How to take your own passport photos

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Getting photos taken that meet the strict guidelines for a passport application can be unreasonably pricey and time-consuming. You can make a special trip to the post office, AAA, or a UPS store, but you’ll typically pay $10 to $20 for these services.

And sometimes the service is less than stellar. An MMS team member was once told by a Walmart employee they’d have to wait an hour to pick up their already printed out passport photo because he “wasn’t certified to cut the picture.”

But a passport is a necessity if you plan on doing any international travel. If you arrive in a foreign country without one, you could be denied entry.

Find out how to take your own passport photo, whether you’re applying for the first time, you lost your passport or need to change your name on your existing passport.

Passport photo requirements

These are the U.S. State Department’s requirements for a passport photo:

  • Your head must face the camera directly with full face in view
  • You must have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open
  • Must be a high-quality image that is not digitally altered (no filters!)
  • Taken in clothing normally worn on a daily basis
  • Taken in the last six months
  • Use a plain white or off-white background.
  • It must be 2 x 2 inches, and your head must be between 1 to 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
  • Printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper
  • Printed in color
  • You cannot wear glasses. If you cannot remove your glasses for medical reasons, please include a signed note from your doctor with the application.
  • You cannot wear a hat or head covering. If you wear a hat or head covering for religious purposes, submit a signed statement that verifies the hat or head covering in your photo is part of recognized, traditional religious attire that is customarily or required to be worn continuously in public. If you wear a hat or head covering for medical purposes, submit a signed doctor’s statement verifying the hat or head covering in your photo is used daily for medical purposes.
  • Your full face must be visible, and your hat or head covering cannot obscure your hairline or cast shadows on your face.
  • You cannot wear headphones or wireless hands-free devices.
  • You cannot wear camouflage or a uniform or anything that looks like a uniform.
  • Tattoos are okay
  • Jewelry or facial piercings are allowed as long as they don’t block your face.

When you’re looking for a passport photo app, be sure it includes a feature for sizing your head correctly and adjusting the background.

Steps to take your passport photo

Taking your own passport photo at home saves you time, money, and allows you to take as many shots as you want. You don’t need over the top equipment to do it right. In fact, a smartphone camera usually has a high enough picture quality to work. Once you’ve reviewed the above guidelines and taken off glasses and hats, you’re ready to take your own picture. 

Your photo needs to be cropped to the right dimensions, which is easy to do with the State Department’s online cropping tool. Just upload your favorite image to rotate and resize as needed. You can also search for smartphone apps that help you meet all of the requirements. 

Once your passport photo is cropped, you need to print it in two-inch by two-inch dimensions. If you don’t have an at-home color printer, it’s usually cheaper and faster to send off and have it printed. A local office shop or drugstore is a good option, or you could order prints online for delivery if you’re not in a hurry.

Once you have your photos in hand, submit your passport photo with your application materials. Also, remember to check the box for a “large book” to get yourself extra passport pages at no additional cost.

Tip: There are apps like Passport Photo Editor and that can assist you in taking your own passport photos. Also, if you need passport photos for a family or group, you could easily cut and paste multiple people’s pictures into a single 4X6 photo sheet.

Problems with taking your own passport photo

A few things can go wrong when taking your own passport photo. Here are some common problems and how to avoid them.

First, avoid taking a selfie. Your photo could be rejected if your face is too close, so have a friend or family member stand a distance away from you to take your headshot. Remember, you can always crop the image later.

Next, make sure your paper quality is up to par. You have to use photo quality paper, so if your printer can’t handle it, send your image off to be printed.

Finally, check your lighting and background. You need a white background — brightly painted walls at your house won’t cut it. You also can’t digitally alter your photo, so don’t assume you can simply change the background on your phone or computer. Find an appropriate physical background to use to avoid having your passport photo rejected. 

Finally, move lights around or wait for a bright time of day to take your photo. Your image can be rejected if it’s too dark or has shadows. All of your hair and skin tones should look as they do in person, not altered because of lighting. 

Why are passport photos so expensive?

Depending on where you go, you could spend up to $15 for a passport photo. It may not seem like that much, but travel costs can quickly add up. Plus, passport photo fees can get particularly expensive when traveling as a family.

Places like drugstores and shipping stores typically offer on-site passport photos. An MMS reader reported getting passport photos at both Costco and Sam’s Club for ~$5. You may even be able to save money with a coupon or discount code.

You can also explore various apps. Some are free, but you’ll still need to pay for printing if you don’t have your own set-up at home. Read reviews to make sure the app is up-to-date on current State Department photo guidelines.

Finally, AAA members can enjoy passport photo discounts. If you’re a basic member, the cost is $10 per set. If you’re a plus-level member, each individual in your family receives a free set each year. Explore other AAA benefits to see if the membership cost is worth the savings.

Bottom line

Taking photos that meet at the U.S. State Department’s guidelines for passports doesn’t need to be expensive or time-consuming. Taking your own passport photo is entirely manageable and can save you a lot of money.

Just make sure both the image and your printed photos meet the State Department’s standards. That way, you won’t slow down the approval process.

Do you have a favorite store, app or program for taking passport-style photos? Share it with us in the comments below!

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Featured image by Jason Stauffer/Million Mile Secrets.

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Lauren Ward is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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