Make Your Own Passport Photos

If you have a computer and a digital camera, there’s no reason to ever pay a drugstore $8 for a couple of crummy passport photos and lousy customer service. This blogger discovered that he couldn’t even get an in-focus photo from a local CVS: “When we pointed that out, he was like ‘Oh really? don’t worry all photos printed here look like that and no one ever came back because a photo was not accepted.'” If you’re not Photoshop-savvy, just use the free epassportphoto.com website.

At epassportphoto you upload your photo, crop it according to your country’s standard guidelines, and save the resulting 4×6″ image—that’s six 2×2″ ID shots—to your computer to print wherever you like, whether it’s at home, from an online service, or at that same CVS with the myopic camera operator.

Not only will you be able to control the photo lighting and quality (and retake the photo until you’re happy with it), but you’ll have four more 2×2″ shots than you get for $8 at CVS or Walgreens. And if you need any more incentive to cut the drugstore out of the process, consider that they also produce sets of six photos at a time—they just refuse to give you more than two unless you pay extra:

While we waited for the photos to print out, I saw (with my own eyes) that the photographs were printed on a 4? x 6? photo paper – and there were 6 copies on it. Then the dude coolly cut away 4 copies, disposed them, and handed us the remaining two copies.

“The Stupid Passport Photo Ripoff” [the tao of making money]
(Photo: Mexican 2000)

Comments

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  1. FishingCrue says:

    This really ticked me a few weeks ago when they just took a [poor] digital photo of me and then put it in their self service machine and charged me 8 bucks for two lousy photos. Next time I’ll save the bucks. Make sure you use glossy paper (if required).

  2. forgottenpassword says:

    By the by… I absolutely HATE the new passports …. they look cheesy as hell with all the wildy-colored patriotic images. Plus I understand they have rfid tags in them.

    I like the old plain, understated ones. Hope my old one is still valid as it hasnt been 10 years yet since I got it.

  3. mantari says:

    I don’t know WHO that guy is, but he’s just ASKING for a cavity search.

  4. SpenceMan01 says:

    I tried the website out tonight, just for kicks. Thanks, Consumerist, for making me realize that I have a double chin. For now I’m going to blame it on the particular pose and the fact that my arm was out, holding the camera…

  5. Karl says:

    The State Department has a helpful website describing the passport picture requirements, suggested lighting seups, acceptable and unacceptable pictures, etc.

    It seems a little odd that they’re still requiring printed photographs when it’s very clear that they just scan your photos (to embed into the RFID chip and print on the passport). Ideally, you should be able to hand them a JPEG file (which is also the image format on the RFID chip, btw) conforming to certain specifications and be good to go.

  6. mantari says:

    Your JPEG file could contain a buffer overflow attack (in the image itself), or a virus on the media, or who knows what. I feel safer that the government accepts paper images, because they’re going to get themselves into less trouble with it.

  7. SpenceMan01 says:

    @Karl: From the site: “Natural Expression – The subject’s expression should be natural, with both eyes open. Please refer to the photographs found on this website for acceptable facial expressions.”

    These are those photos. What goofy looking person were they using as a reference when they came up with that one?

  8. leejay says:

    When getting my photo for a visa application, I went to a Walgreens. WORST customer service/photo quality ever. I had measurement specifications and when I tried to ask if their photos would fit, he didn’t want to see the paper. I got my photo taken, uploaded, and printed after forever and it was blurry. I had it done again after work (the prior was on my break). It took even longer, was blurry, and didn’t fit the measurements. I returned them and not once did I receive an apology.

    I ended up finding a mom&pop photo place in my hood- for about $6, I got the two photos (very good quality) and the guy made me take some photos smiling for fun even though he knew I needed a straight-faced photo : )

  9. chiieddy says:

    RFIDs can be destroyed in the microwave. This will not invalidate your passport.

    Disclaimer: I take no responsibility if this otherwise damages your passport, however.

  10. MercuryPDX says:

    @chiieddy: How about a safer way using a hammer that won’t cook your passport? :)

  11. laserjobs says:

    @chiieddy:

    I was just going to say the same thing. If you don’t like the security intrustion potential of an RFID chip, then fry it in the microwave.

  12. CapitalC says:

    In Canada the 2 photos you provide must be stamped and signed by the shop where the photo was taken – meaning you can’t do one at home yourself.

  13. DallasDMD says:

    @CapitalC: So sign them ‘Bob’s Drug Store’. Done.

  14. Karl says:

    @mantari: As long as you’re extremely paranoid about security, acceping JPEGs doesn’t seem like a big risk. Furthermore, all of the processing could be done in a safe language, like Java (as long as it doesn’t in turn invoke some unsafe code to do the heavy lifting).

  15. Skankingmike says:

    I work at FedEx Kinko’s, and though I know we over charge for Passport photo’s I’ve seen others and we certainly have a higher quality of product.

    We use a Sony Dye Sublimation printer, much like the ones you can buy for your digital cameras. Only difference is that the paper says “PHOTO ID” or something.

    Link to camera
    [www.bhphotovideo.com]

    The coolest thing about our Passport camera is that it has Bluetooth and we print pictures wirelessly.. so i wondered if somebody had a bluetooth PDA or camera themselves could they print to our printers? I would love for somebody to try this.

  16. m_m says:

    I took my own photo, with multiple lighting sources set up. The photo was well within the parameters described on the state dept web site. When I went to submit my app at the post office, the worker took one glance at the photo and said that there were shadows on my face (there weren’t), and charged me $15 for her to take a picture that was much worse. Probably SOP for them to charge everyone $15 to take their picture.

  17. XTC46 says:

    @skankingmike: yes, if your printer uses a bluetooth receiver, somone could print to it assuming it doesn’t have a key set for the bluetooth connection. Anyone with a cellphone could walk by and see its there.

  18. maztec says:

    Er… last I checked the regs the photo has to be taken by someone who can be held accountable – other than you. Technically they do not allow digital photos or photographs you take of yourself. Even if they do fit the specs. Basically, careful what printer paper you print them on.

    Anyway, passport photos are SUPPOSED to look bad! That’s the point!

  19. huadpe says:

    When I went to the US consulate to get my passport renewed they would not take any photos that touched a computer you owned. Reason being that you could photoshop it. This was coming from US State Dept. officials, not the USPS guys. So you might get away with it if it’s on photo-stock paper, but the rule is that you can’t have had it in a computer you own.

  20. cde says:

    //they just refuse to give you more than two unless you pay extra://

    Walgreens does that, CVS gives you all 6.

    Also, some stores/employees freak when they see you doing it, trying to charge the passport rate because they think they took it.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    I want to be the first US citizen with a LOLZ CATZ passport photo.

  22. legotech says:

    @trai_dep: hhahha Trai! I’m in yur document, verifyin’ yur identity :)

  23. fallenbelle says:

    This has been quite helpful actually. My passport expires in March, but I live in Tokyo and the State Dept. makes it clear that Japanese regulation passport photos are unacceptable for US passports.

    Yet, they strongly encourage you to submit your passport applcation by mail while telling you acceptable photos are difficult to obtain. The solution? There’s a photo booth at the embassy that will issue the appropriate photos, making a trip to the embassy mandatory.

    Also, what’s the word on the RFID passport wallets? I’ve been advised to get one.

  24. missdona says:

    I think AAA gives free or cheap passport photos, if you’re a member.

  25. cde says:

    @trai_dep: Hello Mr. I HAS PASPORTZ

  26. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    I want a passport photo like that baked guy at the top of the article.

  27. MickeyMoo says:

    baked? looks more like he swings by all the 24 hour convenience stores to buy cold medication to take back to his trailer and cook down.

  28. V-effekt says:

    CVS printed me out a group of 12 for the same price. I asked how much it would be to print my photo out on a larger sheet of paper and they did it. I think I said I needed “ID” photos and they were accepted for my passport renewal as well as for IDs abroad.

  29. kimsama says:

    @missdona: They are cheaper, but not free (when I got my passport originally, I went to AAA).

    @huadpe: Interesting. I have always taken my own photos for visas and then lined them up in PS and saved the file onto a memory stick to print out at CVS (for like 30 cents) and never had any issues. However, like I said, it has always been for visas (about 10 of them) and I’ve never had an issue. Then again, I’m not shopping myself, just cropping and setting up the photo, and also it’s not for a passport per se, though it is a passport photo.

  30. coan_net says:

    My wife got a passport a few months ago, and following the instructions on the passport website, I took her picture. They have a few “rules” that I can’t remember completly, but it was something like (1) white background, (2) head must be 75% of photo, (3) must show shoulders, (4) something about the hair, and (5) something about the total size of the photo. It took about 5 minutes total to take picture, download, edit, and print out photo. I printed out 3-4 versions of it because I wasn’t 100% sure if they were very picky about some of the rules – but she headed down to the DMV (where they do passports), and accepted everything with no problem – with a passport showing up shortly after.

  31. ARPRINCE says:

    Nice link and just what I needed – tnx consumerist!

  32. britne says:

    “consider that they also produce sets of six photos at a time-they just refuse to give you more than two unless you pay extra”

    The Walgreens stores in my area that I worked for only did 2 at a time… 6 at a time must be CVS. Or someone screwed up and did the pics the wrong way…
    Then again, I don’t personally speak for the competence of every underpaid photo clerk out there. Just that I knew how to do them the right way. =)

  33. overbysara says:

    I just got my new passport… and am a bit pissed off about these rfid chips.

    [www.wired.com]

  34. snoop-blog says:

    ah ha! now my harry balzonya passport is finished!

  35. cef21 says:

    I saw a guy getting his passport picture taken in Walmart — they had one employee stand behind him with a white board and the other employee take a picture with a standard digital camera. After I saw that, I realized I could just do ours at home. The pictures have to be 2×2, so I could printed entire family on one 19-cent 4×6 print.

  36. jeff303 says:

    @mantari: Er, no. The JPEG cannot “contain” a buffer overflow attack. It may be malformed in such as a way that certain software reading it may become compromised. The difference is subtle but important. There is demonstrably secure software for safely reading JPEG files (and lots of other types of data for that matter) and they could easily use it.

  37. wilmawonker says:

    If you’re in Philly, you can go see this guy:

    [i28.photobucket.com]

    I believe he was a few blocks north of the Art Institute.

    I went to CVS for my passport photo years ago, and I got 24 of them. I leave them hidden places now – not much else to do with pasty bright photos of myself.

  38. Vicky says:

    We did my passport renewal photos at home with our own camera and printer. I mailed them in with my application and my old passport and received a replacement in about two weeks. No problem. It could be that there’s less hassle for a renewal because you don’t have to deal with a picky clerk.

  39. suburbancowboy says:

    I highly recommend disabling the rfid chip in your passport. The only way to disable it is to smash it with a hammer.

  40. Mrs. Stephen Fry says:

    That picture? Is scaring me. I hate having to scroll past it.

  41. jamesdenver says:

    @suburbancowboy:

    I plan on doing that upon my renewal…

  42. swalve says:

    @laserjobs:
    @suburbancowboy:

    What’s wrong with the rfid chip? I mean specifically.

  43. srufus says:

    I took a couple of passport size photos from Sears and I wanted to have a soft copy and guess how much they charged? $20 – 2 photos and $49 for a CD. I feel like it’s a total rip off, the CD came up with crapware.

  44. mantari says:

    @jeff303: Semantics. It would still contain a buffer overflow attack. It would just be ineffective against software without the specifically targeted flaw.

  45. FLConsumer says:

    @missdona: I can confirm that AAA does free passport/ID photos. Have used them a couple of times for that. No hassles, done in 5 mins. No fee.

  46. theblackdog says:

    I ordered my passport in January 2007, I didn’t get an RFID chip in mine, and I believe it’s thanks to the panic of everyone rushing to get their passports due to the changes in travel regs.

    Oh, and I thank the woman at Kinkos for when she took my passport photo, after seeing how fat my face looked, I went on a diet and I’m now much thinner.

  47. Optimus says:
  48. Optimus says:

    Just don’t tell them that you made it yourself. The greedy… employees… at the post office kept telling me that something was wrong with my picture everytime I told them I took it myself. They even went so far as to claim they could see the line where “I cut my head in” when the only thing I did was brighten the background like they requested.

    So, I took it to the local county judicial building and the clerk glanced at the photos and took my check. My passport arrived in less than 2 weeks when everyone else’s was taking months. I was so tempted to go back to the post office and use it as ID for something.

  49. Optimus says:

    @CapitalC: Or print the Adobe Photoshop logo and Title on the back and sign it with your name. Most government workers (in the US at least) don’t have a clue.

  50. MissCellania says:

    I took my daughter’s passport photo with a regular disposable film camera. I made several shots, at slightly different distances to make sure the size would be right, had double copies developed in an hour, and cut out the ones that were the right size. No problems!

  51. chiieddy says:

    @Mercurypdx: A hammer may not necessarily kill the chip, a microwave will most certainly fry it. I had to wait to get a new passport because my name was changing due to marriage, and when the one with the RFID chip comes, I am taking the risk and microwaving it.

    They’ve already hacked the chips in the RFID passports and they have a range of 30 ft.

  52. chiieddy says:

    @swalve: Your personal information (name, dob, etc) stored on a chip that is easily hacked by someone sitting in a 30 ft radius of you.

  53. chiieddy says:

    I used the site above to create a nice little JPG. I’m going to print it out with my little Canon 4×6 photo printer which uses a dye sub process and send it with my passport renewal. I’ll post an update with success or failure. :)

  54. theWallace says:

    You can also go to the United States Post Office and get your photo taken. Since its the government they havent gone digital yet, so the photos are nice and clear. Plus, they are guaranteed to match the exact proportions required by the passport office.

    Last time I had a passport photo taken (2 years ago) the post office was chargin $11.50 for the service.

  55. nardo218 says:

    I was pissed off enough to have to pay $100 for a passport for my asshole brother’s wedding in Mexico, but I was livid when the CVS clerk took my pic with an ancient digital camera, played with it in their crappy stripped down photoshop software, and printed it out. And charged me $12. Fucking hell. Never ever doing that again.

  56. Anonymous says:

    I realize this is not a very new post, but I felt like I wanted to comment.

    I work at a pharmacy in Australia. While I agree that the markups are ridiculous (we charge $10.95 for passport photos), the price does cover things such as time spent with the customer taking the photo, waiting for an available opportunity in order to print the photos, and cover any free photos we may have to give the customer in case the photo gets rejected.

    Now, I’m not saying it’s worth AUD$10.95 (USD$7.50 approx), and it is definitely cheaper to print your own.
    However, (and this may not apply to the US but it applies here), there are some reasons for the price:

    a) the photos are printed six on a 6”x4” photo paper (standard size) but they are not printed in the 2”x2′ size’ (for example, they are not each one sixth of the 6”x4” paper, but again this may only apply to Australia); instead, they are the correct size and dimension of the passport photos. This kind of effect would be difficult, though not impossible, to correctly duplicate in an image to be printed.

    b) Secondly, it is much easier to simply take a photo of yourself, and use a photo kiosk at the pharmacy to have the automated software detect your face and light and size it correctly to the passport standards. Software like this costs money to make, and it costs money to buy.

    c) As I said previously, and again may not apply in the US, we only have one person working the photographics area. One. We can have up to ten customers at a time, for one employee to handle. The price you pay covers any loss that may result from not being able to help another customer.

    d) The price you pay also covers the cost of buying a camera and equipment for taking the photo. It also covers any other time we may have to spend in case your photo is not accepted (which may not always be our fault. I’ve had perfect photos returned from passport applications).

    e) I must once again say that I know you’re not talking about Australia, but it is offensive to state that “there’s no reason to ever pay a drugstore $8 for a couple of crummy passport photos and lousy customer service”. I don’t know about in the US, but this does not apply here. We do not give you “crummy passport photos” and “lousy customer service”. I reprint passport photos several times to make sure I have the colour balance and lighting correct (even the automatic software gets it wrong, frequently), and I frequently go out of my way to make sure that my customer’s expectations are met and that they are satisfied completely. Stating something like that is an offensive generalization. But maybe all the drug stores in the US really are like that, I don’t know.

    Finally, just wanted to say that: we give out all six photos, for the same price, and discounts for more than one person. And yes, $10.95 is far too much, but the standard $0.49 for a 6”x4” will not cover what everything.

    Anyway, that’s my AUD$0.029 (or USD$0.02).

  57. janbobt says:

    The problem with epassportphoto is that when you go to the place they tell you to pick up your pictures, the clerk says they can’t be printed. Then when you write a question to epassportphoto, they don’t answer you as to what to do. Would be a great service if it worked. I don’t think it does.