photo's frame, so the entire background of the photo is uniform.
Where you stage the booth depends on your party.
"I prefer to do photo booths outside because the lighting is a lot better if you don't have professional lighting," Premo said. "Indoors is OK, but you have to use a flash, so you don't know how those photos are going to come out."
Once the backdrop is taken care of, consider whether you want to offer props for your guests to use in the photos.
"Definitely use props in your photo booth," Portland, Ore., blogger Sally Shim said in an e-mail interview. Shim, who blogs at sallyjshim.com and shimandsons.typepad.com, has created simple photo booths for many parties for her two sons and documented them on her blog.
"It helps guests get creative with their poses and helps put guests at ease because they can 'hide' behind the props. Props always help to encourage silly behavior and poses, which translates into fun photographs."
Premo agrees: "People are a little bit camera-shy, so when you give them silly things to hold, it makes them a little less anxious in front of the camera."
Props can be tied to a party's theme — cowboy hats for an Old West bash, for example — or they can just aim to bring out the silliness in your guests. Do-it-yourselfers can trace mustaches, lips, bunny ears and other shapes on to cardstock and attach sticks or dowels for guests to hold them with. Scour dollar stores and party shops for red clown noses, funny hats, capes and wands.
Song prefers to keep the props simple and a bit more elegant. She suggests printed signs ("Happy birthday, Madison!") or chalkboards on which guests can write their own messages. Giant empty picture frames are also great props — look for them at yard sales or thrift shops.
Premo suggest running the booth for the entire party. And don't forget the tunes.
"Playing music helps people loosen up," Premo said. "Sometimes I'll have to give people ideas. It's like a game at the party, an activity."
Song prefers to designate a specific time to take photos, especially at parties for kids.
Dozens (or hundreds!) of photographs later, it's time to consider what to do with the fruits of your photo booth efforts.
"I print the photographs after the party is over and include them in thank-you notes," Shim said.
When Premo sets up a photo booth, she posts the results to a gallery on her website so guests can see them. She also suggests sharing them via a site like Facebook or Shutterfly so guests can giggle at them afterward.
Photo booth tips
A party photo booth can be as simple or complicated as you make it. Here are some tips for perfect pictures, from people who've done it:
* Assign a friend to take the photos. As host, you've got other things to do. Choose someone a little bit silly who will make guests feel at ease.
* If it's feasible, play upbeat music near the booth to get people pumped up before they pose.
* Keep it simple. The great thing about a photo booth is that it doesn't have to be a huge production. Your everyday point-and-shoot is really all you need. But if you want great photos at a really special event (like a wedding), consider investing in a tripod so you'll get consistent results. An inexpensive remote allows guests to take the photos themselves if you don't have a dedicated photographer.
* Experiment a bit before the party starts to get your lighting right. Outdoor locations that aren't in direct sunlight will yield great photos, but you can do it inside as long as you're in a well-lit spot.
* If you're doing a booth at a kids' party, make a sign that says "Thank you," and take a photo of the birthday kid holding it (wearing a fake mustache, of course).
Upload to a photo site like Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery to make cute and easy thank-you notes. Or be sure to take a photo of the birthday boy or girl with each guest (or all the guests at once!), and include those in the thank-you notes.
* Share the photos online so guests can laugh at themselves after the party.
* Encourage guests to pose more than once throughout the party. It's not like you're going to run out of film.
* Take a photo of the wedding couple, birthday kid or other guest of honor holding a sign printed with the date. It will make a great keepsake.
Sources: Jordan Ferney (ohhappyday.com); Brooke Premo (playinggrownup.com); Sally Shim (sallyjshim.com); Suann Song (hiphiphoorayblog.com)
Photo booth props can be tailored to a party's theme, or can just be a little bit silly.
For more elegant affairs, like weddings or anniversary parties, try simpler props or chalkboards that guests can use to write messages to the host.
Dollar stores, thrift shops, craft stores, party stores and costume shops are all good sources of props. Keep your eyes open _ you never know what you'll find. Some ideas:
* Groucho glasses
* Fake mustaches or beards (cut out of cardstock and attach to a stick or dowel)
* Giant lips
* Silly headbands
* Animal ears
* Clown noses
* Funny hats