How to Take Passport Photos You’ll Actually Like

Photo by Füm™ on Unsplash

What is it about bureaucracy that makes taking a good photo so darn difficult? When it comes to work or social situations, we have no problem posing for an occasional picture—heck, even a selfie session can be fun once in a while. But tell us a photo will be preserved for years in an official document, and suddenly we forget how to make any sort of normal facial expression. Fortunately, our history of embarrassing photos has motivated us to learn all we can about how to take better ones so that all of our future passports are picture-perfect. Here are a few of our best tips. 

Flattering Your Features

You don’t have to go full glam to look good in your passport photo. While you can certainly wear some makeup (especially if you plan to wear makeup while traveling), anything too bold is generally not recommended. Red lips and false eyelashes, for example, can drastically alter the way a person looks, making it difficult for airport security to confirm that their identity matches the one on their passport. Instead, choose a natural look that highlights your features without camouflaging them.

How to Dress

As clothing is largely not visible in passport photos, there aren’t a lot of rules about what is and is not allowed, so you can essentially wear anything that you feel comfortable in. The only exception is uniforms, which can only be worn by diplomats or flight crew members with special approval. While not explicitly forbidden, we also recommend steering clear of white clothing, as it can blend in with the background and leave you with a photo of a floating head. Hats and head coverings are also forbidden unless they’re for religious or medical reasons.

Getting the Right Facial Expression

Capturing a facial expression that you’re happy with can take a bit of practice, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Smiling with teeth is technically allowed in the United States, but cheesy grins can make it difficult for facial recognition software to confirm the identities of those traveling with biometric passports. Ultimately, you’re better off with a pleasant, yet neutral expression. Practice in front of a mirror by thinking about something that makes you smile softly until you land on a look that you’re happy with.