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How To Change Your Driver's License Photo

Plus, tips for taking a more flattering ID photo.
Hate handing over your ID photo? You don't actually have to live with it for years and years. 
Hate handing over your ID photo? You don't actually have to live with it for years and years. 

Until recently, I had only taken one driver’s license photo in my life. I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to driving, and I didn’t get my license until I was 19. I didn’t realize it then, but that license would serve as a time capsule for my late-teens look for more than a decade.

As the years went on, my image evolved, but I was stuck with the same heavy eyeliner and overbearing jewelry in my ID picture. When it came time to renew, the process was handled by mail, so there was no need to snap a new photo. But when Real IDs began rolling out last year, requiring applicants to visit a physical DMV location, I finally had my chance at a new, improved photo.

You can imagine my dismay when after careful primping, an hour wait at the DMV and more than $30 in fees, I received my license in the mail only to be horrified at the results. The photo was taken at an unflattering, upward angle, and the lighting was so stark against my pale skin that it was hard to tell where my chin ended and neck began. To top it all off, my eyes were looking toward something slightly off-center, giving me a somewhat confused expression.

I needed a do-over.

If you also have a driver’s license photo that you can’t stand, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do about it. Fortunately, you don’t have to be stuck with that unflattering photo for the next several years.

How To Replace Your ID Photo

If your driver’s license is ever lost or stolen, the process for replacing it is usually fairly simple. But what if you want to change elements of the ID, such as the photo?

“If you are unhappy with your driver’s license photo, you can go to the DMV and apply for a duplicate license. They will take a new photo, and provide you with a temporary license,” said Rodney Yo, owner of a California DMV-licensed online traffic school.

In fact, all you usually need to get your license photo changed is to complete the proper form and bring your existing driver’s license to a DMV office, according to David Reischer, a traffic law attorney at LegalAdvice.com.

The form will vary depending on what state you live in. For example, New York requires you to fill out a Form MV-44. “State laws for photo ID changes vary, so contact the DMV in your local jurisdiction to learn the proper state form to complete,” Reischer said.

Keep in mind there is also a fee required to update the photo on a driver’s license or a learner’s permit, which may differ from the cost to renew your license. As an example, these are the fees to replace or duplicate a license in several major states:

In some cases, it may be cheaper to update the photo on a non-driver photo ID card (in New York, it’s only $13 for an ID versus $17.50 for a driver’s license). Also, you should be prepared to surrender your current driver’s license, Reischer said.

How To Take A Good Driver’s License Photo

The process for replacing your license photo is pretty easy, but how do you avoid screwing up the retake? As I learned personally, it’s a good idea to keep things simple and avoid any makeup, clothing and accessories that might end up looking garish or dated.

Neck out, chin down.

What about crafting a more flattering face shape? “One of the main complaints people often have about straight-on headshots like driver’s license pictures is that they end up looking as if they have a double chin,” said Dave Bowden, a style consultant and founder of IrreverentGent.com. “Fortunately, there’s an easy little hack you can use to avoid this.”

Bowden said to start by extending your face forward and up at a 45-degree angle, so that your neck muscles are tense. Then, lower your chin so that your face is no longer at 45 degrees, but is looking straight ahead. “This position feels awkward and it’s difficult to hold for too long, but it stretches your neck and keeps the skin beneath your chin from bunching up, making your jawline look much more refined,” he said.

Ask for a retake.

According to Yo, there aren’t any rules against retaking your DMV photo if you don’t like the way the first one came out. However, whether you’re allowed to will likely depend on the number of people waiting in line and the disposition of the person working that day. It doesn’t hurt to ask, just keep your request reasonable and limited to one retake.