When planning their February wedding, Katie and John McKenzie booked the Rusty Pelican for their reception and hired a photographer and a videographer to document every detail.
To up the fun factor, they brought in a Snapshoot photo booth.
"It was a really big part of our night,'' she said. "People had a great time with it.''
Katie, 27, had seen photo booths at other weddings and wanted candid keepsakes of their guests having a blast. To make it work within their budget, they incorporated the photos into their favors. The custom scrapbook of photo strips became their guest book.
No longer an extravagance, photo booths have become a staple of many weddings, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs and corporate events. Hosts see them as icebreakers, entertainment and a tangible memento of their special day. Who doesn't laugh sporting a moustache on a stick for a photo?
"They are the battery that powers the party,'' said Cliff Sumner, who runs Snapshoot with Kris and Kathleen Kidwell in Tampa. "It's what takes a party into the wee hours of the night.''
Services range from traditional photo booths with a curtain and seat to open-air formats with just a camera and plain backdrop. Many print vertical strips with three or four photos. Others take digital photos for downloading onto Twitter or Facebook. At least one in the area turns short videos into flip books that simulate moving pictures.
Booths are rented by the hour and typically offer unlimited prints, which spit out every few seconds. Depending on the party, events cost about $700 to $1,200, with weekday discounts available at some places.
Photo booths have been around since the late 1880s and made a splash when they first appeared on Broadway in New York City in 1925. Today most permanent photo booths are found in video arcades, amusement parks and other attractions.
Booth rental companies started popping up locally about four years ago and have become commonplace in the bridal show circuit and party planning directories over the past few years.
"Two years ago I was mentioning it to everyone and no one had heard of it,'' said Jamie Billig, owner of Confetti Events & Weddings. "Now brides are mentioning it to me before I can get it out of my mouth.''
Billig recommends services such as ShutterBooth, which brings props, creates scrapbooks from the photo strips and hires attendants to run the booth. Don't assume guests can figure out the booth themselves. After a few hours of partying and/or drinking, they can't.
Monique Turley started ShutterBooth in mid 2008 and is one of the largest providers of photo booths locally. Her enclosed booths print strips or 4- by 6-inch photos in color, black and white or sepia, each with a customized logo. They also can do short videos.
Photo booths have grown in popularity because party hosts want to keep their guests entertained, she said. The booths often capture moments the traditional photographer or videographer miss.
"We used to be the thing you wanted to have at your party,'' Turley said. "Now it's something you have to have.''
Taylor Dobson, 22, didn't hesitate hiring Snapshoot for her Nov. 4, 2011, mega-wedding at Grace Family Church in Lutz, where her father, Chris Bonham, is the pastor. She wanted all 600 guests to have something fun to do that "wasn't cheesy.'' Instead of getting favors they might not use, guests left with photos of themselves having a great time. Some of the crazy, candid shots were Taylor's favorite photos from the entire day.
"You can't go back and retrieve those memories,'' she said. "It was definitely worth it for us.''
Some hosts opt for flip books, business card-sized picture books created from short videos. The Flipbook People started making the books at Central Florida parties and weddings four years ago. Guests take a seven-second video that is converted into a 60-page book with a company logo or wedding name and date on the cover. Flip the pages with your thumb, and it looks like an old-fashioned motion picture.
Seeing the books come alive is just as entertaining as watching people make the videos for them, said Todd Arnold, the company's sales manager.
"It doesn't take a lot to set up a photo booth, push a button to take a picture and make a print,'' he said. "It takes a little more entertainment and imagination to create a flip book.''
Amy MacDonald, the senior adviser at Chamberlain High School, chose Crash My Event for the school's Senior Send-Off because of its interactive nature and emphasis on social media. Crash My Event takes pictures against an open-air white backdrop that can be printed, emailed, tweeted and uploaded to Facebook using iPads.
Wedding photographer Reid Stains and his wife, Wendy, started the upload feature late last year to appeal to tech-savvy clients and companies that want to promote their photos through social media sites. Rather than just have a photo to take home, they can send it out to cyberspace and reach a larger audience.
Chamberlain seniors crowded around the Crash My Event kiosk on May 25 to take pictures with their friends wearing Darth Vader masks, oversized glasses and Viking helmets. The iPads had lines of students clicking their photos to followers.
Wilson Gutierrez, 19, posed for photos in a pink wig, boa and beard, surrounded by his best buddies. He wanted a memory he could take home and hold onto forever.