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
EXHILARATED – blow a gust of air across the faces.
DISTRACTED – make something happen in the roof, to make people look up.
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
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 .
18 MONTHS LATER
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
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
6 MONTHS LATER STILL
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
During its various problems, photos used to
get stuck inside the machine: