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Top tips for Photo Booth in OS X on the Mac

Photo Booth is a great app in OS X on the Mac for taking snapshots using the iSight camera that is built in to all iMacs and MacBooks these days. You can have a lot of fun with this software and you can take photos for your blog, for printing, for Facebook and other social networking sites.

It isn't like a regular digital camera camera or iPhone because it is fixed in your computer, but you can shoot anything that you can put in front of the Mac. Why not use it at parties and family gatherings? Just put your Mac at the side of the room pointing into the centre and use it to take photographs throughout the event.

Using Photo Booth is, of course, very easy and all you need to do is to click a simple button to take a snapshot. However, there are hidden features that you may not be aware of and it is worth spending a few minutes exploring them. They might be useful on occasions.

Flash controls
When you click the button to take a photograph in Photo Booth it counts down to zero and then flashes the screen bright white. This might be useful in a dark room, but the amount of light thrown out by the screen is minimal. It is nowhere near as bright as the flash on a real camera and it doesn't do a great deal to illuminate the subject in front of the computer. You can disable it if you find it irritating or distracting.

Prior to Lion the only way to stop Photo Booth flashing the screen was to hold down the Shift key as you clicked the button in Photo Booth to take a picture. You can still do that in Lion, but there is also an option to enable or disable the flash on the Camera menu. It saves you having to hold down Shift every time you take a photo.

No countdown
Click the camera button and Photo Booth counts down - 3, 2, 1, snap! In certain circumstances you might miss the action when using a countdown timer, such as a pet or baby looking the wrong way just as the Mac takes the photograph. It would be better in some cases to take the photo straight away. All you need to do is to hold down the Option key as you click the camera button and the photo is taken instantly. You can combine the two tips and hold down Shift+Option to take a photo straight away without the flash.

Videos in the dark
If you are shooting a video clip with Photo Booth and it is dark, you can provide some illumination by opening a web browser window. Open Safari and if it automatically displays a web page just open a new blank tab. Maximise the window to fill the screen and turn up the screen brightness. You've now got an almost completely white screen throwing out lots of light. Now run Photo Booth and take your video.

Use it as a mirror
Is your hair a mess or does your make-up need touching up? If you are nowhere near a mirror, but you have your Mac on the desk in front of you, why not use it as a mirror? Just fire up Photo Booth and you have an instant mirror. You can maximise the window to zoom in and fill the screen to touch iup those fine details. It's not someting I've needed to do, but apparently some people do use it as a mirror. Look around you next time you are in Starbucks.

Unflip images
In the last tip we pointed out that you could use Photo Booth as a mirror. Think about this for a minute though. Although the image on the screen looks perfectly natural it is actually flipped horizontally so that it appears to be a mirror image. It isn't actually what the camera sees. To see what what this means, hold a newspaper or magazine up in front of your Mac's iSight camera. You can't read the text because it is backwards, just like a mirror. It's worth bearing in mind that your snaps are mirror images and not real images.

To get the Photo Booth to show exactly what it sees you need to go to the Edit menu and enable Autoflip new items.. The preview window showing the live window doesn't change, but the images that are saved are the right way around. You can also flip images after they have been taken too. Select a photo in the tray at the bottom and then flip it on the Edit menu.

Export your photos
Any photo in the tray can be selected and saved to disk. Just go to File, Export. It prompts you to save a .jpg file. However, you can change the file extension to .gif or .png to save the photo in those formats if you prefer them. I've read that older versions of Photo Booth would save an animated .gif if you used burst mode to take four snapshots in quick succession and then used File, Export. The Lion version of Photo Booth just saves the four snapshots.

To use burst mode, click the button in the bottom left corner of Photo Booth and it takes four photos in quick succession. It then displays a compilation and it is just like the four images like you get from a real photo booth. You can export the compilation as described above, but you can also export each of the four images individually.

Right click (Ctrl+click) the four-picture image in the tray at the bottom and select Reveal in Finder. A Finder window opens showing all the photo booth images. The four-pic image has (compiled) in the filename and just above or below them will be the four photos that were taken. You can copy these elsewhere, drag them to iPhoto in the Dock, and so on.

Back up Photo Booth
Photo Booth saves the photos and videos in a library in a similar way to iPhoto. It is stored in /Users/YourName/Pictures and it's called Photo Booth Library. It's just a folder, so copy it to a DVD or USB disk to back up all the photos and videos you have taken.

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* iPhoto: Use multiple photo libraries
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