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passport photos

How to Take Your Own Passport Photo


After paying $15 to have an awkward photoshoot in the aisle of a CVS, only to have my passport photos rejected twice (once for being too dark and once for being too bright), I decided there had to be a better way to take your own passport photo. Turns out, snapping your own passport photo is easier, cheaper, and much more convenient than going to a “professional” (a.k.a., the cashier at your local drugstore).

Websites to Help You Take Your Own Passport Photo

  • The State Department: Bureaucracy has moved into the 21st century, and even the State Department wants to help you take your own passport photo by offering this free photo cropping tool that will size your photo correctly so that you can print it yourself.
  • If you don’t want to deal with printing your own photos, or if you need a passport/visa photo for another country (which may be a different size than the U.S. passport photo), does everything for you, including printing and mailing your images directly to your house. You can also pay extra to have your photos checked to make sure that they will be approved.
  • Passport Photo Booth: This app helps you with the photo composition needed for passport photos, showing you exactly where to pose within the frame. You can e-mail or save the image for free, or pay extra to have it printed.

Key Passport Photo Requirements

Make sure your passport photo meets all of the State Department’s requirements. Here are key requirements listed on the website:

  • Color photos only
  • “Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (22 mm and 35 mm), or 50 percent and 69 percent of the image’s total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. (Click here for a photo composition template to use as a guideline.)”
  • “Taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance”
  • “Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background”
  • “Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera”
  • “Neutral facial expression and both eyes open”
  • “Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis”
  • “Uniforms should not be worn in your photo, except religious clothing that is worn daily.”
  • “Do not wear a hat or head covering that obscures the hair or hairline, unless worn daily for a religious purpose. Your full face must be visible, and the head covering must not cast any shadows on your face.”
  • “Headphones, wireless hands-free devices, or similar items are not acceptable in your photo.”
  • “No eyeglasses allowed”

The State Department has some good photo examples of images that are and are not accepted. Check them out here.

How to Take Your Own Passport Photo

  • Get a neutral background: If you don’t have any plain white walls to pose in front of, you can tape a piece of plain white poster board behind you to create a clean backdrop.
  • Check the lighting: You can’t have any shadows in your passport photo, so taking it in natural daylight on a sunny day works best.
  • Get help: A selfie won’t be accepted, so you’ll either need to use a tripod or ask a friend to snap your picture.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel has more travel tips than how to take your own passport photos. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for advice and inspiration.

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