The mug shot seen ’round the world

A lot has been said about 30-year-old Jeremy Meeks, a convicted felon who was arrested June 18 during an Operation Peacekeeper sweep. But the talk wasn’t about his alleged crime, the possession of an unregistered, loaded handgun (according to police), which is a parole violation, but rather the mug shot that the police took of him.

Meeks’ photo, which was posted on the Stockton Police Department’s Facebook page on June 18, went viral. It garnered more than 100,000 “likes” and over 26,000 comments. Some were from detractors but many of talked about how good Meeks looked.

“I could never get sick of this mug shot.” “Look at this hottie”, “He is stunning!!! So hot.” “Just perfect looks.” These were just a few of the comments. He even reportedly has attracted attention from a Hollywood agent and has been offered a modeling contract.

What most people may not realize is that Meeks’ good looks comes in large part from how the photo was shot, more specifically its lighting. Using an old photographers trick to deconstruct lighting in a photo, one can see two distinct lights reflected near the center of each of his eyes. That means that there were two lights used, one above and the other below the lens. The effect is similar to what comes from a ring flash, which has macro photography applications but is often used in fashion and glamor photography.

A ring flash is just like it sounds, a flash that’s circular in shape, like a donut. The camera and lens are pointed through the center of the circle. The resulting light gives an even illumination and eliminates harsh shadows giving a hip freshness to the subject. It’s frequently used in celebrity portraits.

Supervising evidence technician Darren Antonovich showed me the camera/light setup used by the Stockton Police department. There are actually 3 cameras at the Stockton PD, one at intake where many of the arrestees are brought to the department another at the evidence/identification unit and a third in the investigations department. All of them employee a Canon EOS Rebel Ti DSLR camera hooked directly up to a computer. Antonovich says that it’s a system that they’ve had for about 10 years. In and of themselves the cameras are unremarkable. They’re just ordinary consumer grade devices. What’s interesting it the lighting.

Two of the units use two banks of fluorescent lights that are placed one well above the lens and the other below (the third unit has the same kind of lights place to the left and right of the camera). The lights aren’t flashes but they provide broad, even illumination much like the light that a ring flash provides.
Of course some of the photos that the Stockton PD has released don’t look as good as Meeks. Not everyone has his bone structure to take advantage of the flattering 2-light setup, but in his case the light accentuated his sculpted cheekbones, straight nose, strong chin line and soulfully pale blue eyes.

It’s part of the power of photography. Like it or not, how we perceive a person’s looks says something about how we think about them. If they’re good looking they must have some good characteristics as well. Conversely if they don’t conform to society’s norms of attractiveness then they can have a harder time proving their worth to others.

I’ve seen subsequent photos of Meeks from court appearances that the Record has covered. There’s not doubt that he’s a handsome guy no matter what kind of lighting is used, but without the dual light set up of the Stockton Police Department’s mug shot cameras, Meeks looked more like just another guy in an orange jumpsuit.

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