Photo booths of today provide the end user with much more than a standard photograph for their passport or driving licence. They have become a novelty product in their own right and a profitable add-on for operators, as Helen Fletcher finds out

PHOTO booths, even before the advent of digital production, have always provided users with two main purposes - official photos for documents such as passports and so on and the opportunity to take fun photographs for personal memories.

But chemical booths were messy to operate and not only was the quality of the print poor but the print paper had to run through a liquid bath to be developed and then the photo generally faded after a few weeks.

First introduced in the 90s, digital technology has not only improved the picture quality but the whole printing process is now a simple and clean operation. It has also opened up the sector to a whole host of new features that act as an added attraction to users.

For Mirco Martinelli, owner and director of Fotosmile in Italy, which has been involved in the photo booth sector since 1995, digital technology has allowed the user to become more interactive with the product. He told InterGame: "Digital developments have allowed us to develop new technologies that automatically recognise photo montages and superimposes the user onto a background."

Fotosmile currently has an agreement with Ferrari, which sees the photo booth branded up with the Ferrari colours and logo, while the user gets the opportunity to be pictured next to their favourite car. Its most successful product to date is the ‘Wanted’ cabinet, which has two main themes - Corsairs and Western.

"Audio improvements have also enabled us to progress as photo booth manufacturers," added Martinelli. "In the past the sound quality wasn’t the best but it has developed to such a level that it is now used, not only for giving information or advising the user, but also for creating very impressive theatrical effects."

Most photo booths now offer features where users can customise their picture with add-ons like tattoos, sunglasses, new hairstyles and so on and one of the latest innovations is the ability to download your picture to your mobile phone, which is a great tool for young players who want to customise their phone’s wallpaper.

An example of such features can be found in Fantasy Entertainment products, one of the largest manufacturers and operators of photo booths in North America. A hallmark of its products is the way the company integrates live video into the photo booth experience. Instead of a camera pointing at the users through a piece of plate glass, its products display a video image on a monitor located inside the booth.

"The video image makes the experience much more interactive and prompts users to get ‘crazy’ and create the types of entertaining photos that photo booths are known for," said the company’s marketing manager Scott Cavanagh.

And then of course, there’s the internet - in August 07, Fantasy Entertainment was first to market with internet-enabled photo booths via wireless connectivity. "This new approach adds extra value to a photo booth session by enabling customers to immediately download their photos from a company website. From this website, photos can be shared with family and friends, or used to create unique photo merchandise and gifts."

While the photo strip is the traditional output that has become so popular over the years, Fantasy Entertainment’s Foto Cube booth delivers unique novelty output that’s becoming equally as recognisable.

"A big part of what makes the Foto Cube experience so much fun is putting it together," said Cavanagh. "The Foto Cube prints flat on special pre-perforated paper with adhesive strips that allow it to be folded into its 3D shape. It is a good example of our continuous innovation of new photo booth outputs.

According to Alan Freimuth of LAI Games, which has just launched its first novelty photo booth Star Blitz, the freedom to exercise creativity is the key. "Customers can turn their photo into a crazy cartoon character or celebrity that’s beyond their imagination because of affordable technologies and tools to edit and customise photos the way they want - it is a unique souvenir," he said.

Star Blitz is currently available in a DX model and will soon be available in a compact upright version as well. It includes many new innovative features to theme and decorate user’s photos as well as a Bluetooth function to download the picture to the user’s mobile phone.


For Alessandro Lama of Dedem Automatica, which has been involved in the photo booth sector since the 60s, it is all down to the imagination of its engineers as to what they can offer in their products. From the ICAO ID photo booth to the company’s virtual Narcysco booth where different objects like fashion sunglasses or Pinocchio’s nose can be mounted on the customer’s face.

"Of course the booths appeal to all the young ‘gameboy’ generation," he added, "but there is also a wide range of adults that find the easy to use interfaces provide a fast economic solution to obtaining a service or having fun."

For Lama, the benefits to the operator of digital photo booths have also been significant. He told InterGame: "When the first digital booth was introduced in Italy in the 90s, the main advantage was the flexibility it provided, the ease of operation and the standard of quality.

"Also, on the administrative side the use of a laptop for cash and machine control has improved the service and the efficiency, giving management the opportunity to react quickly to market changes."

Some of Dedem’s most successful novelty booths to date include Narcyso, Cartoon Booth, Art Revolution and Vintage. Its products are represented worldwide in shopping malls, arcades and parks from Brazil to Japan, to Europe and North America.

It could be argued that this change in the photo booth concept has also brought with it revived opportunities and new locations. No longer are they hidden away in the corner of a post office or shop or similar location, serving only to fulfil the need of standard photos for official documents. Photo booths can hold their own in the busiest of locations and attract their own crowds, providing a cheaper alternative to a bit of fun.

A photo booth has the most chance of success where the traffic is high - so shopping malls, FECs, amusement parks and so on. More and more they are also being hired for parties and events.

"Photo booths are not amusement games and therefore don’t carry any sort of negative stigma from location owners," said LAI’s Alan Freimuth. "The product is therefore ideal for expanding an operator’s business. Retailers, mall owners, supermarkets or even places like hair salons are possible locations."

An example of how far the humble photo booth has come appears in the form of Dance Heads, which takes the idea of superimposing the user into a scene, but rather than just producing a photograph, produces a DVD, which they can take away with them. Developed just 18 months ago, the Dance Heads booth allows the customer to star in their own music video with no singing or dancing talent required.

With a firm commitment to producing not only new content but new types of content, for DH Recordings president Joe Sandor, the company is out to assure the product stays fresh and continues to attract new and repeat business year after year. The booths also include features such as Bluetooth transmission of videos, the ability to embed branding as well as a more compact footprint.

"We have different sized footprints as well as a portable unit that can be operated at parties, fairs and corporate events," said Sandor. "The booths operate successfully in FECs, movie theatres, shopping malls, bowling centres, skating rinks and amusement parks and are presently operated in the UK, US, Australia, Japan, Belgium, France, Philippines, India and the Middle East."


For all the novelty value now attached to the photo booth there is still a need for high quality photographs that will pass ICAO standards for use on passports.

Photo-Me International is one of the leading specialists in the manufacturing and operation of photo booths and for Francois Defreitas the photo booth remains the ideal and preferred option to ensure the images comply.

As well as providing photo booths with novelty aspects to them, the company has, in partnership with national authorities, developed its expertise in producing identity photos for documents, particularly with regard to the new ICAO biometric standards.

With strong support from its subsidiaries, Photo Me has recently integrated state of the art software in its photo booths, which enables automatic real time checking of the conformance of the photo for the new standards.

There are more than 50 requirements to conform with and the photo booth can check most of them. It also takes the customer through an introductory sequence to highlight the requirements for posing correctly.

"Many regulations have been introduced in the last decade offering Photo Me the opportunity to improve the overall experience," said DeFreitas.
"All passport applications must now include two identical passport photographs. The quality, style and appearance of the photos must meet the internationally agreed standards set by the ICAO."

There will always be a need for photo booths for official documents but the fact that manufacturers are thinking outside the box and keep providing customers with a new use for them, is what will keep the product alive.

Any photo booth can sit quietly in the corner of a location and produce photo after photo, but why should there be limits to what it can do? The Dance Heads booth mentioned earlier is a prime example of the opportunities out there to be inventive.

And as Fantasy Entertainment’s Cavanagh puts it: "There’s no shortage of photo novelties in today’s marketplace, but photo booths are one of the hottest, trendiest entertainment options available today because of the multi-faceted entertainment they provide for both young and old.

"For young customers, the photo booth represents a social experience to be shared with friends. For older customers, it is maybe more nostalgic. Regardless, everyone loves the fun, time-tested, interactive photo booth experience and the memorable photo souvenirs they produce."