What about Passport pictures?

We need some passport pictures of the boys for the upcoming trip to Mexico.

How hard can it be to take some passport photos? What are the requirements?  Can I do this myself? The local store that does this charges $20 per photo for this service and does a fine job, but that’d be $80 out of pocket for the four I need.  I’m definitely not going pay anyone to take ‘passport’ pictures of my own family.  If you know me at all, this is not surprising.  Head shots are usually, on the surface, quite easy, but when you look at the details can be daunting.

Here’s what must be submitted to the state department:

  1. Two identical recent photos that are 2″x2″ square.
  2. The background must be uniform white or off-white.
  3. The head size from the bottom of the chin to the top of the hair must be between 1″ and 1 3/8″ (1.375″).

Mess up on any of these items and there will be delays.  When getting passport pictures, one thing that is generally not good is a delay, as travel times are usually set and soon approaching. Notice that the head size needs to be just a little bit bigger than half the height of the photo–this is crucial.

IMG_0106Holly of course wanted the boys to look nice and have a nice natural looking smile, so we had to wash their curly hair, scrub their little faces, and dress them up in matching outfits.  Here’s the first take on the left, straight from the camera. 

Passport MarkTo take this photo, we got out some white 20×30″ foam core matting and used that as the background near a window in the kitchen.  The main light was the natural window light, and I used the flash to fill in the shadows on the dark side of the face.  Notice the uniformly lit white background which is a requirement.  This can be done in Photoshop too, using a variety methods.  The trouble with on-camera flash can be the shadow on the wall behind the subject which is not allowed.  This must be managed.

measure tool locationI took the photo in portrait format (vertical). This was a mistake.  When I reframed it as a square photo in Photoshop as a 2×2″ 300dpi photo, there was not enough white space on the sides to make his head small enough, so I had to use the rubber-stamp tool (or clone tool) in photo shop to add white space on the sides of his head, as seen on right.  Perhaps there’s a quicker way to do this, but this is the tool I know. 

Also, notice that he has a clump of hair sticking up really high.  When I checked the height of his head from the bottom of the chin to the top of the hair, I was at about 1.41″, well beyond the allowed height of 1.375 inches.

Photoshop has a convenient little device called the “Measure Tool” in the tools palette, hidden underneath the color dropper that is very intuitive to use.  I’m not sure why they hid it there, but knew that I’d be able to find it’s location if I asked our local Photoshop/page layout guru, Jim Green. 

You can probably see that many of the tool icons in the default tools palette have a little triangle in the lower right hand corner.  These indicate that other hidden tools can be accessed by right-clicking on the icon, or ctrl-clicking on a Mac.  When you’re looking for a tool and can’t find it by looking, a good second step is to look under the standard tools.

At this point, I have a choice, I can either use Photoshop to scrunch his hair down or re-shoot.

I use an Olympus P-11 Dye Sublimation 4×6 printer that runs for about $80 and has a per print cost of $0.29 per print.  An odd trait of this printer is that it does not print at the stated size.  Some quick algebra told me that printing at 80% magnification in photo shop gives the correct sizes as listed by the measure tool.  I would think that most printers either don’t have the same size reduction, or print the correct size.  I strongly recommend this printer location 4×6 printing.  For larger prints, I use a Kodak 1400 Dye Sub locally, or use an online service.