On-site photo printing: lessons learned

At a wedding this past weekend, I was hired to set up a backdrop, take photos of guests, and print them on site.  I had never done this before (the client knew that) but put together and tested a setup of having a computer control the camera, automatically feeding the image into an editing and printing program, and bought a printer that produces “ready to go,” fully dry and archival prints in about 30-45 seconds.

The couple set out “tickets” at each seat which were good for 1 print (multiple photos could be taken for the benefit of the couple, but only 1 print per ticket).  The couple also wanted the guests to be able to choose from the photos and pick the one they wanted to have printed.

Needless to say, I learned quite a few things.

First, it is borderline impossible to do this alone.  An assistant is almost a requirement.  I think that, if I laid everything out in a very tight arrangement right around the camera, I might have been able to do it.  I would probably mount the camera and computer on a single multi-mount tripod accessory, then have the printer on a table right next to me.

Second, letting the guests choose from multiple photos is a bad idea.  It just clogs up that part of the process.  It should be highly controlled – guests get one photo, the photo is printed.  I can do that with a few clicks after each shot.  Now, we could still use the tickets so that guests could have barter tickets and get multiple photos taken, but only 1 photo per ticket, and that photo gets printed, period.

Third, I need either 2 or 3 of these consumer dye-sublimation printers or shell out the $2000+ for a professional grade one.  30 seconds seems fine when working out a workflow in one’s living room, but is way too long when people start hovering over you wanting 1 more print, 1 more print, or if they start queueing up and we have to close up shop early just to make sure all the prints come out.  The consumer printers also can’t handle the prolonged generation of heat that well.

Finally, and on a good note, small, hot-shoe strobes worked just fine for this situation.  I did not have to bring in big professional lights, though I would have if I had the chance.  Battery packs for faster recycling is a must, though.