How to take a passport photo with your phone: a step-by-step guide

Gone are the days of having to go to your local Walgreens and sit in a white box to have your passport photo taken. You can create high-quality, government-accepted passport photos using your smartphone. You probably already have all the gear at home, so what are you waiting for?

Equipment for taking passport photos with a phone

To save you from having to go to an ID photo booth, you can take your ID photo at home with just a few pieces of equipment. You shouldn’t need anything special, but if you do, it’s listed here:

How to take a passport photo with your smartphone

With the right equipment, it doesn’t take much to create passport photos with your smartphone. Just follow these simple steps to take a great looking passport photo in the palm of your hand.

Step 1: Erase your face

According to your country’s guidelines, remove facial jewelry, temporary modifications, hats, and glasses. You can keep any religious headgear or medical devices on, but make sure your face is visible.

You can wear modest or natural makeup, but don’t wear extreme makeup or hairstyles. Hairstyles should not cover your face more than just bangs and your hair should flow naturally into the frame. Check the US passport photo requirements to be sure and remember that different countries may have different requirements.

Step 2: Find a bright background and neutral lighting

Stand or sit (no chair visible) in neutral lighting with a white or off-white background. Stand a few feet away from the background to ensure there is no harsh shadow behind you.

Your skin should be illuminated as its natural color without colored tints or dark shadows. Synchronize your photo session with the sun to avoid too strong lighting or golden hues. While golden hour is a great time for portraits, the passport office won’t appreciate it.

Step 3: Set up your phone

Use the back camera of your phone as it is a better quality camera than the front one. If you’re taking your photo alone with a tripod, place a mirror behind your phone, so you can see your screen and adjust your placement. Set your phone to portrait orientation for photos.

Using a tripod may take longer to initially set the composition, but you can ensure that it won’t change once it’s set. If you have a friend taking the photo, they can easily and quickly crop the photo whenever needed.

You should not use any filters or effects on your camera. Just use the standard camera, without zoom or with portrait mode enabled. Use your phone’s default camera and not third-party apps to ensure no other effects appear.

Step 4: Compose your photo

Turn on your camera’s grid lines and sit or stand so that your head is in the middle of the frame and your shoulders are at the bottom. While passport requirements specify a certain amount of spacing around your head, it’s best to shoot the photo with more than enough space rather than trying to achieve exact spacing when composing the frame.

Make sure the camera is pointed straight and square to your face, so there are no up, down or sideways angles. Take a test shot to check the lighting, angle, and background. Review it and change anything that needs fixing. Note that you may need to move the location to resolve lighting issues when working with natural light.

Step 5: Take the photo

Once your shot is composed, you can take your photo. Remember to maintain a neutral expression and not to smile. Look directly at the camera lens.

Capture multiple photos. If you’re using your phone’s self-timer and a tripod, enable burst mode. This ensures that you have multiple shots to choose from and don’t just get one shot with your eyes closed. Here’s how to take, view, and share burst mode photos on iPhone.

If you have a friend taking your photo, they should take multiple photos before reviewing, or they can also use burst mode. It doesn’t matter if the photos are not completely straight or cropped correctly; they can be cropped and straightened later.

Step 6: Review your photos

Before you pretend you’re done and put everything away, you should check the photos to find at least two that fit. As mentioned, some smoothing or cropping can be done, so focus on how your face looks. Is he free of hair, jewelry and glasses? Are your eyes open? Are you focused?

If you find two or more photos where the answer is “yes”, move on.

Step 7: Change your passport photo

The biggest recommendation is not to alter your passport photo; however, there are small exceptions. Straightening or cropping your photo according to your country requirements can be done easily without negative effects. This can often be done with your phone’s native editing features.

Before modifying, check your country’s government website for size and other factors you’ll need to know. Not all countries are equal and some are updated every year. The United States currently requires photos to be printed 2 x 2 inches. Your head should be between 1 and 1 3/8 inches from bottom of chin to top of head when printed.

For slightly more complex editing, you’ll probably need a photo-editing app, like Adobe Photoshop Express (which is free) or Lightroom for mobile.

If your background is not white enough, you can change the white balance to get the correct tone. Beware of affecting your skin color as it should remain natural. And if you had minor distractions in your background, use a clone tool to remove them to make sure the background is the same color.

Tracking required metrics can be tricky from a phone app. If you have access to a computer, you can import your photo into Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or Photopea to crop and resize it properly.

Step 8: Print your passport photo

Some countries allow online passport renewal, in which case you will not need a printed copy of your passport photo. But if you need it printed, it’s easy to do. From a home printer, you can print your passport photo on matte or glossy photo paper.

From your phone or computer’s print settings, set the photo to 100%, so it doesn’t stretch or distort to the wrong size. If you need multiple copies, and it’s never a bad idea to have some, set your print settings to repeat. Print a test on normal copy paper to check that the sizing is correct before printing on more expensive photo paper.

Once printed, cut them out with scissors and a steady hand. You can also use a Cricut machine or a guillotine. It’s often a good idea to keep one or two printed copies of your portrait, in case you need them during your trip.

Create passport photos from the palm of your hand

With any modern smartphone, you can save time, money and embarrassment by taking your passport photos from the comfort of your own home. It’s easy to do alone, and probably even easier to do with a friend. You do not need any special equipment and you will only have to leave your home to walk to your mailbox to file the application.

Jack C. Nugent