Build Your Own Photo Booth
By Ken Kitchen
Just after the New Year someone posted a message on one of the modeling message boards I follow about a great new product he received for Christmas. It was called a photo studio in a box. It’s aimed directly at modelers and it has the basics of what you need for taking decent photos. It has a camera stand, lights, a two sided background and a collapsible frame with cloth for diffusing the light. All of this in a nice package for around a hundred dollars.
I seriously thought about purchasing one because I felt I needed something better for taking photos of my models. However on further thought I realized I already had most of what the kit provided on hand. I had a tripod for my camera, a couple of clamp-on reflector lights and a piece of foam board that I used for a background.
Given that I already had most of what I needed I decided to use a little ingenuity and imagination to come up with the rest. I went to my local building supply and bought two 10’ lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe and 8 fittings to form a cube. Next I stopped at the craft store and bought 2 sheets of white foam board.
For my initial box I cut the pipe into 12 equal length sections of about 18 inches each. I assembled these into a cube. I then cut the foam board to size for the back and bottom of the box. That completed the basic photo booth. So I tried to take some photos. I placed the lights on the frame. However it didn’t take me long to realize that getting them to stay where I aimed them was harder than it look. To solve this problem I took some scraps of wood and made bases for the lights. With the mounting of the lights fixed I took a couple of photos to see how it worked. The photos came out well but I still didn’t have enough light. I had a swing arm lamp that I wasn’t using so I created a stand for it and added it to the back so that it hangs over the frame and provides light from above. After a few more photos, things were definitely better but I was still having problems with shadows and reflections.
What I needed was something to work as a diffuser for the lights. My wife wasn’t too happy with the prospect of me cutting up any of our sheets so I went to the fabric store and found what I think is the right stuff. It’s a thin white cotton cloth and at $3.99 a yard it was the right price. One other thing to be aware is the thickness of the material. A thin cloth may not work very well, as it’s not thick enough to diffuse the light, and if it is too thick it will block too much light. The cloth I chose is thinner, but this gives me more flexibility. I can use one thickness for more light, and add layers for more diffusion.
The cloth I choose did cause a slight change in the dimensions of the box. Cloth comes in different widths and what I selected wasn’t wide enough to cover three sides of my box without a seam. And a seam was one thing I didn’t want as it could cast a shadow. I cut down the height of the box to allow the material to touch both sides of the base without a seam. I attached the cloth to the framework with some self adhesive Velcro strips. With that the booth was done.
The photos I’ve taken with my homemade photo both are of much better quality than the ones taken before I built the booth. However truth be told, the real difference is that I take more time and care in the setup before I shoot that I did before. With the booth I’m more aware of the lighting and control it better.
Conclusion: If I hadn’t already had a lot of these items on hand it probably would have been just as cheap to buy the photo kit, but I wouldn’t have had the challenge of designing and creating something that is uniquely my own. Using a photo booth encourages you to control your light and the subject in very positive ways and adds to the overall quality of the photo.
For those of you who might be interested in building your own photo booth I would encourage you to do so. To that end here’s a parts list of what you’ll need:
- 2 Clamp on lights (one for each side)
- 1 Swing arm lamp for light from above
- 3 100 watt Reveal Light bulbs
- 2 10 lengths of PVC pipe
- 8 fittings
- 1 yard of white material
- 2 sheets of white foam board
- Miscellaneous sheets of colored paper to vary the background