If you came and visited us at the Mini Maker Faire in Elephant and Castle this weekend, you may have experienced me asking you (very nicely, of course), if you wouldn't please come shout at my camera. (I even asked one poor girl whether I could shout at her cupcake. Everybody agreed that this was, without doubt, the worst pick-up line ever). The Triggertrap ScreamGrab: First seen at the Mini Maker Faire in London!

Anyway, the results from the ScreamGrab photo booth were amazing. The premise was simple: Use the Triggertrap Mobile app with the sound threshold set to Very Loud Indeed™.

The idea being: If you really have to give your vocal cords a workout to trigger the camera, you're going to get something special in a portrait. And yes, we ought to admit that this was inspired largely by this photo Mike Rickard posted to the Triggertrap Flickr Pool a few months back.

The Results

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of the technicalities, let's take a look at some of the results (of course, if you fancy taking a peek at the full collection, there's more than 250 to look at over in our Flickr set). Here are some of my personal favourites:

I wouldn't want to get in a shouting match with her...

I think she may have been an opera singer!

The Mini Maker Faire organisers got involved too (great way to let off some stressy steam, we suppose!)

A rather unusual family portrait!


My absolute favourite of the day

A great howl.

Look at that passion!!

Fun for big and small!

Awesome hair action

Some great hair action here, too

Triggertrap team photo!


See?! We told you it was loads of fun!

So... How is it done?

The Basics: Getting the shot

With Triggertrap Mobile, the sound trigger (called 'Bang') can be fine-tuned by moving the slider. Whenever the black arrow (which reacts to the sound) goes above the red arrow (the threshold), your camera is triggered.

So, at a very basic level, all you need to do is to get an audio trigger that will take a photo when the volume hits a certain level, and a camera. In our case, we decided to use the Triggertrap Mobile app (surprise surprise!), but we discovered to our horror that the app itself was way too sensitive: Even with the sensitivity threshold all the way to the top, you didn't really have to put your back into the scream to trigger the camera (in fact, speaking normally was loud enough to snap a shot). Uh-oh.

In the Android version of the app, there's a separate slider for sensitivity, but we don't have that level of control over the iOS app (and I did want to use the iPod Touch I had brought along, so that I wouldn't have to tie up my phone all day).

After a spot of last-minute panicking, we discovered that there was a very simple, and delightfully low-tech solution to this: I simply stuck a small piece of packaging tape over the microphone on the iPod Touch. Hacky? Well, yes, but who cares - it did the trick!

With the tape in place, we were able to use the sensitivity slider to fine-adjust the triggering threshold. Perfect for what we were trying to do!

In theory, with the app configured and hooked up to the camera using a connection kit, that's all you need to get the photo. Stick it on a tripod, and you're good to go - really, everything else is showmanship.

But this is a fair, after all, and we're naturally frightful show-offs. Just look at that team photo again for evidence.

The set-up so far:

  • Canon EOS 6D (but any SLR will do, really)
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Triggertrap Mobile Dongle + connection cable
  • iPod Touch

She came back for a photo, even after I threatened to shout at her cupcake

Taking it up a notch: Making the shot good!

In addition to just taking the shot, we wanted to get some quality pretty high photos. We had the app triggering the camera, but we also wanted to add some studio-grade lighting.

Easily done - I added a Canon ST-E2 infra-red flash transmitter to the camera's hotshoe, and I set up a couple of Canon EX580 II flashes on super-cheap lighting stands with umbrellas. I fired the flashes on manual output (1/16 each), then set up the camera in manual exposure (1/180 second and f/10, ISO 640) and manual focus. This meant that all the shots were completely repeatable, and I wouldn't have to make any adjustments throughout the day.

In fact, if it hadn't been for people being different heights, there wouldn't have been any reason to touch the set-up at all: even the batteries in the flashes, the flash transmitter, and the camera, lasted all day long. Impressive stuff - but then, battery consumption was the chief reason why I only set the flashes to 1/16 output - in my experience, in modern cameras, you may as well let the ISO do the work, and give your flashguns a break.

Finally, I wanted to ensure that the iPod Touch was clearly visible, so people would be able to see the black 'needle' move on the app - so they knew how loud they had to shout to trigger the camera. To achieve that, I used a Tripodclamps clamp. It's simple: It bolts to the tripod, then squeezes the smartphone firmly to hold it in place. It looks good, and it makes it easy to demo the device, too, which is a bonus.

The set-up so far:

  • Canon EOS 6D set to manual exposure & manual focus
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Triggertrap Mobile Dongle + connection cable
  • iPod Touch (connected to power)
  • Tripodclamps clamp to hold the iPod Touch in place
  • Canon ST-E2 flash trigger
  • 2x Canon Speedlite 580EX II flashes
  • 2x light stands
  • 2x white umbrellas

I should also mention at this point that the camera was shooting JPEGs rather than in RAW. The Canon 6D shoots enormous RAW files, and since I had a fully controllable lighting situation, I didn't expect I'd need to do a lot of adjusting the images. More importantly, the JPEGs are much much faster to download via the tethered connection, faster to process in Lighroom, and it meant that my poor little MacBook Air didn't get forced to its knees. Having said all that, I do generally recommend shooting in Raw. Here is why, and I also wrote an article about why this particular situation (controllable light, need for speed) is an exception where JPEG is acceptable. Because, yes, I'm an insufferable nerd about this sort of stuff.

A happy scream! Apparently that's possible, too

Turning it into a show

So far, we've focused mostly on the capturing of a photo - but if you really want to turn this into a show, you also have to be able to show the photos to the people who've just been photographed - as instantaneously as possible. This was the part of the process I hadn't done that often before, but I did decide I want to turn it into more of a spectator experience than just a photo studio experience, so that's where we really ladled on the awesome.

To show off the images, I decided I had to shoot 'tethered'. I was in luck; my Canon camera comes with a piece of software called EOS Utility, which enables tethered shooting. In our case, we brought a lovely 27" monitor that I hooked up to my MacBook Air. I made sure that all photos that are taken are shown on the big screen (facing the audience) immediately when they are shot. Great for instant gratification - even the most reluctant screamers giggled their heads off when they saw their mugs on the big screen.

The set-up so far:

  • Camera setup as above
  • USB tethering from the camera to the MacBook Air
  • Computer running EOS Utility
  • 27" monitor showing the Preview window of the EOS Utility

No relationships were harmed in the making of these photos (we think...)

Instant publishing

I anticipated (correctly) that people would want a copy of their photos - but how do you go about doing that? Quite a few people used Instagram and took a photo of their photo on the big monitor, but obviously we wanted something a little bit better than that. So, I devised a workflow.

I was running Lightroom 4, using the 'auto import' feature. In this way, the photos would be downloaded by the Canon EOS Utility to a folder, and Lightroom 4 would automatically import them from that folder into a library. The import script applied a preset to the image (white-balance, some vignetting, some extra contrast and some colour effects to make the photos pop out more). It also applied a description and title to the images, so it would be as quick as possible to publish them online.

From there, I only did one edit to each photo: A quick crop. This was necessary because we didn't have a lot of time to frame people properly, and besides, a lot of people either jumped or hunched over as they were howling at the camera, so the framing was almost always off anyway.

After cropping, we just dragged the photo to the Flickr publishing tool within Lightroom, and hit the 'publish' button. With one person manning the computer, that meant that from squeal to Flickr, it could take as little as a minute or so, including the processing, resizing, and uploading.

On top of all of that, I was running an IFTTT script that would grab the photo from the Flickr RSS feed, and tweets it out on @ScreamGrab. Unfortunately, since we went from brand-new account to suddenly tweeting at dozens of people, Twitter shut down the account within an hour, and so our Twitter adventure ended as soon as it had begun... But the theory was sound, and I think we could have gotten away with it, if it hadn't been for those pesky kids the fact that ScreamGrab was such a new account.

The final set-up:

Looking into the Triggertrap ScreamGrab studio at the Mini Maker Faire shows our set-up. It doesn't look like much, but the results were delightful.

  • Canon EOS 6D set to manual exposure & manual focus
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Triggertrap Mobile Dongle + connection cable
  • iPod Touch w/ power source
  • Tripodclamps clamp to hold the iPod Touch in place
  • Canon ST-E2 flash trigger
  • 2x Canon Speedlite 580EX II flashes
  • 2x light stands
  • 2x white umbrellas
  • MacBook Air w/ power source
  • 27-inch monitor w/ power source
  • USB tethering from camera to computer
  • EOS Utility showing the photos as they were taken, on the big screen
  • Lightroom automatically importing, processing, and tagging/captioning the images from the folder EOS Utility puts the JPGs in
  • Lightroom exporting the images to Flickr
  • An IFTTT recipe picking up the uploaded images from the Flickr RSS feed, and automatically tweeting them on @ScreamGrab

How passionate is that?!

Other ideas?

It would really have been awesome if we could have had a printer there, and printed out people's ScreamGrabs as they were taken - but we didn't really know how many people to expect, and we only had two people at our little stand at any time, so I suppose we wouldn't really have had time to deal with the logistics of printing anyway -- but it would have been amazingly good fun, so perhaps that's something we'll do next time.

The other idea that came up, was that perhaps we should have been recording people's screams! Playing the screams, along with a slide-show of all the photos, would have been a fantastic project, I think - but it didn't come up as an idea until someone mentioned it to us about half-way through the day. Again, I have no idea how you'd deal with the logistics of matching up the sounds to the pictures... But it would have been great.

Best hair action of the day, I think

Oh, and one more thing...

All right then, here's that link to that full gallery containing more than 250 photos again (because, let's face it, why wouldn't you go take a peek!)

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