Unless your first international trip happened within the last few…
Every so often, you’re going to need to renew your passport. This is actually a much more convenient process than it used to be, since you can fill out and print your forms online in the comfort of your own home and you are allowed to take your own passport photos. Passport photos are meant to last for 10 years – and that means that if you get a bad one, you’re really stuck with it.
The first time I took a passport photo, the guy only gave me one shot for my money – and it was terrible. He said he absolutely couldn’t take another one, and I didn’t trust him to improve upon the first one enough to fork over more money. I was in a time crunch and just took it and went. The next time around, I found a more sympathetic photographer, who wasn’t busy and didn’t mind giving me two or three takes to get something decent. It still took a chunk of time out of my afternoon and cost a little more than I would have liked.
These days, we take our own passport photos. With improved digital photography options, the range of acceptable passport photos has widened. They still need to meet certain sizing standards, but any white or neutral background with good lighting is going to get the job done. And you get to take as many photos as you want until you get one that you like! You still need to go for a neutral expression, as a smile will get your photo rejected, but you still have options.
Stand in front of a white or very pale tan/grey wall. Try to stand outdoors if possible, in indirect light so you don’t have any hard shadows on your face. If you’re taking the picture indoors, you’ll need to make sure that there is no lighting directly overhead and you might even need to set up an extra light to prevent shadows on one side of your face (a big sheet of white paper can even bounce enough light onto your face to prevent shadows if you hold it about a foot away from your face, and you can crop it out of the finished picture). Take the photo horizontally, making sure to get from your armpits on the lower part of the photo and leaving several inches above your head on top. This will give you plenty of room to crop a nice square photo that will meet the federal guidelines. The federal site even has a photo tool that you can use to cross-check your photo for accuracy before printing.
The hardest thing about taking your own passport photos is printing them to the correct size. They need to be 2-inch by 2-inch square photos – and most photo software doesn’t come with a setting for passport sizes. You have a couple of options here. One is to try to manually size your photos. Another is to tile them into a 4×6-inch standard photo, which can then be easily printed on photo paper from your home printer and then cut individually. The last option is to use an online service like ePassportPhoto, which is what we used here. This service (which happens to be free if you want to print your own photos and only a bit more if you need them to print them) allows you to adjust the size and scale of your photos to ensure they fit the government’s guidelines, then automatically tiles them into a 4×6 image for printing. It’s very convenient, takes the guesswork out of the equation and it’s free.
Looking back to those bad, expensive passport photos of years past, we’re very happy to have the option to take our own – and take our own good ones for a change – now!