A passport photo is NOT a portrait it’s a reference photo. Much like a drivers licenses, its sole purpose is to reference your likeness. A complicated three-light setup and extensive editing in Photoshop are not needed; in fact, the photo will be rejected. A simple white background, a non-emotional facial expression and available light is all that is needed. The complicating part: ensuring the correct 2 by 2 dimensions are followed exactly to the U.S. Passport and International Travels specifications.

Inspiration for writing this article

Let me take a step back for a moment and explain why I’m writing on this subject. I received a late night message from our Publisher, Richard Harrington. He asked if I want to take a trip to London, England. My immediate reply: Yes! He said Great. Make sure your passport is up to date.

Until now, I never needed a passport. I looked up the requirements to expedite the process which required me to travel to Miami, Florida a 3-hour drive from my home base of Melbourne. I thought about taking my own photo, but honestly, I needed it quick and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of setting everything up. I decided to take a trip to my local CVS store. The cashier asked if I could wait for a moment as she moved a display table out of the way and pulled down a white screen. When I saw her camera an 8 megapixel point-and-shoot I started laughing. I realized I over thought the process and decided to write this How-to article.

Photo Requirement

Your passport photo must be:

  • In color
  • Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper
  • 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) in size
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Taken with a neutral facial expression (preferred) or a natural smile, and with both eyes open

Dimensions: The image dimensions must be in a square aspect ratio (the height must be equal to the width). Minimum acceptable dimensions are 600 x 600 pixels. Maximum acceptable dimensions are 1200 x 1200 pixels.

Color: The image must be in color in sRGB color space, which is the common output for most digital cameras.

Don’t over think it

These photo requirements seem complicated; but in reality, its pretty easy. Photograph your subject with available light, free of shadows and against a white background. If there isn’t enough available light, use a flash pointed away from your subject and bounce it behind you to fill the room. This will mimic ambient light.

Once you have taken your photo, use the Department of States free photo tool to properly format your image.

Passport photos are easy to take but is it worth our time?

I paid about $12 dollars for my photo and received it within 15 minutes. Since I have never taken a passport photo before, I couldn’t have completed the task that fast. I also had peace of mind knowing that if the image was rejected, CVS will refund my money or take another photo. I was told not to worry and I didn’t. If I had taken the photo, I would have wondered if the requirements were correct.

Lets talk about the price. Saving $12 by taking my own photo isn’t worth it. If a client needed a passport photo and nothing else I would still have to charge a minimum $125 equipment fee plus my time for traveling to the photo studio. Obviously not cost effective for the client.

Offering a Passport photo during a portrait session

A simple way to make passport photos profitable is to offer them during a portrait session. Imagine a Real Estate company hires you to photograph their employees corporate portrait. Images will be used for the companys website, advertisements, news releases and profile photo for Linkedin or Facebook. For a small additional fee, you can offer the company passport photos of their employees. If the company doesn’t want to pay for it, you can ask to offer it to the employees.

Another example when you could offer passport photos is during a Senior portrait or an engagement photo session. Maybe the senior is receiving a trip out of the country as a graduation present and needs a passport or the newly engaged couple for their honeymoon. Im sure there are other examples where you can offer the additional service.

*Feature image Christian Delbert/ Dollar Photo Club