Taking an infant passport photo presents a number of challenges. First, you’re dealing with a whole new little being which in and of itself can be overwhelming, especially since they don’t usually come with instruction manuals! Second, passport photos have a set of requirements that you have to meet to be valid. And without the aforementioned instruction manual, it’s hard to get your infant to comply with government regulations.
We had to get passport, ID, and visa photos for four different countries within the first four weeks of our son’s birth, so we had a trial by fire! Below, I’ll share with you what we learned, what we would have done differently and Bébé Voyage members’ expert tips. (Wish we’d had those!)
Good to Know
Club Bébé Voyage members report getting their newborn’s passport photos very early on, some even at the hospital a couple of days after birth! Expats, adoptive parents, and others often need to get paperwork, passports, residency cards, and visas organized within the first few weeks or months of a baby’s birth.
Some parents worry that because babies change so much that the photo will not resemble their child a few months or years later and they will have problems at the immigration counter. Bébé Voyage members have universally had their children’s passports accepted for as long as they were valid, regardless of the photo’s resemblance to the child.
Each Country Has its Own Passport Photo Requirements
While all passport photos basically require a white background and a frontal headshot, that’s about as far as the similarities go. So make sure you do your research and find out exactly what are the requirements for your particular country.
Some places, like Sweden, require you to come into the passport agency (or Swedish embassy) and take the photo in their booth. In a sense, those are the easiest because the agents will tell you what to do and will let you know which requirements are flexible (e.g., if newborns really need to have their eyes open). Ultimately, they’re in charge of taking the photo and do as much as possible to help you out.
Pro tip: If you’re going to the passport agency to get the infant passport photo taken, try to go with two parents/adults so that one can hold the baby and the other can be behind the camera/ photographer directing the infant’s attention.
Other countries require you to submit a passport photo with your passport application. Countries have varying requirements about the amount of white space there should be around the head, what the dimensions of the photo should be, and if it should have a border. Again, check your specific country requirements so your work isn’t for naught.
Taking an Infant Passport Photo at a Photo Store
For our son’s U.S. and French passports and Mozambican visa, we had to get photos printed. We decided to go to a photo store that had a passport photo service. That turned out to be a major fail.
The photographer had zero experience with newborns. As our son was too young to even hold his head up, our hands holding him up were visible in all the photos and thus ineligible. We then put him on some white posterboard on the floor which apparently was the perfect spot to fall asleep and take a nap. There was no waking him up for a good 20 minutes. Finally, we irritated him enough that he did wake up cranky and fussy, not making the photo-taking any easier.
But for Katie P., the experience was better: “Ours went surprisingly well. The lady gave me a white sheet to wear over my clothing and I held my son in my lap. The challenging part was trying to not have him smile as you’re not allowed to in a Canadian passport. Don’t mind the drool-covered shirt!”
“We actually had a pretty smooth experience getting these done at 2 months old!” Laura L. writes. “We went to Walgreens, they left her in her car seat and just put a piece of white butcher paper behind her. Worked perfectly!”
Taking an infant passport photo at a photo store is not an option that I would recommend. (Notice Katie and Laura were surprised that they lucked out!)
Similarly, Maryalice M. says, “I did mine at home because I had an infant photo from Costco rejected by the acceptance facility in the past!!”
“I don’t have the passport photo that was accepted, but this one was rejected here in the US because of the shadows on her face. And this was taken at AAA!” says Tiffany N.
“We had to take new pics at the passport office, they draped a white sheet over her car seat and took a pic of her lying in it,” reports Tiffany.
Here’s what I would do instead…
Taking an Infant Passport Photo at Home
When you are at home, you have much more flexibility to work with your baby’s schedule and moods to get a good passport photo. You’re pretty much taking photos all the time of your little one anyway, so you just need to create the conditions to take a good passport photo.
The best option is if you have a professional photographer coming in to do a newborn photo session, ask her to take a couple of passport photos too. If she’s used to doing baby photo shoots, she’ll know exactly how to do it.
If you don’t have a photographer coming in, then you’ll need to take your own photos.
Hopefully, things will work out as they did in Jessica Blond Seepersad’s case: “I just laid my baby on a white sheet on the bed and used my phone. Worked perfectly!”
Besides having a decent camera (most smartphones now have ones that are good enough), you need to think about lighting and figure out how you’re going to have your baby squarely face the camera.
Club Bébé Voyage member Angela S. adds that having some patience and a sense of humor are also necessary to successfully take infant passport photos at home!
Creating Optimal Lighting Conditions for Passport Photos
Passport, visa, and ID photos all require the softest shadows possible. The way to achieve that is by having diffuse light coming from multiple sources.
In practice, this would mean taking the photo in a room (e.g., a living room) that has natural light coming in through windows on two different walls. If it’s a bright day, using a sheer curtain will help diffuse the light.
If you only have one window, you can create a reflector to create a second source of light. This can be as easy as throwing a white sheet over a couple dining chairs a few feet away from the window. You’ll then place the baby between the window and the reflector.
If you don’t have good natural light at your place (or if it’s Sweden in the winter and the sun won’t come out until March!), try Eileen M.’s technique: “Make sure you have good overhead lighting. Lay many pieces of plain white printer paper on a table (it has low reflectivity and gives a very flat background). Then, with the help of another adult, lay the baby on the table. Use your phone on video mode and try to cajole baby to look straight up. Usually, babies will do it sometime during the video. Then use the best still frame from the video, crop it, and you’re done! That’s what we did.”
You can also use your phone’s editing filters to bring up the exposure and adjust the color (e.g., if your light is very yellow or the lighting is very dark) to fit passport requirements.
Pro tip: Figure out your lighting situation when your kid is taking a nap. Use a doll or other object as a stand-in so you can see how the shadows fall depending on where it is placed. Play around with the light sources, their positions, curtains, and the reflectors until you minimize the shadows as much as possible.
Positioning your Baby for an Infant Passport Photo
Once you’ve figured out the lighting situation and your baby is well fed, rested, and diapered, you can add your little one to the mix. The tricky part about taking an infant passport photo is that their necks are too weak to hold their heads up and so they are like little bobbleheads.
The secret is to support their head to minimize bobbling. You can do this by either using an infant car seat or by placing your baby on a mattress and placing some support around the head.
If you’re using an infant car seat, make sure you have the newborn head support cushion. This will minimize the head bobbing. To get the white background, cover the car seat (especially the head area) with a white sheet or t-shirt. To minimize pleats and folds, especially around the head, pull the fabric taught (you can use bag clips to help with this).
If you prefer using a mattress, remove it from the crib and place it on the floor. (The sides of the crib will likely block light and create shadows.) Put a white fitted sheet on it. Grab a light-colored hand towel and roll it lengthwise. Fold it into a U and place it under the sheet. Place your baby on the mattress with the U-towel forming a support around the sides and atop the infant’s head. Adjust the towel as necessary to minimize head bobbing.
Alternately, Kristine C. says, “With our four-day-old, we had my husband put his arms under the sheet. He cradled her head so it would stay perfectly straight. And, after nap time of course and with a third person shaking a rattle, we made sure eyes were open. We got it in two shots.”
Positioning Yourself and Your Camera for an Infant Passport Photo
Basically, you want your camera to be on a parallel plane a few feet (a meter or two) away from your baby’s face. As you do this, make sure that your body and/or camera aren’t casting shadows on your baby’s face. Ideally, you tested for this earlier when you were figuring out the optimal lighting.
Your baby should be squarely facing the camera. That usually means that both ears should be visible on the photo. Don’t place the camera at an angle in relation to the baby’s face.
Taking an Infant Passport Photo
When it’s actually time to take the photo, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Make sure there is nothing covering your baby’s head or face including pacifiers, hands (no thumb sucking!), hats, sunglasses, etc.
- To the extent possible, try to take a photo with your baby’s expression as neutral as possible. Eyes should be open and mouth closed, although most passport agencies are flexible with newborns.
- Make sure that your camera is properly focused on your baby’s face. If you’re using a smartphone, tap on your infant’s nose to get the camera to focus there.
- Turn off your camera’s flash as a flash will likely produce strong shadows. If you have poor lighting and need to use the flash, tape a single ply of white Kleenex or toilet paper over the flash to help diffuse the light.
- Use the burst mode or live mode on your camera so that you can take lots of shots rapid fire. This increases the likelihood of getting at least one or two good ones.
- “Leave plenty of white space above the head,” recommends Maryalice. “[For U.S. passport photos,] use the photo tool on the Department of State web page to crop your image. Tip: crop a few different photos to print and bring with you. That way if one is rejected you have back up!”
- Do what you can to attract your baby’s attention towards you and your camera. This might mean singing a favorite song, having someone hold a familiar stuffed animal near the camera, wearing a red clown nose, etc. You know your baby best, so go for things that will delight rather than scare your little one.
- The U.S. State Department has some good tips on what makes a good passport photo. Especially helpful are the photo examples on the bottom of the page. Click on Children to get specific tips for passport photos of babies and kids and simple corrections to get a better photo.
Printing an Infant Passport Photo
Once you’ve got your passport photo taken, you need to print it! Again make sure you know exactly what dimensions you need, how much white space around the head, if you need to print a glossy or matte photo and if your photo needs a border. You will need to give all this info to whomever is printing the photo.
If you have photo paper and a good printer and are confident in your photo cropping and light photo editing skills, then, by all means, go ahead and print your own photo.
If you’re not up for your own photo printing, I recommend going to your local photo store or uploading to a specific passport photo printing website.
If you go to a photo store, there will likely be someone on staff who can do some light editing, like adjusting the exposure, smoothing out the background, cropping and sizing the photo to the right dimensions.
Pro tip: If the photo store does any editing, be sure to ask them to give you a digital copy of the edited photo so that you have it in case you need to print out more. With the edited file, you can do subsequent printings at any print kiosk or online prints website.
Ashley S. says, “Don’t trust that the photo shop will actually get the size right if you are abroad when you give birth. You can only explain in two different languages so many times, right? Thankfully, the consulate accepted it even though they probably shouldn’t have. I would recommend bringing a size example of the correct photo dimensions since that is not globally standard.”
If you want to use a photo printing website, I recommend using one that specifically does passport photos as most offer light editing, exposure control, smoothing out the background, etc. Just make sure that you give them the specifications for the photos you need. Be careful, for example, that if you are in the U.K. and need a photo for a U.S. passport that they will size according to American specs.
Passport photo printing websites:
Want more advice on taking your children’s passport photos? Read our guide to taking toddler passport photos here.
Thanks to the members of Club Bébé Voyage who agreed to contribute their opinions, advice, and photos to this article!