A Photo Boooooth

By Mark

Well my wife decided that we needed to have a Halloween party. As always, she was right. Every square inch of the house was decorated in a creepy, spooky, Halloween fashion.

One of the ideas we came up with was to set up a photo booth to try and capture the cool costumes of our guests.

I made the suggestion to get a Halloween backdrop and, surprisingly enough; she agreed.

There are lots of sources for backdrops on the internet. I just went through Amazon (shameless plug you should use the link on our blog) to find one we both liked. Of course, that one was sold out and I had to go with our second choice. 

I have long been looking at getting a backdrop support system because it provides a lot of flexibility for more creative photo shoots.

These backdrops fit on standardized sets of stands and a cross bar which set up quickly and can be done by only one person.

I do not have continuous lights so I knew I would need to set up the flashes. Most importantly I wanted to be sure there were no harsh shadows on the background so I used a second light first to wash the backdrop.  I have a set of pocket wizard remote transceivers which fit onto the flash units and onto the camera. You can control the power level of the flashes remotely and independently. I set up the camera on a tripod and focused the lens in manual mode so that the autofocus wouldn’t continually try to readjust. I put tape on the floor to show people where to stand and that assured they would be in focus for the photos. 

I knew that I did not need a lot of light on the backdrop, so I had the power level set at -2 stops as a starting point. I shot a few test shots to see how this worked. Here is a diagram of how the camera and the lights were set up.  I discovered that -2 was too dark so I kept adjusting it and shooting it and would up at -1 1/3 stops. 

Now I could move on to the main light. I used my large 5 ft octagonal soft box to create very soft light on the subjects. I positioned the light off to the side and as high up as possible to make the shadows interesting.  I used my volunteer model, Sarah, to test my lighting. When I was happy with it, I then proceeded to set up the remote control.

I purchased a more capable Vello remote for the camera at Photoshop World. It allows you to select the time delay for your self-portraits. I calculated that 10 seconds would give folks enough time to press the button and then get into position. Finally, I knew that people would like to see their pictures in case they needed to take additional ones that they liked better.

I set up my laptop with Lightroom open and hooked up the tethering capability directly from the camera to the screen. When you pressed the shutter the images were directly transferred into a LR collection and they were visible with the normal development presets already applied. One of the things I learned was that on Nikon cameras, when you are shooting in tethered mode, it does not also write the images to the memory card simultaneously. You need to insure the system is working properly or you will lose your images.

As it turned out, I ended up shooting the pictures myself, and not making the guests follow the simple and clear instructions I had taped to the computer stand. It was just more fun watching the people and interacting with them to get more relaxed poses. 

Each group had a crowd of spectators cheering them on. Toward the end of the evening, some of our guests wanted to take group shots. They were a lot of fun, but because of the dimensions of the space I cut off an elbow or two on the edges of the frame or had part of our basement in the shots. 

Additionally, I should have increased the depth of field because some of the people who moved into the far foreground became a little bit soft in focus. It provided a good learning opportunity for me, and people seemed to really enjoy their photos. We are already looking for a backdrop for the annual Christmas bash in December.