Everybody loves looking back at pictures from a party, but unless you're lucky enough to have one of those friends who brings a camera to every party and does the work for you, documenting the event can be a pain in the ass. Most of us would rather be, you know, partying. Today I'll show you a few ways you can effortlessly—but extensively—document your next party, using everything from freeware software to some cheap hardware for your camera. When you're done, you'll be able to automate your party photos or make taking pictures fun, giving everyone incentive to contribute to the documentation process.
NOTE: I celebrated my 27th birthday this weekend, and for an entirely age-appropriate party, I decided to throw myself a Rock Band birthday. Knowing such a party would be rife with photo opps, I put a couple of these tricks to use. I'll show you the results of the methods I used below.
Make a Time-Lapse Video of the Event
If you've got a computer with a webcam (more and more of us do these days), probably the easiest set-it-and-forget-it method of documenting your party is by creating a time-lapse video of the event using that cam. Windows users can grab a free Microsoft PowerToy called Webcam Timershot (you can find it at the bottom of that PowerToys page). Webcam Timershot takes and saves your pictures as JPEG files, so it's up to you to put them together in a more digestible format (like video) when you're done.
On the flip side, Mac users have the excellent open source application Gawker (original post). Gawker works flawlessly with both iSight cameras and Mac-supported webcams, automatically turns the results into a time-lapse video, and it's what I used over the weekend. One of the coolest Gawker features is that not only does it work with the webcam on your computer, but it can also use any webcam it finds on your network provided you're running Gawker on that computer and sharing the camera. I set up Gawker to record with my Xbox Live Vision Camera that I've got set up with my Hackintosh Mac and with the iSight on my MacBook Pro. Set to record at the same time, I placed my MacBook Pro in the living room in front of the TV and set up my webcam in my office looking into the living room. Here's how the office-cam turned out. (Music by Bubblegum Best)
Since I wasn't sure how much space my videos would take (they took very little in the end, 80MB for something like 9 hours), I wanted to record with both cameras on my desktop computer, which is simple to do with Gawker. I set Gawker's video output to play 5 pictures/second (which was much less than the default, but I figured 9 hours wasn't that long when you cut it down to a shot every 30 seconds spliced into a 5 shots/second video) slapped a soundtrack to one of the videos and uploaded it to YouTube to share with my friends. I didn't tell them until about halfway through the night that they were being recorded (I'm a regular nanny-cam), but I really don't think it would've affected the outcome much either way.
Help Your Guests Document Themselves with Your Own Photo Booth
Everyone loves a good photo booth picture, and again, if you've got a computer with a webcam, there are tonnes of options for taking fun photo-booth-like pictures without any effort on your part. Yes, Macs come with the very cool built-in Photo Booth application, but Windows users aren't left in the cold by any means (and Mac users can even streamline their regular Photo Booth process with a few tricks).
First we'll cover the options available to everyone: No matter what operating system you've got, there are a couple of web-based photo booth applications that can do the whole photo booth thing directly through your browser. The first, pictured above, is called Cameroid (original post), and it's very much like a web version of the Mac's stock Photo Booth application. The second web-based option is called Waves.TV, and it does the traditional photostrip-style series of pictures that's missing from the others.
One thing to watch for with Waves.TV is that your pics will be made publicly available for all users, which you (or your friends) may not be keen on. Cameroid gives you the option to save, email, print, or share your pictures on their web site, so you've got a lot more options.
In the end, I still prefer desktop-based options for photo-boothing if only because your results can be automatically saved to your desktop. For Windows users, some webcams come with this sort of software when you purchase the camera, but there doesn't seem to be one really great freeware app to point to (if you're aware of one, please share and I'll update the post).
If you're on a Mac, you've already got Photo Booth installed. The one thing I would still suggest—if you're a Flickr user—is that you install the FlickrBooth plug-in (original post), which automatically uploads Photo Booth pics to your Flickr account. You can configure privacy settings, tags, default titles, and even remove photos from Flickr that you deleted from Photo Booth. In short, it's an incredible plug-in.
Now that your photo booth computer is set up, just make your friends aware of its existence and you're sure to get plenty of great portraits throughout the night.
Set Up a Real-Time Slideshow of the Party As-It-Happens with Eye-Fi
One of the biggest hurdles for taking pictures at a party is motivation—walking around taking pictures that no one will look at until the party's over and you've uploaded them all to Flickr just isn't motivating enough for most of us. But what if you were displaying a real-time slideshow of your party pictures as they were being taken? Now your party-goers have incentive. So how does it work?
Assuming you've already got at least a point-and-shoot digital camera that uses an SD memory card, the only thing you'll need to buy is an Eye-Fi SD card. The Eye-Fi card automatically, wirelessly uploads pics from your camera to your computer and/or favorite photo sharing web sites (from Flickr and Facebook to Picasa Web Albums and Windows Live) as you take them. It'll set you back $99, but considering it also means you'll never have to plug in your camera in order to sync it again, it's $99 I'll never regret spending.
Once you've set up your camera with Eye-Fi and the included Eye-Fi manager software, turning your Eye-Fi-sporting digital camera into a real-time party slideshow is fairly simple. Eye-Fi works with both Windows PCs and Macs, and when it uploads pics, it will upload them into date-stamped folders on your PC. I haven't tried this on a Windows computer, but here's exactly how I did it on my Hackintosh:
Open up iPhoto and create a date-based smart album that will cover the time you want to highlight (I used "Date is in the range" to set up my smart album for Saturday night into Sunday morning). I had some trouble just pointing my Mac at the default album that Eye-Fi created, but the smart album did the trick. Now just open up your Desktop & Screensaver preference pane and choose your newly created smart album for the screensaver.
If you're running Windows with Eye-Fi, I imagine a similar method should work. Using the slideshow-from-folder-feature for screensavers that's been around in Windows forever, just choose the folder Eye-Fi is importing your pictures to and tell it to use that folder for the screensaver. In both cases, be sure to disable sleeping your display so the slideshow runs for the duration of the party.
Once you've set up your live-updating party slideshow, just let your party-goers know that everyone's free to use your point-and-shoot, and that the results will automatically be added to the slideshow running on your computer as soon as they take it. As a bonus, you can set up your Eye-Fi to automatically upload the pics to Flickr so you don't have to deal with it later (and your out-of-town friends can look on jealously from across the country).
I'm sure I've just scratched the surface of inventive ways to document your shindigs, so if you've got your own method that's always worked for you, let's hear it in the comments.
Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who loves a well-documented party. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Wednesday on Lifehacker AU.