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Published November 30 2010

Photo booths popular in Fargo-Moorhead

Most of the images snapped by Kari Barchenger of Memories Forever Photography are bound for full-sized prints in fancy frames, such as wedding portraits or graduation photos. Most of them don’t feature customers adorned in yellow feather boas or cowboy hats.

But the images that come out of her homemade photo booth – her studio’s newest offering and the latest in a growing roster of local booths for rent – are a different story. They’re half the size of a business card. They’re populated with silly faces and silly hats, snapped in quick succession and printed off moments later in a vertical strip. And they’re taking event photography by storm, four tiny pictures at a time.

The photo booth trend took root in the area when Fargo Photo Booth, billed as the first such company in town, opened in 2007. Since then, at least one new booth rental service has popped up each year; today, there are about half-a-dozen in the area.

Barchenger started hers a few months ago after a client asked about renting a booth.

Some services, like Black Tie Photobooth, are dedicated solely to booth rentals. Others, like Barchenger’s, are extensions of traditional photography studios.

Brian Walker, owner of Cherie’s Photography in Fargo, is among the latter. He added booth rentals in 2008 as a way to add on to wedding packages. Like Barchenger, he custom-built something he could transport and set up himself.

Since then, his booth has become a hit at events ranging from weddings to graduation parties to school events.

“It gives people something to do,” he said. “Not everybody likes to dance.”

He said he rents it out at least once a week during the wedding season. His packages cost anywhere from $600 to $850 for a four-hour rental – typical prices for area booth rentals.

His booth, like others, snaps images good enough for high-quality prints (customers can order those later). But the more immediate payoff comes in the pocket-sized strip produced by an attached printer, an instant souvenir.

Over-the-top props – the boas, the hats – are standard fare for booth rentals. Walker offers them, as do most companies. Walker does caution his clients with a note on props. “If you request them,” he writes on his website, “they will be in just about every photo.”

Barchenger said those items play into the fundamental strength of the booth: It’s meant to be a good time.

“It’s entertainment,” Barchenger said. “You can go in there and do goofy things”

One of Barchenger’s latest booth outings was a girls’ night event at a Minnesota State University Moorhead residence hall in mid-November. Kalika Peske, an MSUM hall director who organized the event, said the booth was wildly popular.

“Girls were in line all night to use it,” she said.

Peske said the booth fostered a sense of bonding because it encouraged participants to cut loose.

“When you’re silly around someone, that usually means that you’re just able to be yourself,” she said, “and most people are silly when they’re in the photo booth.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502