Passport Photos as a Profit Center

Note to visitors - If you are not a photo retailer, you'll find much more useful information about getting passports by clicking HERE

I had a good friend, owner of a camera store, who for years refused to take passport photos so as not to "step on the toes" of a portrait photographer in the same block. The portrait photographer would buy 5 or 10 rolls of color print film from him every once in a while, when his bulk order from the photo lab he used didn't arrive on time. Of course he expected my friend to let him have the film at or below the wholesale price…

My friend finally realized how much business he was missing and bought a passport camera. The first set of passport photos he took provided more gross profit than an average month's business from the professional photographer, and he realized that he'd been keeping food out of the mouths of his family for years by not doing passport photos.

While you can sell ID photos for many purposes, the biggest single market is for the USA passport. What they want is "two recent color photographs (white background 2" x 2") front view, full face printed on thin paper with a plain light (white or off-white) background."

While Polaroid pictures meet the specification, note that they must be color photos (the black & white Polaroid films don't have the image stability needed, at least as far as the feds are concerned.) The film must be of the peel-apart type, not the integral film found in the popular Type 600 or Spectra cameras. 

Polaroid and others make specialized cameras that take nothing but ID photos. They have 2 or 4 lenses to make several photos at once on the same sheet of paper.

Camera prices start about $350. Choose a camera that uses the 3" x 4" pack film, the 4"x5" sheet film is much more expensive. 

There are now several integrated digital passport camera systems. The advantage of digital is that you can take several shots and actually get the customer's approval before making the first print. You'll save on film and increase customer satisfaction. The system sells for about $2,000 including camera and printer.

If you have a digital photo kiosk, it can also make passport photos just by using a digital camera.

One firm offers a hybrid digital/film system, which uses a digital camera and a special printer that prints on instant film. By using a digital camera, it's possible to take several photos of the subject and inspect them before pressing the "print" button. It's also possible to make multiple copies of the same image, rather than taking several photos and asking the subject to keep the same pose for all of them.

If you own a digital minilab, it's easy to take the photos with a digital camera and print them on your lab's RA-4 paper. Since a 4x6 print can hold up to 6 passport photos and costs only a few cents, it's very profitable.

Whatever system you choose, set up a dedicated spot where you can take the photos. You'll need a plain white background about four feet wide so you don't shoot off the edge. Off- camera flash can make your photos look better.

Your passport photos will have to meet the specifications of the government: overall size 2" x 2", with a plain white or off white background. Head size from chin to top of hair must be not less than 1" and not more that 1 3/8". The pictures have to be capable of withstanding heat lamination.

Have your subject sit comfortably. Have them point their knees to one side - if you take the photo with the shoulders square to the camera it makes the photos look like mug shots. Have the subjects give you a pleasant, natural expression without an open-mouthed smile.

Brian Noble, one of the most creative marketers in our industry, has been kind enough to share his customer brochure on passport with us. Here's the PDF file of the brochure. You can download this file to your computer by right clicking on the link above and choosing "save target as."