How to take passport photos with iPhone: The ultimate guide

How to take passport photos with iPhone: The ultimate guide

a girl holding her US passport and luggage. - passport photo iPhone
Save money by taking your passport photo on your iPhone.

Taking and printing a passport photo on your iPhone is not exactly the mission impossible. The real challenge, however, is taking the right photo. 

Did you know that the passport photo is the top reason why most passport applications are denied?

If you submit an unacceptable photo, the U.S. Department of State will reject or hold your application—until you retake another photo and submit it.

Sounds a real hassle, right? 

And to think that processing a passport can take more than a month (ex. 6 to 8 weeks).  Goes without saying, you have to be meticulous in taking your US passport picture. 

That is why we compiled this comprehensive guide, so you can take an acceptable passport photo on iPhone and then submit or print it to the U.S. Department of State. 

Read on to avoid that big, fat red “denied” on your application!

Things to know before taking a passport photo on your iPhone

brown-haired guy in corporate attire - passport photo iPhone
This guy did something right with his photos.

Why passport photos get rejected 

It’s crucial that we discuss how taking passport photos can be such a daunting task.

And it’s even more challenging if you’re doing it on your own. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t go DIY. 

Taking passport photos can be a hassle because they are the number one reason why passport applications get rejected. 

In fact, according to the US Dept of State website, they turned down almost a quarter-million passport applications—all because of the submitted passport photo. 

That’s 250, 000 passport applications—denied!

And the worst part? The mistakes were all avoidable—had the applicants only known the right practices for their capturing their passport photos. 

For example… 

1. The photo’s exposure

overexposed photo of a Caucasian woman. - passport photo iPhone
Go easy on the brightness or you’ll end up like this lady right here.

One reason is your photo’s exposure. A photo that’s over- or under-exposed is a valid reason for rejection. 

The US Dept. of State requires that you take a properly exposed photo—that means it should not be too bright or too dark. Your features should be identifiable and you shouldn’t cast a shadow over the background.

That’s why if you don’t have sufficient ambient lighting in your room, you can invest in a ring light. We suggest getting a ring light with a selfie stand and phone holder so that you won’t need to buy a tripod for your iPhone. Still, you can choose to buy an iPhone tripod if you plan to take more iPhone photos in the future and get a clip-on selfie ring light instead.

If the person used their iPhone to take the picture, one quick editing on a third party app or on their Photos app would have solved their problem!

2. Blurry, hazy, or unclear image

blurry photo of a guy in corporate attire.  - passport photo iPhone
Be meticulous with your photo’s sharpness.

Wait—who in the right mind would submit a blurry photo? Apparently, believe it or not, people make this mistake. 

Remember, the US Dept of State needs a sharp, accurate picture of you! They don’t need a nostalgic 90s filter. 

On your iPhone, you can use the HDR mode to take your photo. With this tool, your camera can capture more details of what it is seeing. You can also use a clip-on telephoto lens, which can help you take clear photos even from a far distance.

We recommend this rather than unblurring your photo by amping up its sharpness. 

RELATED: 9 hacks to stop an iPhone camera from shaking

3. Outdated picture

outdated photo of a girl in sepia. - passport photo iPhone
Avoid sending photos more than a year old.

Now, this mistake might be due to misinformation and/or vanity. 

If you wished to look younger, you don’t really need to submit your college portrait or your selfie from three years ago. 

The US Dept of State needs a snapshot that’s been taken at least in the last 6 months. Now, if you want to look fresher than you are, you can always use the power of makeup. You can apply a liquid foundation that moisturizes your skin as well. We suggest you get the fragrance-free Dermablend Smooth, which is a foundation and sunscreen in one.

Requirements of a US passport photo

brown-haired guy in grey polo shirt - passport photo iPhone
This guy followed all the requirements of the US passport photo.

Take note that the US government does not have an official app or website for taking passport photos. That’s why you can take them on your own—given that you follow the right requirements. 

Remember these requirements, so the U.S. Department of State will not reject your passport photo. 

an infographic of passport requirements.  - passport photo iPhone
Be guided by these dos and don’ts in taking your passport photo.

From you

  1. Front-facing, non-selfie pose
  2. Wide-open eyes
  3. Normal smile/neutral facial expressions
  4. No hats/turbans/headgear
  5. Formal attire
  6. Unnecessary objects on your face

From your photo

  1. An off-white or white backdrop
  2. No visible shadows
  3. Unfiltered photo
  4. 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm)
  5. Printed in spotless matte/glossy photo paper

Can you smile for a US passport photo?

Yes, as long as you don’t overdo it. That means you should only smile lightly, with your lips pressed against each other. 

Any unusual expressions—grinning, grimacing, or frowning—are prohibited. In other words, the US Dept. of State only prefers neutral facial expressions. 

Now, why is that so? Well, it’s because your passport photo is the biometric identifier of facial recognition technology at ports-of-entry in most countries.  

That means their technology will use your digital photo to verify your identity with other entries in their database.

And that is why your facial expression should be nothing but neutral. 

Can you take passport photos using an iPhone?

red iPhone on tripod with iPhone adapter. - passport photo iPhone
Your iPhone camera is a reliable tool for taking a passport photo.

With the pricey photo studios these days, it’s preferable to go DIY. It’s definitely possible to take your own passport photos using your iPhone.

After that, you can just go to a photo printing service at the pharmacy and then have them printed. Better yet, you can just buy high-quality photo paper and print through a wireless iPhone photo printer. With the right tools and/or the right app, you can take your passport photos on your iPhone. 

Ready to take your photo? Continue reading. 

How to take passport photos with iPhone

Now that you know the requirements of an acceptable passport photo, it’s time to take your passport photo on your iPhone. The guidelines below are particularly for those who are submitting two printed photos.  

Now, assuming that you’ll take the photo on your own, you will need a few tools to take the photo successfully. 

What you’ll need: 

  • Your outfit. Corporate attire with solid colors will do. For women, you can wear a round-neck office top. Men can wear a long-sleeve shirt. As long as you don’t show too much skin, that will do.
  • Tripod with iPhone adapter. We suggest you get one, preferably a tripod with a remote shutter button—especially if you don’t like setting your camera on a timer. Meanwhile, if you don’t have a tripod, you can position your iPhone horizontally and let it lean on a stack of books.
  • A comfortable chair. You will need one since you will be doing several test shots. Standing up might tire you easily. A plastic dining chair will already work, as long as you can sit comfortably on it with your back in a straight position.
  • Off-white or white background. It can be any backdrop or a room with a bare-faced white wall. It can even be a door. If you want, you can invest in a white photography backdrop for your future photoshoots.
  • Pins or hooks. You can buy a small box, so you can secure the white/off white cloth. Get durable ones like the Command utility hooks or HENREK push pins.
  • Your printer. You can even print the photos directly from your iPhone using a wireless photo printer. We’ll explain how later. 
  • Gloss or matte photo paper. Make sure it’s from a quality brand that won’t tear easily. The US Dept. of State won’t accept photos that have holes or tears. You can check out the Durix semi-gloss photo paper or the Koala double-side matte paper.
  • Ambient lighting or natural lighting. It’s best if you take the photo in times where the lighting flatters your skin tone. As we’ve mentioned above, you want your photo to be illuminated properly, you can invest in a ring light with a tripod stand. 

1. Set up your backdrop.

white wall at a modern office.
For your background, find a plain white wall like this one.

Before you start to take a passport photo on iPhone, find a corner in your house or office with adequate lighting. If you don’t have a plain white or off-white wall, you can use plain white cloth instead. Hang it up using the pins or hooks. 

Nevertheless, remember that a good background is pointless without proper lighting. The wrong lighting will over- or underexpose your photo. 

Therefore, make sure to choose a place with flattering lighting. 

You can also place a ring light in front of your iPhone for that professional studio effect. Better yet, take your photo around 8 am to 10 am, so you can take advantage of the adequately bright morning light. 

2. Position your chair and tripod with your iPhone on it.

US passport photo height ratio requirements.
Make sure to follow this height ratio.

Place your iPhone on the tripod’s adapter.

If you want to use the front camera for convenience, be warned that the quality might not be as good as the rear camera.

Additionally, make sure it’s not too far or too close to your chair. View this accepted photo composition and be guided. 

3. Capture your photo.

black iPhone on tripod.
Take as many photos as you want.

Is your setup ready? Now it’s time to capture a few shots of your passport photo on iPhone. If you have a remote shutter button, skip the steps below. 

  1. On your iPhone camera, tap the timer button. If you have an iPhone 11, 11 Pro, or 11 Pro Max, tap the arrow that points upward at the top of your screen. 
  2. Above the shutter button, a panel will show icons. Tap the Timer button, which is shaped like a clock. 
  3. Choose 10 seconds.
  4. Tap the shutter button, so the countdown will begin. 
  5. Sit straight on the chair. 
  6. Look straight at the camera lens. 
  7. Wait until the shutter goes off. 
  8. Your iPhone camera will take the shots in burst mode, so you will have plenty of photos to choose from. 

Remember that if you’re using the rear camera, it will take a few tries before you capture a photo with the correct height. So, do as many test shots as possible, until you get it right. 

Although you will crop the photo later, you should still get the right height ratio when you’re taking the photo. 

To know how zooming or cropping affects a photo, check our blog post here: Is It Better to Zoom or Crop a Photo?

Additionally, make sure there is no deep shadow visible behind you and over your face. Any visible shadows might complicate the verifying of your photo on facial recognition systems.

4. View the photos and assess if they check all the necessary boxes.

Now it’s time to take your iPhone out of the adapter and check them on your Photos app. 

Do all they check these boxes?

  • Is your facial expression neutral? Your smile should not be a grin.
  • Are your ears showing? It’s not necessary but it’s better if you do.
  • Is there a deep shadow behind you or over your face and/or eyes? There should be zero shadows.

Also, assess if you’re adequately exposed. Not pleased with the lighting? 

A little editing of the exposure and contrast will help define your features better. If the picture is too bright, you can lower the exposure and then increase the contrast. 

If you’re content with your photos’ resolution, choose the best one. This will be the photo that you will be resizing and printing later. 

5. Install the Passport Photo – ID Photo app to resize your photos to 2×2 and print them. 

preview of the Passport Photo - ID Photo app on the iPhone.
The Passport Photo- ID photo is a free app in iOS.

You will have to submit two pieces of one 2×2 passport photo in your application. 

Now, on the Biometric Passport Photo app, you can put two passport photos in a 3.5” x 5.5” photo paper. After that, you can print it and then cut the two photos out of the paper.

However, but before you format your photos, you have to resize them first. 

To crop and then print your photos through the app, follow these steps. 

  1. Launch the Passport Photo – ID Photo app. 
  2. At the top left corner, tap the dropdown menu with a flag icon. Select the United States option. 
  3. Next, upload your best photo to the app by tapping the gallery icon at the bottom left corner, next to the camera icon. 
  4. Zoom and adjust your photo until the height of your head reaches the required limit and your chin rests just above the required line.
  5. At the bottom, tap the check icon. 
  6. Next, select the 3.5” x 5.5” format. 
  7. A prompt will show some options. Tap “Save”, so you can have an extra copy in case your printed copy turns out awry. 
  8. After that, tap the 3.5” x 5.5” format again, so the options will show. 
  9. Select the Print button. 
  10. The app will show the Printer options. If you have an InkJet printer, the Printer tab must state “InkJet”. 
  11. For safety purposes, select 2 copies by tapping the “+” button. 
  12. Finally, the Options tab has to indicate “Color, 4×6 inches”. 
  13. You can now print your two copies of your passport photos. 

Remember that you can also capture your passport photo through the app. However, we suggest trying to capture a photo on your native camera app, so you can compare the qualities and choose the best. 

What does an acceptable US passport photo on iPhone look like?

Some people are all bent on looking their best on their passport photos. Meanwhile, other hopefuls just want an acceptable image. 

The latter is actually where you should focus. After all, the machine doesn’t require you looking hot. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do something to achieve the former.

Therefore, to take an acceptable and presentable passport photo on iPhone, read these guidelines. 

What’s the ideal hairstyle for a passport photo?

Depending on your frocks, you may need a quick haircut to make the cut. Get it? 

Be guided by our tips below if you’re doubting that your locks might prevent your application from getting accepted.

For women

french braid of an Asian girl in rear view
You can let down your hair but it’s better if you put up a hairdo.
  • We know the hair is your crowning, flaming glory. But save the flaunting for the club on Friday night. Ideally, your hairstyle should not cover your whole face.
  • If you still have that mid-2000s emo-style bangs, sorry—you have to ditch it. However, you can wear bangs, as long as they don’t cover your eyes. 
  • The US Dept of State won’t care if your ears are pointy or awkwardly small. Your hairdo should not cover both of your ears. So, be sure to show them!

For men

clean haircut of a young Caucasian man
A new, cleaner haircut won’t hurt.
  • A clean haircut before taking the photo is recommended. Nevertheless, if you’re sporting a shoulder-length, Brad Pitt-Esque hairstyle, just make sure to show your eyebrows, eyes, and ears. 
  • So, what’s it going to be—beard or no beard? While shaving facial hair is also highly suggested, beards are not considered as a significant change. The same goes for hair dyes. 
  • If you add new piercings and tattoos to your face, you must renew your passport photo. And if you add something again, you have to send a new photo again. 

[IMPORTANT] If you’re wearing a turban, hijab, etc., or a hat for medical purposes, you can submit a signed statement together with your photo. It must state that you’re required to wear it on the public at all times. Also, your religious leader or your doctor should sign the letter. Here’s a free template for that letter. 

What is the right outfit/look for a passport photo?

  • Uniforms, eyeglasses, caps, hats, etc. are not allowed. 
  • Wear formal attire such as a corporate suit or a shirt with collars. You can buy a cotton shirt with a collar—it’s more comfortable than most materials.
  • Don something in cooler hues or earth tones, since warm colors will highlight your face’s flaws.
  • Don’t wear an outfit with patterns (ex. Plaids, polka dots, florals, etc.)

How to look good in a passport photo

brunette woman applying pressed powder on her cheeks.
Eyebrows, a little blush, and a classy lipstick will go a long way.
  • Hydrate yourself days before and on the day you’re taking your picture. 
  • Make sure to sleep well before the shoot. You can always apply concealer to cover those dark under-eyes, but nothing beats a natural glow. You can try the Dermablend foundation stick, which can even cover tattoos.
  • Invest in the right blouse or shirt. Don’t just wear any “formal” top you see at mall kiosks. 
  • For both women/men, don’t wear too much makeup that you’ll become unrecognizable in person. Keep it au naturel.

How do you apply makeup for a passport photo?

  • Make sure your skin tone is accurate or at least close to accurate. This is why we said go easy on the foundation and contouring, as it might exaggerate a tan or make you look fair when you aren’t. 
  • Dab concealer on your undereyes gently and moderately. You can cover spots and redness, too. 
  • Pat translucent powder on your face’s oiliest areas to minimize the shine. If you don’t have one, we suggest you invest in the vegan and cruelty-free setting powder products like the Hourglass Veil transluscent powder.

Can I send digital copies of my passport photo?

According to the US Department of State, anyone who falls under these categories must apply for a passport in person. That means you need to go to a passport acceptance facility, fill in a form in person, and submit your printed photos.

Meanwhile, if you’re renewing your passport, you can process your application online. And that means you can submit the digital copies of your photos as well. The guidelines we presented above are for those who are printing their photos. 

Here are the specs of US digital passport photos: 

  • The US Dept of State also has a free resizing tool for digital images. You can use this tool to crop, resize, or rotate a digital image into the acceptable dimensions.
  • Must be at least 600 x 600 pixels to 1200 x 1200 pixels
  • Must be in color 24 bits per pixel in sRGB color space
  • In JPEG file format
  • The file size must be less than 240 kB. To compress your photo without reducing its quality, check out these free photo-compressing tools.

For the complete set of requirements for printed and digital photos, check them out here.

What is the best passport photo app for the iPhone?

passports of a boy and a girl vector
We recommend the Biometric Passport Photo app.

Above, we suggested using the Passport Photo – ID Photo app by Vitalij Schaefer. However, we can also recommend the Biometric Passport Photo app.  

These two are the cream of the crop. Both apps have similar functions and features. Even better, you can save money by using both apps because you will only spend under a dollar to print your passport photos.

Although, if you’re sending it to a printing service, one thing to be wary of is the sizing. Since you’re using an app that’s not theirs, you should make sure they print the right size.

The printing service provider should communicate with you and send you a preview of your 2×2 pics before sending it to you. 

How to get my passport photos delivered at home?

Some passport acceptance facilities in the US have photo printing services. However, they come with extra fees. And, you can’t be sure about the long lines that day. So, it’s better if you print your own photos. 

Meanwhile, if you don’t own a printer, you can tap on a printing service provider to deliver your pictures to your doorstep. 

These photo-printing services either have their own photo-taking tools on their site. Others can allow you to upload your photos only and from there, they will take care of the printing and delivery. 

As for the deliveries, some providers have pick-up options, which means you will need to pick up your printed photos at establishments like Walgreens. Others also offer 7-day deliveries. 

Final thoughts

Your iPhone’s camera may not still compete with a DSLR camera, however, it’s more than enough for an acceptable passport photo. 

Just don’t forget to study the requirements we listed above, so your passport won’t get denied.

Do you know any other good apps for taking passport photos? Are you in favor of using a selfie stick? 

Let us know in the comments below!