After suffering through 10 years with a goofy looking passport photo, the time has finally come for me to take a new one and renew my passport. This time, I decided to save the $15 and take my own. I found the process to be cheaper and more convenient than going to the post office or photo shop. This guide explains, step-by-step, how to take your own passport photo.
Benefits of Taking Your Own Passport Photo
- It’s almost free- Most likely you already have everything that you need.
- You can take as many as you want until you’re happy with it- You can get just the right smile and lighting.
- You can print multiple copies so you are prepared for your next trip- Lots of countries require passport-sized photos with visa applications. This way, you don’t have to take new ones every time.
Things You Will Need to Take Your Own Passport Photo
- Camera- A decent smartphone camera or any old point-and-shoot will do.
- A tripod or a friend to hold the camera- There isn’t much margin for error in the angle of the photo. You probably can’t hold the camera yourself.
- A Computer- To edit the photo. You could also just use your smartphone.
- An internet connection- You will use a free online program to cut the photo to the correct size and position yourself within the photo.
- A printer- This is where you may have to spend a bit of money. Either print it on photo paper at home or go to a print shop to get a copy made.
Passport and Visa Photo Rules
Every country’s passport and visa photo rules vary slightly. Here are some general guidelines:
- If you wear glasses, take them off for the photo- Even if you always wear glasses, you must remove them. Some countries allow you to wear glasses in the photo but it’s better to err on the side of caution so you don’t have to retake the photo
- Take the photo with a natural resting face or a normal smile- No big cheesy grins or open mouth smiles. Both eyes must be open.
- Don’t wear a hat or head covering, hearing aid, or headphones- Nothing can cover your face or head. There are exceptions for religious purposes.
- Submit a color photo that was taken within the last 6 months- No black and white or outdated photos.
- Make sure that the photo represents your skin tone acculturate- No lightening or darkening of your skin tone.
- The photo must be the right size- For the US that size is 2 inches by 2 inches. For the EU, that size is 3.5 cm by 4.5 cm.
- Make sure that your head appears big enough in the photo- For US passport photos, your head has to be between 1- 1 3/8 inches from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin.
- Wear ‘normal’ clothing- A standard t-shirt or collared shirt works best. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself by wearing something odd, even if that is your style. Don’t wear any type of uniform.
In general, just try to look normal and non-threatening. You don’t want to be questioned or be sent to secondary inspection at a border just because your photo looks strange.
Step 1: Find the Right Location to Take the Photo
The ideal place would be:
- A white or off-white background- Most countries require that passport and visa photos be taken in front of a light colored background. White or off-white is most common. A wall in your house works well.
- Well lit- Make sure the area has good lighting. If a window is nearby, open it. Daylight looks the most natural. You can also use a lamp to help with lighting. Your camera’s flash can also be utilized.
- Spacious- There must be enough space in front of the wall for you to position your camera so you can fit your entire face and shoulders into the frame. Use the zoom if you need to.
Step 2: Set Up Your Camera
Use your tripod or friend to position the camera so that
- The camera is aimed at your face dead on- You don’t want to be looking up or down into the lens. Adjust the height of the tripod so that you are looking straight into the lens.
- The camera captures enough of your shoulders and the background- Either use the zoom or physically move the camera further away to achieve this. You want to capture enough of the wall behind your head so that you can crop and adjust the photo to meet the right specifications. For example, if your face is tilted a bit, you want to be able to correct for this while editing. If you didn’t leave enough space, this won’t be possible.
Tip: To help you line up your head in the frame, use some tape or a pencil to mark the wall. You can mark where the top of your head will be. Use this to adjust the zoom on the camera.
If you don’t have a tripod or a friend, you could try with a selfie. It will be tough or impossible if you don’t have long arms.
Step 3: Take the Photos
- Use the auto timer on your camera- Give yourself plenty of time to get into position and adjust your smile. I set mine for 10 seconds.
- Take lots of photos- The more you take, the better chance you have of capturing the perfect one. I took about 15. You’ll never really know which one is best until you look at them on your computer.
If you’re using your phone, consider using a passport photo app- These use software to help you take a compliant passport photo. They include guides overlaid on the screen to help you position your head in the frame as well as background removal and editing. One of the best is called Passport Photo Maker.
Tip: Change shirts mid photoshoot. Sometimes, when applying for visas, you will need to supply a passport-sized photo. I have seen applications where they require that the photo be different than the one in your passport. If you change shirts, you can easily take two photos at once and be prepared.
Should You Smile in Your Passport Photo?
This is a personal choice. I like to smile in my photos. My theory is, if you look friendly and harmless in your passport photo, immigration officials will be less likely to hassle you. A smile lightens the mood. It’s funny. If you have a frown or scowl, you may have a slightly higher likelihood of being questioned. I don’t know if any of this is true, it’s just my theory.
When smiling, remember to make it natural. No goofy grins or open mouth smiles. Some passport agencies will reject unnatural-looking photos. Avoid showing your teeth too much.
Step 4: Edit your Photos
Depending on the quality of your camera and location where you shot the photos, you may not have to edit them. I took mine in my friend’s basement where the lighting wasn’t very good. I just brightened my photo up a bit afterword and it looks fine.
For free photo editing software comparable to Photoshop, check out Gimp Image Manipulation Program. It’s got a funny name but it’s open source and works incredibly well.
If you choose to edit the photo on your phone, check out Snapseed. This is a free photo editing app available for ios and Android. It is owned by Google.
Step 5: Upload Your Photo and Make Final Adjustments
In this step, you will crop, tilt, and adjust your photo so that it meets the passport photo requirements. To do this, you will upload your photo to a free passport photo generating program. You have several options available including:
- The U.S. Department of State website- This free tool from the US government is designed to help you correctly size your passport photo.
- Passport Photo 4 You- This is the best one that I have found. I have no affiliation with these guys. I just feel that they offer a really well thought out and easy to use program. Also, it’s free.
The editing works more or less the same regardless of which tool you use. Basically, you will use a series of guides to help you properly position your face within the photo. Below, I’ll outline how to use Passport Photo 4 You.
- First, you choose the passport photo size that you need. The most common are 2 inch by 2 inch for the United States and 3.4 cm by 4.5 cm for Europe. Most countries use one of these two sizes.
- There will be a white, head-shaped outline overlaid on your photo. Adjust your photo until your chin and top of your head fit within the white outline.
- Turn on the photo guide and adjust your photo so that your eyes fit within the grey boxes. Also, make sure that your nose lines up with the vertical box going down the center of the photo.
- If you tilted your head slightly in the photo, correct for this by adjusting the tilt of your photo.
Once you are happy with the results, you can download your new passport photo. The program will automatically fit as many copies as it can into a 4 inch by 6 inch photo. If you have photo paper and a decent printer, you can print it off wherever you are. I like to go to a photo printing place like FedEx Office or Walgreens to get a decent quality print.
Tip: Print extra copies. I like to bring at least 10 passport photos with me when I travel to use for visa applications. Also, keep the photo file stored on the cloud or email it to yourself so you can access it and have more copies printed if you run out.
Final Thoughts About Choosing the Right Photo
My old passport photo was fine but I was always kind of embarrassed by it. I had a big goofy smile and my face was incredibly red for some reason. That photo was taken when I was 16. Now, 10 years later, I look totally different. I’m bald, wear glasses, and have a beard. When entering Russia, the woman checking passports made me smile so she could compare my face to my old passport photo.
When making your new passport photo, choose a photo that looks like you so there is no confusion or suspicion by officials. Make sure your skin tone is accurate. Don’t wear any strange clothing or make funny faces. Your passport and visa photos shouldn’t make any kind of statement. You want to look as neutral as possible.
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