Photographer Mike Gatty directs participants at this Las Vegas green screen photo booth

COVID-19 and Green Screen Photo Booths

The path forward becomes clearer.

With Tourette’s Notes!

As the country looks toward opening up, one of our flagship clients, the Travel and Adventure Show, asked us to put together details of how our 20′ x 20′ green screen photo experience will look moving forward.  (Oh, geeze.  I can just imagine seeing myself on CNN:  A photo booth at a local event infected 700 people with COVID-19, details after the break…Wolf?  Wolf?  Wake up Wolf!”)

First some background.  Every year, The Travel and Adventure Show travels to ten US cities.  This year, one show was cancelled (Philadelphia), and two were postponed (Dallas and San Francisco) — they’ll be held in late 2020.   (Hopefully!  Photo boy needs to pay the mortgage!)  The new season will start in 2021, and include a new destination — Tampa (Son of a BITCH!  We just moved from TAMPA and NOW they decide to have a show there?  Really?!)  Our green screen photo booth sits in the middle of the show floor, and has been a go-to participant destination for the past six years.  Thousands file through the photo experience over a weekend, picking from a dozen backgrounds, selecting among luxurious props, and posing alone or together with their family.  A different travel destination sponsors the show for each city; and each show sponsorship sells out a year ahead.  (Read:  job security!)

national greenscreen photo booths with US Event Photos owner Mike Gatty
Photographer Mike Gatty engages participants at one of our national green screen photo booths prior to COVID 19

That’s been a very successful formula, and every year the booth gets bigger, the destinations more exotic, and the props wilder.  And…there’s the rub.  How do you move forward under COVID-19 with a hugely interactive, personalized photo experience?  In the past, we’ve had huge lines of tightly packed people.  Further, there were multiple touch points for each participant: they handled the “selections poster”, a laminated sheet showing the background choices.  They touched and wore the props.  We touched them (not like Joe Biden or anything!) as we assisted their pose — or at least got very close.  They touched each other as they prepared for the photo.  They touched the iPads when they emailed the finished image to themselves.  They touched the print after it was handed to them by one of the photo booth assistants.

So how to change the booth to satisfy CDC guidelines, and more importantly, to be safe? (Actually, most importantly, not to be on the news.) How do you make a highly interactive photo experience less interactive and still be successful?  If experiential photo marketing is about personalized mini-adventures, how do you create a wow moment without touch?  (Joe:  I ask you!  How’d you do it?)

Here’s what we decided.  First, we’ve eliminated all touch points.  There are no props. (Yeah!  No more shipping of props!) The poster is no longer laminated and hand held, rather, it is a huge 2’x3′ foam core mounted image that sits on an easel.  Markings on the floor will keep groups of participants (and individuals) 6′ apart.   (This is perfect for all those who don’t really like people, anyway!) The line will wrap around the perimeter of the 20′ booth.  Tables will run across the front of the green screen that separate the assistants and the photographers from the participants, and creates a path for participants to transverse.  Pipe and drape will separate the interior of the photo booth from the participants waiting in line or posing in front of the green screen.  Participants will text their email information to a number displayed on the selections poster; an assistant will then email their final image from the iPad.  Therefore, the participant and the assistant don’t need to be in proximity.  (Just like 2006!  Progress!)  Instead of traditional props, we’re using a selection of digital overlays to fulfill that role.  The digital props will permit the participant to interact with the background without physically touching anything.  Cleaning supplies are obvious, and we will wipe down as we go through the day.

COVID-19 green screen photo booth setup for Travel and Adventure Show
Our diagram for the Travel and Adventure Show green screen Experiential Photo Marketing Booth

For experiential photo marketing to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, the “experiential” part will need to be carefully thought out by organizers.  What worked and was successful under past circumstances just won’t work during a global pandemic.  But the hunger by participants to have new experiences — especially after being cooped up in the walls of their home — creates a huge demand for marketing.  With creativity, you can tap that demand and be successful as an event photographer.  The path forward, which seemed unknown just a month ago, is becoming clear.  (Unlike my writing.)