My customer asked me…

Do you remember the days when your group of friends would pile into that tiny, uncomfortable photo booth at the mall and take four silly poses, ready in four minutes (that felt more like 10)? Wasn’t it magical?! Photo booths have a certain nostalgic appeal because of their time-honoured charm and the alluring nature of the photographs themselves (the bright flash seem to negate all visible flaws!).

The old-fashioned nature of the photo booth is part of what makes it so great, but the photo booths of today are not the same as your grandmother remembers. These crowd-pleasing machines are making a comeback and have gone digital. In recent years, they have become a celebrity trend and a must-have party favour at big events like weddings and graduations. They are even making appearances at high-end restaurants and bars around the continent in an effort to attract customers. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol installed a photo booth in his factory for guests to enjoy. As most trends resurrect themselves, this celebrity “must-have” is no different. Quentin Tarantino installed a photo booth in his house five years ago and it stands as a permanent party gimmick for guests. Now before we delve too far into the photo booths of today, let’s take a look back at the history of this technology.

Although the first photo booths as we know them today came to life in New York in the 1920s, as self-operating machines with a curtain and screen, the first “automated photography machine” was unveiled at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, France. The 1920s design was patented by Siberian immigrant, Anatol Josepho, who later sold his patent for $1,000,000 USD in 1927. This deal was so significant that it made the front page of the New York Times and skyrocketed the “Photomaton” to success. This old-fashioned “dip and dunk” processing technology, whereby the photo is literally dipped and dunked in various wet chemistry through a carousel-like mechanism, is the same principle as photo development processes in a dark room – except in a more compact environment. There is something marvelous about imagining an old-fashioned machine operating in this mechanical way.

The photo booths of today don’t look very different from their ancestors, however these machines are almost exclusively digital and, therefore, they operate very differently. For example, the “Apple Royale Photo Booth” uses a Sony digital camera and commercial-grade dye-sublimation printer to create studio quality prints. The unit is equipped with an LCD colour monitor that allows users to select various options via touchscreen. There is expanded versatility in the new digital equipment and, in some machines, the user can control the effects to the photo, much like you would apply effects to a digital image in Adobe Photoshop. The user can change the photo to black-and-white or make the photographs appear as though they were sketched, for example. Unique borders can be added with some models, and postcards can be generated with others.

Photo sticker booths are also making an impact and are hugely popular in Japan. These machines do exactly as you think they would; they reproduce a photo that would typically print on photo paper, onto an adhesive photo paper instead to create a customized sticker. In this digital age, there are also new and engaging ways for customers to interact with their photo products. Not only can photo booths produce digital photographs in about 30 seconds, some can also send the photos to your mobile phone. On another digital note, if you’ve ever dreamed about owning your own vintage photo booth (guilty!) but your dream is sadly out of reach, there’s an app for that! Pocketbooth is the tiniest photo booth around and emulates the vintage glamour of traditional photo booths. The end result is a strip of four black-and-white photos to share on your iPhone.

The nature of photo booths is that they are spontaneous and fun at a relatively low cost, and, therefore, they hold a high perceived value for many. I remember a set of four black-and-white photo booth pictures of my dad and I from the 1980s. I’m sure that these photos were just something goofy my dad decided to do at the time and they only cost a dollar or two, but they are so much fun to look back on! The photos aren’t contrived or fixed in any way; the magic behind the photo booth is that the results are unplanned, unrehearsed and uninhibited.

Photo booths are awesome!


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.