How To Make Your Own Passport Photos - Optimized

One of the unexpected areas of expertise we have developed is in the area of passport photos.  We have of course needed them for keeping the passports updated, but in our lives, they are needed for many other events: long-stay visas, visas that you need to buy before arriving at the border, even lots of official documents such as driver's licenses still use a "bring your own passport photo" policy where we live.  I have at least 4 passport photos in my current passport, associated with various visas.  So we keep several on hand, just in case.

When I was in college, I went to a Mailboxes, Etc, and paid about $13 for two passport photos.  They were awful and the source of many a border guard's amusement for the next ten years of travels.  Thankfully, digital photo technology has progressed to a more convenient and less expensive way to fill this function.  So here are a few things we've learned about efficiently creating your passport photos:

1.  Chose a big blank background and shoot a bunch of photos with a "more than you think necessary" margin of blank space around you.  You can always crop later.

(1a.)  For newborns:  All three of our kids had their first passport photos taken in their first week of life.  Method:  Put a white sheet on the bed.  Swaddle the kid up tight, and lay them awake on their back on the white sheet.  Fire away.  Choose the one (and there will likely only be one) with eyes open and both ears visible.

2.  Load the picture into Picasa or editing program of your choice.  Crop with a square dimension.  Aim to get the total head height about half of the total picture height.  Err on the side of a smaller head if necessary, because these things are often cut further when getting used.  This is a further reason to give yourself a generous white margin at the outset.

3.  Whiten the background.  We just learned this one, as the Burundian visa office's scanner was having trouble with our off-white/greyish background.  It can't be too white.  The Picasa "highlight" function works well.

4.  Make a JPG with a 2x3 grid of your square photo.  This will come out perfectly in a 4x6 photo as 6 standard size passport photos.  Alternatively, Picasa's collage function works well in a grid if you set the collage size to 4x6.  Save photo and print.  VoilĂ !  Six photos for about 28 cents.  Here's our recent one (Rachel got spot 6 because she's the most likely to travel again the soonest.)