One of the most important pieces of data that the FAST-PASS 7 system will capture and then store in the database is the photo of a person. The available cameras of today include digital features that mitigate most manual configurations in exchange for automatic settings such as aperture, filters, flash, focal length, and zoom. All these automatic features have made the task of taking photos much easier and empowered people to take photos without technicalities. Nonetheless, while the available cameras of today will improve the quality of a photo, we should keep our feet on the ground and understand that such automatic settings are subject to limitations, and we should not expect photographic miracles. Today as it was before, this means that the quality of photos still depends on the ability of the person capturing the photo and the ambient lighting conditions. For a moment, let us not forget that professional photographers remain in active demand and the main reason is that they have a reasonable understanding of the craft required to capture great photos of those memorable moments (e.g., portraits, weddings).
Regardless of the camera that you plan to use (e.g., $50 or $500, or from ABC brand) to capture photos, the following guidelines will provide a foundation for improving and maintaining the task of capturing clear portrait photos of your employees, vendors, and visitors. The result should be a portrait photo that captures the image of a person, and that accurately depicts a person’s facial features, hair color, and skin tone. Moreover, the quality of the captured photo will become apparent when printing passes and running reports. The following guidelines are fundamental and are not limited to capturing photos with a webcam, but also apply when capturing a photo with a mobile device (e.g., smartphone, tablet).
The amount and source of light are perhaps as important or more important than the camera - that is a reasonable statement. In low light conditions, the resulting photo captured can appear dark and grainy (i.e., pixelated) because the pixels are not able to represent colors and shapes. In high light conditions, the photo can appear overexposed, too bright and of poor quality, so the key is to find the right balance of sufficient ambient light.
Ideally, a person should be facing the main source of light in a room, so that the light can delicately illuminate the facial features of a person. In all cases, the amount and source of the light will influence the quality of a photo. For this reason, entrances should be surveyed where pictures will be taken to ensure that proper lighting is available. Additionally, special care should go into determining the direction and source of the light, and background. Ideally, the subject should face the main source of the light and the background should be clear of other subjects.
At some entrances, when a person arrives, they will most likely go to the front desk and register for a visit. It is possible that as a result of the main entrance layout, the person will stand behind a window or large glass wall that allows a significant amount of natural sunlight into the building. If the amount of natural sunlight is greater than the amount of light provided by the indoor lighting, then this will cause a silhouette - as the pictures below illustrate. Although the background is clear of other subjects, the excessive light underexposes the subject’s skin tone and facial features. Plus, the subject is not facing the main source of the light. In this case, the source of the light is natural sunlight that is entering through the building entrance. The problem here is that the person who is taking the photo is facing the main light source. Therefore, the source of the light is behind the subject and it is creating a silhouette figure. As a result of these environmental settings, there is not enough light to reflect on the subject’s skin tone and the picture does not appear clear enough. Therefore, the photo appears a little grainy because there is a light above the subject, and it produces a shadow.
As a guideline, the distance between the camera and person should not be more than five feet away, and if that is the case, then the camera should have a sufficient zoom level that will compensate for the distance. Again, the focus should be the person and not the surrounding environment. For a moment, think about how this photo will appear on a printed pass. Clearly, it would not be ideal because the distance between the camera and the person is significant enough that it will not render a clear identification of the person (i.e., a portrait of the person).
While the photos below illustrate better lighting conditions and the background is a solid white color, and clear of other subjects and patterns. And the camera is closer to the person. The problem is that the person is not facing the camera, while the examples below are subtle, they illustrate the importance of asking the person to look into the camera.
One way of ensuring consistent pictures is to prepare and designate an area with ideal lighting conditions and provide a solid background that is free from patterns. Understanding the importance of light will dramatically help in taking better pictures from almost any location. Below are some tips for taking better pictures indoors.
The figure below is an example from the U.S. Department of State, and it illustrates an ideal photo-taking environment. The yellow arrows illustrate the direction of the main source of light in the room. In this case, this is the main source of light that the person should face. In some cases, some rooms with unusual floor layouts, may not have adequate lighting conditions and this may require moving some furniture, adjusting the height of the camera, and adding proper lighting to improve the quality of the photos. In other cases, this may require additional lighting from a lamp. Keep in mind that if you add a lamp, then it must be set in front of the subject - not above or behind. However, in most cases, it may be as simple as repositioning the subject to face the source of the light. Ultimately, this will require taking a few pictures and evaluating the quality of the photos until you find an acceptable photo portrait.
The available natural sunlight can influence and improve the quality of the photos. The direction of the light in a way acts like a paintbrush that outlines the unique facial features and skin tones of a person. The pictures below are samples where enough sunlight is available. Although this location may not be available for other main entrance areas and it may be different at facilities – it illustrates the benefits of using natural sunlight. During registration, photo takers were capturing the photos while the visitors looked directly at the camera. The results are clear portraits of people. The amount and source of natural light clearly improved the ability to recognize a person’s skin tone, hair color, smile, dimples, facial hair, and any other facial characteristics that can help identify a person.
In this guide, we reviewed the importance of light and the effect that it will have when taking photos for employees, students, vendors, visitors, and any other group types. Remember, when taking photos, you need to consider the amount and source of the light. In some cases, to find this balance, you will need to adjust the amount of light available. Do not forget that the background contributes to the quality of the photo. Do not forget that the background should be a solid light color and free of other subjects and patterns. As mentioned before, the result should be a portrait photo that captures the image of a person, and accurately depicts their facial features, hair color, and skin tone. Finally, with these concepts in mind, we encourage you to explore your environment and apply these guidelines next time you take photos with your camera so that your badges and passes print clear photos.
Erci Moisa, MBA