What the most memorable moment of that last charity benefit: the clambake on the beach or watching the sunset? The way the hosts welcomed you, or dancing after dinner under a twinkling night sky?
No, we know: It was the photo booth.
Parties, especially in superrich resorts areas, are full of beauty – as well as perpetual one-upmanship. This season, hosts are putting more money and thought than ever into the all-important social media takeaway.
Call it a photo booth, except it’s underwater in the pool, something the LA- and New York-based Hypno did for the nonprofit +Pool. Or perhaps it was among pink clouds of hydrangeas, which event designer David Monn orchestrated for an East End wedding.
Booths aren’t just for the blowout bashes like a Coachella-themed 50th birthday party in Water Mill that Hypno has been hired for. “We’ve done it for the little barbecue on a Sunday afternoon,” says Monn, who has planned events for billionaires and President Donald Trump.
Holly Peterson, author of social satire It’s Hot in the Hamptons, bought a photo booth for her home in Southampton, with a “tacky silver curtain and metal seat.” With so many people coming over so often for pizza on the outdoor grill, “I decided to relax, sip my rosé, and let someone else worry about the photos,” she says.
Budgets for photo booths can range from $2,000 to $2 million, depending on the technology, scenic elements, and output-from photo strips to Horst-style portraits to cinematic-quality video from many angles, like those celebrity-filled music videos at the Met Gala.
“It works because everyone’s a narcissist,” says Marcy Blum, an event designer who works for a jet-set client roster in locations from Positano to Aman, Bridgehampton to Aspen. “People can’t get enough of it. We’ve had to close it off sometimes during dinner or speeches, or if someone is singing.”
Resort towns offer natural light, gardens, sandy beaches, ocean waves, and gorgeous homes to serve as backdrops. Last summer, Blum planned a party for a couple at their historic white farmhouse straight out of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting, with guests posing in front of the house with hoes and overalls.
For a Bollywood-type party in the Hamptons, Blum brought in a life-size elephant statue from a local gallery, rented for about $500 plus delivery charges. At the Southampton Arts Center opening of a National Geographic photo exhibit, EventsTag, which has offices in L.A., London, and New York, posed guests virtually with hippos and pandas, using green-screen technology.
“People are going to take photos no matter what. That’s the culture we live in. But the photo booth is an opportunity to get out of the phone and experience the event with other people,” says Champ Bennett, co-founder of Hypno. “If you do it well, the photo booth can be the life of the party. People will flock to it in the same way they flock to the dance floor. You need to facilitate that.”
The photo-booth moment is also a way to both convey a personal brand and give the host more control.
“If you’re having a party at your home, you may not want guests meandering around snapping photos wherever they like,” says Samantha Yanks, chief brand officer of ID Brands and former editor of Hamptons magazine.
Some photo booths have a vintage feel, to get people away from the digital world. Mark Lacourse of Martha’s Vineyard purchased a 1976 VW Bus, painted it a color he sourced from a 1958 Renault, and turned the inside into a mobile photo studio that fits up to 12 people. He charges about $2,000 to bring the bus to a wedding. Vannagram & Co. in Austin offers a similar concept.
Lacourse offers only printed photos, while other companies specialize in digital-only moments that show guests doing everything from kissing to taking a golf swing. When working with companies that have in-house creative teams, the only limit is the host’s imagination.
Photo booth companies sometimes recommend having several different moments throughout the party: a more formal step-and-repeat as guests arrive, an animated GIF once it’s dark and guests have had a few drinks. Flower walls are a popular gambit. An 8-by-8-foot creation starts at about $3,000, event designer Ron Wendt says. Other party elements with a wow factor often turn into backdrops, as at a recent hot-air balloon at a party in Amagansett.
Smilebooth, which does business nationwide, will roam the party, taking shots to send to guests instantly, starting at about $2,500. It can create a digital collage projected on a wall or screen that incorporates the photos as they’re being shot, as it did for the Whitney’s spring gala ($5,000-$10,000), where it also staged a music video moment (about $10,000). Smilebooth’s events include the Parrish Art Museum benefit, says Josh Ratner, president of business development and partnerships.
For $5,000 a night, Hypno offers an “Eye” or “selfie ball,” an orb guests can use to take pictures, with music and effects drop