Unhappy with your photos? Learn how to make your own passport photos with this helpful tutorial. The same process can work for international visas too.
Local printing stores like Kinkos can do a pretty crappy job on passport photos, you don’t have much say in how the photo comes out.
My old passport photo looked horrible; I was making a strange face and I was sunburned. But I had no other options, or so I thought.
Make Passport Photos
Recently I learned 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 yourself 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. 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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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! Enjoy.
READ NEXT: What to Do About Laundry While Traveling?
Have any questions about taking your own passport photos? Drop me a message in the comments below!