How to Make Your Own Passport Photos

Take Your Own Passport Photos

Make Your Own Passport Photos

Many people are unhappy with their passport photos. Local printing stores like Kinkos do a pretty crappy job, and you don’t have much say in how the photo comes out. My old passport photo looked horrible; I was making a strange face, plus I was sunburned.

Recently I learned that you can make passport photos on your own, and I wanted to share the process with you. As long as you meet the government’s passport photo requirements, you can use a photo taken by you or a friend/family member.

The other reason I decided to renew my passport was because application & renewal fees are going up from $75 to $110 on July 13th, 2010. So I decided to save a few bucks while at the same time receiving a crisp, blank book for when I start my year long trip around the world.

What You Need

  • Digital Camera with Flash
  • White or Off-White Wall
  • Basic Photo Editing Software

For this tutorial, I will be using Adobe Photoshop. But any photo editing software should work, although the name and location of the tools might be different. If you don’t have a wall in your house that is suitable, you can hang a white or off-white sheet from something and use it as a make-shift photography studio.

The Original Photo

The Original Photo

Step #1

First, line up your camera directly in front of the subject at head level. Have the subject stand about 2 or 3 feet away from the wall to avoid harsh shadows from your flash. Try and take the photos in a bright, sunlit room which will also help to avoid harsh shadows from your flash on the wall behind the subject. Keep taking photos until you are happy with the lighting and the subject’s facial expression.

Step #2

Now it’s time to open up your image in Photoshop or some other photo editing software. You need to crop the photo to the right dimensions as specified in the government’s requirements. United States passport photos must be 2″ tall by 2″ wide. The length of the subject’s head from chin to the top of the head must be between 1″ and 1 3/8″. We can use the photo software to measure the distance, and crop by the right amount to ensure all these requirements are met.

Find The Ruler Tool

Find The Ruler Tool

In Photoshop, I’m going to use the Ruler Tool to measure the distance from my chin to the top of my head. The Ruler Tool is located under the Eyedropper Tool. Click and hold the Eyedropper button to show a menu with the Ruler Tool in it. (see screenshot above)

Step #3

Now that you have the Ruler Tool selected, click on the chin of your subject and drag a line up to the top of their head in the photo. Do this while holding down the SHIFT KEY to make a straight line. Next, read the length value that is showing in the title bar. For my version of Photoshop, the value I am looking for is under the heading L1. The value is in pixels, so in my case it reads L1: 836.00 or 836 pixels.

Measure Length of Head

Measure Length of Head

Step #4

To make sure the subject’s head is the right length when we’re done, some math has to be calculated. The requirement says that the head has to be between 1″ and 1 3/8″. To be safe, I’ll use 1.1 inches. First, take the length of the head in pixels (836 in my case) and divide it by 1.1. This will give you your DPI (dots per inch). So for me: 836 / 1.1 = 760

Now because your final image will be 2″ by 2″, you need to double your DPI number. So for me: 760×2 = 1520

Step #5

Find the Marquee Select Tool in Photoshop or something similar in your particular image editing program. After you find the tool and select it, look for the Style options in the title bar up top and choose the Fixed Size setting. Enter the number you just calculated earlier into the boxes for width and height, for me it was: 1520 px.

Now that you’ve entered in the values, click on the photo with the Marquee Select Tool and a box with those settings will appear. Position the box so that the subject’s head is right in the middle of it. Once this is done, hit CTRL-C (or CMD-C for Mac) to make a copy of the contents of the box.

Use Marquee Select Tool

Use Marquee Select Tool

Step #6

Next you are going to create a new 4″ by 6″ photo template. Go to the File menu and select New. Set the dimensions of the new template to a width of 6″ and a height of 4″. Set the resolution to the first value you calculated earlier, which was 760 DPI in my case (before you doubled it). This will ensure that your photo will be the right size for printing. Now click OK to open the new template.

Create New Passport Photo Template

Create New Photo Template

Step #7

Press CTRL-V (or CMD-V for Mac) to paste the photo onto your new template. Move it over to the left a little. Now repeat and paste a second copy onto the template and move it over to the right. Save the image as a JPG and bring it to your local photo printer (Walmart, Walgreens, etc.) on a CD or flash drive. Print it as a 4×6 photo and then cut out both the 2″ by 2″ squares to send in with your passport application.

That’s it!

Cut Squares Out of Print

Cut Squares Out of 4×6 Print

Matthew Karsten is the Expert Vagabond. Addicted to adventure travel and photography, he's on a mission to inspire your next journey with entertaining stories, beautiful images, and useful tips. Vagabonding around the world since 2010. Follow along! Email Updates | Facebook | Twitter |

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Tell Me What You Think!

Comment Rules: Critical comments are fine, but rude ones will be deleted. Have fun, and thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • http://www.hotelssydney.com.au/ Sydney

    Thanks for this. I’m gonna renew my passport in a couple months so this might be helpful.

  • http://www.gearupandplay.com Michael

    wow, nice job with this tutorial. I just read it because I’m trying to write some tutorials myself and I’m finding pictures help a ton. Still, I think I’ll just look crappy in my passport haha. I don’t care but I know some people do/

  • David

    I do the same for our passport photos.

    Plus, we make up a bundle of extra photos and wrap them in plastic and take them with us so we have visa photos or week travel pass photos or whatever, wherever we are, if we need them.

    On the other hand, we had photos taken in Delhi at a photographers and that memory is priceless.

    • http://expertvagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I also have 4-6 passport sized photos printed out as backup for visas, etc. :-)

  • Philip

    I like this. My passport is good for a couple more years though. Since I am going to Latin America for several months I was wondering if you can do a new passport photo this way to use for visas? Obviously it would be a different photo than I had done for my passprt several years ago. Thanks for the tutorial!

    • http://expertvagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Yes, you can use them for visas too.

  • Peter

    This is very good.
    But if somebody doesn’t have Photoshop?
    I suggest a quickly way.
    There are many sites on the internet where anybody can create a valid passport photo.
    For example idphoto4you.com or passportphoto.co.il.
    IDPhoto4You uses faced detection and includes a very smart crop frame.

    • Sharad

      Thank you. The site is excellent and very easy to use.

  • Law_A

    Thanks so much for the tutorial! I went to find two separate stores to get photos taken but they were both closed-maybe from the crappy economy? Anyway, I just sent off my passport renewal thanks to you. Tutorial was clear, well written, and worked like a charm. The only part I had trouble with was changing the ruler from inches to pixels (I do not use Photoshop) but found the answer soon enough. Thanks again. (And my photo still looks like crap…haha)

  • http://www.cobwebinc.com Roy

    Thanks so much. Very clever method and it worked like a charm. This saved me $19.40!! Great job!!

  • http://www.epassportphoto.com Tom Green

    Hi Matthew – nice job! next time if you want a bit less of a hassle don’t hesitate using our humble ePassportPhoto.com for making these free passport photos.

    Cheers,
    –tom