If it’s one thing I have learned over the many years of running my own photo booth business, is buying a turnkey photo booth from a dealer is not cheap. For those just starting out, besides making sure you have transportation, purchasing a photo booth will be one of the most major expenses. For existing photo booth companies that are adding to their inventory or having to replace a photo booth, it can be quite a hit on the budget.
The good news, there is a way to save money when making a photo booth purchase, and that is to just build your own (do-it-yourself)! Guess what? it’s a lot easier than you think and if built correctly can work just as well as a photo booth dealer’s turnkey booth! After all, that’s what they do anyway, get the parts and assemble them into some sort of photo booth metal shell or wooden cabinet. Over the years, I have built many photo booths that are still operating today and have saved a ton of money in the doing so! It’s allowed me to add photo booths to my company, without breaking the bank.
However, if you can afford to purchase a turnkey complete photo booth system, by all means, go ahead and do so. These complete systems usually come with not only the photo booth but with software and hardware already nicely installed, packaged with all the cables and accessories nicely zipped tied and ready to start taking booth pics.
But, if you are on a tighter budget or just looking to save money, read this (DIY) Step-by-Step guide on how you can make an elegant, durable and professional looking photo booth and save half the costs! Let’s do it!
Buy the Photo Booth Shell
First of all, we are not building our photo booth housing from scratch, meaning we are not constructing a box with wood panels and screws, neither are we welding some type of steel together into a photo booth housing. Doing that takes a lot of time, money and skill and unless you know what you are doing, I would not advise it. Instead, our first step in building our (DIY) photo booth is to purchase a manufactured aluminum photo booth shell or a laminated wooden box enclosure already assembled. The enclosed boxed style photo booth has begun to fade in popularity in the last few years, so my recommendation is to buy the Open-Air Shell style of photo booth shell. The photo booth shell is the housing where you will begin installing all the components that will make up your photo booth. We will talk about these components such as the best camera, monitor, printer, etc., a little later in this article.
The ones I use for my business and highly recommend can be purchased here and are professionally manufactured lightweight aluminum shells which are lightweight, durable and extremely portable. Their sleek and slim design allows for easy storage, while interlocking pieces will let you fit the equipment into your vehicle for easy transport.
Buy the photo booth parts
Okay, after reading the components list you might question whether or not you will be saving any money! Well, I didn’t say it was free, but most definitely will save you a lot more money in the long run rather than buying a turnkey photo booth system.
Here is a list of the components you will need before assembling your first photo booth.
- Computer – A small computer or laptop is a must-have requirement to operate the photo booth software and hardware. Almost any type of computer running windows will work just fine. However, it’s best to get at least an i5 or i7 processor with as much as ram as you can afford. Although, 4 gigs will work and can operate the photo booth software and hardware without any problem or slowness. iPad and Microsoft Surface 3 and 4 computers are used in some type of photo booth shells.
My recommendation is to purchase a Lenovo ThinkCentre Tiny Lenovo M-Series computer with an i5 or i7 processor, 8 gigs or more of ram loaded with windows 10, if you can afford it. These small form factor computers that will fit securely using a VESA mounting bracket on to the of your touchscreen monitor. This keeps the inside of your photo booth very nice and clean.
- DSLR Camera – Don’t cut corners on this one! Even though cheaper cameras can be used such as webcams or consumer one-shots would work, use a DSLR Camera to capture impressive pictures for your clients! These cameras are professional cameras that can set into manual mode for fine-tune adjustments. Your clients will be amazed at the quality of pictures they capture. What we use in our DIY custom made photo booths is the Canon T5i, T6i, and T7i DSLR cameras. These 24 MB cameras will capture awesome video as well. You will also need a Hot Shoe Adapter to attach a flash to your DSLR camera using a sync cord. They do not have to be expensive, in the matter of fact here is the one I use with our Canon cameras.
- Flash – Your photo booth will require some sort of flash to capture the images. Depending on the type of photo booth shell your purchase will also be a determining factor on what flash you use. Flashes come in all range of quality of light and pricing and can be as much or little as you are willing to pay. It has been our experience that even the cheaper flashes work very well in photo booths. Higher-end flashes such as the Alienbee models can make your pictures look amazing but may cost you a lot more money. Depending on the photo booth shell you buy, you will need s continuous lights that remain on during the entire photo booth session so your guests can see to get around and the camera can see them to take the picture. The RBA ringflash used in this T-20 ECO Planar 22, demo has its own built-in modeling lamp which serves as the constant light source.
- TouchScreen Monitor – The touchscreen monitor is where it all starts. Once someone enters the photo booth area, an attendant or the guest themselves will touch the screen to begin the picture taking process. Any monitor will work but the size needed for your photo booth will be determined by the type of photo booth shell you purchase. For instance, I use the T-20 photo booth series of shells which require a 22-inch touchscreen monitor. I recommend using the PLANAR 21.5 Inch touchscreen. It is an amazing affordable monitor with very high resolution, great color, clarity, and touch sensibility. Of course, if you go with the smaller shells such as the T12 Series then you have to use the smaller Microsoft surface. Most generally, the T12 aluminum shell’s monitor opening is around 12 inches or so.
- Sub-dye Printer – To keep up with the print load, a professional sub-dye printer is required to keep up with the demands and pace of a photo booth event for up to 4 hours or more! A sub-dye printer will do just that and produce amazing looking glossy photo strips of varying sizes! They are capable of printing hundreds of photo strips before needing to change out the paper and ribbon. The only drawback is that they are not cheap, even though they have come down in price in the last few years. We have had great luck using the DNP-RX1S Sub-dye printer that can print very high-quality prints in less than 12 seconds! The DNP-RX1S has always been very durable, worked flawlessly for hundreds of photo booth events over the years. We normally use the 4 by 6-inch printer paper that comes two rolls per package with each roll taking 700 shots for a total of 1400 shots, give or take.
- Photo Booth Software – Your photo booth will require you to have some type of photo booth software to shoot, then print photo strips throughout your booth event. The software is pre-loaded with custom artwork that will serve as the background layer of your photo strips. When the photos are taken in the photo booth, they are layered on to the background and sometimes overlayed and printed with frames or other design elements such as a logo, text, etc. The software company you go with will be your choice. I would suggest download the free trials and experiment and familiarize yourself with each photo booth software before purchasing. We use Darkroom Booth Software and it has worked very well for us throughout the years. Its interface is very easy to use and has amazing features such as social media upload, green screen, etc.
- Accessories – Of course, you probably will need to purchase cables, Zip ties, and other accessories to complete the job and make everything look as neat as possible.
Once you got your photo booth shell and all the parts necessary to complete your (DIY) photo booth you are ready to begin assembling. Assembling your photo booth should not take more than a few hours.
Here is a list of things you should have on -hand at this point.
1. Photo Booth Aluminum Shell (T-20 ECO PLANAR 22 in our Demo)
2. DSLR Camera / Hotshoe Adaptor
3. Touchscreen monitor / Wireless Keyboard
4. RBA Built-in Flash Unit with Continuous Lights
5. Sub-dye printer / Printer Paper
6. Photo Booth Software
7. Cables / Mounting Screws
8. Power Strip
10. A cup of Coffee
Here is a list of tools you will need.
1. Phillips Head Screwdriver
2. Zip Ties / Scissors or Cutting Knife
3. Wifi for installing software.
Assembling the Photo Booth!
Now that you have everything ready, the fun begins! As noted, I am using the T-20 ECO PLANAR 22 Photo Booth Shell in this demonstration. It is made of lightweight aluminum, sleek in design, durable and very elegant in style. The main thing is it’s extremely portable for transporting to and from photo booth gigs.
Here is my easy to follow the 10-Step instructions:
- I first lay out all of my the pieces and parts that will be assembled into my photo booth. I’m my case, I am using a T-20 ECO Aluminum Photo Booth Shell with a 22-inch Planar touchscreen monitor. The Shell is manufactured to use a RBA Ringflash but the Paul C. Buff’s Alienbee Ringflash and be used without it’s reflector. You can use pretty much any DSLR type of camera, for this demo I am using a Canon T7i DSLR, and for my computer a Lenovo ThinkCentre Tiny Lenovo M920. Remember any i5 or greater computer will work, but I choose the Lenovo Tiny’s because of their size and the ability to attach to the back of my Planar 22 inch monitor using a VESA mounting bracket. The installation will also require other parts such as an AC Power for the monitor and camera, an ac power strip, Zip TIes, cables, and whatever screws and wingnuts your shell will require to complete the assembly. The sub-dye DNP RX1S printer is set to the side at this point but will be used externally after completion for photo strip testing.
- I start by putting my T-20 ECO aluminum shell together by assembling the bottom and top of the stand together using the provided rubber knobs. I them place the top half of the T-20 shell onto the bottom assembled stand. The T-20 series makes it very easy to assemble together in just minutes. Once I have my shell put together, I then mount an ac power strip to the interior wall of my T-20, using zip ties. This is where all my components for my touchscreen monitor, DSLR camera, and a ringflash for the photo booth will be plugged in to as their main power source.
- The touchscreen monitor is now placed through the backside door of the top shell and fits into the cutout monitor opening. The supplied crossbars are used to mount the touchscreen inside the top shell, and the mounting screws are inserted into each hole on both sides. Depending on which monitor you are using some modification may be required to securely install the touchscreen monitor. Check and see if the monitor is level by looking at it from the outside of the shell. Once you have confirmed the monitor is set correctly, just tighten the screws holding the crossbar firmly in place. Your installation may vary depending on your photo booth shell model.
- I now take my ThinkCentre Tiny VESA Mount II and attach it to the back of the touchscreen monitor. This will hold my Lenovo Tiny computer and make it easy to slide the computer in and out when needed.
- For my flash, I am using the RBA Ringflash which the T-20 ECO PLANAR 22 Aluminum shell has been manufactured with a cutout to fit this ringflash perfectly. This ringflash has it’s own built-in flash attachment with built-in modeling lamps that will serve as my constant light source. You could also use external flash by attaching a hot shoe to the top of your DSLR camera and plugging in a a PC sync cable from the hot shoe to your outside flash source mounted onto a light stand, etc. The Canon T7i power adapter is then velcroed and zip tied on to the backside of the top shell unit or on to the floor of the top photo booth shel. The AC power cable is plugged into the power strip to power my DSLR camera. I then place my Canon DSLR T7i, onto the mounting hardware plate which is centered inside the RBA Ringflash. This mounting plate holds the camera just as a tripod would and allow easy adjustment of the camera back and forth or the camera can be easily removed completely from the photo booth.
- I now slide my Lenovo Tiny computer into the Lenovo Mounting bracket that I have previously attached to the backside of the Planar 22 -inch Touchscreen monitor. This makes inserting and removing the computer in and out very easy. A side note, I install all my computers in my photo booths using this method, so I can quickly replace the computer with a backup if a computer or software problem occurs during one of my photo booth events. It also makes swapping out of computers for repairs, updating, etc very convenient. The AC power supply is mounted inside the top shell and zip tied or velcro on to the backside fo the top shell or onto it’s bottom floor.
- Lastly, the monitor and camera cables are attached to the Lenovo computer. At this point, you can connect a printer cable to the Lenovo computer and leave coiled up ready for future use. All cables are coiled and tidied then up using zip ties for an organized and cleaner installation.
- Turn on on the power strip, then power up the touchscreen monitor and camera, and you are ready to install your choice of photo booth software. We use Darkroom Booth in all of our photo booth installations. It is very intuitive and easy to use for my booth attendant while working almost without failure at every event!
- Once everything is up and running, hook up your sub-dye printer, you are ready to fire some test shots and print some test strips! If social media is your goal then set up your iPad to see if everything is good to go. Pre-loading the artwork and testing the photo booth system before you head out to each and every event is a good habit to get into before leaving to your destination. If possible, carry backup parts so you can replace broken components out in the field if a failure should occur. After completing this installation tutorial you should feel more confident in making these on the spot adjustments.
10. Hit the road! You are ready for your next photo booth gig!
Whew! Okay, I know this may seem like a lot. But, it’s actually quite doable and an affordable alternative to buying a complete photo booth system from a dealer. I hope this helps with your DIY Photo Booth build. It’s really not that hard to do and can save you a lot of money whether you are a start-up company or just looking to add a photo booth to your inventory. I will continue to update this article as time passes and add additional pictures and videos as they come available.
Meanwhile, check out out this particular photo booth shell here and contact me if interested in building your T-20 photo booth today!
Owner / Photographer
Snap Me Crazy Photo Booths LLC