When my daughter exploded into tantrums as we attempted to have her passport photo taken at a local shop, I knew our family holiday could be in trouble. It was time to relieve the pressure on our child, step up and take the photo myself in the comforting environment of home. Here’s my DIY guide to how we got our passport photo made and accepted.
Perhaps you’ve felt a moment of elation followed by severe anxiety as plans go awry. That was precisely our predicament recently when we booked our first family holiday abroad only to find that our strong willed three-year-old daughter Tilly point blank refuse to have her photo taken for her passport.
Tilly can often turn away from having her photo taken and occasion get cross with it plus she’s also prone to getting upset to feeling under pressure. Despite our best efforts to comfort her in the shop (we used a key cutters that also offers passport photos) she quickly erupted into full scale tantrum at any attempt to make her stand by the photo wall. The shop unhelpfully had no chair. Even sitting on my lap wouldn’t change her mind.
Two attempts later and we had to quickly reevaluate our options. If she wouldn’t stand still for a moment in a shop, there was no way she’d put up with the faff that’s involved in a photo booth. An alternative was need and fast if we were to save our holiday.
Being your own passport photographer
It occurred to me that the chap in the chain of key cutters shop is probably significantly less skilled and equipped than I am at taking a decent photo. The passport photo has been given a mystical air that businesses charge good money for but at the end of the day it’s just a portrait photo, printed out. Although not formally trained I have over the years had photos published in books, magazines and the national press. Why did I feel that taking a portrait for a tiny passport photo was beyond my capability?
I set about studying the Passport Office’s various requirements of taking a passport photo. There needs to be a neutral background – off white or light grey, the photo should be well exposed and evenly lit with no deep shadows. There are also stipulations about the size of the head and face in relation to the whole photo, although I’d question whether many of the passport agency’s own examples met this.
What you need
- A suitable creme or light grey wall or background
- A digital camera
- Photo editing software (optional but recommended)
- A printer capable of printing photos
- Photographic paper
- A copy of the Passport Office’s photo requirements (PDF, opens in new window)
Locating a ‘studio’ in your house
We didn’t have many suitable walls in the house but a grey cupboard fitted the bill. It was in the conservatory, which at the right time of day is reasonably evenly lit. This essentially served as our studio. I didn’t have any photography lighting so I had to make do with the natural light available.
Lighting can be tricky as different light sources have different colour tints so if possible to try to use all lights of the same type, be in natural, spot lighting or others. Avoid a location where the lighting is too focused from one side as this will lead to harsh shadows.
Warming up the child for the photo
It’s a lot easier to catch your child in an amenable mood at home and you can simply take a moment out of their play to take the photo, perhaps with an incentive for when it’s done. They could even sit or stand with their favourite toy, so long as they hold it out of shot.
Taking the photo
The main thing to remember when taking the photo is to take it in portrait format, which normally means turning a camera on its side (with the exception of phones). If you’re not using editing software, you’ll need to try to frame it just right when you take it. Otherwise, I’d allow yourself with some extra space in the composition so you can adjust how the final photo is cropped.
In contrast to the shop, Tilly didn’t feel like she was under anywhere like the same pressure and stood happily in a couple of locations with enough time for me to take plenty of photos, from which I could select the best.
You mustn’t manipulate photos to change a person’s appearance but you can make adjustments to the exposure and colour tints to help ensure the photo is a good representation of the individual and meets the requirements.
- Exposure – If the photo looks too dark especially, you can lighten the photo so facial details are clear
- Shadows / Highlights – deep shadows aren’t allowed so if these are a problem from the lighting you have available, lift the shadows to avoid any issues
- Colour – Different lighting can cause a colour cast on photos if the camera’s white balance doesn’t adjust for it or a mix of light types may lead to unwanted coloured areas. Auto colour or tone should fix white balance issues, whereas more specific colour balance changes may be needed for more localised colour problems
- Cropping – The final photo must be 45mm high by 35mm wide and with facial elements of a size specified in the graphic. Expect these to be more lenient with photos of small children but it’s worth aiming for
Make sure you print using the best quality and settings for photographic paper. If you’ve saved the photo at 45mm x 35mm, ensure you print the photo at this size with no resizing applied.
If you’re completing a paper application, the Post Office’s Check and Send service could help you ensure that your photo meets the standards if you’re unsure.
Children’s passports are stated as taking up to three weeks, although we got ours back in about two.
Go on holiday
Wipe away the worry, you’re now all set to go on holiday. Maybe next time, get the passport organised first – lesson learned!
Okay, I can’t guarantee that you’ll have the same positive outcome as us with your own efforts but if you spend a bit of time, it is definitely possible to take and print your own passport photo. We saved £8 in cost but most importantly a whole lot more trouble and heartache getting our daughter to post happily in an unusual setting.