Passport Pictures for Under a Dollar
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.
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.
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.
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