Your guide to renting a photo booth
When renting a photo booth, everyone wants to get the most bang for their buck. After all, it’s your money and you should get what you’ve paid for. I’ve heard horror stories about bad photo booth experiences. From dirty props, poor lighting, poor layout design to rude and unprofessional attendants. The list could go on and on. Just like any other product or service, typically, the less you spend, the lower the quality of the product or service. On the flip side, the more you spend, the better the product or service should be. Also keep in mind that there probably are photo booths out there that offer great value at a lower price and others that may be very expensive but don’t deliver as promised.
The majority of photo booths are built very well. But occasionally, there’s someone who thinks they can build one on the dock next to his boat (where he lives), throw in a camera, printer, computer, props and run a successful business. It’s harder than it looks. This guide to renting a photo booth is based on personal experience as a photo booth builder, operator and as a customer of many different photo booths I’ve encountered. So, how does one go about finding a photo booth that’s right for their party?
Physical construction & size matters!
Photo booths come in all shapes and sizes and appeal to different tastes. Today, it’s more important than ever to stand out among the competition. Most photo booths are constructed from aluminum or wood. Aluminum is very light and can be transported easily. The smallest photo booths accommodate only 2 people. Larger booths can fit up to 15 or more people (It’s a no-brainer, the more people, the more fun). Ask yourself how many you want be able to fit in the photo booth at any given time. Ask what the dimensions of the booth are. Will it fit where you want it and will you have enough ceiling clearance where you’re having your event? Most cover an area of 10′ x 10’ and some are up to 20’ x 20’. It’s very important to make sure there’s enough room at your venue to accommodate the booth you choose.
Enclosed or open air photo booth?
An enclosed photo booth provides more privacy for the customer inside the booth. Some people don’t like having other people watching them while they’re in the photo booth. In contrast, an open-air photo booth is typically set up like a red carpet style event where it’s a “step and shoot” experience with a background color or image of your choice. Many more people can be framed in a shot with and open-air photo booth.
What kind of cameras are used?
DSLR vs. point & shoot. A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera will have a better lens and a larger image sensor, which produces sharper images, especially in low light conditions. You would probably be hard pressed to find a point & shoot camera in any photo booth but I’m sure they’re around. Choose a booth with a DSLR and you will get quality photos. The most common DSLR cameras used are the Canon T3 and T5. Some booths are using iPads and other hi-tech web cams to capture photos or video. It's always best to ask if you can see some sample prints from past events.
Dye sublimation printers!
The company you hire should be using a dye sublimation printers. Here’s why. The final product is a heat transferred image. They are not a water based product. The prints have a special UV coating to delay fading as a result of direct sunlight. They’re immediately water and fingerprint resistant. Printing each photo takes less than 10 seconds. Dye-sub printers produce lab quality prints and are the same type used in retail stores like Wal-mart, Costco, etc. Don’t rent a photo booth that uses anything but a dye-sub printer.
Typical expectations & up-sells of photo booth companies
Set-up time – The typical set-up time needed is 1 hour and should be included in the rental. If you want everything set up earlier, then idle time would be applied as explained below.
Idle Time – This option is for those who want the booth closed during certain times during an event. Here are a few ways idle time can be used to your advantage. For example, if the wedding ceremony and reception are in the same location or room then you will want the photo booth set up before the ceremony begins. You don’t want any unnecessary distractions or interruptions during the ceremony. Secondly, you can put the photo booth in idle mode during parts of the reception when you want everyone sitting and their attention focused elsewhere (like the first dance, eating, toasting, speeches, videos, slideshows). Get the idea? Idle time always should cost around $50-$100/hr and cost less than having the photo booth open for customers. The photo booth can then be reopened when the formal program is finished. Here is an example timeline for a reception: 5pm – 6pm: Guests arrive at reception area (photo booth open) 6pm – 7pm: Wedding party announced and dinner served (photo booth closed & idle time charged here) 7pm – 10pm: Dancing and celebrating (photo booth open)
Overtime – Overtime is a higher rental rate per hour, extended beyond the contracted rental time. The overtime rate should be stated in the contract you will sign. Make sure you know how many hours you want to rent the photo booth for. Sometimes events go longer than expected. When you sign a contract to have a photo booth at your event for a specific number of hours, it’s very important to know what the overtime rate is. If you want the photo booth to stay on site for longer than the contracted time, you’ll be paying the overtime rate that’s typically more expensive ($100-$200/hr) than the contracted rate. It’s all good if you have extra money to spend.
Delivery Charges – Delivery is typically free. But, if your event is outside of the company’s operating radius, you may be charged more depending on the extra distance needed to travel. When asking for a quote, make sure you communicate your location to the company.
Photo Prints – Some companies offer unlimited prints...some don't. Some offer paper prints as an upgrade to packages. Unlmited prints means each person in the photo can receive a photo if they want.
Photo Layout Design – There are two things you need to consider right away: the size of the print and the size of the photos on the print. Do you want 2”x6” (strips) or a 4”x6” print. Strips require smaller sized photos on the print. On the other hand, a 4”x6” print can accommodate more photos with larger images. Also ask yourself how many pictures you want on the print? A 4”x6” print is great for 2-4 photos of larger size than what can fit on a strip. (post picture examples). Regarding other aspects of the design of the print, the sky is the limit. The company should work with you to deliver the design that you want for your event. This includes fonts, text, colors, print backgrounds, logos, etc. If you want a design that reflects the theme of your wedding, they should be able to accommodate you. I’ve even let clients design their own print if they know graphic design and have a working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.
Extra Prints – This option is for when the customer renting the photo booth wants to take a copy of every print home with them at the end of the party. This requires more time and paper. Therefore, it’s an extra cost typically not less than $25.
Props – You’ll definitely want to know what kind of props the company you’re considering renting from has to offer. It’s also good to ask if the props are sanitized between events. I’ve heard horror stories about dirty props. Companies should be sanitizing their props! Make sure you ask! Also, if you are having a themed party (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, St Patrick’s day, etc.), don’t assume the company will have props to match your theme or occasion. Always ask! All photo booth rentals should come with a standard box of props. Some companies offer a second box of props as an up-sell. Common types of props include jumbo glasses, boas, flowers, crowns, hats, tiaras, inflatable toys, wigs and signs. A good way to see what kind of props a company uses is to ask them for access to an album of photos that show their props in action. Also feel free to bring or make your own props to add to what’s available.
Scrapbook – This is arguably the most common and valuable add-on to a photo booth rental. At the end of the night you’ll receive an instant photo album of all the photos taken in the booth. An extra print is supplied and given to the group when they exit the booth. They are then instructed to glue the print to a page and write a message of their choice next to the print. I’m amazed at some people’s creativity. This is also a great way to entertain children if there will be a large number of them at the party. There are many different brands of scrapbooks, so make sure you will be getting a quality one that will last for years to come. For my customers I use “We R Memory Keepers” albums.
Online Gallery Hosting – This varies from company to company. Some companies host photos on their own web site, Facebook, Smugmug, or other photo hosting sites. The services offered vary widely. Look for a company that offers a gallery that’s easy to use, offers password protection (for privacy), posts high-resolution photos, offers free downloading and the ability to reorder prints.
Thumb Drive – At the end of the event, if you’ve included it in your package, make sure you get a digital copy of all the customized photos (layouts) and all of the originals (pictures that the camera takes) from the operator. *post example pics*
Photo Booth Software – There are many quality and industry leading photo booth software companies. Most of them come with too many features to list in this guide. But here are some key features you will want to make sure the company you’re renting from has. Most photo booth software has the ability let you share your photo instantly via email, SMS or texting, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and many others. Some companies offer this as a standard option and others don’t. Make sure you ask!
Liability Insurance – All professional and legitimate businesses carry a minimum $1,000,000 liability insurance policy. Make sure you for a current Certificate of Insurance (COI). If your event is going to be at a venue other than your personal home, there’s a good chance the venue will ask the photo booth company to provide proof of insurance. This protects you from any unforeseen incidents related to the event venue, guests and equipment.