How to Take a Passport Photo

Last year, I had to have my passport renewed and updated with my new married name. Adam’s passport expired only a few months after mine. I had a friend help take my passport photo then learned a few tricks to take Adam’s. It can seem like a hassle to get to CVS and shell out $8 for a strip when you could just take it yourself with a little planning.

jen darling by j.k.h. nelson

Here is what my passport photo looked like. When I got my passport back, I knew the image I had sent in was too dark, so I adjusted Adam’s a little further. I only wish I could get this tan in real life. My passport looks like I live in the Caribbean full time, while my original passport at 16 looks like the pale Nordic blonde that I am. Thank goodness for spray tans.

Passport photo regulations have recently changed, making it much easier to take them yourself. They must be:

  • In color
  • Printed on photo quality paper
  • 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) in size (I’ll get to size later)
  • 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
  • With a neutral facial expression and both eyes open
  • Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis (More on clothing in a bit also)

Step 1: Start in the afternoon when there is good but not direct sunlight. I took Adam’s photos between 4-5 pm in March. That will go up or down by an hour or two depending on the time of year. This is called the “golden hour,” when natural light is most flattering and it’s easiest to get great photos.

Step 2: Find a wall in your house that is white, the whiter the better. Use that wall as your backdrop.

Step 3: Line the person up so he/she is looking directly at the camera. Take a few practice shots to make sure they are lined up properly. It may help to have him/her sit straight against the wall to get a flat image.

jen darling by j.k.h. nelson Also look for any shadows of the person’s head. If a shadow appears behind him/her on the wall, then realign so there is no shadow.jen darling by j.k.h. nelson jen darling by j.k.h. nelson

Side bar – I know, we’re super cute married people. We both wore light blue in our passport photos. If I had thought about it, I would have had us both in Duke blue instead of something close to Carolina blue. Don’t tell anyone. My cousins might get the wrong idea and think that we’ve turned to the dark side cheered for UNC.

Step 4: Once you have a photo that you like enough, do some light adjusting to the brightness. Unless you could get your flash to work and you don’t need to adjust. My flash was being a princess and refusing to go off in the perfect “golden hour” light.

If you use a PC you can use the Mircosoft Office Picture Manager. Here is what Adam’s photo looked like after I touched up the brightness:

jen darling by j.k.h. nelson


Step 5: Print in the correct size. The photo needs to be 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) in size and sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (between 25 and 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. This is honestly the hardest part. I adjusted the size down so my image was 2 x 2 inches (roughly) and then printed. Once you can compare the size of your image to the template on the passport form, you can decide if it needs to be bigger or smaller.

Step 6: Trim and staple your photo onto the form. Mail and wait an obnoxious 6-12 weeks for your passport to return to you. If you are renewing, you will get your passport back. I was a bit frantic waiting for mine to return, as it has visas from when I lived in New Zealand (a gorgeous visa BTW) and in China. Which surprisingly don’t stay stuck into your passport well. Made. In. China.

Here are the complete regulations for passport photos from good old Uncle Sam. There are additional guidelines for glasses, limitations on what you can wear (sorry Rachel Zoe, hats are not acceptable), and more information.

This is definitely not a process for the technologically impaired. But if you have a little bit of photo savvy, definitely give it a try. Worst case you head to CVS anyway and you’ve only lost a few pieces of photo paper and some frustration in the process.

Have you taken your own passport photo?

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