It was time again for us to renew passports for my daughter and myself (note that children's passports expire after only five years). As before, I wanted to do it myself so that I could have photos I would at least be satisfied with for ten years (the passport duration for adults).
For the passport photos in this post, I used the following:
- Samsung NX500 (reviewed here)
- Samsung 50-150 2.8 OIS
- Godox e300 monolight (reviewed here)
- Yongnuo YN560III and YN560IV (reviewed here)
- Fotodiox Tri-Fold Reflector
- 4 x 6 feet popup background
- and... Parrot Teleprompter
To process the photos and prepare them for printing, I used Lightroom 6. Here's how I took the photos.
Briefly, US Passport photos have strict requirements. Among other requirements, there must be no shadows. This means we should use create the softest light we can get by using a very large light source. The background must also be white. These requirements mean that the setup is pretty similar to the setup for high-key portraits.
When taking portraits, you need to consider the distance of the camera to the subject. I'll post more about it next time, but the ideal distance depends on the effect that you want, and in my opinion it depends on the subject's physical features as well. For example, if they have a prominent nose then you should probably shoot from a farther distance to make his features appear flatter. For a passport photo, the distance should be at least 4 feet. In my case, I chose a distance of about 8 feet.
For my lens, I chose the Samsung 50-150 2.8 because it is the sharpest telephoto lens that I currently have. This meant that I had to use the Samsung NX500, which I was happy to use because of its high image quality.
To light the photos, I used bounce flash with the Godox e300 monolight. I aimed it above and behind the camera, turning our ceiling into a very large light source. I used a monolight for greater power, faster recycling, and less chance of overheating. To trigger the e300, I used the Godox FT16.
For the white background, I used a popup backdrop. To make the backdrop appear truly white, I illuminated it with a speedlight, the Yongnuo YN560III. Later, to improve recycle times, I added the Yongnuo YN560IV. Originally, I was going to trigger them with the RF603 (I don't need to adjust the power remotely therefore I didn't need to use the YN560TX). However, I found out that the RF603 would push against the Samsung 50-150's body. I didn't want to scratch the 50-150, so I just used the wireless S1 slave mode. I placed the flashes on the floor, near the backdrop, aimed at the ceiling. The slave flashes therefore had two purposes: to illuminate the background, and to provide a hair light through the bounced light from the ceiling.
For a little fill, I used the Fotodiox Tri-Fold Reflector. It would bounce some of the light from the ceiling back onto the subject.
Our living room lights have a warm tint. I didn't want the ambient light to 'pollute' the sunlight-balanced light of the flashes, therefore I set the NX500 to its 1/200 sync speed to minimize the ambient light.
For passport photos, I wanted to have adequate depth of field. I set the aperture at f/5.6 which has a depth of field that is deep enough even for a telephoto lens. It also allows the lens to have a sharper image (lenses tend to be better when stopped down).
All the lights here are manual (not TTL), which is better for setup shots. For maximum image quality, I wanted to use as much light without overexposure, so that I could use as low an ISO as possible. I therefore set the lights at their maximum power first, then viewed the image to see if they were overexposed to the point of blowing relevant highlights I was also checking if the background is illuminated too brightly compared to the subject, or was so bright that it would cause flare.
At full power for the background lights and the key light, I was not overexposed, so I left them at full power. Normally, I would then increase the ISO as needed to get the right exposure. However, the NX500 is ISO-invariant, which means that boosting the ISO in post has the same amount of noise as shooting at a higher ISO. It was best to leave it at ISO 100, then adjust it in post, to retain as much dynamic range as possible.
The monolight was powerful enough that at f/5.6, at ISO 100, I only had to boost the exposure by 0.21EV in post.
As a reminder, you should compose the shot with the face somewhere in the middle of the frame, and not frame it too tightly. That is to make sure that we'll have sufficient room to crop the image according to the U.S. Department of State's requirements, as you'll see below.
Taking my daughter's photo took more time than I expected. My daughter can be self-conscious when she's in front of the camera, so it was hard to coax her to give a neutral expression (as required by the Dept. of State). We got shots like this:
Finally, after several tries, I got the idea of using the Parrot teleprompter and displaying one of her favorite shows.
I did get a better expression out of her that way:
And here's mine:
I used only very minor changes (white balance correction, corrections to exposure). I didn't want to use any skin-smoothening, because if the Department of State's staff notice that, they could reject the photos. So the shots are are almost SOOC.
In terms of composition, the Department of State has specific requirements. There are several ways to make sure the photo is properly composed. One way is to upload the photo to the Department of State's composition tool, where you can move and crop the image to fit their requirements. There are other websites that offer a similar service. The disadvantage of this method is that the resolution and image quality will take a big hit from compression.
Another way is to use Photoshop or some other program with layers. I took a screenshot of the Department of State's template, then overlaid it on the image, adjusting the transparency to use it as a guide:
The critical part is to make sure the top of the head is within the top two green lines, and the chin is within the bottom two green lines.
Another way to do it is in Lightroom. You can't use layers in Lightroom, but I used the side-by-side comparison tool to eyeball the correct composition (again checking the top of the head and the bottom of the chin).
Once I had the correct crop, I used the Print module to put together a collage.
- On the right side, under Layout Style, I chose single image / contact sheet.
- Under Image Settings, I checked "zoom to fit" and "repeat one photo per page".
- Under Layout, I set all the margins and cell spacing to zero, set the page grid to 2 rows and 3 columns (or vice-versa), and set the cell size to 2 x 2 inches.
- Under Page, I checked "page options" and "crop marks".
- In the Print Job panel, I selected Print to JPEG file, set the custom file dimensions to 6 inches x 4 inches (or vice-versa), sRGB profile.
With these settings, I clicked on Print to File, which generated a JPEG file ready for printing to 4x6 size.
DIY Passport Photos
High Key Passport Photos