Main index Other Papers index About author

Passport photos of children: the Photomaton ripoff

Julian D. A. Wiseman

Abstract: the only photo booths in Paris are Photomaton booths, which make it difficult to get a compliant photograph of a child. It takes many attempts, at €5 each. Indeed, it seems to have been deliberately designed to swindle parents.


Publication history: only at Usual disclaimer and copyright terms apply.

Photomaton’s booths for passport photos seem to have a de facto monopoly in Paris. Indeed, the Photomation Cabine Photo Easybooth seems to be the only model of photobooth in Paris. So if you are in Paris and need a passport photo, you will be using one of these. Cost: €5 for one set of five photos, all identical. Three pictures will be taken, you choose one and five copies of that one appear.

And if the passport photo is for a child, the machine is carefully designed to be a ripoff. It will take multiple attempts to get a good photo: for each of my three children a valid passport photo has taken €20. Readers will doubtless want to know how the ripoff works, for it is a cunningly designed swindle.

The Photomaton booth in the Place des Fêtes metro station
(left picture, exterior; right picture, interior, marked with desired location for ‘Now!’ button)
Exterior of Photomaton booth at Place des Fêtes metro station Interior of Photomaton booth

So how does the rip-off work, and how can it be circumvented?

So there is a young child, kneeling at the top of a wobbly stool which has a small seat. Such a youngster is unsteady and frightened of falling. Such a youngster wants to look down, in the direction of the impending fall, or sideways, to a wall that perhaps could be held. The child will not look forward, to the camera, more than fleetingly. And the countdown takes (a wonderfully judged—how much testing did that take?) three seconds, long enough for the child to look away. It is an exquisitely designed ripoff.

Photomaton: please do one of two things. Perhaps sue me for libel. (Make my day; destroy your business.) Or, nicer, less rip-off swindle, fix the problem.

But the reader surely knows that a profitable swindle will not be so easily conceded. Happily, there is something that a parent can do. The seat can be twisted such that it comes off completely. Do this. And bring your own seat: something sturdy, with four well-spaced legs. Having a sturdy seat on which the child can kneel will work much better. A child might even be willing to look forward for three seconds. When finished, reclaim your seat and re-connect the original.

Good luck.

— Julian D. A. Wiseman
8th May 2012

Main index Top About author