How to Take the Best Passport Photo

A photographer with a camera and a passport-sized photo. It says "How to take the best passport photo?"

Having a flattering picture taken comes at such an ease for some people it almost seems like they were made for posing. For others, the task triggers some level of stress, and the results might not always be satisfactory.

However, when it comes to passport photos, a good look is a secondary aspect, to say the least. It is the biometrics of the face that plays a crucial role in passport pictures.

In this guide, we will show you how to take the best passport photo—one that not only meets the official passport photo requirements, but additionally has the potential of being a picture you don’t have to be ashamed of. 

What’s more, we are going to show you how to take your own passport photo at home in 3 seconds with the help of one super reliable app. 

A presentation of Passport Photo Online: the app can create passport photos in 3 seconds on a phone

Without further ado, let’s get down to it!

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How to take a flattering passport photo?

There is no one golden rule for taking the perfect passport picture. First things first, and before you proceed, you need to understand the official U.S passport photo requirements.

According to the statistics provided by the U.S. Department of State, an unfit photograph is the #1 reason for application rejection during passport processing. In order to avoid that, let’s take a look at what the officials have to say in that matter.

First, let’s cover a bit of the technicality. When taking your own passport photo, make sure to secure proper lighting conditions—over or underexposed pictures won’t be accepted. The best way is to use natural light, for example, by posing in front of a window. Remember that shadows in passport photos, either on your face or behind you, are not allowed.

There are few aspects your passport picture needs to be in accordance with. At the base, there is the proper size and proportions:

  • The photographs must be 2 by 2 inches (5 x 5 cm), and
  • Your head must be between 1” to 1 3/8” when measured vertically.
Measurements for a U.S. passport photo.

Remember to print your passport photos on matte or glossy paper and deliver one copy to the adequate passport offices.

Having mentioned that now you can move on to the more personal criteria, such as:

  • face
  • hair
  • facial hair
  • dress code
  • and posing.

Passport photo face: keep it neutral

As you probably might have figured out yourself, a bright smile is not the best way to pose for photos for official documents. In this subsection, you will learn what the passport guidelines regarding your face are: from mimics to make-up.

According to the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of State, a neutral facial expression is the most favorable one. A subtle and natural smile is allowed, however, if you want to make sure your photograph is accepted, it is best to avoid it altogether. Simply stand up straight and look into the camera with both of your eyes open. To no surprise, blinking is forbidden.

If you want to use makeup you are free to do it, but only to a limited extent. Only gentle, natural makeup is allowed in passport photographs. If you wish to drastically enhance your face with cosmetics, you’re risking having your new photo rejected.

Remember that your photograph must clearly represent the biometrics of your face, therefore you mustn’t cover any imperfections, such as birthmarks or scars. 

Here is a short list to extract the essentials and make it easier for you to remember:

  • Any shadows are forbidden, you can read more here;
  • Keep a neutral facial expression;
  • Natural smile is allowed, but not recommended;
  • Have both of your eyes open;
  • Simple makeup is allowed, but not recommended.

Passport photo hair: limit the accessories 

There are no official criteria regulating which hairstyles are allowed in passport photos and which aren’t. Following the principle that what is not forbidden is allowed, one could assume any style is fit—but do not be so quick in making this judgment. 

As usual, there are some limitations. Look at and try to remember these three fundamental rules:

  1. Your entire face must be visible.
  2. Your hair cannot go beyond the borders of the photo.
  3. You can’t wear any hair accessories.

Despite many misconceptions, you are not obliged to show your ears in passport photographs. Therefore, if you have long hair and it doesn’t cover your face, there is no need to put it in a ponytail. You can let it be the way it is.

If you decide to wear your hair up, for example in a bun, that option is acceptable as well. You are allowed to play around with your hair pretty much any way you want, but keep in mind the previously stated rules. If you use, for example, a headband, your passport photograph will be rejected. The same thing will happen if your hairstyle is not entirely visible in the picture.

On the other hand, if you have long bangs that fall freely on your forehead, you might consider pinning them back. If you look at the #1 rule, you will notice that your entire face must be visible. Therefore, if part of your hair is covering your face, especially eyebrows or eyes, you need to use a simple hairpin to expose your face.

Passport photo beard: you can let your mustache grow

Similar rules apply to facial hair as well. The situation here is quite simple, and you are allowed to have any sort of facial hair you want, with no restrictions whatsoever. 

Similar to the previous case, beards, mustaches, or goatees are not considered biometrics data, therefore there is complete flexibility on how to wear them. 

If you want to learn more about this topic, you can have a look at what are the official facial hair regulations.

Passport photo dress code: wear casual clothes

Although it is your face that plays a crucial role in passport photographs, there are quite a few regulations on what attire to wear as well. 

Let’s begin with the simplest advice when choosing attire for your new passport image: dress up casually. 

According to the passport photo guidelines you can find on the U.S. Department of State website, the best outfit is the one you wear on a regular basis.

Many people think that for such an occasion as taking a picture for an official document, it is only advisable to wear elegant clothes. The truth is that although such an outfit is indeed not forbidden, it is actually best to put on your everyday clothes.

However, have in mind the fact that not every casual outfit is acceptable. Take a look at the list below to see a quick summary:

  • You cannot wear any uniforms or any clothes with elements of camouflage;
  • You can only wear simple jewelry;
  • No hair accessories (except a simple hair pin) or scarfs are allowed;
  • You can’t wear glasses, unless proven it’s for medical reasons (signed note from a doctor);
  • Avoid using black and white clothes, as well as outfits that are too elegant . 

You are allowed to wear head coverings, hearing aids or glasses, but only if you provide a signed doctor’s note, stating that such accessories are an essential part of your healing process, or are required for your everyday functioning. 

Moreover, a head covering is also allowed for religious purposes, and requires a signed statement from a religious authority. 

As to jewelry and piercings, you can wear them, but only under the condition that they don’t cover your face. Therefore, simple earrings or a necklace should not cause any objections at the Passport Acceptance Facility.

Glasses, on the other hand, are forbidden. As of recently, no glasses are allowed in passport pictures. The only exception to this rule is when such an accessory is part of a medical treatment, and is therefore, required by a doctor. Such circumstances must be proven with a signed doctor’s statement.

If you want to learn more about this topic, you can take a look at this passport photo dress code guide, which covers it in more depth.

Passport photo posing: sit up straight

You are allowed to either sit or stand up for your photo, however, bear in mind that you should keep a straight position and look right into the camera. You are not allowed to tilt your head in any direction, whether it is sideways or to the front—your face needs to remain on the same level as the camera.

Your hands should not be visible in the picture whatsoever. Simply let them fall freely alongside your body. It is best to avoid performing any unusual moves, as this might result in having your photograph rejected. 

To make things easier, just follow these 5 steps listed below:

  1. Stand or sit straight.
  2. Face the camera directly and don’t tilt your body.
  3. Look right into the camera.
  4. Do not tilt your head sideways, to the front or to the back.
  5. Keep a neutral facial expression.

And that’s pretty much it. 

With the information provided to you in the previous paragraphs, you should be able to take the perfect passport photograph on your own. 

In the next section, you will find the tool to properly manage your already taken image so it meets all the passport photo criteria.

What tool can I use to take a digital passport photo?

Passport Photo Online is an automated generator of passport photos that allows you to transform your homemade picture into a perfect passport image. Its intuitiveness, quick processing, and on-the-spot functioning have been recognized and appreciated by many journalists, Forbes included.

Passport Photo Online in its backroom is basically a sophisticated AI algorithm that scans the uploaded picture and adjusts it according to the official passport requirements. In a matter of seconds, after uploading your photo, the app swaps the background into a plain white one, crops the image so it meets the official criteria, and adjusts the proportions, so there is always a certainty of having your photos accepted.

A young woman with long blog hair in four passport images demonstrating benefits of Passport Photo Online.

What is more, you are free to upload as many photographs as you wish, because you don’t pay until you choose your final passport photo. You can therefore experiment with different settings without worrying about the price, and on top of that—everything is done from the comfort of your own apartment.

Once you choose your perfect passport photograph, you can receive it in a digital format right to your email, or you can have it printed for you on quality photo paper that meets the official criteria.

The app has already been used by millions worldwide and can pride itself in an almost 100% acceptance rate. However, if you’re the unfortunate one to have your photo rejected by the authorities, you will receive a double money refund.

A 5-star positive user review of Passport Photo Online.

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How to take the best passport photo: closing thoughts

If this is your first attempt to take a passport photo on your own, then the numerous passport photo criteria might seem a bit difficult to meet. However, as it often turns out, the complicated and official language of governmental authorities turns out to be quite intuitive and logical, once broken down into smaller pieces. 

Passport authorities recommend submitting photographs with a few additional features as possible, so try to stick with the approach the less, the better. 

It’s best to stay casual, maintain a neutral facial expression and pay attention to the few technical aspects of the photograph. 

Luckily, there are now tools right at your fingertips to have that last part taken care of.

Best passport photo – FAQs

Do I need to shave my face for the U.S. passport photo? 

No, there is no such requirement. Beards, mustaches, and other facial hair are not considered biometrics data, therefore you are free to have any facial hair you wish. 

Can your hair be in your face in a passport photo?

No, according to the official requirements, your entire face must be visible. The only exception to this rule are ears, and hair can cover them. However, if you have hair falling onto your face, you just clip it back with a simple hairpin. 

What is the best color to wear for passport photos? 

There are no guidelines on which colors to wear for passport photos. The only exception is camouflage –  you shouldn’t wear outfits with camouflage patterns under any circumstances. It is also advisable to avoid black and white colors, as the photographs should be taken on a plain white background.

How to take the best passport photo at home?

If you want to take the best U.S. passport photo at home, we recommend utilizing specialized apps that guide you through the whole process of taking the photograph, adjust your picture to fit the official standards, and deliver digital or printed copies to you. One of these apps is Passport Photo Online. 

Should you smile in a passport photo?

According to the U.S. Department of State, a simple and natural smile is acceptable in passport photos. However, bear in mind that any excessive expressions, such as laughter or frowning, will result in your passport picture being rejected.

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