Getting a Proper Passport Photo is NOT as Easy as You Think!

Passport photos

So, taking a proper passport photo should be pretty simple right? You go to the place that offers that service, you stand there, they take a photo, print it, cut it and voila! Not so fast…


Not as simple as you think. At least for me. Today. (It can be simple if you follow some simple steps – outlined below)


My daughter needs a passport for our upcoming trip to Europe (see BLOG about the documentation and steps you need to take to get your passport here). We got all of our documentation together and went to take a passport photo at Costco. Here is said Costco passport photo (below). They brought out a stool so that I could prop her up. It was cheap… less than 10 dollars and the lady was super nice BUT I had a sneaking suspicion the photo wasn’t going to be acceptable. (I was right)




Here are tips from the U.S. Department of State on what is acceptable and what is not for passport photos.


Some things to keep in mind for children:

  • No other person can be in the photo (that includes your hands holding baby – we had to do Jackson’s first passport photo lying on the ground on a white towel – also at Costco)
  • They need to look directly into the camera, the background must be white or off-white and free of shadows
  • If baby’s eyes are not entirely open it’s okay (especially for newborns), a smile is OKAY.  A lot of passport photo places will say “You are not allowed to smile.” However, the passport office said it was okay and that they have never had a passport application returned because someone was smiling in their photo. The link above to the tips from the Department of State also say a “natural smile” is acceptable. 


So, today about an hour before my passport appointment (which is super hard to secure here in Hawaii), I decided to go to Longs Drugs to get another passport photo taken of Waipuna (just in case). No one was manning the camera area of the store so I waited a good ten minutes before even being helped. The guy comes over and says under his breath, “I hope the camera is working.” GREAT.


He grabs the camera and it is falling apart. I mean, the batteries are being held in with scotch tape. “Old school” digital camera… he said as much. We grabbed a stool so that Waipuna could stand on it in front of the white background. He snapped some shots but she was smiling super duper adorably cute in ALL of them! He said, “She’s not allowed to smile.” That was a little irritating because I want her to look super duper adorably cute in her FIRST passport photo! lol


We checked out the photos and the ONLY photo where she wasn’t smiling was this one. Seriously?! It doesn’t even look like her. lol




I said… “Well, it’s kind of pointing up her nose from a weird angle.” He ignored me and proceeded to print it out. If I knew the passport photos there were $13 – I probably would have insisted he take another but we were having so much trouble with the camera (the first set of photos he took didn’t even show up on the card) that I decided to just go with the flow. After all, I was being kind of vain. lol


We get to the passport appointment and the passport lady says that the Costco photo isn’t positioned correctly and her face is too close. The background also had shadows so she asks if we have another. Why YES, I do! I bring it out and she says the background is gray and it’s supposed to be white. As I left Longs Drugs, the guy gave me a special receipt and said “If for some reason this photo isn’t good enough, come back and we can take another.” Soooooo, I decided it was in everyone’s best interest for us to re-take the photo.


We went to a different Longs because I thought they might have a camera that wasn’t broken… and perhaps better lighting. I also had my husband along at this point (you need both parents to be present to get a baby their first  passport) so I figured he could hold up his camera phone flash to help out. LOL


We get there and the lady that “greets” us at the camera section is clearly not happy to be there. She says under her breath several times “I gotta go to the gym. I’m on overtime right now.” GREAT. She goes to get a stool (at our request) and it is WAY too short for baby to stand on and still be in front of the white background so I end up holding baby and kind of balancing her on my hands. The pictures were great but her hands were in them and we weren’t sure if that was acceptable or not, so we had her take another set of photos where I balanced baby on one hand and held her hands down with the other. MONEY SHOT! The background was still kind of gray, but at least it was “whiter” than the first photo … and she actually looked like herself! The first photo looks like an entirely different baby!




All is well, that ends well. We went back to the passport office where the employee graciously allowed us to go get a new passport photo and return without making a new appointment. She had already completed all of the paperwork so I paid my 25 bucks cash and wrote my 80 dollar check and was out of there in 2 minutes flat.


Passport Photo Tips (Things I wish I thought of (or knew) before all of this)

(1) White background is necessary.

(2) Smiling is ok.

(3) Just because you get a passport photo done at a place that advertises “passport photos” – doesn’t mean it’s going to be acceptable.

(4) Don’t be afraid to guide the shoot with your knowledge and requests.

(5) They give you 2 or 4 photos depending on where you go – maybe ask for a couple different photos? It’s all digital, shouldn’t cost them anything extra…

(6) My friend Tiff used an online service where you can take your own photo with a white background and easily correct the dimensions based on your country. She said it was super simple! She then brought the digital version to Costco and had it printed but you can also just print it to photo paper right at home.  (Click HERE for a direct link)

(7) For infants that can’t keep their heads up, you can either lay a white backdrop on the ground and put baby on top or drape a white blanket or towel on a carseat and take the photo that way.


Passport photos

Passport photos


Lesson learned.


Life’s (still) swell … ;)


**Blog about the upcoming “Passport Acceptance Fair” on Maui where you can get in and out without an appointment in just minutes!**





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One Response

  1. Candi says

    Wow! I gotta get my passport too…lots to do…Mahalo for the heads up…Aloha!ch