I have submitted many US immigration applications and nearly all of them require the same kind of photographs of the applicant, spouse, sponsor or relative. I was able to do all of them, with success, using my own method of making the photographs. I have never paid for a photographer and my cost for US immigration application photographs are always a few cents at the most. Here I want to show you how I did it and how you can too.


Location

First thing is to find a location with good lighting and a white background. The official websites say any off-white background will be ok, but I find that using white would never be a problem and is the safest. I think most people have white walls in their homes, and if not, find a large piece of white poster board and stick it on the wall.

The lighting is also important too because while you can use the flash in a dark area, sometimes it would create too much shadow or the picture would come out blurry because of lack of light. Therefore, find a place that has good lighting, the light should be shining onto the wall that you will be standing in front of. I usually take the photos during mid day, around noon time when the room is filled with sunlight.

Equipment

I only have a regular digital camera. Not a fancy DSLR that weighs 5 kg. My digital camera is 8 MP in resolution and that is more than enough. Make sure it has flash because sometimes you might need it.

A friend or a tripod

If you are taking photos of yourself, chances are you will need someone to take the picture for you. You can try to use a tripod although it would have to be a high tripod because the photo that you will be taking must be from the middle of your chest, below your shoulders all the way to the top of your head. You also must take the photo directly in front of you, not pointing upwards at you. The camera lense must be directly pointing at your noise to be at the right level. I suppose you can use a tripod and a chair to bring your level down so that it will work. Tripod might be a more work though because you need to constantly adjust and are more at risk of taking a photo at the wrong level.

Make yourself presentable

You must not wear sunglasses, hats or any kind of clothing accessories in the photo. You cannot have other objects on your head like phones, ear phones, other devices. You cannot have anything covering your face, your hair, or possibly casting a shadow on your face. You technically can wear glasses in the photo, but I found that with glasses, it causes a lot of problems because of glare that happens when light shines on the glasses. Maybe a profession can eliminate that glare with some super lighting, but all you really have to do is take the glasses off during the photo for 2 minutes. I don’t think that is a big deal. There are no restrictions on what you can and cannot wear on your body. You can be topless if you wish. I don’t know if the top of your shirt has words or profanity printed on it would be an issue, but to be safe, just wear what you normally wear out on the street.

Action

Ok, stand in front of the white wall, or sit if you are doing it sitting down. Take the photograph with flash on auto. Ask the friend (or tripod) to stand about 4 feet ( 120 cm) in front of your face. The camera must be aiming directly at your face, but should still capture upper half of your body. Don’t make the mistake of taking just the head shot, you will not be able to use that later when you edit the photo since the photo cannot just contain your head, it must also have your whole neck and upper chest and shoulders.

Make a neutral expression. You can smile if you want and show some teeth, but generally don’t smile too big. There are problems if you have too much facial expression but no problems if you have none or look angry. Don’t squint your eyes. They have to be open as you normally use your eyes. The camera must be focused, so ask your friend to half-press the photo button on the camera to focus first and then take the picture, otherwise it would be blurry. Just do the same things that you would do when taking a picture on vacation.

Take the photo and make sure if the flash goes off, review the photo immediately. You must retake the photo if

  • If you see any shadows behind you from the flash, it is no good

  • If there are any shadows on your face because of your hair or anything else

  • If there is too much flash on your face and your face or body is shining from the flash

  • The photo has mostly your head and not enough body

  • The photo is blurry

  • Not facing camera

  • Head tilted

  • Not standing straight

  • Photo is dark

Keep trying until you get something like this: (my actual photo)

raw image before editing and cropping

raw image before editing and cropping

Editing

Now, give your friend a beer and he can go. Or fold up the tripod. The next thing is to go on your computer and transfer the image from your camera to your computer. You have many websites to use to generate a passport photo, but out of all of them, the one I found the best is www.123passportphoto.com. They have a really easy to use interface and pretty much made it dummy-proof and error-proof. They have a 2inch-by-2inch draggable guide and also two lines to guide you where the top and bottom of your head should be in the photo. You can center your photo here as well and then it will generate the passport photo that you cropped at the end. The service is actually FREE. There are some premium enhancement features that you can purchase but you don’t need to. Just like them on facebook and you should be able to get the pictures without any cost. It will create 6 photos for you. Save this and then you are nearly done! This is the one that I created using the site:

image after editing for immigration applications

image after editing for immigration applications

Review your edited photos against the examples here: http://travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotoreq/photoexamples/photoexamples_5300.html

Make sure your photo do not fit in any of those examples

Print and cut the photos

I usually just take my saved image file and print it locally at a pharmacy or walmart. You can print it yourself at home if you have a photo quality printer. Once printed, you will have a 4×6 photo that has 6 passport style photos. Cut them up carefully at the borders.

And you are done!

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of 123passportphoto.com