How can I look semi-human in a passport photo?
August 25, 2009 7:11 AM   Subscribe

How can I look like the babe I am in my next passport-sized photograph?

I just had a passport-sized photo taken. It was taken by a bored gentleman at a government office who was hired for his admirable form-filling technique, not his photographic skills. This photograph will stare balefully from my wallet for the next few years.

Given the conditions of your average government photography outfit, what precautions can I take next time to avoid looking like a hungover dope fiend with far more ape in my recent ancestry than is appropriate?

The basic restrictions are: full face, no smile, ears showing, flourescent lighting, no special equipment and no second takes.

I'm looking for all sorts of advice, from photographers and people who photograph well.

All kinds of suggestions are welcome. Light makeup, if so what sort? (For what it's worth I have medium brown South Asian skin and strong features). Think happy thoughts? Think abstruse thoughts? Hair up or down? Dark clothing or light? Jewellery or no? Butt clench? Anime style wide-open eyes, or sultry drooping lids? Slap my cheeks before the photo? Look pale and interesting? Last minute checks I should make whilst in the waiting room? Etc.
posted by tavegyl to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Watch your chin angle--being shot with your chin up is horrifically unflattering. And as our good friend Tyra keeps ranting, smile with your eyes (think happy thoughts, or better, remember a great joke). Dark clothing probably better given your skin tone.

Seriously though, sometimes there's nothing you can my health card photo I look like I died three days ago and got imperfectly resurrected. I swear they purposely alter the colours to make you look sick or something...
posted by Go Banana at 7:18 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you a girl? I find that if I look at my face in a picture where I'm wearing a shirt that goes right up to my neck then my face looks fat, my neck looks short, and it's just not good. I would wear something more low cut, or a tanktop, so more of your neck and shoulders are exposed. And eyeliner and mascara - make your eyes pop even if the rest of you looks like you a convict. And don't smile, but maybe turn the sides of your lips up a tiny bit (so they can't accuse you of smiling), but so you're not grimacing by accident.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:29 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jewelry and make-up if you wear it. Keep facial shine down. Even though it's full-face there are slight head tilts that you can do. Practice in the mirror. Chin-up is bad, but the right chin position keeps you from looking droopy or jowly. Smile as much as they will let you; at least draw the corners of your mouth up.
posted by jgirl at 7:31 AM on August 25, 2009

There are a number of places that you can go for a passport sized photo (post offices, camera retailers, photo booths). They will all have different equipment and lighting. Try a few and pick the best.

As mentioned above, tilting your chin slightly downwards presents your face at a more flattering angle. It also forces you to open your eyes a little bit more if you are making eye contact with the camera.

Make sure you are relaxed but sitting up straight.
posted by quosimosaur at 7:32 AM on August 25, 2009

I don't know how it works in the UK, but for US and Australian passport, you can bring your own pictures, provided they fit their guidelines. I've taken pictures at home, made sure the lighting and angles were exactly what I wanted, and printed them for 30¢ or so at one of those digital printing kiosks (I printed it at 4x6 with 8 different copies, and cut them out).

There are even programs and websites that will allows you do upload your picture and get the measurements right if you don't want to do it manually.

This won't help for driver's licenses and other things where they require you to take the picture at the office (at least for me in New York), but for things where you need to bring in your own pictures, it's cheaper and an overall better option than special 'passport photos.'
posted by mhz at 7:33 AM on August 25, 2009

Do you have to have it taken at a government office? I went to a photo print shop that does passport photos also for mine, and then just took the pictures to the passport office with my forms. Maybe it will help just to be having the pictures done in a less dreary place?
posted by dnash at 7:33 AM on August 25, 2009

The best passport photo I ever got, I was thinking of a really funny joke and had the barest hint of a smile, not much but it definitely improved things.
posted by greenish at 7:43 AM on August 25, 2009

Wear more makeup than you usually would - don't make it look ridiculous or anything, but if it's subtle it won't show up. I'm guessing your lashes are probably dark, but if not wear mascara. Wear some facial powder or the like will help tone down shiny faceitis.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:49 AM on August 25, 2009

After my Mom spent years carrying a driver's license photo where the photographer had gotten her mid-speech, I always err on the side of caution when getting mine taken. I put on foundation to make sure my skin isn't shiny, and basically do a nice makeup job, including lipstick. Not like I was going to a wedding or a party, but enough so that it photographs well. I make sure it's a good hair day when I go, and I comb my hair right before I go in. And then when it comes time to take the actual photo, I do the things others have mentioned: keep my chin down, relax, and turn the corners of my mouth up slightly. It works, because I just had a friend actually compliment me on my driver's license photo the other day. I figure this is the one photo of myself that I have to look at almost every day for years, so I might as well make sure I don't hate it.
posted by MsMolly at 7:51 AM on August 25, 2009

If this is, in fact, for a passport, they don't want you looking like a babe. They want you to look like you just spent two hours looking for your luggage after getting off a ten hour flight. If your picture looks like a babe, security will say, "Nope; that's not her," and they'll keep you another two hours in the interrogation room. Here in Canada, they won't even let you smile for a passport photo.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2009

Your profile says you're in the UK, so for nearly everything you should be able to provide your own photo, which you can take yourself in any photo booth or go to a Snappy Snaps and ask them to make you look good. Most official photos (passports etc) you're not supposed to smile for, but you definitely won't have to put up with silly 'no second go' rules. Most of the new digital photo booths will let you retake the photo as many times as you like, then print 4 identical ones.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:00 AM on August 25, 2009

Some digital photo booths providing passport-approved photos (I've seen them in more upscale and business-y parts of London) will take a series of shots, display them on a screen and let you pick one to print out.

Admittedly this may only provide you with 4 dismaying options instead of one, but it is some advantage over the days before digital. Back in the 80s my mom had a driver's license photo so heinous the DMV spontaneously called her up and offered her a retake.
posted by stuck on an island at 8:42 AM on August 25, 2009

The last time I got a passport, I had a bunch of different photos taken at different places and picked the one I liked best. It was a small investment in my vanity.

Seconding the "wear more eye makeup than usual, wear a solid color top with a jewel or v neckline, and keep your chin down" advice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:59 AM on August 25, 2009

wear mascara and a neutral - berry color lipstick. v neck top with a neclace if you wear jewelry, hair down. Smile without showing teeth.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:08 AM on August 25, 2009

I'm glad I'm not the only person who dresses up for id photos!

I wear my most flattering color, eye make up, and subtle lipstick. And try to have better posture than I do in real life. I would say no big earrings, but small is ok. If a necklace, then short enough to sit near your collar bone and not dip below the picture.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:13 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Before you get carried away with facial angles, lighting, etc., just take a quick look at the passport photo standards for your country first -- some Official Documentation Photos have specific standards for how you need to have your head positioned and how the lighting goes and the like. Not that they're going to take out calipers and make sure your head is at the precise angle down to the millimeter or anything, but there are some restrictions for what you can do.

Short of that, it sounds like the advice about good hair and a touch of makeup work. But if it's only an "almost a babe" quality print, I also wouldn't stress -- the awful nature of passport photos is a near-universal constant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on August 25, 2009

Best answer: My hairdresser told me once that the trick to taking good ID/passport photos is to sit sideways in the chair, and then turn your shoulders toward the camera. It meets the face-forward requirement but doesn't give you that mug shot look.

I'm not particularly photogenic, but ever since I tried that trick I have random strangers compliment my driver's license photo all the time.
posted by thejanna at 9:55 AM on August 25, 2009 [8 favorites]

My best passport photos have all been in B&W, as this tends to make even the most exhausted, hungover, spotty-faced gits (like me) look like prime Avedon material.
posted by elizardbits at 3:35 PM on August 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to all who replied! The next policeman who pulls me over and asks to see my licence thanks you for it. No best answers marked as there were far too many of them.
posted by tavegyl at 5:13 AM on August 26, 2009

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