How to make your own photo booth. Yeah, we’re doing that. Do you know how much it cost to rent a photo booth? Like 500 bucks! We don’t have that kind of money. Do you know how annoying it is to walk around at your party all night trying to snap pictures of your friends while replacing their empty beers with fresh ones and refilling the spinach dip? We don’t have that kind of time.
I just [miraculously] shoved 75 people into my apartment for a Christmas party, do you really think I had a free moment to take pictures of them all too? Heck no! And neither do you. So that’s why we’re going to build our own photo booth. What do ya say? Let’s make some memories!
Here’s what we need:
- A space removed from the main party area with a big blank wall. Opposite that wall should be another wall where a camera can be mounted, or space for a sturdy tripod.
- A simple to use camera. I just stick with my point and shoot. If you are serving alcohol or inviting kids to your party [because drunk adults are basically the same thing as children] I do not recommend using your fancy DSLR camera or even a point and shoot that you are particularly attached to. Let’s face it, accidents happen.
- A tripod or small shelving unit to mount the camera.
- A prop box. I fill mine with loot from the dollar store and junk that I have laying around the apartment. It probably cost $20 total to fill our entire box, and many of the props can be used from year to year.
- A scene setter or other appropriate back drop
Let’s see how easy this is:
- Identify a contained space with a large blank wall to designate as the photo booth. I use a small 10ft x 5ft hallway where I keep my washer/dryer.
- If you plan to use a tripod, set it up opposite the blank wall. Mount your camera and take a few test photos with NO ZOOM. Ask a friend to stand in front of the blank wall to help you adjust the tripod to the correct height. Be sure to give plenty of headroom in the photos for taller guests. In my photo booth, I don’t have space for a tripod. Instead, I mount a small shelf (I picked it up for a few bucks at the hardware store). Just like with the tripod, mount the shelf at a height that will capture guests of all heights without needing a zoom.
- Once the camera is mounted, hang the scene setter on the blank wall. Take a few test shots on the camera to make sure that the backdrop fills the entire [or at least most of it] viewfinder of the camera. Be sure to select a scene setter that is at least 5 feet tall, or it will be dwarfed next to your guests.
- Hang an instruction poster explaining both how to use the photo booth and how to set the self timer on the camera. Ideally, use a camera that has a permanent self timer setting. Unfortunately my self timer has to be re-set each time, but it still works!
- Place a prop bucket out of view of the camera. Fill it with odds and ends from the dollar store including funny hats/headbands, sunglasses, feather boa’s, mustaches, and necklaces. The possibilities are endless and can be themed to your specific party.
It’s time to use the photo booth!
First and foremost, make sure your camera battery is well charged before the party and that your SD card is clear. [Both rookie mistakes that I've made] Prior to guests arriving, take a couple of practice shots in the photo booth to make sure that the lighting and focus are exactly what you want.
Once the party starts, I typically have two rules for the photo booth:
- All guests must take at least one photo in the booth before the end of the night.
- No peaking at the pictures until the party ends. [as the hostess, I typically check a couple times during the night, just to make sure its working ok, but no peaking for guests!]
I just run a quick autofix on the photos to adjust the lighting, and crop out any stragglers that may accidentally be popping into the photo. Otherwise, these photos are untouched, and a great example of the fun that YOU can have in your own home photo booth! If you have any specific questions, leave them in the comment portion of the post!
I totally wish this was my original recipe. I totally wish I was genius enough to dream this up first. I totally wish I was the first one to dump wine in my apple cider. But alas, this is a total copy cat. I normally don’t re-post exact [almost exact] recipes from other blogs but this one has come in tow with me to so many events this fall that I absolutely had to share. First, because it is easy as can be. If you can open a bottle of wine and own a liquid measuring cup, then you can make this sangria. Second, because my friends go absolutely nuts over it. Third, because it looks so innocent, disguising itself as apple cider, but believe me when I tell you that this sangria packs a serious punch.
Appearance #1: Roommate and I accidentally polished off an entire batch while handing out candy to trick-or-treaters on the Saturday before Halloween. Naps immediately ensued.
Appearance #2: I brought a batch to Maria’s house on Halloween to share with friends over snacks and story swapping. I was driving, so I stuck to one glass this time.
Appearance #3: Every year on the 5th of November, my friends and I celebrate Bonfire [aka Guy Faux] Night. It was cold, so I brought a little something-something to warm everyone up a bit. Who needs a fire when you have sangria!?
Appearance #4: I wanted to make a special addition to the bar at Friendsgiving. What could be more festive than apple cider with some booze in it?
Appearance #5: Because of my long drive, my parents always tell me not to bring anything for Thanksgiving dinner. Fortunately, sangria ingredients travel well. Unfortunately, I’m not sure my family totally got it. Maybe daring sangria recipes are more of a millennial thing. I’ll probably stick to the classics at home from now on.
- 1 bottle (750 mL) of pino grigio
- 1 cup of ginger brandy (I’ve used apple brandy before as well)
- 3 cups of apple cider
- 1 apple, diced
In a serving pitcher or large mason jar, combine the wine, brandy, and cider. Stir to combine well. Chill until ready to serve, adding the apple a few hours before serving.
I typically make my sangria a day ahead of time, to let the flavors blend. I add the apple a few hours before serving to keep it nice and crisp.
One of my all time favorite recipes from Jessica at How Sweet Eats.
Wait a sec. The year’s almost over already? You gotta be kidding me.
- Friendsgiving – For the first time since college I was invited to a Friendsgiving 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. What a wonderful day of celebrating with new friends and for sharing a delicious meal. I hope that Friendsgiving is a part of my holiday season for years to come. What a great tradition that really embodies the meaning of the season!
- Crazy Sushi – Crazy Sushi sounds like the name a terrible take-out joint in a college town, so I was a little reluctant when friends made reservations there this month. Boy was a surprised, because Crazy Sushi is a shockingly hip and trendy little BYOB spot at 19th and Chestnut in center city. The fish is fresh, the house rolls are some of the most creative that I’ve found, and the price point is spot on.
- New Jams – November was an interesting music month for me with my iTunes downloads including the best of James Taylor, Compass by Lady Antebellum, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by The Band Perry, I’m Coming Over by Scotty McCreery, and Timber by Ke$ha and Pitbull. I don’t even know where to begin with naming that playlist…
- One Direction – This was too big to be included in the “New Jams” category, but 1D dropped their new album this month and I immediately downloaded it to listen on my long drive home for Thanksgiving. While home for Thanksgiving I spent 2 embarrassing hours watching a YouTube video documenting their rise to superstardom on the X-Factor. My only gripe with 1D is that apparently my girl T-Swift [we all know how I love her] wrote the song Trouble about Harry Styles, who she dated for about 2.7 seconds a couple years ago.
- The Blockley – Speaking of music, I checked out a new concert venue in the city this month. A group of us went to the Blockley in University City to see a band called the Red Barrat [or something like that] for my friend Matty’s birthday. I have a hard time calling this a concert venue, more like a bar with a larger than normal stage. It was sort of dingy and dirty with a super sticky floor, but the location was good and it was large enough to accommodate those in attendance, so I wouldn’t not go back.
- Marathon Cheering – I’ve run 7 marathons but I’ve never had the opportunity to cheer for one in the past. Countless strangers have helped me through my each of my endeavors with their positive presence and unending encouragement. This year, instead of signing up to run in Philly, I decided to organize a cheering station in front of my apartment. I invited over friends from the neighborhood, served them breakfast and mimosas, and screamed my head off for 3 hours straight! We even handed out mini bottles of water, bananas, and beer [for the brave]. Running a marathon is inspiring, but cheering for one is equally so! Congrats to all of this year’s runners!
- Home – I went home for the first time in 5 months and it was glorious. Can’t wait to be back in 3 weeks for Christmas.
NOT SO NEW THIS MONTH:
- Snow Driving – I had a harrowing [to say the least] drive home for Thanksgiving this year thanks to steady stream of freezing rain and snow for the entirety of my trip. I used to consider myself a pro at snow driving [growing up 45 minutes south of a Great Lake will do that to ya], but now I’m not so sure. Snow driving may not be new to me, but I think I’ve had enough for one year.
Well I’m finally home for Thanksgiving! You have to be living under a rock to not know about the giant storm that is walloping half of the country and ruining holiday travel plans for thousands. Given the incoming storm, I decided to take an extra vacation day and drive home on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. I thought I would be ahead of the storm. As it turns out, I thought wrong and my normally six and a half hour drive turned into a harrowing 8 hour journey complete with freezing rain, snow, and pulling my car over at the half way point to chip a quarter inch sheet of ice off of the entire body of my vehicle.
Whew… never have I ever been so happy to pull my little car into my parents’ driveway as I was last night.
My dad ran out to my car to greet me when I arrive and immediately asked what he could get for me. [meaning my suitcase, perhaps] My reply: “a strong drink.”
Well, dad took care of both my suitcase and my drink needs, and soon enough I was settled into the living room catching up with my parents and discussing holiday plans [which thankfully for us, do not involve any more driving.]
Dinner with my folks will actually be my second Thanksgiving meal this year as two weekends ago I was invited to a neighborhood Friendsgiving. Although most of the friends in attendance are new friends to me, I couldn’t have felt more welcome or blessed to be a part of their day. One of my favorite things about the holidays are the way they bring together people from all walks of life, and this experience was the perfect example of that.
With different backgrounds, come different holiday traditions, and lots of different favorite recipes. The table was absolutely overflowing with Turkey and all the fixins. I made room on my plate to squeeze a little bit of everything [and believe me, there was a lot to try]. Although everything was delicious, the one thing I absolutely had to go back for seconds on was the Spinach Madeline. Apparently Spinach Madeline is a somewhat common southern side dish, but it was a new addition to the holiday table for me. I couldn’t get enough of its creamy, cheesy, little bit spicy goodness, so I immediately went home and googled the recipe to whip it up on my own. I know its a little late to be amending your Thanksgiving menu, but this is the perfect side for all of those upcoming holiday dinners, or just for a weeknight side dish. To make it even more versatile, the leftovers heat up like a dream. I was playing the clean-out-the-fridge-before-I-go-out-of-town-game and got a big thumbs up from the boy who helped me finish off my leftover Spinach Madeline.
- 2 packages frozen chopped spinach
- 4 Tbs butter
- 2 Tbs flour
- 2 Tbs chopped onion
- 1/2 cup reserved spinach juice
- 3/4 tsp celery salt
- 3/4 tsp garlic salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 6 oz jalapeno flavored Velveeta cheese**
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 2 Tbs butter, melted
**The recipes I found call for either Mexican Velveeta cheese or Velveeta Cheese + a minced jalapeno. I haven’t tried to buy Velveeta in ages and couldn’t find the big block that I remember from childhood in my local grocery store. I did find these slices though and thought they worked perfectly. I know a lot of cooks are anit-”fake” cheese, so go ahead and substitute 6 oz of your favorite American cheese and some minced jalapeno. I haven’t made the recipe that way, but I imagine it will work as well.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the spinach per the package instructions (I did mine covered on the stove top with a quarter cup of water). When the spinach is cooked, drain it, reserving 1/2 cup of the spinach juices, and set the spinach aside for later.
In a large skillet on the stove top, heat 4 Tbs of butter over medium heat. When melted, add the 2 Tbs of butter and whisk for one minute, or until no longer lumpy. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes to soften the onion. Add the 1/2 cup of reserved spinach juice, and whisk for 2 minutes, or until the juices have thickened. Stir in the celery salt, garlic salt, and black pepper. Unwrap the Jalapeno Velveeta Singles, and cut them into large chunks. Add the cheese to the sauce, and stir until it has been melted and incorporated. Finally, add all of the spinach and toss gently until it has been coated with the creamy cheese sauce. Transfer the spinach mixture to a square (8×8 or 9×9) baking pan.
Melt 2 Tbs of butter in a bowl in the microwave. Add a half cup of bread crumbs to the butter and toss with a spoon until they are well coated. Pour the breadcrumbs over the spinach and bake the casserole for 20 minutes. This can be made a day or two ahead of time and refrigerated. You’ll just need to increase the baking time to 30 minutes.
After Friendsgiving I began googling Spinach Madeline to see what I could find. Most everything directed me to this recipe from the Junior League of Baton Rouge. If you are going to make southern recipe, the Junior League of Baton Rouge seems like a darn good place to start. I made a couple ingredient changes based on availability, but overall held pretty true to their recipe.
May I make a confession?
I’ve been homesick lately. Downright homesick.
I mean, I always miss my family and wish that they lived close enough for me to share my everyday life with them, but rarely do actually yearn for home. Until recently, that is.
May I make another confession?
I almost cried at my desk at work the other day when I thought about all the wonderful things that have been happening in my life recently that I don’t get to share with my mom and dad. [mind you, I have a very strict no crying at work policy so I managed to keep it together.] Then almost again later that night on the phone when I called my grandma to wish her a happy 85th birthday. Seriously friends, is there is anything quite as touching as shouting into the phone so your almost-deaf-grandmother can hear your birthday well wishes? I think not.
May I make a final confession?
Sometimes I just need to eat a brownie. Not a whole pan. Just one brownie. A really rich and fudgy one. The kind of brownie with a soft center and crisp edges. The kind of brownie that only takes 5 minutes to mix and 25 minutes to bake [in case you're bad at math, that's 30 minutes total]. The kind of brownie that soothes homesickness, heals a broken heart, or takes the edge off of a really bad day. This is that brownie. And I’m pretty certain you probably need it too.
It looks like I’ve made it my mission in the blogging world to shrinky dink every dessert recipe possible [so far we've done funfetti cake, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie] into a portion perfect for 2 people. Well, I’m at it again with this brownie recipe. You could totally get away with eating it all yourself, but I recommend sharing with a friend. We use very little flour to keep it super fudgy (just how I like it!) and just enough sugar to sweeten up that bitter cocoa powder. Sometimes brownies can get a little dried out, but that’s totally not the case with this one. It’s just dense, chocolate perfection. You probably have all the ingredients in your cupboards, so go make this, like, now.
- 2 Tbs salted butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 Tbs cocoa powder
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 1 egg white
- 2 Tbs flour
- 2 Tbs chocolate chips (optional)
- Miniature loaf pan (mine is 5.75 x 3 inches and I bought it in the baking aisle of my grocery store.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the inside of a miniature loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Place the butter in a cereal (or other small) bowl. Zap it for about 30 seconds in the microwave or until it is almost completely melted. Remove the butter from the microwave and swirl the bowl until the butter finishes melting. Add the sugar and cocoa powder to the butter and whisk until nearly smooth. Add the vanilla and egg white and continue whisking until well combined. Add the flour and whisk until the flour disappears. Finally fold in 2 Tbs of chocolate chips if desired. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick tester comes out clean. Allow the brownie to cool in the pan before cutting it and sharing with a friend!
This is a modification of my standby brownie recipe that I discovered on Good Life Eats a few years ago.
Do it. Just do it.