There are strict requirements related to backdrop, lighting, head positioning and facial expressions to ensure the image is usable, resulting in a photo some may find less than flattering — and one that they're stuck with for up to 10 years.
No need to settle for a subpar shot, here are some expert tips for putting your best face forward:
1. Ensure the photo studio is well-equipped
"If they're using a little point-and-shoot camera, I'd probably say it's not the right place because it's not going to give you that great picture that someone who uses a professional digital camera would be able to produce for you," said Steve Lim of CanadianPassportPhotos.ca.
"Take a look at the print quality. If you can, even ask for an example, that would be even better. But the better equipment they have, it's a better sign that they take the passport photo-taking a lot more serious than some other places."
Lim is also manager of Rapid Photo in Toronto, which uses a calibrated LED panel as a backdrop offering bright white light without the shadows.
Mark Efford, store manager of Lens & Shutter in Vancouver, said they use a direct flash on the front of the camera to avoid highlights on the eyes.
"If you use an umbrella or soft box, it would be a big, giant reflection in the eye which detracts from the ID aspect of the photo."
2. Choose clothing and accessories wisely
Both Efford and Lim advise against wearing white to avoid blending into the photo backdrop.
Also steer clear of patterns or advertisements on shirts, which can prove distracting, noted Efford. Ditto for fluorescents.
"Neon colours don't reproduce correctly and they're extremely bright," said Efford. "They take away from the facial features, and an ID photo is all about the facial features, identifying them distinctly, quickly."
Efford said they recommend people opt for medium-tone grey or light blue hues which are more complementary.
"They're more neutral and they photograph that way," he said. "They don't detract. They're actually putting the emphasis on the face."
Lim said any dangling earrings or big baubles should be removed as they can prove distracting.
3. Reduce glare from glasses — or ditch them
Efford said glasses should be pushed up right up against the face. The photo subject should then lean forward and tilt their face down just slightly to allow the light to go through the top part of the glass to create little to no glare in the lens.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the time that works perfect," he said.
Lim said they always try to take photos with people wearing their glasses, but there are some instances where they can't prevent glare. In those cases, they recommend that people take the photo without them to save time and ensure the photo isn't rejected.
But it's not just glare from glasses that can prove problematic — shiny skin is also a passport photo no-go.
"Any half-decent passport photo studio would have something called rice paper which is an absorbing paper and they will provide it for you. Use it to dab skin for excess oil," said Lim.
4. Keep makeup neutral
After receiving compliments on her passport photo shared on Instagram, Arianne Velasquez decided to share her beauty tips and tricks on her blog, Glitter Geek.
While she usually wears more makeup for ID photos, she opted for a more minimalist approach.
"Contouring was definitely a big thing, for sure," said the Toronto makeup artist. "Contouring on the cheeks and maybe even down the nose and the eyelids just to make all the shadows kind of more pronounced."
Velasquez opted for matte makeup, kept natural tones for the eyes, and wore neutral lipstick.
"You basically want to do something that you would do for a job interview," she said. "You still want to look like yourself. Obviously, if your everyday look is a red lipstick then go for it; but I wouldn't do party makeup for an ID photo."
"We'll always tell people to relax, because when you're kind of in that stiff mode you look very nervous," said Lim.
"If we ask people to give us a neutral expression or a pleasant expression, you can actually get a half-decent picture out of that. There is no need to give that stern, angry look.
"Even if it's a half-pleasant smirk, that is usually very effective, and it makes the picture look so much better on paper."
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