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Process | NYE Photo Booth
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To close out 2018, I helped set up a photo booth for my friend’s New Year Party. This is the first time I’ve set something up like this. Overall, I would say that it was a pretty successful. My main goal was to set up a photo booth where I didn’t need to be present to take the photos or monitor it all night long. There were a few quirks to iron out here and there and some things that could be tidied up a bit for the next time, but for something hodge podged together for the first time I was pretty satisfied.

The software

I wanted to see what kind of software was out there for what I had in mind. I wanted something that could utilize my DSLR and be self-operating without needing to stand next to the booth the whole time. I was envisioning being able to offer this service for event photography without taking away from my time to photograph the event or hiring someone to help operate the photo booth. There were a few options available and after a few hours spent researching and watching Youtube videos, I decided to settle on DSLR Booth. This software has a lot of great features that I have yet to fully unpack. It was relatively easy to set up and get running quickly. There is a custom layout designer which is one of the least intuitive parts of the program. It wasn’t confusing to use necessarily, just frustratingly lacking when compared to InDesign or even Bluebeam.

The software requires hooking into either a PC or Mac as opposed to a tablet like the iPad because of the DSLR tethering functions. It supports touchscreen monitors—which was ideal as I would prefer guests to not be touching my laptop. It also supports both of my cameras—the Nikon D810 and D300—along with a plethora of other camera models from the major manufacturers. This provides me the flexibility to utilize my D300 on the photo booth while I can use my D810 to photograph the event. The software license is stated to only work on one machine only, so if you plan on using a dedicated laptop other than your main working laptop for this then I would recommend registering the license on that laptop only. Knowing most software companies though, if you simply give them a call and talk to support they should be able to help you out in the event you do need to transfer the license to a new laptop.

The Hardware

Computer: Apple 2015 15” MacBook Pro
First and foremost, this software needs to be downloaded and operated on a PC or Mac. Since I am currently using my MacBook Pro, that’s what I downloaded it on. Fortunately, this version still has all the ports that I need. I need a USB port to connect the camera to the computer. I also need an HDMI port and a USB port to connect the touch screen monitor to the computer.

Touch Screen Monitor: Acer T232HL
I had an old external 10-point multi touch screen monitor that I used during grad school. I just looked up the monitor and it’s still being sold and it’s more expensive now. Crazy. This is a nice and large monitor at 23 inches. I’m still on the fence whether or not this is too large of a monitor. I guess if I was limited to a smaller space, it might be considered too big. And if I were to mount this monitor onto a stand, I would need to get a pretty hefty stand. I’m currently planning on only using the monitor on a table or stool or something. In the future if this photo booth service becomes more popular, I may invest in an iPad Pro and use it as an external monitor with Duet Display or something.

Lighting: Neewer 18” Dimmable Ring Light with Light Stand
The main hardware that I invested in for this setup was the 18” ring light. I’ve always been interested in getting one for portrait lighting and this was a perfect opportunity for me to purchase one. It also came with its own light stand so that was a bonus. I’m excited to be able to use this light for other kinds of photography in the future.

Camera: Nikon D810
I think I would use my D300 for most events, but since I wasn’t taking photos at this party, I figured I’d try it out with the D810 first. I did test it with the D300 at home and it worked just the same.

The Setup

Setting up the software took a little bit of time. I had to first figure out all of the settings I wanted to do—how many seconds to wait between photos, what kind of features I want to show, how many ways to deliver the photos, etc. I also had to set up a layout for the photo. I decided to go with six photos in a strip—though it seemed like some people would have preferred four photos. I created a brief Happy New Year message and branded it with a small logo of the host’s firm. This was probably my least favorite part of the software because of how overly complicated they made it to create a template.

A little bit into the evening, it was evident that the start screen could use some instructions of how to operate the booth. So I quickly created a set of text instructions in InDesign and exported it as an image and uploaded that as a background image of the start screen. I will probably refine this a little bit better for future events now that I know that some instructions would be needed.

Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of my photo booth setup for this party as I was busy trying to set everything up and make sure everything was going to work as intended. Instead, I’ll try to describe how everything was put together as best as I can. The photo booth was actually in its own little rectangular room instead of out in the open of a larger space, which was nice. The door is on the short wall. The background was placed along the long wall of the room with a table on the opposite wall under a window for the props and touch screen monitor. The distance between the camera and the people was a bit too short for my preference, but we were able to make it work. Due to the placement of the table, we had to place the camera tripod on the table. I wanted the monitor to be centered in front of the camera and the light ring. Unfortunately, the lighting stand was too tall to be placed on the table, so I set the light stand on the floor right in front of the table, but had to shift the monitor off center a bit. This wasn’t how I would have optimally set up the booth, but this was the best solution for the room that we were in.

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The Results

After a few quirks to work out and some last second fixes, the photo booth turned out to be quite the hit. It started off a bit slow, but as the evening went on, more and more people started to use it. Some of the photos were quite creative! A lot of people also enjoyed the Boomerang feature. It was fun to see what everyone could come up with.

Lessons Learned

While I would consider this photo booth a success, there a few things that I can make it even better. There were two types of blurs that I notice from time to time in the photos. The first type is motion blur due to the shutter speed being too slow and the second type is a focus blur due to the depth of field being too shallow. I need to address the first type by increasing the shutter speed and the second type by decreasing the aperture. There are a couple ways that I can help achieve these solutions. The first way is to increase the ISO a significant amount. The second way is to increase the light output. Since the room was relatively dark to begin with and the ring light was already intensely bright, it was difficult to turn up the light output from the ring light. I probably could have increased the ISO a little bit and increased the ring light output a little bit. The most likely solution I would employ is to add a speedlight that would help fill in the needed light output without being too intense on the eyes.

Another aspect of the booth that I can try to improve upon is the placement of the touchscreen monitor. I need to find a way to minimize the amount of people looking at the monitor instead of the camera lens. I could find a way to move the monitor closer to the lens, but that may result in more people looking at the monitor since it’s harder to realize that looking at the monitor means not looking at the lens while having the monitor further away from the lens would make it more obvious that the monitor is not the camera. I could also find a way to display a message on the monitor to look at the lens, but I would need to explore the software a bit more. Another option would be to turn off the live view preview before the photo, but I think it’s better to actually see how you’re positioned in the frame before the photo gets taken. This is one reason why I think a smaller touchscreen might come in handy.

While there are a few things I can do to improve on providing the best photo booth quality and experience, at the end of the day the most important aspect of the photo booth is that people have fun taking photos.

Process | Umpqua Bank Plaza Conference Center
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I have the privilege of working in the field of architecture and photography. As my career in architecture progresses, I’m finding that my photography work is growing along with it. Usually I am photographing architecture or documenting the architectural process. However, every once in a while an opportunity comes along where the photography is used in the architectural design.

A couple of my coworkers were working on a conference center renovation and the client had a vision of a large graphic wall that depicted their building along the Willamette River Waterfront in Portland. I was asked to help them realize their vision. Their building, the Umpqua Bank Plaza, is in a prominent position to be photographed from the East Bank Esplanade. The client wanted a selective color panoramic photo with their burgundy brick building standing out from the rest of the skyline.

There were a few challenges to this project that I knew I’d have to figure out right away. The room that this photo will be put up in is not a very large room. It was roughly 9’ wide and 42’ long and 9’ tall—a pretty long and narrow room. This means that the normal viewing distance would be very close. I didn’t want the photo to be perceived as too pixelated or blurry from the normal viewing distance. I knew that there was a correlation to the viewing distance and the pixels per inch resolution (ppi) and found a couple of great resolution to viewing distance calculators such as this one.


//WARNING
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I entered in the 9’ (108”) x 42’ (504”) image size and the 5’ (60”) viewing distance and it spit out a resolution of 58ppi. This means that my photo needed to be a minimum resolution of 6264 x 29232 pixels. Fortunately, the Nikon D810 has a maximum resolution of 7360 x 4912 pixels per image. This means that if I stitch together a series of portrait mode photos into a panorama, then I should be able to achieve the minimum desired resolution for viewing from 5’ away. 29232 / 4912 = 5.95. If I gave myself zero tolerance, this means that I would need to take a series of 6 photos to cover the resolution needed. However, I like to give myself about a 50% overlap when doing a series of photos for a panorama—resulting in 12 photos needed to cover the resolution. (The end result was a 6495 x 29708 pixel photo after some minor cropping to get the ideal composition).

I knew that the other challenge for this project was that it’s an open space where people can walk right up to the image to view it. Using the same calculator, I typed in a viewing distance of 12” as the worst case scenario of how close someone might get to view the photo and it says 287 ppi (hence the rule of thumb of 300ppi for best quality printing purposes). So I decided to upsample the photo to help smooth out the rough edges when viewing up close. 108” x 504” image at 300ppi would be 32,400 x 151,200 pixels. Now this is where I learned that jpegs have a maximum resolution: 65,535 x 65,535 pixels. Since my long edge is maxed out at 65,535 pixels, dividing that by 504” results in an upscaled image with 130ppi resolution—not that bad.
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Now that I know that I can achieve an acceptable quality photo, I set out to take the photo. The local forecast was predicting overcast to partly cloudy skies. I wasn’t too bummed about it and was thinking the photo could actually benefit from the overcast skies as it would help wash out the sky and keep the focus on their building. I found a good spot just south of the Hawthorne Bridge that allowed me to help frame the photo. I took a few series from that spot as well as a few alternate spots. One particular detail that I wanted to make sure I got was the US Flag on top of their building since it was the only one visible from this vantage point. I wanted I good shot of the flag catching the wind a little and waited until I was able to finally get it in a fairly picturesque form. The wind was sporadically blowing here and there, nothing too consistent so it did take a little effort.

After capturing enough photos for a few good panoramas, I began the post processing. After some minor adjustments in Lightroom, I exported out two images, a colored image and a monochrome image. I wanted the red brick to really stand out so I edited the color photo around that and tried to not get distracted by what else was going on in the photo. The monochrome photo I really wanted the details the shine through while maintaining a good contrast between the light and dark tones. A couple of layer masks in Photoshop later and I was able to obtain a satisfactory result. The hardest part of the selective color process was the base of the building where it falls behind the trees in the foreground. The trees were pretty close in color to the building so it was a lot of trial and error as to how best to tackle that area.

From here, it was a matter of coordinating with the printer about where and how to install the image—particularly around the corner. A few months later, the construction of their newly renovated conference center was back open. A few weeks ago I finally got a chance to head over there to check out the space and see how the massive photo wall turned out. I was pleasantly surprised at how clear the photo was from just a couple feet away. I also did take a minute to soak in the meta moment of taking photos of an architectural space that features a photo that I took for that space that features the building that the space is in.

ProcessTimothy NiouComment