I recently converted a discarded waterfall / nature sound machine into an automatic photographer for use at parties, which I have dubbed the Smilebox. The project was an exercise in salvage as I was able to find almost all the materials in piles of discarded E-Waste.

Similar to larger photobooths, the participants pose in front of a camera and initiate a countdown sequence by pressing a button. So far the unit is entirely self contained and battery powered since all the pictures are stored on the camera for later processing. In the future it would be nice to add an uploading feature so that the pictures are automatically transferred to a photo sharing site such as Flickr or Google Picasa.



I used an Arduino to read the button input and control the countdown lights as well as the camera. CHDK, the Open Source firmware supplement for Canon point-and-shoot cameras was used for remote control. By applying a +5volt signal to the USB port I could remotely trigger a picture on the camera. I used a Canon Digital Elph SD790IS Camera which is not fully supported by CHDK yet but worked well enough for my purposes.

The photo trigger button is a big red Arcade-type and was the only component that I had to purchase new for this project. It is mounted in a metal box that used to enclose an industrial nitrogen control valve, discarded from a campus laboratory. The button connections are standard three-conductor TRS 1/4″ which allows for the button to be illuminated but also send a signal back to the Arduino.


The illuminated faceplate used plastic grocery bag as the diffuser, and stiffer clear plastic from a product package as the window material. The writing was hand-traced using sharpie. I had to use silver sharpie as black sharpie is not actually very light-opaque.


The Smilebox debuted at an event in New Castle, Indiana to great success. A box of Dollar Store props augmented the attendees’ attire to create memorable photos.


posted on Sunday, October 11th, 2009 by Pehr in Side Projects