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

7 03, 2016

(almost) Everything you wanted to know about photo booth lighting – Part 2

LED lighting – the king of continuous lighting.

9 watt LED gives same light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb

9 watt LED gives same light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb

Light Emitting Diodes are one of the most efficient technologies ever to turn electricity into light. Almost all of the power is converted to light, which means there’s very little that’s wasted as heat. They’re a better alternative to the curlicue CFL bulbs that came on the scene a few years ago, and are available in a wide range of shapes, including the ones that screw into standard candelabra screw base sockets.

What we’re going to talk about is light used to illuminate the subjects, not decorative lighting to make your booth look pretty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Many boothers use LED rope lights or color-changing bulbs for decorative purposes.

Your working lights should have all the following attributes:

  • plenty of brightness
  • the right color
  • diffused
  • compact
  • reliable
  • coming from the right direction
Promaster V380LED studio light

ProMaster V380 has 380 bulbs so it gives plenty of light.

Brightness: if your lights aren’t powerful enough, the shutter has to stay open longer. That means that as your guests jump around and wave their hands in the air, the images will be blurred.

You can get really powerful yet compact lights like this small LED studio light. Some advantages of this unit: it’s got an AC power adapter but can also run on AA batteries, allowing you to use it while the power at the venue goes down. Don’t laugh, it happens!

Some lights have over 1,000 individual diodes and make lots of light but are pretty bulky. The light above has a big brother called the V-1144 which has (surprise) 1144 diodes and is about 14″ in diameter.

Chris and Thelma at a club in Cancun, taken by an email-capturing photo kiosk.

Chris and Thelma at a club in Cancun, taken by an email-capturing photo kiosk.

Right color:  Photos taken under incandescent lighting usually look too red. Photos taken under fluorescent lighting usually look too green. The sample at the right was taken under the existing light at a club and obviously is way too red.

If all your lighting is the same color you can adjust the white balance setting on your camera.

LED lights made especially for the photo trade are usually designed to produce light the approximate color of daylight – 5,500 degrees Kelvin.

Diffusion: the larger your effective light source the smoother the light. If your booth has a deep cabinet and you have a translucent front, by mounting your lights farther back the light spreads out and that entire panel becomes a soft, diffused source.

Flat, powerful and with the option of running on batteries, this one has 160 LEDs

Flat, powerful and with the option of running on batteries, this one has 160 LEDs

Compact: All photo booth designers want to get the biggest results in the smallest, most portable package.

LED lights designed to mount on cameras tend to pack a lot of LEDs in a small, flat housing. Heck, I’ve even got a little one for my iPhone. But units like this one, designed to fit either an accessory show on a DSLR or a light stand or fasten with a 1/4-20 thread pack a lot of power in a small housing.

Reliable: Your lights need to work all the time. While you could rely on cheap imports good units are not all that expensive.

Coming from the right direction: If your lights are lower than the camera’s lens, you’ll have uplighting. The shadows will fall the wrong way, and everyone will look like they’re in a Halloween monster film.

If your lights are too much higher than the camera, when your guests wear those pink cowboy hats their eyes will be in shadow.

Too much to the side, you’ll get shadows that are unappealing.

Ideal placement is just above the camera and maybe beside it as well.

This LED ringlight is so small and light it can actually hang on the filter rim of a camera.

This LED ringlight is so small and light it can actually hang on the filter rim of a camera.

About ring lights: There are lots of circular lights that go around the lens. They give almost shadowless lighting and even in a group, none of your guests will be totally in the shade.

There’s always a very slight shadow all the way around – soft and you are almost subliminally aware of it. Your photos will have less contrast with a ring light.

Because it’s so close to the lens your guests will have a circular highlight/reflection in their eyes and glasses.

The small ringlights intended to mount on a camera’s lens (most also have a 1/4-20 thread so they can be mounted other ways) can be run on AA or AAA batteries for a short period of time, an hour or so.

Advantages of LED or other continuous lights:

  • They’re cheap
  • You don’t have to connect them to the camera at all, just to a source of power
  • Your camera doesn’t have to be synchronized to the lights

Disadvantages of LED or other continuous lights:

  • Your subjects won’t know the moment the photo is taken (I used a screen that says “Click!” to give them a hint)
  • They’re not really as bright as you think they are. Stray sunlight, or that PAR 38 flood bulb right above you at the venue, will cast more light than your system can overcome.
  • They won’t freeze action. Because they’re not bright, you can’t use a high shutter speed as you can with sunlight.

Next week: electronic flash for the photo booth

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

29 02, 2016

Foto Master’s Mirror Me Booth

We’ve all been seeing the Selfie mirror posts taking over the Photo Booth groups on Facebook, so we thought it was time that we asked our sponsor Foto Master to tell us what makes their Mirror Me Booth so unique.  Here’s what we’ve learned:

Foto Master’s Mirror Me Booth combines an alluring design with interactive entertainment to bring owners a positive ROI and guests an unrivaled photo booth experience.

This unique photo-generating product offers a full-length mirror comprised of the latest technology in interactive picture taking. Designed for an easy, secure transportation and created with a user-friendly interface, the Mirror Me Booth communicates with guests through a gesture-activated and touch screen display of colourful animations and entertaining voice guidances.​

One of our many exciting features included in the Mirror Me Booth software is our uniquely crafted premium visual animations. We are constantly seeking feedback from our community of followers to ensure we are providing customers with exclusive animations for a modern and distinct experience. In addition, the software supports custom animations which can be individually designed and included in each Workflow to present personalized animations in a vivid and wildly entertaining manner.

We have come a long way since the invention of the classic Photo Booth. While the original version uses a camera and a screen display, the Mirror Me Booth is a digitally-operated photo booth that acts as a full-length mirror with a hidden camera. The unique adaptation has the capacity to communicate with guests through animations appearing as though they are displayed directly on the mirror.

Though the original invention gave us great inspiration, with today’s technology we were able to grow and expand the traditional concept by elevating its performance. After a full year of testing dozens of different mirror materials from acrylic, fiberglass, film, and a variety of coatings, we identified the ideal components to make up an impeccably realistic mirror. Manufacturing the finest quality coating with a simple and speedy set-up and disassembling process, Mirror Me Booth provides a state-of-the-art mirror photo booth experience.

The updated software has six gesture-triggered features that are activated through Kinect for XBox One and touch technology, including; smile recognition, person detection, hand-gesture detection, and motion sensors.

Mirror Me Booth Version II offers a personalized experience with components that are ideal for next-level entertainment. The software allows you to create photo memories, GIFs and short videos offering unique features such as;

  • The Drawing Feature; allowing guests to sign and draw on their creation in a glowing neon color or standard color, which is then presented on the final photo.
  • The GIF/Video Feature; allowing guests to create a GIF or video with or without a rewind effect.
  • The Scream Feature; an interactive competition that captures a moment of amusement while the guests scream to reach the highest level of the “Scream Meter”. As the computer microphone detects the sound of guests’ voices, the meter changes colours based on volume. The photo of the people screaming as well as the results of the scream meter are then printed on the final photo.
  • Green Screen; the software supports Green Screen removal to offer a unique experience so guests can photograph in front of different background options.
  • Background Removal; using Kinect for XBox One, you can remove a background even without a green screen to enjoy a tidy set-up at events.
  • Layout Builder; consumers can include company branding in the foreground of the final photo with the option to rearrange, position and rotate the photos as desired.
  • Workflow Builder; Foto Master invented a very unique approach to building Workflows. Consumers can build their own story by choosing from different components such as built-in features or custom animations. In addition, they can decide how each component triggers the next to create a personalized and creative Workflow.
  • Enable Multi Presets; this feature allows the consumer to automatically run different Workflows in a sequence throughout the event. The consumer can choose to have it run in the order they are placed or have it set on “Rotate Randomly” mode.
  • Pay Per Play; the choice to have the software run through coin-operation.
  • Features included; DSLR Photo, Webcam Photo, Kinect Photo, QR Code, Raw Preview, Preview, Auto-Print, Auto-Save, Print Copies, and many more.
  • Social Station; a social-sharing station positioned next to the Mirror Me Booth enables individuals to share their photo, GIF, or video creation to their social channels directly from the event.

The Mirror Me Booth is versatile and ideal for any type of event looking to elevate guests’ experiences while offering a keepsake following the use of the product. Whether it’s a corporate event, wedding, bar or bat-mitzvah, trade show, audio visual presentation, birthday celebration, networking event, charity function, or any other occasion, the Mirror Me Booth is a new and unique interactive solution – sure to make your next event a huge success!

Find out more on our website at http://fotomasterltd.net/products/mirror-me-booth/