A Guide to Passport Photos

Not an exciting type of blog post I know, but the question of passport photos crops up often enough, especially with online applications.

For my part I only started offering passport photos in 2015 when the camera shop closed in Farnham, leaving ‘Photo Booths’ the only ‘High Street’ option. Up to then I referred people to the shop, but after closing, enquiries to me escalated. So now I do offer passport photos and have covered multiple Nationalities for Passport Photos, VISA Applications, Blue Badge ID, Firearms and Shotgun Licences.

All Countries lay down tight rules for their official photos and they will reject them if the specifications are not properly met. Some rules are universal such as having your face fully on view, looking directly into camera, even lighting with no shadows across the face or background and very specific face to photo size position and proportions, but there are differences.

For example, EU Member applications are standard 45 x 35 portrait format photos with a grey background but US passport photos are 50mm x 50mm with a white background, the same as a VISA photo for India but Canada require 70mm x 50mm.

UK Passport 4
UK Passport


US Passport-1
US Passport and Indian VISA style


In many cases you can make your applications either in paper form or online and this is where things are changing in the UK.

Traditionally you get your photo done at a ‘photo booth’ or at a High Street retail outlet, often a chemist, camera shop or photography studio. Receiving about six photos cut to size you need two for your application, which are stuck to your paperwork. One has to be signed on the back by an ‘upstanding member of the community’ to verify your identity.

Until recently an online application meant that at the end of your data entry you would print of a Declaration Form for your signature, add your physical photos and post.

Some time late last year (2016) the Passport Office rolled out a BETA facility whereby you could upload your home produced passport photo. The idea being that they would then edit and crop the image their end to make it Passport Approved. For me earlier this year, getting information out of them was like getting blood from a stone!

I don’t think they were publicly making a big splash, especially as they had limited the number of applications to 1400 per day and they were by invitation. What I did get out of them though was that many of the submitted photos were being rejected. They just didn’t meet the specification requirements for lighting and background. A plain background is essential but some arrived with among other things, fireplaces!

The issue is that the specification is still stringent. The online photo guide shows a photo from waist up (as opposed to the ‘head’ in the required specs) but the lighting is still even across the body, face and the background. The background needing to be a light grey.

Photo Booths don’t offer digital images, at least not widespread, so if the Passport Office is planning on a mainstream move towards digital images the infrastructure isn’t in place. Which leaves people doing it themselves at home, or seeking a photographer and studio.

Point of interest, all Canadian Passport Photos have to done at a commercial photography studio with the photographers details written on the back of the prints. What with Brexit on it’s way and the potential need for over 40 million new UK passports I might need a bigger studio!

So the specs for an full online photo application, cribbed from the Passport Offices webpage are as follows:

  • include your full head, shoulders and upper body
  • have lots of clear space around your head and shoulders
  • be taken against a plain background (for example, light grey or cream)
  • not have any shadows on your face or behind you
  • be facing forward and looking straight at the camera
  • have a plain expression and your mouth closed
  • have your eyes open and visible
  • not have hair covering your eyes
  • not have any headwear (unless it’s for religious or medical reasons)
  • in focus without any shadows
  • in colour without any effects or filters
  • at least 600 pixels wide and 750 pixels tall (this you will need to edit)
  • at least 50kb and no more than 10mb

The photo you’re aiming for to send to the Passport Office should look something like this:


But the final image needs to be cropped like this, something the Passport office will do:


Naturally I can sort out your photo for you and prep any to the specs needed for any nationality, print or digital versions. But you might want to give it a go, if you do I’d love to hear from you. Getting a sense of what the Passport Office is accepting  would be interesting.


Passport VISA ID Photos by Matthew Burch

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