photo booth lighting

Secret Tips to Improve Your Photo Booth Lighting Setup

In Tutorials by Jon Connolly2 Comments

photo booth lighting
Want to improve the lighting on your photo booth? Have you ever had dark images, ugly shadows, shiny skin tones, blurry photos or poor picture quality? More than likely it was a lighting issue.

Photo booth lighting is probably the greatest determining factor in whether or not your picture quality will be great or terrible.

Good news:

It doesn’t take much to significantly improve the quality of your photos.

We’ve been perfecting our lighting setup for years and would love to share with you some simple tips to get a better lighting setup.

As a photographer myself, lighting has always been an obsession. However, when it comes to running a photo booth business there are several other factors to consider. Even though I’d love to get the biggest and best lighting setup its not always practical. Nor is it wise to slap on a cheap direct facing strobe. There has to be a healthy middle ground.

Right?

Enjoy this tutorial video that goes over our photo booth lighting setup. Then we’ll break down everything for you step by step.

We chose this setup based on a number of factors:

• First, we tested it for several years at a wide range of events to ensure it could withstand all different types of events and locations.

• Second, we needed the image quality to be really nice and consistent at all our events.

• Third, we needed our system to be reliable and provide us with a number of backups should something go wrong.

• Finally, we needed our lighting setup to be portable and function with ease for our attendants.

Here is a breakdown of all the lighting gear we use for our sale photo booths:

Photo Booth Lighting

We really love the B400 AlienBees for a number of reasons. The size is perfect for placement on top of our booths. Most strobes are very long and make it difficult to feed chords through or attach a modifier. The AlienBees have a more condensed body which fits really well. They also provide a wide range of colors to choose from to match your booth. These provide plenty of power for almost any lighting scenario you find yourself in. It also has a modeling lamp should the location be dark. The functionality of the buttons make it very easy to adjust. Overall it’s a work horse that is consistent and holds up for a long time. Plus the customer service over at Paul C. Buff is awesome. They are extremely helpful!

Another great light to consider is their DigiBee which is even smaller, more powerful and offers the ability for continuous lighting. Which if you find yourself in a unique situation that requires continuous lighting it can be very helpful.

With every light source you’ll want to pick up a backup flashtube, modeling lamp and reflector. These come standard with each strobe but it doesn’t hurt to get backups should something be needed at your event.

Light Modifiers

The 20″ Impact white shoot through umbrella is by far the best modifier in terms of consistency and softness. We love this modifier because it’s inexpensive, portable, quick to setup and fills each image with soft even lighting. We use this as our first option at each event. However, it does have some limitations. If your event has wind (like an outdoor event) then we revert to a 16” beauty dish. This brand fits perfectly on all AlienBee strobes and has a diffuser to soften the light even further. The interior of the beauty dish is white so there won’t be any cool tones. Since it’s a direct facing light you can also get more power from the light. The light doesn’t wrap as well as the umbrella but it’s close enough in terms of softness and quality. Your clients shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two. It’s also a great backup should the umbrella break. The beauty dish is a direct light source so it won’t pick up any strange color casting like the umbrella can do at times. This happens when walls or ceilings aren’t neutral in color. Between these two modifiers you should be able to conquer pretty much any lighting condition.

Height of the Light

Most booths come with a flash pole on top and a cut out hole to run your wires through. The height of your flash pole is very important because you want the bottom of your light source to be just above eye level. If the height of your light is too low it can change where the shadows fall – affecting how your subjects look. Direct lighting or uplighting in the slightest bit is very unflattering. If your booth doesn’t come with a flash pole you should be able to modify it without much difficulty. A flash pole is simply a pole that can support the flash head. In our case we attach the base of our AlienBees B400 to the top of our flash pole so it’s set to the proper height.

Angle of the Light

The angle of your light source is also very important. Always do your best to angle the light source so that the light hits your subject at a 45 degree angle. If you’re using the white shoot through umbrella this will actually be facing the opposite direction of your subject at a 45 degree angle upward so that the light comes back at a downward 45 degree angle. This actually goes against what most photographers use shoot through umbrellas for but since this is a small umbrella it’s acting using it more like a bounce. So the light is going to fill the umbrella and bounce back onto your subject. Some of the light will also shoot through the umbrella hit what ever wall or ceiling and bounce back. Bouncing light is a concept that photographers use to make a small light source appear very big which in turn gives you soft even lighting. If you need to use the beauty dish for outdoor or windy locations the light will then need to be turn to face your subjects directly. This again will be pointing at a downward 45 degree angle since it’s intended to be a direct light source.

Distance of Light

We like to position the base of our photo booth 5-6ft from the backdrop. We find the lighting to be pretty consistent within that range. Meaning the exposure doesn’t shift much whether your subject is standing against the backdrop or directly in front of the camera. We find that other distances create more dramatic shifts in flash exposure.

Modeling Lamp

A modeling lamp is basically a continuous light source that remains on the entire time. The AlienBee has a modeling lamp that you can leave on or off depending on your needs. We usually kick it on when the booth opens up or off when special moments are happening. On the T12 LED we utilize the continuous light that is built into the ring light. You can dial it up or down depending on how much light is needed. This is helpful because it allows your camera to focus easier if you’re in auto focus mode. It also allows the live view display from your computer to show up better. Since a lot of venues are dark the live view mode that the surface pro displays is difficult to see until the final photo is displayed. Modeling lamps or continuous light sources come in handy more for guest experience rather than the final outcome of your image quality.

Triggers and Accessories

We’re using a Canon Rebel T5i which is used to connect directly to our AlienBee B400. We use a Nikon AS-15 Sync Terminal Adapter that mounts to the hot shoe of our Canon. This adapter allows us to connect a PC Sync Cable directly from our Canon to the AlienBee. That way anytime the camera’s shutter goes of it fires the strobe. It’s a simple hard wired connection that is very reliable. We also power our AlienBee with the power chord that comes with the flash unit. This power chord connects into a power strip that is zip tied to the inside of our T12 LED Photo Booth enclosure. We also keep an extra 6ft right angle power chord which serves as a backup for the flash and DNP 620A printer.

Backup Light

What happens if your photo booth light breaks at an event?

We carry backup parts for our AlienBees which include a backup flashtube, modeling lamp, reflector, power chord, sync cable and hot shoe adapter. We would get an additional AlienBee with each photo booth setup but it’s very unlikely that the unit itself will malfunction. Most strobes show early signs of malfunction before they fail completely. And since we’re using the T12 LED by RBA it has a built in ring light that we could switch to in case a backup is needed.

If you’re ever considering getting anything from RBA Photo Booths make sure to use this 10% off coupon code before checking out – photoboothtraining

 

Frequently Asked Photo Booth Lighting Questions:

 

Should the light source be off to the side?

If you’re a portrait photographer doing headshots professionally I would say yes. But 99.9% of your customers wanting a photo booth will not be able to tell the difference. I have yet to find a solution with a light off to the side that doesn’t make the functionality and portability of the booth worth it. Also, with a photo booth you’re shooting lots of people in a booth doing a wide range of movements. Having the light high, centered and angled down gives you the most consistent lighting for ALL subjects in the frame.

Shouldn’t your light modifier be larger?

It’s not always practical for attendants to bring a large light modifier to every event. We’ve used lots of oversized modifiers to achieve a slightly better quality of light and customers cannot tell the difference. Your overall costs will increase and the challenges to transport and activate at events might not be worth it. Unless you want to have this as an add on service I think most events you can get away with using smaller modifiers.

What if my light doesn’t have enough power?

We only have experience with AlienBees and Einsteins which put out plenty of power for us. If for some reason your light does not produce enough power you still have a few options to consider. First, you can revert to using the beauty dish which should give you can extra 2-3 stops of light. You can lower the Aperture or raise the ISO which will increase your flash exposure.

Wireless Photo Booth Lighting

From my experience as a wedding photographer. The most reliable and cheapest off camera lighting triggers I’ve tested have been the Phottix Strato II system for Canon. They do require 2 AAA batteries to power. We don’t use wireless triggers for our photo booth lights but if you had a reason for this that was important, I would definitely give these a try. The only downside would be to remember to change your batteries which is another thing for attendants to troubleshoot. But if your light is higher or off to the side than going wireless may be helpful.

What kind of camera settings should I be using?

We typically have our Canon set in manual mode to:

Shutter 1/200
Aperture f/9
ISO 400

Sometimes we shift the ISO or Aperture but do our best to leave the shutter at 1/200.

What should my flash power settings be at?

For the umbrella we are usually at 1/2-1/1 power. That translates to half or full power. When we use the beauty dish we are usually at 1/4 (quarter power).

 

In Closing

Hope you found this helpful!

If you’re ever considering getting anything from RBA Photo Booths make sure to use this 10% off coupon code before checking out – photoboothtraining

Comment below if you have any questions and we’ll add it to the article.

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much! Confirming what I thought might be right, helping me to meet short term goals and make better long-term decisions on hardware & settings!

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