If you want to take your own passport photos, the State Department’s web site has all the details on passport photo requirements. It’s not all that complicated, though if you want to avoid a hassle, you can pay $10.99 at someplace like Walgreen’s to have it done for you. If you’ve got a shy or unruly child (no names, please), it may be less hassle to take the time to set up your lights and white background at home. If you’re doing it for a group, you can save a tight wad of dough.
It’s worth your time to review the State Department’s helps because they actually are quite helpful. I’ve put all the necessary links on this page, as I’m going through this process myself. (I’ll let you know how it all turned out at the bottom of the post.)
Check out the photo composition template.
The Photographer’s Guide is essential and helpful. It gives you all you need to know about camera position and lighting.
And they also have a tool that crops your photo to the right size! (I was worried about having to print ten times at different sizes trying to get it right–wow, is the government being so helpful? A ray of hope! I didn’t mean that to sound sarcastic, but somehow it did.)
So we tried putting up some lights on each side of our child like the Secretary of State website suggests. We don’t have fancy flash equipment so we just used desk lamps. The results looked awful so we scrapped the lamps and just relied on the camera’s flash.
We had a bench set against a white (or maybe slightly off white) wall in between two windows. To try to eliminate shadows, we sat with our backs as close to the wall as we could without making it look unnatural. The camera was about 4 or 5 feet in front of the person and was on a tripod just at the level of the person’s nose. This setup worked great, especially for those of us with hair that covered our ears. Those with short hair ended up with shadows behind their ears, but they weren’t too pronounced and the passport people approved the photos. (Gosh, that doesn’t look like my son at all. And to think this is for identification purposes. I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley–unless I knew how cute he was as a young prince in that production of The King & I when he was 3 years old.)
The wall is a bit textured and we were under the impression that the background had to be flat and white. It turns out that the texturing doesn’t show up much in the photo and the passport photo approval people don’t seem to be so extremely strict.
Once we took the pictures, it seemed they were a bit dark. The rules state that you can’t digitally modify the photos. However, we decided to use Picasa’s auto brightness feature to brighten them. Thus the person was not digitally modified at all–just the brightness of the photo. (The lighting was just fine when I used autocorrect on this picture, but we decided to use one with less head tilt.)
Using the links above, we were able to crop the photos to the correct size.
But how to print them? We thought about printing them out at Walmart, but then we would have to get them in a 4×6 size somehow. Finally, we just put all the photos in a collage in Microsoft Word and asked a friend with a color deskjet printer to print it in best quality on photo paper. After cutting them out, we had our photos.
The person at the post office that was taking our application used a little template that looks just like the crop tool on the website to make sure our photos met the size guidelines. She said everything else looked good, too. So we sent the photos in with the passport applications and received all our passports back with our photos included in them.
In the end, we stressed about taking our own photos more than we needed to. Look at the photo guidelines and the good and bad examples on the government’s site and then just take your pictures.