SBPD Booking Mug Booth is a Pretty Good Little Headshot Studio, Actually

Live in Southern California, and can't afford a decent headshot? Maybe you should get yourself booked by the Santa Barbara Police Dept. Because their mugshots are actually … pretty decent.

And better yet, it's something that any home studio DIY'er could duplicate.

Take Iron Chef's Cat Cora, for instance, who had this impromptu photo session as a result of a recent DUI. She reportedly was very nice, somewhat embarrassed and thus behaving not at all like your typical celebrity DUI portrait session.

So that probably helped.

But also on her side was the lighting booth at the SBPD, which has been a fixture in the department's booking mug area for 15 years. It was designed as part of a (then) new digital mugshot system. The two ganged-fluorescent strip lights, one of which is seen below, were enclosed in wooden diffuser boxes by the city's carpentry staff:

There are one of these diffused strip boxes on each side, reports Strobist reader (and SBPD employee) Martin Alexander. They are supposed to be the only lights in the setup, and you are supposed to turn the room lights off before using it. But many in the department, not being photo types, ignore this advice and just turn on the box-strips in addition to the room lights.

Ironically, this evolves the setup from that of a typical booking mug to something almost Martin Scheoller-esque. That top (normal room) light becomes a high-vertical key. It's brighter because it is closer to the subject. The strip lights become the on-axis fill, thus completing the look:

It is perfect? Nope. But it beats Glamour Shots—and a fair bit of what else passes for professional portrait lighting these days.

So kudos to the SBPD, whose officers have the enviable assignment to occasionally photograph a celebrity in their most real, unguarded moments.

And with a pretty decent lighting setup to back them up.

UPDATE: They are having a little fun with this in the Strobist Flickr group...


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