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Guidelines for Producing High Quality Photographs for U.S. Travel Documents
Technological advances have changed the way passport and visa photos may be taken and the way that the U.S. Department of State processes the photos. This website is designed to help photographers ensure that:
- Customers are accurately represented and
- Photos are free of common defects that cause delays
The Guide for Professional Photographers begins below. The Guide presents the latest recommendations for passport and visa photographs. Please take the time to become familiar with the information provided. With your help producing good quality photos for U.S. passports and U.S. visas, the Department of State can process the applications efficiently. As a result, we will both have satisfied customers!
Setup and Production Guidelines
Successful U.S. passport and visa photography begins with careful setup and appropriate production methods.
Proper Lighting Arrangement
- Position light sources on both sides of subject to avoid shadows on face.
- Use a light source to illuminate background behind subject to avoid shadows in background
Camera/ Subject Position
- Place camera approximately 4 ft (120 cm) from the subject.
- Have camera at subject’s eye level.
- Position subject facing the camera.
Photograph Print Properties
- Produce 2 inch x 2 inch (51 mm x 51 mm) color photo.
- Print photo on thin photo paper or stock.
- Ensure the print is clear and has a continuous-tone quality.
- Do not retouch or otherwise enhance or soften photo.
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7 Steps to Successful Photos
|Frame subject with full face, front view, eyes open|
|Make sure photo presents full head from top of hair to bottom of chin; height of head should measure 1 inch to 1-3/8 inches (25 mm to 35 mm)|
|Center head within frame (see Figure 2 below)|
|Make sure eye height is between 1-1/8 inches to 1-3/8 inches (28 mm and 35 mm) from bottom of photo|
|Photograph subject against a plain white or off-white background|
|Position subject and lighting so that there are no distracting shadows on the face or background|
|Encourage subject to have a natural expression|
Brightness, Contrast and Color
- Brightness and contrast should be adjusted to present the subject and background accurately
- Photos without proper contrast or color may obscure unique facial features
- Color should reproduce natural skin tones
- Fluorescent or other lighting with unbalanced color may cause unwanted color cast in the photo
- Appropriate filters can eliminate improper color balance
Head Position and Background
- Head should be positioned directly facing the camera
- Photo should capture from slightly above top of hair to middle of chest
- Eyes should be open and looking at the camera
- Eyeglasses should be worn if normally used by the subject
- Glare on eyeglasses can usually be avoided with a slight upward or downward tilt of the head
- Background should be plain white or off-white
- Include headpieces if worn daily for religious purposes; they should not obscure or cast shadows on the eyes or any other part of the face
- Over-exposure or under-exposure may render the photo unusable
- Three-point balanced lighting is strongly recommended (see Figure 1)
- Facial features should be clearly evident in the photo
- Lighting should be adjusted to avoid shadows on the face or background
- Diffuse sources of light , such as umbrella lights, are preferable to point sources
- High- resolution photography and printing are strongly recommended
- Both conventional and digital photography are acceptable, and conventional or digital printing methods may be used
- Resulting print should exhibit a continuous-tone quality regardless of the print method used (dye sublimation, ink jet, laser, etc.)
- Digitally printed photos should be produced without visible pixels or dot patterns
- Fine facial features should be discernible
- The entire face should be in focus
Digital Photography and Printing
Using digital photography to produce passport and visa photos involves more than just photographing subjects with a digital camera. That is just the first step, the image capture step, of a multi-step process that also includes image display and image printing using computer and printer equipment. Each of these components — can influence either positively or negatively — the final printed photo that will be submitted for the passport or visa. The following recommendations for each of these digital components will ensure high-quality photos.
Digital cameras are principally characterized by their image resolution or mega-pixel capacities; from low-resolution (less than 1 mega-pixel) to high-resolution (greater than 1 mega-pixel) to advanced high-resolution (4 mega-pixels or more). The camera”s resolution is the most critical feature in producing high-quality photographs. For U.S. passport and visa photographs, a digital camera with a resolution of 1 mega-pixel will be more than adequate for capturing the image and producing the final photo that conforms to the dimensions specified on this web site.
These cameras generally have automatic features for controlling many of the photographic qualities emphasized on the preceding web pages. Care should be taken not to rely totally on these controls since each subject — facial characteristics, clothing, facial movement, etc. — can vary and may not be accommodated for by the automatic settings.
Cameras with a direct electronic camera-to-computer interface are preferable to those requiring the use of an external memory card. Data transfers will occur much faster and allow for verification of a good image being stored in the computer. If a retake is required because the subject blinked or moved, it would be more convenient than taking several shots to be sure of a good one and then downloading them via the memory card.
The computer is the central component in digital photography. It stores and displays the digital images from the digital camera and enables those images to be printed on a variety of digital printers. Because of the huge amount of data contained in high-resolution digital images, the computer should have adequate memory and storage capacities. In addition to these two key elements, the computer should have high-speed interfaces to the camera and printer, as well as a fast CPU to control the image processing functions. The recommended computer configuration for processing digital images is provided below:
- CPU Speed: 1.4 GHz
- Main Memory: 128 MB RAM
- Hard Drive Storage: 20 GB
- Interfaces: High-speed interfaces to match your camera and printer, such as Firewire or USB 2.0
Most display monitors today are capable of displaying images in various screen resolutions, all of which are suitable for viewing passport and visa images. These monitors also display images in a wide variety of colors. However, an image can look quite different when viewed on various display monitors, in terms of both screen resolution and image quality. For this reason, it is important to set the monitor”s settings to the manufacturer”s default values to view the image in the most appropriate manner. For more accurate color-matching, check that the calibration of your monitor is correct. If necessary, use the monitor”s control panel to fine-tune its color adjustments; for instance, to set the monitor”s color temperature to 6500 ºK to approximate daylight. For even greater color accuracy, the stored image can be converted to and displayed in a device-independent color space by using standard image display software. This removes the color bias of the specific display monitor and will more accurately represent the way the image should actually appear.
If digital printers are used to produce passport and visa photographs in lieu of conventional photographic processes, the photographs produced must be high quality and photo-like in appearance. Certain types of digital printers such as — inkjet and dye sublimation — can be used to produce high-quality passport and visa photos. Inkjet printers deposit multi-colored ink onto photographic print paper. Dye sublimation printers use heat, applied to a multi-colored ribbon or film, to release a dye that is transferred onto photographic print paper. These two types of printers, when used with compatible print paper that produces high resolution, photo-like images, are suitable for printing passport and visa photos. They have multiple printer settings to control the format, print resolution, and print quality of the printed photo. In addition, they come with printer-specific device driver software that converts the stored image pixel data in the computer into the actual printer output to be printed onto the photographic paper. Just as with display monitors, printers have their own unique color profile that should be taken into account before the image is printed. The combination of proper printer settings and photo-quality paper determines whether high-quality photos can be obtained.
Avoiding Photo Printing Problems
Using digital photography to produce high-quality passport and visa photos is dependent on the condition and proper use of the digital camera, computer, display monitor, and digital printer. Maintaining the digital printer in good working order however, can be the single most important aspect of producing quality photos. Regardless of how much attention is paid to capturing, storing, and displaying an image, image quality will be poor if printers — including inks and ribbons — are not properly maintained. To ensure that a quality print is obtained, the image can be transferred to disk and taken to a photo lab to be printed. The equipment found in a photo lab will normally be capable of producing higher-quality photos and undergoes the frequent calibration and maintenance necessary for consistent results.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many passport photos are required to be submitted with the passport application?
Two (2) identical photos must be submitted with the passport application.
How many photographs are required to be submitted with the visa application?
One (1) photograph of the visa applicant must be submitted with each visa application (following the instructions in this Photography Guide).
What type of paper are the photographs to be printed on?
The photos should be printed on thin photo-quality paper.
Do the photos have to be in color?
Yes, the photos to must be in color.
How recent must the photos be?
The photos must be no older than 6 months.
How big must the photos be?
The photos must measure exactly 2 inches by 2 inches.
What pose should the photos show?
The photo should show a clear, front view, full face of the customer. The customer should be in normal street attire, without hat or dark glasses against a plain white or off-white background. The customer should have a natural expression, mouth closed, and eyes open and looking directly ahead. Photos in which the face of the person being photographed is not in focus will not be accepted.
How big should the head be in the photo?
The customer”s head, measured from the bottom of the chin to the top of the hair, should be between 1 inch and 1-3/8 inches. The head should be centered in the photo. The head of the person being photographed should not be tilted up, down or to the side. It should cover about 50% of the area of the photo.
Can hats or religious headgear be worn for the photo?
Unless worn daily for religious reasons, all hats or headgear should be removed for the photo. A signed statement from the applicant must be submitted with the application verifying the item is worn daily for religious reasons. In all cases, no item or attire should cover or otherwise obscure any part of the face.
Can eyeglasses be worn for the photo?
Eyeglasses worn on a daily basis can be worn for the photo. However, there should be no reflections from the eyeglasses that obscures the eyes.
Can sunglasses or tinted glasses be worn?
Dark glasses or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons. A medical certificate may be required.
Can work uniforms be worn for the photo? Uniforms, clothing that looks like a uniform, and camouflage attire should not be worn in photographs except in the case of religious attire that is worn daily. Otherwise, normal street attire should be worn.
Can a parent or guardian appear in the photo of a minor child?
No, the minor child must be the only subject in the photo. Nothing used to support the minor child, whether by mechanical or human means, should be in the camera”s frame.
Are photos that are copied from recent driver licenses or other official documents acceptable?
No, only original photographs are acceptable. Copied or digitally scanned photos of photos will not be accepted. In addition, photos must not be retouched to alter the customer”s appearance in any way.
Are snapshots, magazine photos, or photos from vending machine acceptable?
No, snapshots, magazine photos, most vending machine prints, or full-length photographs are not acceptable.
May photos be taken with a digital camera?
If the digital camera has sufficient resolution — capable of capturing and storing images with 1 million pixels (megapixels) or more — it can be used to take the photos. However, printing of digital images is best done by professional photography processing labs because many off-the-shelf digital printers cannot achieve the image-quality required for passport and visa photographs. In any case, the image-quality criteria, described on this website, must be met in the submitted conventional film photo and/or the digital image printed photo.
Glossary of Terms
Background Illumination – light that illuminates the background. The background should be uniformly illuminated to remove any shadows or other lighting effects that would otherwise interfere with clearly discerning the facial outline on the background.
Centering – the orientation of the facial region within the frame; head should be positioned such that the approximate horizontal mid-points of the mouth and bridge of nose lie on a vertical line at the horizontal center of the photo width; and a horizontal line through the center of the subject’s eyes can be located approximately 55% from the vertical bottom of the photo; and the width of the subject’s head is approximately 50% of the width of the photo.
Composition – the content and organization of the image that is being captured for the photograph. In this context, the composition of the photograph must show a clear, front view and full face of the subject against a plain and neutral light color background.
Exposure – in photographic terms is the product of the intensity of light and the time the light is allowed to act on the film, or digital camera sensor. In practical terms, the aperture controls intensity or amount of light and shutter speed controls the time.
Facial Region Illumination – the light that is incident on the subject’s face. The face should be clearly illuminated with all physical features shown and no shadows that would otherwise obscure the facial image.
File Size – the size of an image in digital photography, measured in kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), or gigabytes (GB). File size is proportional to its pixel dimensions; images with more pixels may produce more detail at a given printed size, but they require more disk space to store and are slower to print.
Film Speed – the sensitivity of a film to light, indicated by a number such as ISO 100. The higher the number, the more sensitive or faster the film. (ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization)
Focal Length – the distance between the film and the optical center of the lens when the lens is focused on infinity. The focal length of the lens on most adjustable cameras is marked in millimeters on the lens mount.
Graininess – the sand-like or granular appearance of an image. Graininess becomes more pronounced with faster film and the degree of enlargement. In digital imaging, graininess may occur as a result of printing an image, the pixel resolution of which is too coarse, or as a result of using a printer with poor dot resolution.
Head Orientation – the positioning of the subject’s head, specifically positioning the face to the full frontal position, eyes level and open. For those individuals that wear glasses, proper head orientation is crucial in avoiding unwanted glare from glasses. Even so, care should be taken to meet the required facial area and face centering guidelines outlined in this brochure when positioning the subject’s head to remove the potential glare.
Lighting Arrangement – the lighting arrangement for subject illumination which should consist of a minimum of 3 point balanced illumination; two (2) points of illumination should be placed at approximately 45 degrees on either side of the subject’s face, the third point should be placed so as to illuminate the background uniformly.
Over-exposure – refers to a condition where too much light reaches the film or digital camera sensor, either because it is too bright or has been applied too long, resulting in a very light photograph.
Print – refers to an exposed film picture that is printed on photographic paper, in color or black and white. In digital imaging, a print is the result of printing the digital image on photographic-quality paper stock using a digital printer. For passport/visa photographs, the resulting print should measure 2 inches x 2 inches (51 mm x 51 mm).
Printing – producing the final photo of the captured image which should enable fine facial features to be discernable, whether the print results from conventional photographic processes or digital printout. The resulting print should exhibit a continuous-tone quality regardless of the print method used.
RGB – the way that the colors are recorded in digital imaging. A large percentage of the visible spectrum can be represented by mixing red, green and blue (RGB) colored light in various proportions and intensities.
Subject Positioning – the position of the subject with respect to the camera; the subject should be placed in front of the background such that the focal distance from the camera’s lens to the subject’s face should be no closer than 120 cm.
Under-exposure – refers to a condition where too little light reaches the film or digital camera sensor, either because the light is not sufficient or it hasn’t been applied long enough; it results in a very dark photograph.