Another Money-Saver: Take Your Own Passport/Visa Photos


Whoa I look so young there! (27 seems so far away…)

i’ve been doing my own passport/visa photos for quite a while now, since 2005 when i had a coworker take a picture of me against an office wall for my German student visa. since then, it’s saved me quite a fistful of dollars what with a new passport and a number of visas that have required photo submissions. from what i remember, passport photos were going for $10+ for two (four?) and more often than not you end up looking like you were just arrested for drunk and disorderly. not that i’m a stunner in these DIY ones, but i’d like to think they’re somewhat better.

rather, you can get 6 shots of yourself for the low, low price of around 29 cents plus tax if you have the right tools. and, perhaps even better, you can take and retake the picture to make sure you look halfway decent. double bonus: with so many left over, they’re handy to pack along with you in case you run into an instance where you need one while traveling. there are, of course, other ways to do this, but here’s, briefly, what i do via my minimal skills in Photoshop. (there are a TON of tutorials online that go into far more detail than mine here.)

what you’ll need

  • a digital camera with a self-timer function or someone who can take your picture for you
  • an image editing program like Photoshop, but you could probably do it in Paint as well if you’re determined and handy
  • good scissor skills or a utility knife

The final product. I don’t even care how I look in these anymore — I didn’t even do my hair!

what you’ll do

  • take a picture of yourself. you can use a tripod but i just put the camera on the dresser and shoot myself in front of the closet door. remember you will need a white or off-white background and that you need more than to frame your face, but your neck and some shoulder as well.
    • PROTIP: if you have a camera with a lens that zooms, you might want to try taking the picture with it zoomed in a bit because it will likely remove some of the distortion. if you’re zoomed out the center of the image may be larger than the edges since the lens is squeezing in all of the surrounding area, making your nose look big. zooming in some makes things less distorted and your schnoz will look more rightly-sized.  (thanks to friend Brian for pointing this out on a shot i took of myself for an art project — my nose was ginormous! he had a name for this but i forgot what it was.)
    • remember you’re not taking a selfie. no duck lips, please!
  • once you’re done load the photo into your image editor. select and crop a square that has your head in the center and a bit of your shoulders in it. in Photoshop, holding down the shift key while you select will constrain the selection to a square. note the State Department has guidelines on the size of your head in the shot — be sure to follow them. i have a bad habit of making my head too large. if you don’t have enough neck/shoulders available in your original photo to select, you’ll need to retake.
  • at this point you should have a square photo that resembles the guidelines in terms of the position and size of your head. now, resize this square to 2″ for printing. set the image size to 2″ high, 2″ wide, at 300 pixels per inch (see dialog box below). once you’ve resized it, select the entire image and copy it to the clipboard. somewhere around this stage i do some basic color correction — usually my images are too dark. you’re not allowed to retouch the photos.
Your face will be on the left!

Your face will be on the left!

  • create a new image that’s 4″ wide, 6″ high, and 300 pixels per inch.
  • you now have six slots for your images. if you’re familiar with Photoshop, use Rulers/Guides and Snap to help you position your square shots correctly. paste and position your headshots six times.
  • save your image as a JPEG and voila, six passport photos ready to be printed! if you don’t have a color photo printer at home (which i imagine are the majority of people out there), just print it out at your local drugstore. almost all of them have some method to upload a picture online and get it printed out. my local one does it in less than an hour for 29 cents + tax. chances are low that you will need more than the six shots you get for the price of one photo (if you do, kudos!), since most countries require a photo that’s been taken in the last six months. i’ve been able to sneak some in that were like a year old, but a friend has told me that for my upcoming visa application (for India) they actually rejected her first submission because they saw the same photo she submitted on another visa she got more than six months prior. BE WARNED!

    Their tax calculator is wrong, it was actually 32 cents total, but the lady at the store let me go with 31 cents since that's all I brought in from my cupholder.

    Their tax calculator is wrong, it was actually 32 cents total, but the lady at the store let me go with 31 cents since that’s all I brought in from my cupholder.

  • once you’re all done, just cut your six photos out and you’re good to go! i have an x-acto knife and a cutting board from my graphic design student days (i did a couple night classes; it was really fun!). yes, it sounds like a lot of steps but once you get used to the process, you can do it all in less than 15 minutes total.


9 Comments on "Another Money-Saver: Take Your Own Passport/Visa Photos"

  1. Great minds think alike. I did the exact same thing (Walgreens and all) for a metro pass which needed a photo last month. I hadn’t thought about doing it for my passport or visa applications, but I will now. Thanks for this.

    Speaking of Passport Photos, So true about how bad they can be. Mine looks atrocious, and there are no “do overs.”

  2. This post was incredibly useful 🙂 I will be making my own photos from this day forward. Thanks!

  3. Try, its much simpler, easier and you can do all the mods on a smartphone. Once you’re ready you can print 4 copies at Office Max/Office Depot for $1.

  4. won’t work in Canada…. different laws here

  5. Just made mine. In my area CVS does these for 19 cents each!

    Now I hope the US India Consulate accepts them!

    I am far from a good photographer but I think these are OK according to their guidelines. Fingers crossed!

1 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Need a Passport Photo? Make Your Own! |

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.