Step Inside the Photo Booth

David Braue
13 February, 2011
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Basically every laptop shipping comes with a webcam built in, but Windows doesn’t care much about them unless you’re doing video chats – or you hunt down a third-party app for capturing images.

Apple’s Photo Booth resolves this issue on both laptops and iMacs – but if you scratch the surface, you’ll find that it’s actually a quite capable image capturing and processing utility.

At its basic level, of course, Photo Booth is about making funky pictures. Start it up, click the red button, and you’ll get a countdown after which the Mac takes a snapshot of whatever it sees through the built-in iSight camera. Click Email to send your creation off to friends, or iPhoto to import it into your photo manager.

Clicking Account Picture lets you set the image to identify yourself on the computer, while Buddy Picture sets your image to identify yourself within iChat.

Big deal, right?

The beauty comes from what else you can do with Photo Booth. Click the Effects button, and you can scroll through 16 built-in effects that distort your image in every way thinkable. Give yourself bigger biceps, a pin-head, two heads (using mirror imagery), or add funky colour effects like the Warhol-esque Pop Art and the ‘Take On Me’-esque Color Pencil, and so on.

Mouse on to the picture and you’ll get a slider to control the extent of the effect.

If you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary picture for Facebook, Twitter or the like, you’ve got as many options as you can think of; go crazy, have fun, and you can always delete them later from inside the app.The third page of Photo Booth effects merits a bit more pondering.

Backgrounds including Clouds, Eiffel Tower, Earthrise and Rollercoaster let you overlay your image on top of a range of background settings using green-screening technology.

Step out of the frame and count to five so the Mac can capture a baseline, then step back into it and position yourself before clicking the red button. Be careful, though: the difference engine will even pick up on shadows your body casts, so it can take a few tries to get it right.

You can also trick the engine by sitting still while Photo Booth is doing its baseline; then you can create disembodied hands, heads or whatever else you like by moving just them and nothing else (just make sure you keep a hand free to operate the mouse).

The beauty of this approach lies on the fourth page of effects: you can drag any images you like into Photo Booth and use them as backgrounds for your own green screen-like images.

One thing many people may miss about Photo Booth is that it can also be used to record videos. To go into video mode, click the filmstrip icon next to the four-quadrant icon, then click the shutter button.

Photo Booth will record your video for as long as you want, sourcing sound from the Mac’s microphone and creating a 640 x 480-resolution QuickTime movie that you can drag into iMovie or any other application.

Because media in Mac OS X is so tightly integrated across applications, pictures and videos you create in Photo Booth are instantly accessible in other applications – either through the picture menu of apps like iMovie, or through the Media Browser you get when you choose Insert > Photo > Photo Browser… in Microsoft Word or similar apps.

Click the Photo Booth triangle and you can quickly choose from a cornucopia of casual, formal or just plain off-the-wall people shots.

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