On any given Sunday in Beijing, a walk around town is sure to turn up a photographer, an assistant, and a muse (or several) taking pictures in the park or at the mall. But client and photographer are usually strangers; getting an accurate self-representation can be awkward and difficult.
Beijing native Cui Haoxin (pictured above) believes that too many photo studios in Beijing rely on heavy makeup, unnatural posing, and “bling” such as jewelry, headbands, and pocket handkerchiefs. She picked the brains of a photographer friend, who told her that he could often capture a person’s beauty but not their personality.
With this feedback, Cui decided to open her first business: an automated photo booth studio called Aotuzipai in the basement of Sanlitun SOHO in January 2013. Aotu (凹凸) translates to “bumpy” or “uneven,” and zipai (自拍) means “self-photography.”
The premise of Aotuzipai is simple. People can choose from a variety of costumes and props, then make self-portraits in one of two private rooms. The accessories – which Cui sourced from Taobao, film companies, and Amazon – range from sports-themed to medieval weapons and Chinese PLA garb. The small studio also has a vanity mirror for those who wan to touch up their hair and makeup. The costumes would fit some tweens and most teens, but Cui advises against taking young children because the flash bulbs are very bright.
The studio’s small photo booth room fits two people and the big room fits six people. The former costs RMB 198 per hour and the latter costs RMB 238 per hour. An attendant will show you how to take photos using an automated camera with a set timer, after which you can try out all the props and costumes you want for the duration of the session at no extra cost. For birthday parties, customers get an extra ten minutes in the booth.
At the end of the session, all the photos are saved on a single DVD. Each extra DVD costs RMB 10. Photo albums with black pages are also on sale for RMB 35. Cui doesn’t offer a photo printing service in-store, as most of her customers want to edit the pictures first.
Cui’s number one tip for great photos? “Don’t overthink it and just have fun,” she says. However, it’s not a bad idea to have a theme in mind. (And don’t forget to bring your friends!)
One day advance booking is required. It’s best to get a Chinese speaker to help if your Mandarin isn’t very good. Public bathrooms are available in Sanlitun SOHO mall and there are plenty of restaurant options across the street in Tai Koo Li Sanlitun.
Daily 10am-8pm. Shop B1-520, Bldg 5, Sanlitun SOHO, 8 Gongti Beilu, Chaoyang District (5785 3849, 139 1016 4198)
www.aotuzipai.com 朝阳区工体北路8号三里屯 SOHO 5号楼B1-521店