Ten passport photos that look like mug shots

No one really knows how to take the best passport photos. To smile, or not to smile? It’s a question we all ask ourselves, but usually not until we’re half a second from that snap of the camera which will define our official “look” for the next ten years. The result? We tend to look confused, undecided, and in some cases, mildly criminal.

Click through the gallery below for ten passport photos which look like they were taken in the clink, and the crimes the “offenders” look like they committed.

(Sorry, but if you post your passport photo on Flickr under the creative commons license, you are kind of asking for this):


You can avoid this fate. While most of us go to the local drug store or the post office to get the picture done (we want to make sure all the guidelines are met), you can take the passport photo in the comfort of your own home. Here are the official passport photo guidelines (via travel.state.gov):Proper Lighting Arrangement

  • Position light sources on both sides of subject to avoid shadows on face.
  • Use a light source to illuminate background behind subject to avoid
  • shadows in background.

Camera/Subject Position

  • Place camera approximately 4 ft (120 cm) from the subject.
  • Have camera at subject’s eye level.
  • Position subject facing the camera.

Photograph Print Properties

  • Produce 2 inch x 2 inch (51 mm x 51 mm) color photo.
  • Print photo on thin photo paper or stock.
  • Ensure the print is clear and has a continuous tone quality.
  • Do not retouch or otherwise enhance or soften photo.

7 Steps to Successful Photos

  • Frame subject with full face, front view, eyes open.
  • Make sure photo presents full head from top of hair to bottom of chin; height of head should measure 1 inch to 13⁄8 inch (25 mm to 35 mm).
  • Center head within frame (see Figure 2 in the pdf linked above).
  • Make sure eye level is between 11⁄8 inch and 13⁄8 inch (28 mm and 35 mm) from bottom of photo.
  • Photograph subject against a plain white or off-white background.
  • Position subject and lighting so that there are no distracting shadows on the face or background.
  • Encourage subject to have a natural expression.

Further instructions and a handy diagram can be found in the government pdf.

[Top image by mexican 2000 via Flickr, other images in gallery as credited.]

Pack spare passport photos – International travel tip

When traveling abroad, it is a good idea to have an extra set of passport photos packed among your belongings.

In the event that your passport is lost or stolen, you can save valuable time by immediately taking these photos to the embassy or consulate when you apply for a replacement. Without the photos, you may find yourself frantically searching for a photo lab in a potentially unfamiliar city or town.

[Photo: Flickr | selmerv]

Cosmetic surgery tour group stopped at the border

A group of 23 Chinese women became stranded at the border of their own country when they tried to return home from a “cosmetic surgery vacation”.

The women had been visiting a Korean institute to get some work done on their eyes, nose and chin.

Obviously, they had not realized that this kind of work would make them look significantly different than their passport photo, and the entire group was stopped by immigration officials.

Eventually, document specialists were called in to examine their passport photos, and compare them with parts of their faces that had not had any work done. Of course, the healing wounds and stitches probably didn’t make things any easier. After several hours, the group was cleared to enter their own country.

Apparently, cosmetic surgery is becoming increasingly popular with Chinese women, who pay upwards of $3000 to have their faces altered to look more “western”.

How does your passport photo look?

I miss my old passport, the one I did much of my world travelling on, and not just because it is filled with colourful Visas from Southeast Asia. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but that passport had a great picture of me. With a wide grin on my face, I looked breezy and confident, a seasoned traveller who was loving life (tooooot!)

Then my passport expired, and I was told I couldn’t smile in the new photos. To avoid looking like I was just arrested, I tried to do a subtle-yet-coy smirk. The result was what is know known as the ‘smell the fart’ photo. Seriously, I look like I am taking a big old wiff of something and am trying to contain either my laughter or my disgust. Plus, what is with my hair? I’m not particularly vain (hey, I’ve posted it for the whole world to see — that’s at least slightly brave,) but I’ll admit I cringe a bit when the customs guy examines it more than for more than 2 seconds. At least I’m not the only one.

Apparently, you can do your own passport photos at home, which doesn’t do me much good because now I’ve got 5 years left until my current passport expires. But hey, that’s 5 years I can spend practicing ways to differentiate my ‘coy’ look from my ‘something stinks’ look.