How to Take Your Child’s Passport Photo

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.

How to Take Your Child's Passport Photo | Savvy Sweet Life

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:

  • camera
  • 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!

How to Take Your Child's Passport Photo | Savvy Sweet Life

if you have a toddler, use a test subject first so your little one won’t have to sit still for long before you actually need him or her to look at the camera. or just use toys as a distraction like I did. ;)

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.

How to Take Your Child's Passport Photo | Savvy Sweet Life

this is my original photo straight out of the camera. make sure to leave plenty of space on all sides like this (don’t take too tight of a shot) so that you have room to crop it to meet the size requirements.

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

  1. Transfer the photos you took of your child from your camera to your computer.
  2. Choose your favorite one to use as the passport photo.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
How to Take Your Child's Passport Photo | Savvy Sweet Life

before and after based on the photo editing steps above

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. :)

How to Take Your Child's Passport Photo | Savvy Sweet Life

and apparently shadows weren’t such a big deal back then because there are some really dark ones behind my head!

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!

22 thoughts on “How to Take Your Child’s Passport Photo

  1. These are great tips. It would really help for toddlers being more comfortable in their environment. I have the funniest photo of my son crying in his passport photo. He was not happy with having to be held up in front of the screen at the place but we traveled very successfully to Italy and it was worth it!

    1. Oh yes, taking my toddler’s photo at home where he’s comfortable definitely played a big role in getting a good photo. I probably would have ended up with a funny crying one as well had I not done it this way, haha! But never mind the passport photo—traveling successfully to Italy with a little one is what matters! :) What an incredible family trip! My husband and I went there a few years ago, and I’ve been dreaming of going back ever since.

  2. Though I won’t be needing any passport photos, your tips for taking a headshot are really helpful. I didn’t know the trick about the white board on your lap bouncing light like that. Your son will be the cutest world traveler ever!

  3. Passport photos sure have changed over time! In some ways they’re easier because they can be taken at home in some cases (some countries require a particular stamp from the photographing shop to be on the back of the photos so then they can’t be done at home), and other rules have become more difficult with just the right size, dimensions for where the shoulders are in the photo, no smile, looking directly at the camera, etc. I think the easiest we’ve had taken was my daughter at only a couple of months old as she was young enough that she didn’t even need to have her eyes open!

    Thank you for sharing your editing skills with us for our next round of passport photos!

    1. You’re welcome, Crystal! Yes, the rules and requirements vary a lot by country, so I can only speak for what’s required in the U.S. and my experience. Have you traveled internationally a lot with your children? I’ve done a fair amount myself prior to having a child, but I still want to continue to see the world with my little one :)

    1. Definitely! Here in the U.S. you have the flexibility to take your own passport photos as long as you adhere to the official requirements. I’ve done several now with no problems at all!

  4. Great tutorial! We will be needing passports soon as we are planning our honeymoon. I will definitely be bookmarking this so we can save the money and do ours at home!

    Thank you for sharing with us at #MommyMeetupMondays!

    1. Aww thanks, Nicky :)

      When it’s time to renew, try it out! Taking your own passport photos is really pretty easy, and with renewals for your whole family, it would be a large savings. So it’s definitely worth it!

    1. You’re welcome, Michelle! Taking your own passport photos is especially cost-effective if you need them for multiple family members. I hope you get to do some traveling with a passport soon too :)

  5. Wow – thanks for these tips! I haven’t taken my kids out of the country, but am starting to save for a trip to Ireland. I am pinning this so I can reference it when we’re ready to get our passports!

  6. Boy, am I glad I found this! I’m from Brazil and live in the UK, so am visiting my family in a couple of months with my baby girl! She’ll be 6 months old by then, so I need to get going with the passport picture! Also, if you have any tips for travelling with a baby, I’d love to read them! Dreading a long haul flight + long waits in airports with nowhere to put her :(

    1. How exciting to be traveling back home with your baby girl! After this long-haul flight for us, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of tips for you ;) I’ve traveled with my son on several flights now within the US, and my best tip is to use a baby carrier. I’ve worn him in an Ergo carrier every time through the airport/onto the plane, and it made it so much easier. Also, nursing him during takeoff and packing plenty of things to keep him busy helped tremendously. He loves airplanes and flying, but the longest flight he’s been on is three hours … so we’ll see how our 10-hour flight goes! Best of luck with your passport picture and upcoming travels!

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