Shadows in Passport Photos—Acceptable or Not?

Three examples of shadows in passport photos.
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Although shadows in passport photos are generally unacceptable, there’s a surprising exception to the rule.

Discover the secret to mastering shadow-free passport pictures and ensure smooth sailing in your travels. Dive into this must-read guide and avoid facing the dreaded photo rejection.

Don’t let a shadow of doubt hold you back!

Need to get a perfectly lit passport photo with no shadows right now? Download our Passport Photo Booth App for iOS or our Passport Photo Maker App for Androidand get a 100% compliance guarantee!

An image showing how to use Passport Photo Online on mobile.

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Can passport photos have shadows?

The simple answer is no, biometric passport photos cannot contain any shadows in them.

It may seem trivial, but according to the US Department of State, incorrectly taken photos are the number one reason passport applications get delayed or rejected.

The official requirements are clear: the correct passport photo size and proper lighting allow the capture and registration of a person’s biometric data.

If the facial features are even a little obscured, the biometric software will not be able to identify the passport holder correctly.

For this reason, the authorities require pictures that follow all the guidelines to the letter, and even the slightest mistake can result in rejection.

Take a look at this post to learn more about rejected passport photos.

Specifically, the rules state that these are not acceptable in passport photos:

  • Shadows on the face
  • Shadow on the neck
  • Shadow under the chin
  • Shadow in the background
Two examples of correct and incorrect lighting in passport photos

Besides avoiding shadows on the face or in the background, the subject’s neck must also be as exposed as the rest of the picture. The rule also includes shadows under the chin (if they are visible).

The ears are the only exception to the rule—

You can submit a photo containing small shadows cast by your ears since they don’t cover the face.

The most important rule to keep in mind is that authorities will not accept a passport picture with shadows obscuring an individual’s facial features.

Want to learn about what to wear and how to style your hair to avoid shadows and get a perfect passport photo? Check out these articles:

US passport photo shadows—common mistakes

These rules may seem quite discouraging but fear not—in the next paragraphs, you’ll find tips to help you achieve the perfect lighting and take professional passport photos using a home setup.

Let’s start with some recurring mistakes that lead to unwanted shadows on passport photos:

Uneven lighting

Passport pictures need to be lit evenly. Multiple light sources will likely cause passport photo shadows and, as already mentioned, even slight shadows in passport photos may result in them getting rejected.

Keep reading for a full explanation of how to set up the best lighting to avoid shadows in passport pictures.

Incorrect subject placement

If you are standing too close or too far from the backdrop, you’ll end up casting a shadow behind you, making the picture unacceptable.

You’ll find details about avoiding shadows behind the head in passport photos in the next section.

Use of the camera flash

Using flash for a DIY US passport photo will often result in strong shadows on both the face and the background.

If you have one, you can use one or more evenly placed external flashes. Alternatively, natural light can also do the trick (more about this later on).

Accessories or head garments

While religious head coverings in passport photos are allowed (with proper documentation), it’s still necessary to ensure that they don’t cast shadows or cover the face.

For a hijab, make sure the scarf adheres to the head and sides of the face without creating edges that obstruct the light.

How to take a passport photo at home without shadows

To avoid shadows in a passport photo, professional photographers set up light sources of equal wattage symmetrically and use reflectors to even out any possible shadows.

Few people have such equipment on hand, though

But if you follow these steps, you’ll get rid of background shadows without expensive gear.

A list of 5 steps to avoid shadows in passport photos

Take advantage of natural light

Turn off any overhead light and position the subject (or yourself) in front of a window. 

Avoid bright direct sunlight when taking your photo. Simply choose a moment in which the room is completely lit but you can’t see the sun through the window. This way, the picture will be sufficiently exposed and evenly lit with minimal effort. 

Set up a neutral backdrop

If you can’t find a window in front of a plain white wall, hang up a white or off-white sheet, taking extra care to make it as flat as possible. Place yourself about 1–2 feet away from it. All shadows should be out of the frame; take a few shots to find the best distance.

An example of the correct distance to avoid shadows in a passport photo.

Place the camera at the right distance

After placing or finding the right background, you have to set up the camera or smartphone for the shot. Use a base (preferably a tripod) to place the device up straight and at your eye level 2–7 feet away from you.

Take a test shot

Once everything is ready, take a few pictures and check them. If the lighting is flat and there are no shadows in your passport photo, you’re good to go. 

If you notice some imperfections, adjust the distances of both the background and the camera and try again.

Use an app to get a passport photo without shadows

Yes, there’s an app for that.

Our app will smooth out small shadows from the face and signal any stronger ones. Additionally, the background will be seamlessly cut out and replaced with a plain white setting—no need to worry about shadows in the background of your passport pictures.

This gives you complete freedom in choosing the shooting location no matter where you are, we can turn your snaps into digital passport photos.

Once you upload an image, the app’s AI checks that everything is compliant with the official regulations. Then, an expert from our team will double-check all details and give the final confirmation. Our fool-proof system guarantees there are no shadows to ruin your passport photo.

If you have a picture you’d like to use as a passport photo, head to Passport Photo Online and upload it. We’ll check your passport photo for shadows among others, and let you know whether or not it complies with the requirements. Try it now!

A woman uploads an existing photo to Passport Photo Online’s website and instantly receives a compliant passport photo.

Want to know more about taking your own passport photos? Check out these articles:

How to take a baby’s passport photo without shadows

Taking a baby’s passport photo comes with some additional challenges: they might look away or move around, creating shadows on their face and in the background.

Even if the official requirements are somewhat more lenient for children and infants, shadows are still unacceptable. Listed below are three ways in which you can take your baby’s passport pictures while avoiding passport photo shadows.

Use a bed or a cradle

Lay the infant on a white sheet, being careful not to create creases in the fabric, and use an overhead light. If needed, you can roll up a towel in a “U” shape and put it under the head to get the right position.

Then, you’ll just have to attract the baby’s attention and take a few pictures.

Use a car seat

Place a plain white sheet on a car seat and sit the child on it. Straighten away any creases and use a frontal light. Be careful not to obstruct the light and take a picture at the child’s eye level.

If there are any shadows in the passport picture, move the seat to a more evenly lit room and try again.

Use a passport photo app

Take a frontal photo of the baby and upload it to Passport Photo Online. We’ll make sure that there are no unwanted shadows and set up the appropriate background automatically. After checking that the image complies with all the official guidelines, we’ll send the digital version back to you immediately.

Taking passport pictures for a baby can finally be stress-free.


What makes a passport photo invalid?

A passport photo will be rejected if the requirements are not met to the letter. The wrong size ratio, passport photo shadows, or incorrect positioning are only a few of the reasons that can invalidate your passport photos.

How do I know if my passport photo is okay?

Check if it follows all the requirements provided by the State Department. To be 100% sure, upload it to Passport Photo Online and have it checked by AI and a human expert.

What should I avoid in my passport photo?

For a US passport photo, you should avoid shadows and uneven lighting, patterns on the background, wearing glasses, non-religious head coverings, or uniforms.

Passport photo shadows—closing thoughts

The US Department of State is very strict regarding shadows in passport photos. If a picture is not evenly lit and properly exposed, they will consider it invalid for a passport application. Your passport photo will get rejected if it has:

  • Shadows on the face
  • Shadows on the neck
  • Shadows under the chin
  • Shadows in the background

The only shadows that will not cause rejection are small ones cast by the ears.

You can avoid all mistakes and save yourself some time by using useful online tools, such as Passport Photo Online. Take a perfect passport photo easily with a 100% compliance guarantee.

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