Photographer setup for successful passport photos

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to successfully set up a photo shoot to take acceptable passport photos of the whole family. There are a few simple steps you should follow to ensure the photos you take are appropriate for passport use. Camera placement and lighting are the biggest factors you should pay close attention to.

Positioning your camera

The U.S. Department of State, who issues passports for U.S. citizens, doesn’t allow you to take “selfies” or hand-held self-portraits, so you need someone to take your passport photo for you. This doesn’t mean you need a professional, just someone who can follow a simple photographer setup. This begins with where the camera is positioned. The camera should be set at eye level of the person being photographed and held at least four feet away. The photographer should frame the person in the viewfinder with just their upper body showing and empty space above the head.

Lighting and backgrounds

The background you use for passport pictures should be a solid white or off-white surface and should not contain any type of pattern, print or texture. The area should also be well lit with lighting strategically positioned to eliminate shadows. Don’t use overhead lighting, which can cast shadows. Instead, place one light on both sides of the person being photographed at about 45 degrees from their face. Place a third light close to and facing the background to uniformly illuminate and further remove shadows.

Exceptions for babies, but not children

Baby passport photos are the only ones that can differ from those you take for other members of the family. Depending on the age of the infant, it may not be able to hold its head up on its own and you’re not allowed to hold it up for them. In this case, you should lie the infant down on a plain, white or light colored blanket with lighting on both sides of its head. Babies under one years old aren’t held to the rule of having their eyes open and mouth closed, but child passport photos for toddlers over this age should be treated the same as adults.

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