Does your passport photo still look like you?

My boyfriend got his current passport on his 17th birthday. Now on the verge of his 27th year, the picture inside barely resembles him. He changed and grew as stamps were added, but his passport photo remained the same. His shaggy, teenage hair has morphed into a more clean cut look, and these days his face is looking a little less tan and a little more grown up. But somehow, customs agents are able to look underneath his current five o’clock shadow to recognize he is still the same person he was nearly ten years ago.

Do you still look like the “former you” in your passport? Do you ever get nervous in security lines wondering if the agent will question whether or not your documents are the real deal? A joint photo project called Passport and Reality by Suren Manvelyan and Biayna Mahari that was brought to our attention by Flavorwire is collecting passport photos and comparing them to current looks. Some of the photos are simply bad mug shots, while others show just how much people change over the years. Click through the gallery below to see what I mean: passport photos are on the left, while present-day portraits are on the right.

[Photos courtesy Passport and Reality / Behance Network]

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 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”.

Passport photos for cheap

Passport photos seem to be one of those things that you always have to get when traveling. They aren’t just used for your passport; you need them for visas, international driver’s licences and other random forms of identification. I remember when I studied abroad in France I had to supply 15 passport photos for all kinds of different paper work and ID cards. The problem is, they don’t run cheap.

Nora Dunn over at Vagabondish wrote Passport Pictures for Under a Dollar, explaining how to make your own passport photos with your digital camera. Keep in mind that not all places will accept homemade passport photos, but according to Dunn, she’s already managed to use these photos for several forms of ID.

Anyone else made their own passport photos?