When can a terrible driver's license photo be a serious issue?
June 26, 2008 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Are there any situations where having a ridiculous driver's licence photo will be more than a laugh? (Or: How I Learned to Abandon my Ego and Self-Image.)

I just finished taking a course in Michigan to get my motorcycle endorsement. Once I completed my riding test this morning, I thought I'd go immediately to a nearby Secretary of State's office to take the written test and get my official endorsement.

Idiotic me, I didn't think about the fact that I'd be getting a new license altogether; hence, a new photo. By the time we'd gotten to that point, there didn't seem any turning back. The SoS CSR wasn't the most helpful, and was noticeably unfriendly.

Long story short, I ended up with a license photo that literally looks like I've either never bathed or have serious drug issues. I don't mind a laughable license photo, but this looks like I've just left rehab, unsuccessfully.

This is my primary means of photo ID. Are there any situations when this will present a problem? I'm about to be a senior in college (architecture) and will soon be on the job hunt.
posted by Ian.I.Am to Human Relations (22 answers total)
No, it's fine.
posted by aubilenon at 5:05 PM on June 26, 2008


First of all, almost nobody will ever look at it.

Second, those who do will nearly always just be checking the date.

Third, the remainder will be photocopying it because they're filling out paperwork to finalize hiring you.

Fourth, I spent two weeks being admitted to a US military base with an ID that made me look like I had Hollywood-level makeup and hairstyling attention to play a drug-addled Russian terrorist.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:07 PM on June 26, 2008

The only time this will ever be relevant is if they are having a worst driver's license photo contest in a bar... and then you just might win a free pitcher of beer (as did my ex-boyfriend).
posted by kimdog at 5:15 PM on June 26, 2008

One of my eyes is rolled up to the ceiling in my state ID pic, and the other one is skewed, thanks to my eye problems. No one's come after me yet, and it's a great conversation piece. Likewise, Mr. F's passport picture made him look like some manner of unsavory terrorist creature, and he still got into the UK on it just fine. I think you'll be OK.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:18 PM on June 26, 2008

^kimdog has it.

my photo has been worth many laughs at the bar. i look VERY, VERY excited. i hope it'll actually be useful if/when i get pulled over - i mean, really, it's hard not to laugh when you see it.
posted by nadawi at 5:19 PM on June 26, 2008

Having that cycle endorsement on it makes you so cool that a picture of a warthog would still be acceptable!

seriously... nope, don't worry about it, a bad license photo is like a zit, nobody notices it but you!

/congrats on passing the class!
posted by HuronBob at 5:24 PM on June 26, 2008

Some suggestions:


If you live here in Virginia, the world is your oyster.
posted by 4ster at 5:24 PM on June 26, 2008

Yeah, no one will care. My Michigan driver's license looks like I have a disembodied head, as the shirt I was wearing was the same color as the photo's background.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:39 PM on June 26, 2008

A friend of mine, right before he finished university, got his hair cut, dyed it back to a colour other than blue, and took a job at IBM, deliberately renewed his driver's licence with that look. It was never a problem for him, and was often a subject of amusing conversation.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:59 PM on June 26, 2008

If you are a victim of a murder or shark attack, you might not care what your photo looks like, but these are often used if you do something newsworthy and are unable to give the press something more flattering.
posted by sageleaf at 6:09 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

@4ster: I guess I didn't go too far enough.

Otherwise, phew. Thanks for the replies.
posted by Ian.I.Am at 7:05 PM on June 26, 2008

I'm so vain that when my DL photo came back all "WTF?!" I, uh, accidentally lost it and had a new photo taken.

After seeing this thread, I kind of regret it.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:44 PM on June 26, 2008

The photo on my current driver's licence is a shocker, I look like I am completely baked. Which, considering that it was taken nine years ago, there is a distinct possibility that I was.

Don't sweat it mate, my licence photo is a source of laughter all around, it has never ever gotten me into trouble.
posted by nudar at 9:02 PM on June 26, 2008

I've actually noticed that having an ID picture where I look like a friendly normal person helps the people I have to show it to treat me as such. Mostly at airports. It might be confirmation bias. Still I used to have a picture where I looked all sullen and bitter and I'd get pulled over for special searches all the time. This stopped abruptly when I switched.
posted by egg drop at 9:08 PM on June 26, 2008

I once had a friend who used to purposely take bad license photos, on the theory that if he got pulled over, it would be a benefit to look more put together and with it in person than you do on your license.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:49 PM on June 26, 2008

I used to have a license photo that actually made a doorman do a double take, then look up at me and say: "Dude, you look like you just took a bite of human flesh." I might actually prefer that photo to my current one which has unfortunately gotten me: "you look like Charlie Sheen in this photo." Not the young Charlie, but the double chinned one :( Would I change it, no, but I always tell myself I'm going to be better prepared for the next picture.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:37 AM on June 27, 2008

As long as you look like you, you're good I had a driver's license photo where my hairstyle and hair color had changed dramatically. When I would get carded in bars, I often had to show a second photo ID because they didn't believe it was actually me.
posted by All.star at 5:26 AM on June 27, 2008

I love my hideous DL photo. I tell people it's a depiction of me as a fat orange transsexual.
posted by skryche at 6:02 AM on June 27, 2008

OK, I'll ruin the unanimous streak and put it out there:

Do you look like the kind of person who gets profiled anyway by the TSA at airports? I'm guessing most of the respondents so far are either not people of color, or white folks "of pigment". Because a drivers license (or passport) photo that doesn't you in that situation (the "situation" of looking like the kind of person where an overzealous Amtrak cop can joke, "I had to ask for ID because for all I know you're Osama's sister) can lead to extra minutes of scrutiny, hassle, and delay.

So, if you're a brown person of any race:

1) If it's a bad, fugly photo that still looks like you: teh funny!
2) If it's a bad, fugly photo that's bad enough to be unrecognizable: be ready for some Walter Mitty hero security guard to set you aside for an extra bit of attention, all the way up to one of those "random" frisks.

And yeah, what sageleaf said. Maybe have a better photo on hand for next of kin to immediately send on the wire in case of shark attack.
posted by availablelight at 6:28 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's not going to be a problem. My friend wore a tube top to her license shoot, so she looks completely in the buff in her photo. Unless you're smoking crack directly in the photo or doing something obviously illegal, a bizarre license photo is nothing more than circumstantial evidence, even to the most overzealous cop.

If some person, cop or not, wants to judge you by a 1 in2 photo in which no one has ever looked good versus encountering you in person, well, that's their fault for being a loser.
posted by spamguy at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2008

I tell people it's a depiction of me as a fat orange transsexual.

Hee, it's nice to know I'm not the only one who looks like a giant pumpkinhead in their photo. (Adding insult to injury, they made the background YELLOW on the ID. Bastards.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2008

My friend (pre-9/11) went to get his driver's license renewed and drew on a moustache with a Sharpie beforehand. The story (and photo) have outweighed any inconvenience so far.
posted by Twicketface at 11:00 AM on June 27, 2008

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