Creating a Virtual Photo Booth

Blur1Update June 29, 2020

On Tuesday, April 14th I saw a brief notice that our local high school was going to hold a virtual prom. It would be held on Saturday, the 18th. I immediately sent this following letter to the principal of the school:

“The virtual prom next Saturday is a great idea, congratulations.
“A regular prom is much more fun with a photo booth, so why not a virtual photo booth? I’d be happy to do one for free.
“I’ve done lots of real photo booths in the past, and have been intrigued by the concept of a virtual one (and quite frankly I’m getting bored sitting around home).
“Here’s how I envision it:
    • We’ll design a custom overlay, much like our regular red carpet or photo booth overlays.
    • Prom “attendees” take selfies in their regalia or jammies
    • They post their photos on Instagram with a special hashtag
    • We harvest those photos into a computer folder (one of our programs does most of the work)
    • We’ll pop those photos into that custom overlay
    • The photos will be uploaded to a gallery on SmugMug kind of like this:  https://hotlantaphotobooths.smugmug.com/Parties/Q100s-Girls-Night-Out-at-the-Coca-Cola-Roxie/
    • I’ll look over the photo before posting to make sure nothing inappropriate sneaks in.
    • We’ll keep the gallery up for several months
“Why am I willing to do this for free? Because I think it’s a great idea and I’d have fun doing it!”

 

While waiting for the Principal to get back to me I had to figure out how I was going to do this if they said yes! That’s right, I’d volunteered to do something I’d never done before with only a few days to figure it out. And on Thursday they said “super, let’s do it” so I had to put my money where my mouth was.

Darkroom Core has a feature where you can text your photo with a keyword to a Twilio number and it will text you back with your overlay. It will also create prints automatically and syncs with their new Event Gallery. That would be one great way to do it, but considering the schedule I didn’t want to try a software that was new to me and for which I hadn’t bought a license.

I already had a licensed copy of Breeze Hotfolder (previously called Hotfolder Prints). And because it’s a lot like Breeze’s photo booth software I was pretty familiar with creating layouts and work flow.

Blur2Included with Hotfolder are additional programs Hashtag Monitor and SmugMug Uploader. There are actually two versions of the Hashtag Monitor, one for Twitter and one for Instagram.

I consulted my expert on high school kids: my granddaughter, who will graduate this year. Elizabeth said “Almost every high school student has an Instagram account – not always a Twitter. Although a lot do have Twitter, it is much safer to assume they have Instagram and are active on it.”

Remember, this was to be a Virtual prom. The “attendees” wouldn’t be in a shared space, they’d just be listening to a DJ playing a special playlist. So I couldn’t even set up a camera in a central spot.

The solution?

Have the students take phone photos and post to Instagram with a #hashtag.

Used Breeze Hotfolder prints, which works much like their photo booth software.

HFPpreferences

The default image for photos taken within the Instagram app is square, so I designed an overlay with the square format. Since making prints was not a factor, I made the overlay 1200 x 1600 pixels with a 1080×1080 opening for the image. Here’s where to set the details in Hotfolder:

HFPlayout

If you take a photo within the Instagram app you can go immediately to the message part and enter the hashtag.

HashtagMonitor1

Instagram Monitor checked Instagram every 90 seconds to download prints with that hashtag, Hotfolder Prints made them into booth-type pix, SmugMug Uploader put them into a folder on SmugMug.

SmugMugUploader

I don’t know how much to charge for such an event. This was a spur of the moment freebie in my case. I was bored and heard about this event at the last minute, it was my local school, I did this one for free.

For a quick and dirty test of the concept I made an overlay for bored boothers and asked some folks on the photo booth sites to post Instagram images with the hashtag #boredboother. It worked pretty well

Calling all photo boothers! Are you bored out of your skulls?
Take an Instagram photo showing just how bored you are and add the hashtag #boredboother
I’ve set up Breeze’s Hashtag Monitor to seek out those photos and am letting Hotfolder Prints slap an overlay upon them. Still fighting with an automatic way to upload them to a SmugMug Gallery but will figure it out.
Your part is easy: Take an Instagram photo showing just how bored you are and add the hashtag #boredboother
I’ll put the results in a Facebook gallery too. Thanks, have fun, be creative.

Sequence is important: first get Hotfolder going before you turn on the Hashtag Monitor.

Hotfolder has to be in operation BEFORE the raw images start arriving to the input folder

You can set the frequency or interval for how often Hashtag Monitor checks. Default is 30 seconds. You can tell it not to bother with photos taken more than a few hours before you start it running, in case somebody posted with the same hashtag a year ago.

Things that caused me trouble:

  • Originally I was going to preview all the photos before uploading. I didn’t do that, figuring that since every photo had a user name attached we could backtrack any inappropriate stuff.
  • My URL for the resulting SmugMug gallery was much too long. I used Bitly to make a shortened URL, which the school distributed to the kids and parents.
  • Path protocols in SmugMug Uploader still have me baffled. With some practice I should get better.

 

There are other people working on ways to create virtual photo booths:

Frame Your Selfie is fully functional at this point. Your “guests” text their selfie to a FYS1phone number. Very quickly – my tests took about a minute – the photo is inserted into an overlay. It’s then texted back to the guest and also saved so you can download them all.

As of this writing, the software license is $199 for life. If you want updates after a year, it’s $100.

Here’s much more – my very detailed article

frameyourselfie.com

PicPicSocial has this demo

Here’s a YouTube from Darkroom Core

Urbn Events offers this