There are two categories of “professional” passport photos. First you have portrait studios that also offer passport photos. Then there are retail photo finishing stores and drugstores that will take your photo for you. Both come with risks, for childrens’ photos but also for adults.
Retail photo stores and drugstores
Retail employees are not trained photographers, and often use a simple point-and-click digital camera and the available store lighting, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re getting pro equipment or pictures. The cost is less than a studio, but they don’t give you much time or choice — they’ll snap a few quick photos and you might only have 3 or 4 to choose from. If you don’t like it, too bad. Unfortunately, the rushed service, lack of training and standard fluorescent lighting almost guarantee bad results.
If you have children, there are tricks to child photography that a retail employee probably doesn’t know. And to get a good photo of a young child or infant you may need a dozen or more photos, just to get one that won’t be rejected. You rarely get this kind of service for a few dollars.
Finally, what if you need a photo for a foreign country — a visa for a country you plan to visit, or a passport from your home country if you live abroad? Although many passport photo requirements are the same worldwide, there are important variations, starting with the size of the photo, but the size and location of the head in the photo can also vary, as can the background color and more. A retail clerk can’t handle requirements for every country.
Professional photo studio
A true professional does improve your chances of getting a better looking photo. However, it will cost much more, and even a pro’s package may come with limited time and choices. The more time and photos you get, the more it will cost. Also remember that the requirements don’t allow much flexibility: you can’t play around with fancy poses or lighting, and you can’t smile. No matter how much you pay it simply won’t be a portrait or a glamour shot. Sorry.
On top of that, a photographer takes time. You have to find one in your area who handles passports, make an appointment, and wait in their studio.
If you have children you know how hard it can be to take them anywhere. A pro may know the tricks to get a good child’s photo, but you have to take the children there and hope they are in the right mood, fed, awake and happy but not too wired. AND that they stay that way. My family decided years ago, after a carefully planned family portrait incident involving three normally well-behaved toddlers, six adults and a two-hour wait in spite of an appointment, and ending in tears and one single semi-useable photo, that we would NEVER take young children to a photo studio again.
And just like a retail clerk, a professional photographer doesn’t know the requirements for every country. You can pay a lot and still end up with a rejected picture.
Online passport photos
So if you want to make sure your passport or visa photo meets requirements and also looks as good as possible without a lot of money or stress, you may be better off taking it yourself. An online passport photo service like Pic4Pass can crop and check your photo to make sure it meets international and country-specific requirements, so you don’t have to worry — for less than the price at a retail shop. You can take as many pictures as you like until you find one that meets the requirements AND that you like.
Do you have any passport photo stories? Please share in the comments!
Image source: D Sharon Pruitt, flickr (Pink Sherbet Photography)