How to Take a Passport Photo That You Won’t Hate

PHOTO: Olivier Le Queinec/Shutterstock

If renewing a passport is on your to-do list, these pointers will get you closer to the photo of your dreams.

You probably know how to renew your passport, but taking a great passport photo can feel like a straight-up struggle and a source of major anxiety. With adult passports valid for 10 years, it’s understandable you want to snap a great (or at least good) photo. Besides putting your best face forward, there are actual rules a passport photo must abide by or it’ll end up like the nearly quarter of a million pics that weren’t accepted in 2017, causing the number one delay in passport processing according to the U.S. Department of State.

To save time, money, and your sanity, check out the tips below to take the best passport photo. These include what to wear for the perfect outfit, how to pose, and even why saying “mocha” can result in a perfect smile.

Take Your Photo Near a Passport Agency

It’s pretty easy to find a location that will take a passport photo. Your local drugstore chain, pharmacy, and even FedEx and UPS offer the service. But these employees tend to be rushed, less than skilled at taking photos, and you usually have one or two shots to nail the photo. If you’re fortunate enough to have a passport agency near you, you might have better luck finding a location near the agency that takes pics. These places are usually more skilled at snapping photos, have better lighting and tend to have better camera equipment. That all equals a better photo for you.

Avoid Certain Shirts

A strapless top is a passport photo faux pas for obvious reasons, right? Since the photo is cropped right at the bustline, it can, obviously, make you look like you’re not wearing a shirt. Also, though a TSA agent might not judge you for your choice of style (and who cares if anyone does judge you for this, generally), think about your future employer or professional situations. If you ever need to show your passport to a boss or colleagues for onboarding paperwork or travel purposes, the appearance of being topless is not a good look.

Embrace a Bit of Color

Since you’ll need to be photographed in front of a white or off-white background, wearing those colors is a no-no unless you want to look like a floating head. Go full-on and embrace color or opt for a neutral hue that still stands out like a navy or cobalt blue. It can be helpful to go through your phone’s camera roll to see what colors best compliment your skin tone.

Rock a Timeless Style

Some fashion trends are just that: trendy. But do you really want to wear an of-the-moment garment for a photo you’ll have for the next decade? Instead, opt for a forever-in-style piece like a turtleneck or collared shirt or a print (like plaid or stripes). The same goes for accessories.  Massive bib necklaces had a major moment years ago, but now they would just look outdated. A simple stud, small hoops, or thin necklace would keep a pic from looking timestamped.

Choose Your Hairstyle Wisely

For those with longer and/or big hair, lessen the chance of your photo being rejected by making sure your locks aren’t casting shadows or obscuring any part of your face. That can mean pulling your hair up or back and if you have bangs—that’s fine—just as long as they’re not covering your eyes.

Wear More Makeup Than You Normally Would

If you choose to wear makeup, just go one step further than your everyday routine. You don’t have to have a full about-to-star-in-a-play face, but maybe an extra layer of foundation, concealer under the eyes, or color on the lips and cheeks. The camera picks up everything so even if the makeup looks a bit heavy in person, it’s totally fine in a photo. Finding the fine line between looking polished but still looking like yourself is the key.

Look Head-on at the Camera

The camera lens should be directly at eye level. Anything higher or lower and you risk the camera looking up your nose. This is especially helpful if you’re taking your own passport photo but also comes in handy if you’re dealing with a less than experienced photo at a local, random drugstore that takes passport photos.

Find the Light

You can’t do much about the lighting at locations where you’re paying someone to take your photo, but if you’re taking your own pic, choosing the best light is key. Go for natural sunlight and stand in front of a window so the light is directly in front of you. Also, stand about an arm’s length distance from the wall or backdrop so there aren’t any shadows. If natural light isn’t an option or it’s a gloomy day, play around with artificial lighting so the photo is well-lit and doesn’t cast shadows on your face or the background. Finding the right light and taking test shots can feel time-consuming but it’s better than having to reshoot photos that have been rejected.

Master the Natural Smile

The State Department’s website reads travelers should “have a natural facial expression or natural smile, with both eyes open.” That wide grin with teeth showing and eyes squinting will most likely be revoked. Instead, think of something low-key pleasant. It can be a person, place or thing. Something that just brings a soft smile to your face. You can also try saying or mouthing “mocha.” Words that end in “uh” create a softer, natural smile.  And for people who blink a lot, keep your eyes closed and only open them on the photographer’s count of three.

Strike a Pose

Just before you’re about to take a picture, some things tend to happen. Your body tenses up and you get the deer in headlights look. However, the perfect pose is pretty easy but might feel awkward at first. Sit or stand with your legs shoulder-width apart (crossing your legs can make you lean to one side more than the other, versus being perfectly straight) and keep your shoulders back. Don’t forget to lengthen your neck and extend your chin a bit; this is the part that can feel awkward. But in photos, it gives the appearance of a long neck.

Pack a Small Kit With Essentials

If you’re heading somewhere to get your photo taken, don’t forget to bring along a few items for last-minute touch-ups. This can include a teeth whitening pen for those coffee sips. And whether you wear makeup or not, bring oil-blotting papers, as the camera picks up even the slightest bit of shine. Also, pack a stick of gum. If you suffer from dry mouth then you know how difficult it can make smiling. Chew gum for a few seconds to get the saliva flowing and loosen up that formerly dry, stiff smile.