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If you don’t have a U.S. passport or it’s up for renewal, you’re required to submit a current passport photo with your application. Passport photos have specific dimension requirements, but if you've got your own camera and some cropping skills, you may be wondering: “Can I take my own passport photo?” The answer is yes.
Though you can pay to have your photo taken at a service facility like a U.S. Postal Service office or at a pharmacy like Walgreens or CVS, it might cost you $15 or more. You can avoid that expense by learning to take your own passport photo at home. Here’s what you need to know.
U.S. passport photo requirements
The U.S. Department of State has strict requirements for passport photos. Submitting a photo that’s then rejected can result in delays with your application or renewal, which could potentially disrupt your travel plans. To avoid this headache, note these passport photo specifications:
Taken within the past six months.
A clear image of your face in full lighting.
Facial and body orientation is centered and head-on with a neutral expression.
Plain white or off-white solid background without lines or texture.
2 by 2 inches; your head must be 1-1⅜ inches in the frame.
If submitting a digital photo, you’ll still need to adhere to the above criteria, with some nuances regarding size and format.
Digital photos should be in a JPEG format, a minimum of 600 x 600 pixels and at least 54 kilobytes. The State Department has an online tool that automatically crops digital passport photos to the correct size, so make sure to leave enough room around your head for this feature.
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Common issues that get passport photos rejected
Figuring out how to take a passport photo correctly can be a learning curve, and sometimes your submitted photo might be rejected. Aside from issues regarding the criteria above, a photo might be denied because:
It’s edited or has a filter.
It’s blurry or grainy.
It’s overexposed or underexposed.
It has red-eye.
It includes shadows or other objects.
It doesn’t depict your true skin tone.
It’s damaged, creased or smudged.
Your expression wasn’t neutral.
Your face and body weren’t centered.
Your face is too close or too far.
Your eyes are closed.
An object obstructed your face, like glasses, a hat or your hair.
Your attire resembles a uniform.
Glasses, including prescription glasses, must be removed for the photo. Jewelry, permanent tattoos or piercings that don’t conceal your face are acceptable when taking passport photos.
And although hats and head coverings are generally not allowed, you can keep them on if they’re for daily religious or medical use. Your full face must be visible, however, and you’ll need to provide a signed statement attesting to the hat or head covering's religious purpose or submit a signed doctor’s note.
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How to take a passport photo at home
If you’re comfortable taking a DIY photo, here’s how you can take your own passport photo from the comfort of your home.
1. Decide on your attire
Choose an outfit that you’d typically wear in public on a normal day and doesn’t hide your face from view. For example, wearing a bathrobe would likely not be appropriate nor would a sweatshirt with a hood that’s on your head.
Garments that look like uniforms, including military fatigues, are not permitted. Remember to remove glasses and move aside hair that hides any part of your face.
2. Set up your shot
Find a location with a smooth, white or off-white wall. Digitally cropping out your background and replacing it with a white background isn’t allowed, so it’s best to start with a blank canvas when scouting locations.
Check the light exposure in the area, ensuring there’s ambient lighting where you plan to take your photo. Because shadows aren’t accepted, don’t stand directly in harsh sunlight (which also might cause your eyes to squint). Instead, stand in an area that receives soft lighting.
Selfies are not accepted for passport photos, so use a tripod or have someone help you capture your photo.
Whether you’re setting up your camera on a tripod or asking someone to help, ensure the center of the frame is level with your eyes. The camera angle shouldn’t be above or below your head.
Digital photos that are submitted online require extra white space around your head for the auto-cropping tool.
3. Take multiple photos
Once your shot is set up, your face and shoulders should be square with the camera so your photos have a full-face view. Remember to keep a natural and neutral expression, which means keeping your eyes open and mouth closed.
Take multiple photos so you can choose the one you like best. After a few shots, look at your photos to see whether you need to adjust your pose, the lighting or other details.
4. Size your image and print your passport photo
Now you’ll need to size your image. If you’re submitting your passport photo in person or through the mail, you’ll need to print it in the appropriate size and on the correct paper type. It needs to be 2 by 2 inches and printed on matte or glossy photo paper.
If you want to avoid having to find the right paper and sizing the photo yourself, you can order your digital passport prints online at a site like Walmart’s photo center or 123passportphoto.com, though this will cost you money.
If you’re submitting a digital passport photo online for renewal, you can skip this step because the State Department’s passport photo tool will crop your image for you.
5. Submit your passport photo
If you’re applying by mail, staple your printed 2-by-2-inch photo in the designated area on your passport application. Staples should be placed along the side edge of your photo.
When applying for a passport at an acceptance facility, bring your passport photo, and the associate will affix your photo to your paperwork.
When submitting a renewal online, upload the photo into the photo tool. It will size and crop your image to meet the guidelines.
You’ll have a chance to review the cropped photo and approve it or change it. The Department of State performs another review of the photo to ensure it fits all the requirements.
» Learn more: How to minimize mix-ups on your first trip abroad
Final thoughts on taking your own passport photo
Taking your own passport photo at home might sound complicated, but it’s easier than it seems if you stick to the rules.
Follow the steps above and you’ll be on your way to completing your passport application before your next international getaway.
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