Traveling abroad is expensive (though certainly worth it—even with kids in tow!), so cutting down on travel costs where you can is a must. While you can’t save money on those pricey passport application fees, you can save money by taking your own passport photos.
The cost of having a passport photo taken at a drugstore or post office can be upwards of $15, and that can really add up, especially if you’re needing new or updated photos for your whole family. I’ve been able to save money several times now by taking my own passport photo, as well as my husband’s, and now my son’s. Taking passport photos at home isn’t difficult, so skip paying for them and put the extra savings away as spending money for your trip.
I’ll be focusing on how to take a passport photo of a baby or toddler because those are the trickiest ones to take, but many of these tips can be applied to older children and adults as well. Taking your young children’s photos yourself allows them to feel comfortable in their own home, therefore increasing the success rate of getting a good photo.
First and foremost, make sure you follow the rules of your home country so your application gets processed smoothly. For U.S. passports, visit the U.S. Department of State’s website for the most up-to-date info about passports and international travel. There are a set of simple but specific requirements for passport photos, so review those Photo Requirements before getting started (white background, neutral facial expression etc.).
To take your child’s passport photo, you’ll need:
- light source
- white foam board (2)
- photo paper/printer or printing service
There’s also a handy Photographer’s Guide on the website worth taking a look at, but this was legitimately my setup, guys—on the floor with two pieces of white foam board, and I ended up with a perfectly useable photo!
Taking Your Photo
You want to have natural light from a window coming in from behind the camera. If it’s really harsh sunlight coming through, draping a white sheet over the window to diffuse it should do the trick. I took the photos in my living room with my toddler son sitting on the floor. As you can see, I used one piece of white foam board (the bigger 20×30-inch size) as the backdrop by propping it up against the sofa. I used a smaller piece of white foam board to fill in shadows by propping it up on a pillow with it angled toward his face. Minimizing shadows on both face and background is really important. The foam board on your child’s lap will bounce the light onto his or her face for a brighter image with less shadows.
And as long as you have enough natural light, just turn off all other indoor lights to avoid weird color casts and shadows caused by overhead lighting.
I shot in manual, overexposed a bit to brighten, with no flash and only natural light from two windows. Most of the shots I took didn’t have any shadowing, but I chose this one because, well, I liked it the best and I wanted to show you that a bit of shadowing doesn’t matter—it can easily be fixed.
For Babies: There are a few options to consider when photographing your baby. First, you could lay your baby down on a white sheet or blanket to take the photo so that his or her head is supported. Second, you could drape your baby’s car seat with a white sheet or blanket and take the photo there. Or third, you could place a white sheet or blanket to cover a parent’s torso and sit your baby upright on the parent’s lap (note that no one else can be shown in the photo though—an arm holding the baby upright, for example, won’t be approved).
For tips on taking photos of babies in general, I wrote this post that might help. :)
Formatting Your Photo
- Transfer the photos you took of your child from your camera to your computer.
- Choose your favorite one to use as the passport photo.
- Head back over to the U.S. Department of State’s website to use the free Photo Tool, which guides you through sizing the photo perfectly and saves it at 600×600 pixels, equivalent to 2×2 inches. (This is much easier than measuring everything yourself based on the Photo Composition Template.)
- If Necessary: Open your new cropped image in your photo editing software of choice. This is solely to fix any issues with shadows as you are not allowed to alter your appearance in any way. In Adobe Photoshop, I increased sharpening to 75% at a radius of 1 pixel, adjusted brightness by +17 and adjusted contrast by +7. That pretty much took care of the light shadowing. If you have a lot of shadowing, work with the shadows/highlights sliders to correct it. I did use the Dodge tool in Photoshop to lessen the shadow on the background a bit more, but it wasn’t at all essential.
Printing Your Photo
If you’re printing at home, simply print your 2×2-inch photo on high-quality photo paper and cut it out.
If you’re using a printing service, you’ll need to expand your canvas to 4×6 so that it will print correctly. Your image size will stay 2×2, but your canvas size will need to be 4×6. If you have multiple family members needing photos, you can create a collage on a 4×6 canvas with all the 2×2 photos and get them all printed out on one sheet. 30¢ total for one 4×6 photo printout with all of your passport photos compared to $15 each is pretty awesome, right?!
As for us, I didn’t take a passport photo of my little C for no good reason … ;) we’re excited to be heading off to our next adventure in the near future. I’ve been world-traveling since I was a baby, so I really can’t imagine it not being the same for my little one. Just for fun, here’s my very first passport picture, some 30 years ago. I was a year younger than my son in his first passport picture. :)
I would love to hear about your international travel experiences with your children! Share some stories with me in the comments below. Be sure to leave me a note as well if you have any questions—I’m happy to answer them. Happy travels!