How to Make a Free Photo Booth for a Kids' Party
For the past few years, I have dreamed about having a party with a photo booth. Not only does it seem like a fun party activity, but the guests end up with great favors: The funny photos that show everyone together, having a blast. You can rent a photo booth from a local company, but the prices start in the high hundreds and go up from there, so I looked into different options for DIY photo booths.
After much research, my photo booth solution ended up being incredibly simple and free, and it was a huge hit at my last gathering. We got terrific pictures of all the guests, but the biggest surprise was how great having a photo booth was for the kids. We had children ages 3 to 12 completely occupied, snapping away, leaving the grown-ups to eat, chat and mingle.
While this easy DIY photo booth works for grown-up parties, I think it's a particularly great addition to a kids' party. The only downside is, if you want the kids to do anything else, it might be hard to pull them away. Find even more fun and easy tech ideas like this in our Geek Guide.
How to Pick Photo Booth Software
Of course you can use a regular camera to take pictures, but what makes a photo booth special is the ability to pair multiple shots, take photos remotely and, possibly, print them out in photo strips. To do these things, you need special photo booth software and there are many different options to choose from. For a kids' party you want photo booth software that is as simple as possible.
The devices you have to work with will also influence your choice. There is photo booth software for smartphones, iPads and laptops. For the camera, you can use anything from the built-in camera on your device to a DSLR, but the choice will impact the quality of your image and how complicated your setup will be.
Photo Booth Software for a Mac or PC
Sparkbooth is software that turns any computer with a webcam into a photo booth. If you want to use a DSLR and a computer to create a high-quality photo booth, you can use dslrBooth software. Both of these cost about $50, assuming you have a computer and a webcam or DSLR camera.
Photo Booth Apps for iPhone or iPad
If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can use a free or very inexpensive app to turn the device into a photo booth. There are lots of photo booth apps to choose from. Using an iPad is preferable for a party since the screen is larger. The iPad4 is best since it has a high-quality front-facing camera for good quality images.
My favorite photo booth app is probably Pocketbooth ($0.99) because it is simple and creates traditional photo booth layouts that you can email, share on Facebook, download to your photo library, or have printed and mailed to your guests for a small fee.
I like the simplicity of using an iPad as a photo booth, but the downside is you probably need some kind of stand to hold the device, which may add to the expense. Also, children may be confused by the sharing screen that pops up after each image.
My Free Photo Booth Software Choice
After all this research, I decided to go with Sparkbooth and downloaded the free trial to see how I liked it. It's very customizable and did everything that I wanted it to. While I was messing around with it, however, I decided to compare it to the Photo Booth software that comes with all Mac laptops. After trying them both, I actually preferred the Mac Photo Booth software and that is what I used.
I was concerned that the quality of the images would not be very good just using the native webcam. I used a MacBookPro which has a 1.3-megapixel webcam, which seems to be high enough quality as long as there is plenty of light.
The best thing about the Mac Photo Booth software is that it is incredibly simple to operate. Children of all ages were able to use it without any directions. For a kids' party, you probably don't want to print every image since they will be taking lots of silly photos. The sharing options are available, but don't pop up as they do on apps, so it doesn't confuse the kids with unnecessary options. Kids also love playing around with all the effects available on the Mac app. Happily, when exporting images, you can do so without the effects, which can be a good thing if the kids end up going overboard in that area.
Overall, I was extremely happy with the way the Mac Photo Booth worked for our party. Plus it's inexpensive (free actually if you already have a Mac) and simple. The only drawback to the Mac Photo Booth software is that it does not create traditional photo booth strips. Instead it puts the four images in a square. But I was willing to sacrifice that aesthetic for functionality.
Tips for Making a Photo Booth for Your Kids' Party
Start with a backdrop. I used some wrapping paper with a simple pattern, but fabric would have been better since the sheen caused some glare in our photos. You want something that adds some spark or fits your theme but isn't too distracting. You can also use a plain wall.
Add props and dress-up clothes. A photo booth is perfect for a dress-up party (princess, tea, pirate). But if you want to add a photo booth to a non-themed party, it's still fun to put out some props to enhance the experience. In addition to any costumes or dress-up clothes you may have, hats, masks, scarves, mustaches and sunglasses all work.
Lighting. The trickiest part of setting up my photo booth was trying to get the proper lighting. Professional photo booths have fancy strobes to make sure there is enough light for a clear shot and no shadows. I used three lamps from three different angles to get the best lighting I could in my apartment. Of course, part of the charm of photo booth strips is their crudeness so you can always make due with what you have.
A bench levels the field. I was concerned about how to aim the camera so that both adults and children would be properly framed. By placing a bench in front of the camera, adults and children could sit or, in the case of toddlers, even stand on the bench, putting everyone at more or less the same height.