Passport Pictures for Under a Dollar

by Nora Dunn on 26 February 2008 25 comments

As a traveler, very little irks me more than walking into a store and paying $7-12 for passport pictures. You need them not only for passports, but also visas, international driver’s licenses, and other miscellaneous pieces of photo id.

At about ten bucks a pop, this cost of traveling can add up. And ultimately all they do is sit you in front of a white background, take your picture with a digital camera, then crop and print out a few copies.

Ta-da: ten dollars please.

 

The good news is that with your own digital camera, you can make your own passport pictures with your digital camera and print them out for pennies on the dollar. Literally.

 

Step 1: Plain White Background

This is critically important. You can tweak the picture after the fact, but you must ensure you are starting with the closest thing to a plain white background you can find. Once, I went into a Long’s Drugstore and got permission to use their passport photo background. Projector screens (often found in the boardroom of your office), whiteboards, as well as white doors can also suffice.

Step 2: Don’t Use the Flash

Ideally your ambient light will be enough to get away without a flash. Even lighting is important, so an indoor setting with fluorescent light is ideal. If you use a flash, you may find the picture to be unevenly lit and too overexposed to be acceptable.

A flash might also create a shadow behind you, which is also unacceptable.

Step 3: No Hats, Hair Accessories, or Scarves

Glasses are of course allowed, but only if they are prescription glasses and not tinted.

Step 4: Frame the Shot

Passport pictures need to incorporate both shoulders, and require a little bit of space above the head. But you don’t even really need to worry about taking the perfect passport shot: that’s what photo editing is for.

 

photo kiosk

Step 5: Find a Photo Kiosk

Photo kiosks where you can insert a camera memory card, USB memory stick, or CD to select, edit, and print pictures on a touch-screen are becoming more and more commonplace these days. You can find them in department stores, drug stores, and some camera shops too.

And many of these kiosks even have an option to print “id photos”. This will produce a set of six 2x2 passport-sized photos on one convenient 4x6 print.

Step 6: Edit the Photo

Using the kiosk features, now is your chance to edit the picture to make it appropriate for a passport. Be sure to crop the bottom to just below your shoulders, and leave ¼ to ½ an inch of space above your head. Requirements are different in each country; your passport application will likely have the specifications you need to follow.

If the background isn’t absolutely white, then brighten the picture or add contrast to make it so.

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If the kiosk doesn’t have an “id photo” feature, it gets trickier, but is not impossible. Simply crop and frame the shot to ensure that you can cut the finished picture down to a passport size after the fact.

Step 7: Print

Some kiosks will print your pictures right in front of you, while others will send the information to the processor behind the counter for printing which can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the option you choose and amenities available in your area.

 

Step 8: Pay

This is the best part. I recently took some passport id pictures for a visa application, international driver’s license, and PADI scuba certification card. Five pictures were required in total. And for – get this – 32 cents, I took care of all the above with one shot left over for good measure. I’ll admit it took a few tries to get the shot right, and a little bit of editing time fiddling with the framing, brightness, and background, but the associate where I went was very helpful and assisted me in making the pictures acceptable, at no extra charge.

 

In fact, the associate who was helping me let me in on a little secret: this is exactly how they do it when you pay them to give you passport pictures. So with a little patience and a willingness to do it yourself, you can save big bucks and make your own passport photos for pennies on the dollar. Literally.

 

DISCLOSURE: Use this technique at your own risk, especially when applying for your passport. Some passport applications require the picture to be stamped on the back by the photographer, who in effect "certifies" the photograph. I am not sure about the legality of producing your own photos and skipping this step; the reality is your guarantor will sign the pictures anyway, so it should be acceptable. However, at worst your passport application may be declined due to inappropriate pictures.
However, I have indeed successfully used this technique for numerous other applications that require passport pictures.

Additional photo credit: Kalleboo
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Myscha Theriault's picture

That's a cool helpful post, Nora. I'm sure tons of people will benefit from it. Including myself. Thanks.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

I have done this before at home with photo paper and a color printer.  It seems that they accept the photos just fine without a photographer's stamp.  The kiosk seems even easier than setting up my own printer for the alignments and stuff though.

Guest's picture
S. Carvalho

I have done this before too with no issues. Even better, I save the edited passport photo at home and can print more out at CVS for 20c whenever I need them. If my parents need some for whatever reason, I can email them the image and they can get it printed where they are (My parents live overseas). I can also print different sizes to match different countries' requirements.
Not to mention I can retake them till I like the result, rather than put up with whatever the store employee takes. One caution, editing out spots or whatever should be a no-no.

Guest's picture
Wood-ridge CVS

Unfortunately, this did not work for CVS in Wood-ridge NJ. I made a 4x6 image at home using the computer to contain 6 pictures. CVS decided that since the content of the photo resembles passport photos, I have to pay $9 per image instead of $0.29. I walked away. My photos are not even for U.S. passport and it has different dimensional requirements.

Guest's picture
Guest

Another idea is to stand under a florescent lamp and take a big sheet of aluminum foil in such a way that you can see the reflections in your eye. Take the best photo and save 20$.

Guest's picture
Kim

AAA members can have passport pictures taken for pretty cheap. I see that there are instructions from the passport office on taking them yourself, but you have to be very exact on measurements and head placement, so look up the info and be careful and you should be okay doing your own.

Guest's picture
levyzen

AAA gold card members get free passport pics anytime they need them.

Guest's picture
Sarah

There's a free website to help you with the cropping: http://www.epassportphoto.com/

I haven't tried it out yet - I've been meaning to do it for a few weeks now - but it looks easier than cropping on my own.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have used http://www.epassportphoto.com for 4 passports (my entire family). It TOTALLY ROCKS!

You don't need to edit your picture at all. Just take the picture and upload it. Then there is a page where you drag a box to enclose your face. It produces a JPEG (picture) file that with six 2x2 inch images that you download to your computer. Then you just need to get it printed as a 4x6 print. The whole process is very simple and takes less than 5-minutes (depending on your internet connection speed).

They also have settings for many countries so you can, for example, use it for Spanish visa photos.

Guest's picture

Sarah beat me to the punch on linking to the website, but I posted on this topic in August 2007:

Friday Freebie: Passport Photos

My page also links to various requirements for EU vs. US sizing and includes information about biometric facial expressions, etc. which your readers might find useful.

Guest's picture
Ted

$0.14 at Target :D

Guest's picture
Sveta

I worked at Walgreens for several years in the photo department. We had transparencies of the passport picture guidelines that are put out by the government. I would imagine anyone could get those guidelines, and it wouldn't be too expensive to make a transparency - it helps you to measure and cut the picture correctly. The government handout would be very helpful, as they tell you exactly what quality of picture is expected! Also, we never stamped on the back of the photos, so I don't think that's necessary.

Guest's picture
Brandon

Before my honeymoon I went to a CVS and the closest option was "1.2x2". I brought the picture to the Post Office and was denied. I had to go back to CVS and print the "Passport" photo for $7. :(

Guest's picture
Tom Green

a quick update from ePassportPhoto... we just blogged on the latest from our communication with Walgreens. Believe it or not, these Walgreens allow themselves to censor the content of your photo - do you think this is legal?

Guest's picture
Maggie

I have also tried an online passport photo service ( ) and they did an awesome job. In my case, I wanted to use a beautiful photo that I had taken when I was visiting Italy last year. Since the photo background was all colorful and I did not know how to remove it, these guys at passportpictures.org are experts in removing unwanted background. For the job that they did the price was really affordable.

Maggie

Guest's picture
Sheron

Interestingly enough, I was going to use one of these free online passport photo services but just could not use them because the photo that I had did not have a white background. I fortunately, ran into passportpictures.org and they were able to produce a cool passport photo of my 4 year old son. It certainly cost more than a dollar, but it was well worth the price.

Sharon

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Thank you, recent commenters for your positive reviews of passportphoto.org. I'll have to check it out! I'm researching a new article about online passport photo carriers, which have popped up all over the place since this post was written. If any readers have other good online passport photo producers, please let me know in the comments!

Guest's picture
Sheron

Nora:

Since there are so many online passport photo websites with very similar names it is very easy to mistake them. On my note I was referring to http://www.passportpictures.org

I am sure a lot of people are benefiting from your blog. Congratulations!

Sharon

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Sharen - Thanks for the correction! I'm in the process of writing up a "part 2" to this article which profiles many of the online passport photo services and Sites. Stay tuned!

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Sheron - I'm a mess! Sorry for misspelling your name above. Please forgive me!

Guest's picture
Guest

You can create valid passport photos with http://idphoto4you.com website.
It knows numerous passport standards and print sizes.
It uses face detection so very easy to use.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have to second that, I used it to make visa passport size pictures for myslef and my three kids. The cheapest going rate now was 7.99 at Wal-Mart while Wal-Greens, my first choice was 10.99. 44.00!!! I damn near died and laughed the lady off. http://idphoto4you.com was a life saver and worked great for the kids, was easy to use and allowed you to edit the contrast and brightness. I found this thread trying to find out how to print them. Thanks Nora you are a second life and money saver.

Guest's picture
Guest

I used http://www.123passportphoto.com/. Besides the 4R sheet with multiple passport photos for printing, there is also a very large single passport photo suitable for online passport application.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Thanks for the above link! It does indeed appear to be a good service. Great resource!

Guest's picture
Kirtan

I found great online passport photo service.
http://www.onlinepassportphoto.com/

I got 6 high quality passport photos for as low as $7! And their service is great and very quick. Amazing!