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So far Chris Lydle has created 8 blog entries.
13 04, 2017

Using commercial templates to wow your clients

Unless you’re a creative genius, you may find that buying (actually, licensing) commercial templates is a lot easier than designing them yourself.

But what do you get when you pay for a template? Here’s a sample description using the “I Heart You” template from Cherie Irwin. Your package includes Photoshop files to create 3 image layouts:

  • A 4″ x 6″ print with 3 photos: 2 small and 1 “hero”
  • A 2″ x 6″ strip with  4 photos
  • A 2″ x 6″ strip with  3 photos

and built into the template are some important instructions.

If you’re not familiar with Photoshop, you should know that it can save images with several layers of information. Those layers can be visible or you can make them invisible.

Let’s start with the top layer of this design template.

The top layer includes the terms of use – what rights you have purchased and things you can not legally do. The biggest “no-no” is that you can’t resell this design or incorporate elements of this design into another design that you then sell. Other than that the terms are pretty liberal – you can customize it for your customers, make some signs for your own publicity purposes, put it on your website.

And you also get a list of the fonts you need to customize the layout. Usually those fonts are available free from sites like “dafont.com” but the data sheet tells you the source, too.

The bottom layer, which is visible once you turn the top layer invisible, shows you the exact coordinates to place each shot your camera takes.

Most software prints 2″ x 6″ photo strips as 2-up on a 4″ x 6″ piece of paper. So you will want to enter information as follows:

All the images will be 550 pixels wide by 412 pixels high. For the left hand strip

  • image 1 will start 45 pixels from the left border, 60 pixels from the top.
  • image 2 will start 45 pixels from the left border, 497 pixels from the top.
  • image 3 will start 45 pixels from the left border, 934 pixels from the top.

And you’ll be entering data for a second set, the strip on the right hand side.


  • image 1 will start 645 pixels from the left border, 60 pixels from the top.
  • image 2 will start 645 pixels from the left border, 497 pixels from the top.
  • image 3 will start 645 pixels from the left border, 934 pixels from the top.


The middle layers  are where you find all the design work, and you can open up layer after layer to see exacly what’s there. And you can change colors and content freely.

After you have edited the names of your bride and groom, and the dates, you will make the bottom layer invisible and save your complete template as an overlay in the .png format. Why .png instead of .jpg? Because the .jpg format doesn’t support transparency, and you need the photos from each session to show through the overlay.

If you use Darkroom Booth software, you do not need to lay out 2″ x 6″ strips as doubles. The software can take care of the composite process so you can lay out your photos and edit your text only once

There are many vendors offering well designed templates. Personally, I like the work that Cherie Irwin does (she’s the one who created Photo Booth Talk) and you can see samples in the Market portion of this website. Belonging to the VIP Club makes a lot of sense: you get bunches of templates right off the bat and as new designs are published you can get those too.




10 07, 2016

Creating or modifying photo strip templates: Part 1

Photo booth strips can be more than just a piece of paper with some photos - graphic elements add to the fun!

A booth strip with a small amount of artwork on the top layer, as it was delivered to the guest.

While many variations of photo booths create different end results, such as images distributed on social media or videos saved for the benefit of the sponsor, the primary output of your photo booth is still a printed strip. That’s a big part of the photo booth experience – the anticipation. The waiting for those pictures to slide down a chute and into your hands. The close inspection, the showing to your friends, the laughter.

Warning: Photoshop talk ahead

There’s no getting around it. If you want to design graphics, you need to have some skill as a graphic designer and that means the ability to work with Photoshop or one of its clones.

Can you skip this? Yes. Software such as the Breeze family and Darkroom Booth have the ability to do some designs entirely within the program, but you are limited in how creative you can be.

When you buy a template from the Photo Booth Talk store or almost anybody else, what you’re going to receive is a Photoshop computer file, otherwise known as a PSD file. So you really have to understand this kind of program.

If you aren’t familiar with such a program, go find someone to help you.

Still here? Good.

Graphic images can be created and saved as several types of computer files, but we’ll be working with only three.

PSD (Photo Shop Document) files are the editable files in which we will actually design our layouts. You can change them as much as you want, add text and layers and special effects, and they remain editable. If you use the right tools and work flow, your images will not lose detail over many iterations.  PSD files are regarded as non-lossy. They will have names like “Chicago.psd” where the file name extension is “.psd”.

They can be saved with multiple layers, allowing subsequent editing of specific elements only. That means when you create a great layout your can add it to your library of stock designs. Offer it to your clients and all you’ll need to do is change the names and the dates.

PSD files can only be seen and used by editing software such as (surprise!) Adobe Photo Shop. Less expensive programs like Adobe Photo Shop Elements and freeware/shareware programs such as GIMP can also handle PSD files.

JPG (Joint Photographic Expert Group), pronounced “jay-peg” files, are a universally-recognized form of compressed image files. They can be seen by just about all computer programs and can easily be printed. They’re a flat file – only one layer – and can not have transparent portions. They will have names like “background.jpg” where the file name extension is “.jpg”.

PNG (Portable Network Graphics) are a more recent file type. Like a .jpg file, they are flat. Like a .jpg file, they can be printed and seen by most computer programs. But unlike a .jpg file they allow transparency. So they are the best type of file for an overlay, for design elements that go in front of the photos of your guests. They will have names like “overlay.png” where the file name extension is “.png”.

The most popular type of design for booth strips can be reduced to 3 layers:

photo booth strip as it's being assembled, with an overlay layer about to be dropped onto the pictures.

The photos have been placed by the booth software, and now we’re ready to stack the overlay.png on top.

  • The bottom layer, often named “background.jpg”. If you are going to have all your custom details on an overlay, you don’t need a background layer.
  • The photo layer, which is created by placing the photographs taken during each booth session
  • The top layer, which generally has all the fun design elements – frames, logos, medallions, and possibly the names of the clients or sponsors. Usually named “overlay.png”.

On top of these layers, some software allows you to create easily edited “captions.” These captions might be details that change from one event to another, such as the name of the bridge and groom or the date.

One big advantage of using captions for the changeable data is that this process is done within the booth software rather than being done in a separate program such as Photo Shop. So if you’re at an event and suddenly realized the groom’s name is Kevin, not Kerwin, you can easily change it on the spot.

A disadvantage of captions is that they can’t have special effects such as beveling, following paths, metallic effects or other techniques possible with Photo Shop.

Each brand of photo booth software has its own way of handling your designs, and in the next chapter of this discussion we’ll go into that.

22 05, 2016

Reflectors, umbrellas and soft boxes

OK, I’m still talking about lighting. But that’s because really good lighting does more to improve your photos than buying a new camera or lens will ever do.

No matter what your source of light – continuous bulbs, LEDs, electronic flash – the light becomes better when it’s diffused, soft and big.

Umbrellas are highly portable but can’t be mounted inside a booth cabinet. Many boothers mount the flash and umbrella above the cabinet of a lolly-pop style booth.

UmbrellaIf the flash is facing toward the subject you’ll want a “shoot-through” umbrella. If the flash is facing away from the subject you want a reflective umbrella, where all the light bounces back toward the subjects.

And push the umbrella on its shaft as far back from the flash as you can. That lets the light spread out more, diffusing it and making it softer.



  • White: A white umbrella gives an even diffused lighting effect with soft shadow definition. The closer to the subject the umbrella is placed, the softer the shadow will be. Thin fabric is also great for a “shoot-through” umbrella.
  • White/Silver: This umbrella softens and broadens the light output from any flash or monolight. It differs from a white umbrella in that it adds a specular highlight to subjects and slightly intensifies the light output. This is NOT a shoot-through umbrella.
  • Black/Silver: The black/silver umbrella provides focused lighting, along with soft shadow definition. It is especially suitable for bringing out structural details in materials. The black backing helps to keep stray light from escaping.
  • Black/Gold: The black/gold umbrella is an all gold reflective umbrella that produces a warm soft, wrap around style lighting perfect for single light portraits. effect.

There’s a big advantage in having the umbrella farther away from the subjects. For example, in having the flash pointing behind the booth and bouncing off an umbrella.

You’re less likely to have the people in the back too dark and the people in the front too light. That’s because the difference in their relative distance from the flash is less if the flash is farther back.


This ProMaster soft box folds into a small storage case about 10″ x 16″ x 3″

A soft box is an alternative to the umbrella. It mounts on the front of the flash (or the flash mounts on the back of it). None of the light is lost, it bounces around the inside of the box and comes out through the diffuser panel in front. It won’t waste light trying to fill up the entire room.

Disadvantage: you’ve got to mount the soft box fairly far back. If you’ve got an open booth at a decent distance from the background that’s OK, but these generally won’t fit in a closed booth configuration. There are soft boxes to fit both studio-type strobes and also shoe-mount flashguns.

If you mount your flash and its modifiers on top of the photo booth, it may get so high that you’re seeing major shadows when the guests wear hats.



16 03, 2016

(almost) All you wanted to know about photo booth lighting – Part 3

Electronic flash is the king of photo booth lighting


  • It overpowers ambient light, so it doesn’t matter (much) if stray light is streaming in from the sun or another light source at the venue.
  • It freezes action, because it lasts for such a short time that it mimics a very high shutter speed.
  • Your subjects will definitely know when the photo is taken.
  • The color of the light is about the same color as daylight.
  • Except for the fraction of a second when it actually flashes, it’s not objectionably bright.
  • It doesn’t have to be bulky.

That’s when flash is done right.

Photo of inside of photo booth with Canon G-9 Powershot camera, Alien Bee B-400 strobe, CFL modeling light and power strip.

Inside a home built booth with Canon G-9 Powershot camera, Alien Bee B-400 strobe, CFL modeling light and power strip.

Electronic flash is not always easy to do right

  • You will need more cords: a power cord from AC source to the flash, and a synchronization (sync) cord from the flash to the camera
  • Not all cameras can be used with flash. Only cameras that have either a PC terminal or a “hot shoe” can tell the flash when you want it to go off.
  • You’ll need some kind of modeling light – a continuous light that stays on so the camera can see to focus and the subjects can see what they will look like.
  • The inside of your booth gets even more crowded.
  • You might have to think, and as a fifth-grader once said to my wife “it hurts when I think.”

What’s the difference between a speed light, an electronic flash, and a strobe?

In everyday usage, the terms are interchangeable. Technically a strobe flashes continuously like stage lighting, but photographers tend to use whichever term they want to.

How does an electronic flash work?

The power supply boosts your incoming voltage – whether it comes from batteries or house current – to a higher voltage. Usually about 330 to 500 volts.

The flash charges up a capacitor, a device that holds a lot of “juice” and can dump it very fast. It takes a few seconds to fully charge a capacitor, and the time you wait for this to happen is the recycle time.

The capacitor dumps its charge into the flash tube, which converts the electrical charge into light. Think of it as “lightning in a tube” because that’s exactly what it is.

And just like lightning this high voltage can kill you. Even the tiny flash guns in disposable cameras have enough power to stop your heart. Don’t try taking flash guns apart.


Shoe mount speedlights fit directly on top of your camera. That’s got its good points and bad points.

Good points:

  • They are small
  • They hook directly to the camera with no cords
  • They will set the camera’s lens opening and shutter speed automatically

Bad points:

  • Because the flash tube is small, the light is harsh and falls off dramatically.
  • They run on batteries. Good for portability, not for long session.
  • The good ones are not cheap. The cheap ones are not good.
  • They will set the shutter speed for you and that’s not always good. (see below)

Shutter speeds: When you are setting your camera’s lens opening and shutter speed, you should know that changing the shutter speed has no effect on the brightness of the picture if the flash is the only source of light.

That’s because the length of time that the flash is on is the effective shutter speed. If the flash only lasts 1/2000th of a second, the effective shutter speed is only 1/2000th of a second no matter what the shutter is set to. That’s why strobes are so good at freezing action. When your guests get crazy in the booth the flash freezes them in their tracks.

However cameras with a focal plane shutter – such as a DSLR camera – can’t use flash at all shutter speeds. That’s because focal plane shutters use two curtains, which move top to bottom on modern cameras – the ones that can be used photo booths. Cameras like the Canon and Nikon slrs with live view.

These sample photos were taken with a Canon T5. Your camera may give different results.

at 1/30th of a second

at 1/30th of a second


At a 1/60th of second


at a 125th of second


at a 250th of a second (on some cameras, this would be too fast for flash use)


At a 1/500th second part of the image will be blacked out, because there is no one moment when the shutter curtains are completely open.


It’s even worse at 1/1000th.

Speedlight mounted directly on camera. Runs on batteries, sets the shutter speed automatically, doesn't have a modeling light.

Speedlight mounted directly on camera. Runs on batteries, sets the shutter speed automatically, doesn’t have a modeling light.

Incidentally, cameras like the Canon Powershot series do not have a focal plane shutter and can synchronize with higher shutter speeds. I’ve taken photos at 1/2500th of a second using flash and flash totally overpowers ambient light at those high speed.

Flash units that mount on the accessory shoe of your camera, such as the one shown here, are usually “dedicated”. That means that the extra contacts on the bottom of the flash exchange data with the camera’s computer, and will automatically set the shutter speed of the camera to a low number such as 1/60th of a second. That gives you safety but also means that your photos may be affected by the existing light. I like to use high shutter speeds.

For photo booth use a studio strobe usually makes more sense. The monolight style has a combined head and power pack, reducing the number of cords and the amount of clutter.

Alien Bee monolight studio strobe

Alien Bee monolight studio strobe

This Alien Bee B400 from the Paul C. Buff company is probably the most popular model for photo booth DIY types. Certainly not the only one on the market, but it’s got a reputation for reliability and plenty of power.

There are less expensive flash units out there, but this is a bad area in which to economize.



Advantages of a monolight:

  • Runs on AC – no batteries needed
  • Recycles very quickly
  • Has a modeling light to show where the shadows will fall and also lets the guests see what they look like. (suggestion – replace the one that comes with your flash with a cool LED bulb if you can)
  • Many have a cooling fan, really valuable in an enclose tower or shell


  • You need both an AC cord for the power and a PC sync cord to connect it to the camera.
  • Somewhat bulky.
  • Like any other major component of your flash, you need a back-up “just in case”

The trigger mechanism tells the flash when to perform its magic. Usually a cord does the work, but many flash units also have an optical slave trigger, which triggers the flash when it sees another flash. (turn off or cover the optical trigger so other photographers don’t trip your flash at random.)

More about flash cords and hot shoe adapters.

Baby Pin Plates are a rugged and easy way to mount a studio light with a 5/8" fitting

Baby Pin Plates are a rugged and easy way to mount a studio light with a 5/8″ fitting

Most small studio strobes are designed to mount directly on top of a light stand with a 5/8″ diameter stud. One of the easiest ways to mount them to a cabinet is by using a “baby pin plate,” a steel plate with a stud fastened to it. You can screw, bolt or rivet it to your shell.


Pin plates are available with different lengths.

I thought these ramblings about lighting would be over after 3 sections. I was wrong.

Next: reflectors, umbrellas and soft boxes.

In the interests of full disclosure: I’m a member store of the Photographic Research Organization, the company that make ProMaster products. So I’m a little biased in favor of those products.

Blog contributor Chris Lydle