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.   hunkin





This started from a simple idea – to have a photobooth in which the seat drops suddenly, just before the picture is taken. It got more elaborate as I thought of other things the booth could do to provoke different expressions. 
EXHILARATED – blow a gust of air across the faces. 
DISTRACTED – make something happen in the roof, to make people look up. 
ENCHANTED – wobble the seat about in a slightly suggestive way. 
RAW – shine a bright light in the faces. 

The list kept growing.

I thought the whole idea was a bit new age so I decided to make the booth out of wood. Patrick Bond did the woodwork, and had the idea of having watery darkroom noises coming from within while the pics were being printed. Andy Plant had the great idea of putting the lens on the outside to peer into to see faces and expressions.


Technically it was quite a challenge – I toyed with buying an old wet chemical photobooth, but plumped for the computer route in the end, encouraged by Will Jackson. He suggested using a webcam, as these can be controlled from the computer (unlike digital cameras). I thought I might have to learn visual basic or c++ but to my delight, gradually realised that I could do it all using the ‘actions’ menu in photoshop. This repeats series of recorded actions on pressing designated keys.

I bought a cheap computer (£170 from europc), opened up a cheap keyboard (£6) and wired the enter, escape, f2, f3 and f5 keys to my PLC. At first I did it directly, but it kept crashing so I added signal relays close to the keyboard circuit. This worked, and I even managed to make it do two alternate routines combining different physical effects with different captions on the final photos.

For a printer I considered dye sublimation (as used by real modern photobooths), but the cost both of the printers and the supplies – at least 50p a print – were so high that I plumped for inkjet. I bought a posh Epson 950 (nearly£300), intending to use the roll feed as I thought it would be more reliable in the long term than sheet feed. Unfortunately the roll feed wasted 30% of the roll in the gaps needed between prints, and tied me to buying Epson’s expensive own brand paper (c17p a print). Also the roll weren’t really long enough, and were very fiddly to load. So after much frustration I abandoned them. So far the sheet feeder has worked perfectly and the paper, cut to A6 from A4 bulk packs of Jessops photo paper on a printer’s guillotine cost about 8.5p a print. I'm not yet sure how much the ink will cost - probably more than the paper. 

The technical problems preoccupied me while making this machine – and continue to do so. The computer continues to crash occasionally and its stretching my patience - though I think I will sort it out eventually .

At first I was a bit disappointed with the photos – people enjoy the experience – screaming when the seat drops etc, and they wait eagerly for the print –but often the expressions aren't nearly as dramatic as I was hoping - sometimes just 4 inane grins. Occasionally I watch on the monitor and see what I think are great expressions – but they don't show up on the photos. I suspect our perception is so finely tuned to detect facial expressions that our brain constantly exaggerates what our eyes actually see. Only actors really do good ‘cartoon’ expressions. 
Still its not like any other photobooth – and as I've got more feedback from it, I've realised it does now have a considerable number of fans. Its also a bargain at £2 a go (just about large enough for a whole family) compared to real photobooths that cost £3-£4 – without the seat moving anywhere.


I've now spent longer trying to stop the machine crashing than I ever spent building it in the first place!
My main problem was that the keyboard circuit needed to be very thoroughly screened, in a proper earthed metal box. Seems obvious to me now, but took nearly a year going down false trails. Then the inkjet printer was far from ideal, constantly needing refilling with inks and paper. After a year the yellow inkjet head got blocked and photos started looking dreadful so I searched for the printer real photobooths use and bought one, a thermal dye transfer Mitsibushi cp9000dw. 600 pictures on a roll. For the first 50 pics or so on each roll the printer seem to be temperamental - sometimes the computer can't find it, but then it settles down and works perfectly. 

So the booth is lots better, 40% more people used it last month compared to the same period last year because its not out of order so much, but its still not as reliable as I'd like.  

I'm not sure what's changed but it finally seems to be reliable.  I guess you just have to be patient. Only now, when its behaving properly, can I really enjoy the screams I hear coming from the booth.  

Ever since Matt, the pier manager, left 18 months ago, the photobooth has been having problems again. I now realise he had become so familiar with it all he used to set it right without telling me. So 6 months ago I replaced both the computer and the PLC. It took ages to get it running smoothly again but it now has a new fault. Unpredictably the computer doesn't recognise any signal from the keyboard. In July I fitted a new USB keyboard circuit but the computer now loses USB connection to the printer. I've now changed back to the old driver. In August I found yet another fault. I raised the printer up to get it out of the way of the cash box (every time it was emptied the printer got put back in the wrong place). I hadn't realised that the finished print now shoots past the sensor so fast that the PLC doesn't always detect it - fortunately this is simple to fix.  Then the printer started throwing up error messages - it took yet another 9 months to discover that it was the guillotine (that cuts the paper roll) needed replacing. In summer 2008, it worked more reliably than ever before. 

During its various problems, photos used to get stuck inside the machine:





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