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BCA News: Fall 2017

Passport Photos on Location

Have you found that “other duties” includes passports and visa photos for your department? Welcome to my job description. You may also find your studio space needs to be converted to a patient exam room. Welcome to my world. But duty calls and providing passport photos for hospital staff is a valued service and hospital space is high in demand, so I embarked on finding the right solution.

I needed to secure a location to take the passport photos with a decent working distance, find a way to achieve a clean even white or neutral background to meet the varying requirements of “insert country here”, and make this setup work for on-location passport photos.

For now, the space I’m working in is our department conference room. The positives are the room is usually available in the middle of the day and it has a clean white wall. On the negative side, my working space is really tight. The conference table is barely movable. I could just squeeze in two shoot thru umbrellas on stands between the conference table and the subject. Add to that, the rest of the room has a bit of a colorcast that tends to introduce itself into the photos. The short distance I have to photograph means I need the subject quite close to the wall so I was concerned about shadow fall off, or lack thereof. To cut down on most of the unwanted color cast from the surroundings, I covered the space on the left and right sides of the subject with bedsheets. There is an added benefit to that – the sheets act as reflectors to eliminate the shadows from behind the subject. So, I felt rather good about my setup and I was achieving pretty clean white backgrounds but using bedsheets seemed sloppy and unprofessional and I wasn’t sure this setup would work in other locations.

That’s when I received an email about some reflectors on sale. The reflectors were just what I needed to replace the bed sheets. The reflector panels are white (also available with black, gold, silver sides,) rectangular, good sized at 35”x70”, and fit on a light stand using tension rods and a mounting bracket. The only downside is the amount of space the reflectors take up. Once assembled the distance from the reflector to the light stand is about 20”. Then I had to factor in the light stand’s footprint, and make sure I had plenty of room on either side of the subject. For my purposes and space constraints, I used one reflector on a stand and the other one leaning against the wall. I brought the edge of the reflectors right up to the wall, in effect making a large white shadowbox, with my subject right in the middle. It reminds me somewhat of Leon LeBeau’s Aristo lightbox, just on a larger scale. Since the reflector panels are freestanding, I should be able to duplicate the shadowbox effect and incorporate them into any room I happen to be using.

Problem solved! It's now my on-location light box passport studio. I can achieve nice shadow-less passport photos with a very white background using one standardized setup. In fact, I half expect some photo to be denied because they may think the background isn’t real. (No one has walls that white!) That’s a chance I’m willing to take for getting a better passport/visa photograph.

Feel free to email me at james.koepfler@childrens.harvard.edu if you want more information on the reflectors.

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