How to take your baby’s passport photo

Apr 25, 2022

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There’s a lot to think about when getting your child or baby’s first passport.

From gathering the right documents to getting an appointment, the process has several steps — and the most daunting one just might be taking your baby’s passport photo. It’s not like you can simply say “sit up straight and look at the camera” to a squirmy newborn who can’t yet hold up their own head.

But don’t stress — it can be done. From all the official rules about passport photos to tips and tricks for photographing your baby, we’ve got you covered.

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You’ll likely have many attempts before getting the right photo. (Photo by FroggyFrogg/Getty Images)

In This Post

Official U.S. passport photo rules

The official rules for general passport photos state the following:

  • Photos must be recent and in color.
  • No filters or selfies.
  • Background must be plain white or off white.
  • No eyeglasses, headphones or hats.
  • The image of the face must be clear with eyes open.

When it comes to infants, the official rules also state that it’s okay if a newborn or infant’s eyes aren’t completely open, but the child should be facing the camera with no other person in the photo. On the U.S. State Department website, you can take a look at which types of baby and toddler images will and won’t be approved.

It’s clear which photos are accepted and which are not. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State)

Images where a baby’s hand is covering their mouth, the baby has a pacifier in, the child is sticking out their tongue, the photo is blurry or the face image is shadowy/unclear will not be accepted. Photos can’t be grainy, pixelated, digitally altered or damaged in any way.

The passport photo size should be 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 millimeters), and the image of the child’s head must be between 1 to 1 3/8 inches (25 to 35 mm) from the bottom of the child’s chin to the top of the child’s head.

Doing photos at home vs. at a store

You can have your baby’s passport photo taken at a spot that takes passport photos — such as FedEx stores, CVS and Walgreens — or DIY at home. Some official places that handle passwork paperwork, such as post offices and public libraries, will also take the photo for an additional fee.

Places that take passport photos are usually familiar with the correct size requirements (but always take them with you to be sure). They often have a few tips on how to get your baby to look at the camera and how you can hold your infant so they can take a photo without you in it. You may even be asked to wear a white sheet and have the baby sit in your lap. Some spots will put a white sheet over a stroller or car seat and let your baby stay seated, depending on their age.

After about 100 outtakes, this photo of my son at 2 weeks old was accepted. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

However, when I took my baby to be photographed at 2 weeks old, he refused to open his eyes because the lights were so bright in the store. So, we had to make do at home.

Some shops offer to size and edit the photo that you take at home for a small fee, especially if, after several tries, they aren’t able to successfully photograph your baby.

Tips for taking at-home photos

You might decide that DIY-ing your baby’s passport photos at home is a bit easier than getting them done elsewhere. If so, here are some tips.

  • Place the baby on a white sheet — this way, the background is the correct color. If you have a toddler, you can place the sheet over a high chair and take the photo while they sit.
  • Stand about four feet away from your baby to snap the photo — just make sure you aren’t creating a shadow on them.
  • Use the right lighting — taking the photo in natural daylight is best. Use lamps as necessary. Just try not to shine a bright light directly into your baby’s eyes or from above your baby, as they’ll usually close their eyes. Avoid light that creates shadows on your baby’s face.
  • Use a toy to grab their attention — don’t make them laugh too much, just make sure their eyes are open and looking at the camera.
  • It helps if two adults are present — one adult can take the photo and one can use a toy to focus the child’s attention.
  • Use an app or digital editor for compliance — tools like Passport Photo Software or 123 Passport can help you re-size and crop your photo if needed. The U.S. Department of State even has its own cropping tool. Remember, photos with filters or that have been digitally altered will not be accepted, so only do what’s required when editing.
  • Bring photos to a shop if you’d rather not DIY crop — most stores can help you crop the photo as needed for a small fee.
Getting that tricky infant passport photo. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Additional tips and tricks for getting the perfect photo

  • Use a white, rolled-up towel or pillows under your infant’s neck or around their head under the white sheet to keep them looking straight ahead.
  • Take lots of photos, then narrow it down.
  • Turn off the flash if your baby’s photos are ending up with a red eye effect.
  • Sheer curtains or white sheets can help diffuse light and shadows.
  • Crop and print out a few different photos. This way, if one photo is rejected, you have others as a backup.

Other countries have different requirements

These tips are largely for U.S. passports, so if you need to get your baby a passport for another country, carefully read the rules.

My son has both a U.S. passport and a passport from Spain. Luckily we could use the same photo, but we had to crop it to a different size for each country’s passport requirements. If you are applying for a passport in more than one country,  gather all the information needed to help you get the correct photo for each.

Getting your baby’s passport photo is a worthy process once you’re headed on that vacation. (Photo by LPETTET/Getty Images)

Bottom line

Getting your infant or toddler’s passport photo can be tedious — but it also makes for a good laugh.

In my case, getting my son’s photo took two trips to a store, about 100 outtakes at home, some tears (my son’s, not my own), a spit-up situation and one baby outfit change. But now, seeing my 10-month-year-old take his 15th flight with four countries under his belt makes that precarious photo-taking adventure well worth it.

Featured image by miniseries/Getty Images.

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