The Photo Booth Solutions Blog

This month we have a fantastic guest post by Elliott Gosling from Party Photobooth Hire. Elliott has been a Social Booth customer since the beginning and has shared some great info about using a Phidget relay to control external lights while using Social Booth.

One of the features that I imagine not many people know about or use within Social Booth is the ability to run up to two external commands triggered by screen changes. This is a great feature which means relays and phidgets can be executed from within Social Booth to allow you to interface external devices. 

Why I needed this feature…
So we have all been there before, that old problem of the users never looking at the lens, I have tried vinyl arrows with “look here” in the booth pointing to the lens, arrows on the screen during the countdown, big coloured vinyl circle around the lens with little or no results either because they don’t see them or they are too transfixed on the camera feed of themselves look up in time. My solution is to add ring lights around the lens. Now I could have chosen to just have a light always on or use a flashing light but I don’t think they will help that much as there is no indication of when the picture is being taken and when to look. So I decided that I need two different lights, one to signify the countdown and another to let them know when it’s about to be taken. The only way to achieve this is with the ability to turn the lights on and off at specifics points in the photo booth sequence, and that is where the external commands feature comes in.

Here I’ll talk you through how I use a Phidget together with Autohotkey (AHK) and Social Booth to control these coloured ring lights around the lens…

A Phidge who?
A Phidget or this case a “1014 PhidgetInterfaceKit 0/0/4” is my tool of choice for switching on/off electrical devices via the PC’s USB. It’s basically a relay that can be controlled via the PC either directly through Phidget’s interface or more importantly via Phidget’s drivers and coded into other programmes (for me AHK). This will cost you around $60/£60 and is available from www.phidgets.com in North America or www.active-robots.com in the UK. I would also advise getting the acrylic case for it too.

Autohotkey (AHK)
The other thing you will need for this project is a copy of autohotkey which is a free open source utility that allows you automate via hotkeys, mouse clicks and in my create scripts to control the phidget, it is available from http://www.autohotkey.com. For me the only coding I have ever done prior to using AHK was a bit of HTML, javascript, CSS, actionscript in Flash and lingo in Director so this was again a new one to learn and get my head around, if you like logic it’s fine! But in all honesty it’s not too bad and for I what need fairly easy to hash together and modify.

Let there be light
For the actual lights I turned to LED rings or “angel eyes” as they are marketed as for the automobile industry. I needed two lights that would fit inside one and another and be two different colors (ideally a red for the countdown and a green for the taking). In the end I found what I wanted on good old eBay from a UK seller (being based in the UK I didn’t fancy waiting three weeks to get some from Hong Kong or pay the expensive shipping from the US). They were perfect, the lights are 360º so no breaks like some and the diodes have a coating over them making them clean to mount to the plexi. I got a red in 90mm and a blue in 80mm. 

For the testing stage I wired them as they were into the Phidget and powered them with a 9V battery. For the actual mounting in the booth they would be powered by a single 12V supply and I would be modifying them with power connectors so the panel they are attached to can be stored without needing to be plugged into the phidget.   

Let the coding commence
In order for me to use them in social booth I needed to create an AHK script that Social Booth will run at the appropriate screen. This was the first challenge as Phidget on their website give examples how to get it working in what seemed like every other scripting language except AHK. So doing a search online I came across a post on the AHK forums where someone else had worked out how to turn a channel on the phidget on and off. This was all I needed to get started. 

My script for lights is then very basic and does the following;

  1. Opens a connection to the phidget
  2. Turns the red ring light on and off for a set number of seconds (creating a flashing effect during the countdown)
  3. Turns the blue ring light on for a few seconds then off again (so that it comes on just before the picture is taken and goes off just after).

And that’s it, the timings I used for the lights was based on the countdown setting I use in Social Booth. A quick test by running the script on it’s own worked and my lights did indeed come on and off as intended. 

Houston we have a problem…
Now all I needed to do was add the file path of this script to Social Booth’s external command space in the triggers tab and select “capture” for the desired screen and I should be home and dry, or not as the case was. What I didn’t realise was that when a command is run Social Booth pauses until the command has completed; which in this case meant that the red light came on when the countdown started and continued it’s sequence of flashing followed by the blue light but the countdown paused until the lights had finished. This was no good as I needed them to run in tandem. The solution was to create a new AHK that simply is set to launch the first ahk. This way all the new AHK is doing is telling the other script to start so Social Booth isn’t going to wait for the lights command to finish before it moves on (I hope that makes sense). So now in Social Booth I put the filepath of this new script and Bobs your Uncle it worked when tested!

So now I know it works just a matter of adding the phidget into my booth and attaching the lights with plastic adhesive to the plexi and adding the connectors

AHK Script Download
You can download the final AHK scripts here.

Tips
Here’s a few tips for you if you are thinking of adding external interfaces to Social Booth using my method…

  1. Use the AHK forums, there are some very helpful people out there who will help you out with your code if you are stuck.
  2. Speaking of AHK I have included a download of my scripts for the lights to give you an idea of how they are controlled with the Phidget via AHK.
  3. Compile your completed scripts as .exe files so that you can use them on any PC that hasn’t got AHK installed and so you can’t accidently edit them (though the PC used will need the phidget drivers installed)
  4. If you are using led ring lights like these be wary if you aren’t using a strobe or flash but are just using a continuous light to take the pictures as the colored LED lights may interfere with your exposure and white balance!

Taking it further…
Once you have that mastered and can get Social Booth interfacing with external devices there’s lots of potential, you could have lights come on at the end of the session in the print collection slot, or if you do a video booth how about an “ON AIR” light so people outside know it’s occupied and recording in progress or if you use a webcam use bright white LEDs to create a flash effect so people know a pic has been taken (just have it flash at the review screen after the pic has taken instead) 

In my next guest blog I will tell you how I used the same principles and a bit more advanced AHK to create a new screen that hides Social Booth so the users can choose to turn on a wind machine direct from the touch screen for their session as can be seen in the image below.

Hope that helps and encourages you to give the external commands feature a go!

Comments

Categories: Social Booth Tutorial

Did you see the Twitter Mirror at the Grammy's tonight? The Wall Street Journal also writes about it as if only the geniuses at Twitter could have thought of something so clever.  But I'm sure when they saw it, everyone in our industry echoed in unison “That's just a photo booth running on a tablet, uploading to Twitter! I've been doing that for years with my photo booth software”  It's true. It's actually quite easy to set up your own Twitter Mirror using Social Booth Photo Booth Software running on a Surface Pro (or compatible) tablet.  But why stop there, you can also use Social Booth to create a Facebook Mirror, or an Email Mirror, or a SMS Mirror.  Still a pretty cool application of the idea and should give everyone some ideas on promoting the use of social media with their photo booths.

Comments

Categories: Social Booth Tutorial

Special thanks to Social Booth customer, Vince for writing this guest post on how to accept credit cards with Social Booth in a retail photo booth environment.

How to accept credit cards with Social Booth

This is not intended to be the definitive way to do this, nor is it the cheapest. It also isn’t a complete guide to building a retail photo booth. This is the explanation of how our tiny company successfully accepts credit card payments at an unattended photo booth.

Some background: We have a ton of experience in building photo booths for our rental company, limited understanding of vending machines, and zero experience working with credit card processors or hardware. Our goal was simply to build a photo booth that accepts credit cards as fast as possible. Keeping that in mind, here is our method on accepting credit card payments at a freestanding, unattended photo booth:

Key Item #1: Software. We chose Photo Booth Solutions’ Social Booth because after a couple emails with Mike, the owner, we felt we would have good support. We also knew that SB’s social sharing options are attractive to venue owners who want to get the word out about their business. Mike also programmed a special “time left” countdown timer that you’ll see within the software (which is now standard), and programmed in a “wait for a keypress before starting photo booth sequence” for us as well. (Why these customizations are important coming up).

Key Item #2: Credit card processor and hardware. This was the single most frustrating part of the process. We called several banks and processing companies. Nobody knew how to how to setup a vending machine merchant system because the whole credit processing industry is focused on Internet sales or sales from a smart device. They all wanted us to charge using the smartphone swipers or use an Internet gateway thru Internet Explorer and all had major security concerns. Nobody was helpful for a vending start-up.

Enter USA Technologies. They have a full service suite designed just for vending. At it’s core is a device called the ePort. If you’ve ever bought a $4 bottle of Coke from a Las Vegas vending machine then chances are you swiped your credit card using an ePort. After a 20 minute sales call, and credit application, we immediately purchased an ePort, wiring dongle, antenna and power supply a grand total of over $500.  Update: We used a “Non-traditional ePort” that runs $500 and has to be purchased by calling USA Tech. Their standard ePorts can be found elsewhere on the Internet for around $249, however these may not interface with a PC setup as easily.

The ePort processes a credit card charge and then sends confirmation of that successful charge as an electrical pulse through two wires– much like a coin mech on an arcade machine.

Key Item #3: Middleman hardware between ePort and PC running Social Booth. A device is needed to receive the ePort’s pulse and then translate it into meaningful info. We purchased an Uhid Nano to be our translator. The Uhid connects to your PC via USB and can be programmed, through a GUI, to accept a pulse and translate it into a keypress. Uhids are not cheap and come from the UK, so shipping is expensive. There are other programmable chips in the USA (Arduino, Teensy, etc) that are more economical, but their GUI is not as simple to work with as the Uhid.


 

Stated in a few steps:

  • We mounted the ePort onto the photo booth, 48” from the ground, next to the screen inside the booth that faces the guest. We punched a 5/8” hole thru the booth, behind the ePort’s mount and fed it’s the wires inside so they would be completely concealed.
  • Over the phone, the USA Tech people helped us solder the correct two ePort wires (of several wires) to our Uhid device, which was plugged into a USB port of the PC running Social Booth inside the photo booth. The ePort was then programmed remotely by USA Tech to charge a set $ amount per swipe.
  • In Social Booth’s “Triggers” settings, we deactivated the touch screen until a particular key was pressed (we chose the “a” key).
  • We programmed the Uhid to translate a pulse received from the ePort into an “a” keypress. Then, we put Social Booth in full screen mode.

That’s it. The experience is this: After swiping a credit card, the ePort takes 2 seconds to charge the card, then sends a pulse to the Uhid, which translates that into an “a” keypress to Social Booth (which is sitting idle in full screen mode). Social Booth immediately kicks off the photo booth countdown. The touchscreen shows all the action but disallows any user input until the “Choose Filter” screen. After that, all Social Booth and touchscreen features work perfect … Facebook sharing, Twitter sharing, etc. After the photo booth sequence was completed, Social Booth returns to the “Ready” screen and waits for another credit card to charge.

That is essentially the credit card process in a nutshell. Other things to note:

  • USA Tech is probably not the most economical method, but is by far the simplest that we found. Their sales people are friendly and their tech support has been immediate.
  • We pay a monthly connection fee for our ePort, but our 2-year agreement can be cancelled anytime.
  • Transaction fees and percentages paid to USA Tech are high, but that is the cost of simplicity.
  • There may be more economical solutions that USA Tech offers. I want to reiterate again that we took the fastest route – not necessarily the cheapest.
  • It takes about 7 business days for hardware to arrive with ground shipping from USA Tech.
  • It takes 7-10 days for the Uhid to arrive from the UK.
  • Installing a bill or token acceptor instead and avoid all the costs and fees associated with accepting credit. We felt that allowing people to use their card was much more user friendly.
  • You can setup daily, weekly and/or monthly email reports with transactional data from the ePort. It’s a nice way to view your daily sales info.
  • Mike at Photo Booth Solutions was also great to offer Social Booth help, but also helped us with other useful tips in building an unattended retail photo booth.

Comments

Categories: Social Booth Tutorial

You may already know that Sketch Booth is a cost effective software alternative to TapSnap™ and PhotoMingle™. What you may not know, is how easy it is to purchase readily available equipment to build your own version of these popular systems at a fraction of the cost, and without franchise or event fees. 

Equipment needed to create your own TapSnap™ and PhotoMingle™ with Sketch Booth

  • Touchscreen Monitor
    The biggest appeal of a Sketch Booth is being able to draw on a large touchscreen monitor and drag & drop virtual props and stickers onto photos to decorate them. 42” touchscreens are going to cost around $2000 new. ELO, Planar, NextWindow are all good choices.
    The ELO 4201L is a popular choice.
    But if you are looking to save some money, you can usually find some good deals on 42” touchscreens on eBay. Here's a few models to look for:
    HP LD 4200TM - $900
    Philips BDL4230ET - $943
     
  • PhotoMingle™ uses a 46” monitor.  Those will cost a bit more, but here's a few affoardable choices on eBay:
    Elo Touch Systems 4600L - $1445
    Samsung CY-TM46 - $999 (Touchscreen overlay.  Just add it to a 46” monitor)
     
  • Monitor Stand
    Now that you have the monitor, you'll need a stand to put it on. If you Google for monitor stands, you are bound to end up at Displays2Go. If you can ignore the visual assault that is their SEO strategy, you are bound to find a stand that fits your style.
    Here's one that looks very similar to the PhotoMingle™ style.
    This stand is modular and breaks down into a carrying bag.
    Both of these stands are under $500
     
  • Printer
    A dye sub printer is a must for quality prints. Imaging Spectrum has a very thorough comparison chart of all of the dye sub printer out there. 
    Sinfonia CS2 is under $800.
    HiTi P510S used by TapSnap™ is around $850
     
  • Camera
    Sketch Booth will work with a Canon DSLR or an HD webcam.
    For the DSLR, a Canon T3i is fine. This is what TapSnap™ uses. You can pick one of those up on Amazon for $500 or even used on Craigslist for $400
    For the webcam, a Logitech C920 is currently the best choice for under $100
     
  • Camera Mount
    There's lots of camera mounts to chose from, and none are particularly expensive. This clamp is just one of the many out there.
     
  • PC
    There are way too many possibilities when it comes to PCs to make a recommendation on a particular make/model. The PC doesn't have to be top of the line, but it's not a good idea to skimp either. I usually suggest a pretty decent machine like an i3 or i5 processor with 4GB RAM. It will run on less, but it will definitely perform smoother on a faster machine. Something with those specs should be in the $500 - $1000 range.
     
  • Software
    The Sketch Booth software can be purchased with either 1 or 2 machine licenses. A single license is $2,000. The 1st year of updates are included in the price and are optionally $500/yr after that.

Sketch Booth Costs:

One Sketch Booth Unit Two Sketch Booth Units
Monitor $1000 - $2000
Stand $300 - $ 500
Printer $800 - $1000
Camera + Mount $400 - $ 500
PC $500 - $1000
Software $2000
Total $5000 - $7000
Monitor x2 $2000 - $2000
Stand x2 $ 600 -  $1000
Printer x2 $1600 - $2000
Camera+Mount x2 $ 800 -  $1000
PC x2 $1000 - $2000
Software $4000
Total $10,000 - $12,000

TapSnap™ Comparison:

One TapSnap™ Unit* Two TapSnap™ Units*
Franchise Fee $15,000
Equipment $15,000
Royalty Fee 7%
Call Center 4%
Advertising Fund 3%
Montly Software Fee $25
Total $30,000 + 14%
of Earnings
Franchise Fee $15,000
Equipment $29,000
Royalty Fee 7%
Call Center 4%
Advertising Fund 3%
Montly Software Fee $25
Total $44,000 + 14%
of Earnings

PhotoMingle™ Comparison

One PhotoMingle™ Unit Two PhotoMingle™ Units
Equipment $17,000
Event Fee 15%
Montly Software Fee $25
Total $17,000 + 15%
of Earnings
Equipment $17,000
Event Fee 15%
Montly Software Fee $25
Total $34,000 + 15%
of Earnings

Total Cost of Ownership

A single TapSnap™ or PhotoMingle™ unit will cost between $17k and $30k.  You can easily build 3-4 Sketch Booths for that price.  And when you add in the other guys' 14%-15% event fees, the costs benefits of Sketch Booth skyrocket. Assuming 2 units were booked solid 2 weekends a year at $1400, you would be paying another $22,000 in fees, bringing the total cost of ownership close to $60,000 for the 1st year.  It's easy to save $50,000 by using your own equipment and Sketch Booth.

*Update - TapSnap has increased their franchise fee to $15k and now has a minimum of 2 units, making the minimum investment $44k + 14% of earnings.

Comments

Categories: Sketch Booth