The old-fashioned photo booth shouldn’t even exist in an age of Snapchat and Instagram. Why pay for grainy mugshot-style selfies with questionable lighting when you can filter, fade and tilt-shift your pics for free and post them to the world? And yet: the photo booth resurgence.
The automated selfie-taker has been around almost a century and was popular from the get-go. An enterprising Russian immigrant to New York named Anatol Josepho introduced the first booth on Broadway in 1925, and 280,000 people used it during its first six months. Josepho sold the invention for a million dollars two years later while continuing to make royalties on sales of the Photomaton, as he called it.
But while film photography went the way of the Lindy and the Automat, photo booths endured. From 2005 to 2012, more people searched online for photo booth rentals than for wedding DJs, and there's no sign of let up. Go to a wedding site like The Knot and you'll see hundreds of rental options from companies like SnapCam, Capture Pod, Vintage Vault, Dimples and Thrills and Drunken Pixels. Many use iPads instead of cameras, and some forgo the booth completely for a green screen backdrop. But the box with a curtain and a swivel seat inside still exists, and the kids still love it.
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To get my head around the phenomenon, I got in touch with Maxim Sverdlov from Classic Photo Booth LLC, a New Jersey company that rents iconic old photo booths across the U.S. Here's what he told me beyond, "Say cheese!":
Why aren’t photo booths dead yet?
Even though you can snap a photo on your camera phone there is still a huge market for classic photo booths. These photo booths seats are designed for people to get physically closer. I think that brings excitement for the younger people, and for the older generation, it brings back great memories. Another factor is that you get an instant hard copy. All our pictures are on our phones and there's something specially about having an actual print to take home with you.
Your company stands out because your old fashioned machines uses actual film and developing inks and paper. Why bother?
It's a way to stand out. There are many companies providing photo booths but for many people there's really no substitute for the big boxy vintage machine. Some companies have the box but add newer equipment like iPads. Ours are refurbished from the ground up or built from scratch. Most are between 30 and 60 years old, and that has an appeal for people at parties or wherever they can experience these.
What questions should people ask if they're looking to rent a photo booth for a wedding, birthday or bar mitzvah?
First, they should figure out pricing. There are all kinds of products, from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Some are completely automated. The higher-end rentals have an attendant and props for people to use in the booth. Good questions to ask are: Do they want a digital or classic photo booth? Do they want black and white or color? Make sure to ask about the details of the booth itself. Many customers assume all photo booths are alike, but you should make sure you know what the unit looks like, whether it has a curtain, what types of options you have for wrapping the outside of the box with logos or messages, and imprinting the photos themselves with messages. Some companies sell something called a "pipe and drape" photo booth, which really isn't a booth at all but rather a curtain used as a backdrop by a person taking photos.
The number of options available for customers. At our company, for instance, we offer vintage classic photo booths, digital photo booths. You have the option of generating personal trading cards of your choice, which is great for kid parties -- We can Photoshop the children alongside their favorite sports teams or characters from Pokemon or Star Wars, let's say. We can make flip books. We can connect directly from the booths to any kind of social media.
Any tips on getting a great photo booth shot?
The trick is simply to be yourself. The best part about photo booth pictures is they are organic and unretouched. Something about the experience is exciting to people. I think it's because you don't get much of a head's up about the flash going off, which gives people more of an authentic in-the-moment feel. It's just raw and real and that's why people love them.
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