Do It Yourself: Passport Photos

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Chances are, if you’re handy with a camera, you’ve been asked the following question: “I need a photo for my passport. Can you take it for me?” And there’s a good chance that you, in response to this question, quickly racked your brain for plausible reasons as to why you can’t oblige them.

But as tedious and boring as such a task might seem, producing passport photos for friends or relatives can be fun and take less than a half an hour from start to finish. And if you’ve got your equipment already set up, then you can have results in just a few minutes.

In these tough economic times, adding this type of service to your list of photographic skills could be a very good idea. On average, passport photo places charge about $10 to shoot and print two 2×2″ head shots, and that all takes them about 10 minutes from start to finish. You could offer a similar rate, but boast far more flattering results for your clients.

This lesson demonstrates how to use the affordable First Studio Portrait Kit, along with the First Studio BackDrop Support Kit, to produce professional-quality passport photos quickly and easily!

Topics Covered:

  • BackDrop Support Kit
  • BackDrop & Background Light
  • Background Light Positioning
  • One Light Image Review
  • Adding a Second Light
  • Second Light Positioning
  • Two Light Image Review
  • Adding a Third Light
  • Third Light Positioning
  • Final Image Review

For this lesson, we did a little research on the official guidelines for passport photos. It’s important to review these if you’re going to be shooting these types of portraits because you’ll want to get it right the first time. After all, you don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s next trip abroad by having them submit unacceptable photos!

We recommend visiting the U.S. Department of State website for further details. Posted to their website is an illustration of how a person needs to be positioned within the frame. We used this illustration in setting up and photographing our subject. [figure 1]

BackDrop Support Kit

For this passport photo shoot, we first set up a Photoflex First Studio BackDrop Support Kit, which is very straightforward, easy to use, and sturdy.

First, extend the background pole to the width you need it to be (anywhere from 4′ 7″ to 12′ 6″) and lay it on the floor where you want it. Then, set up and raise the included LiteStands to about chin level and place them at either end of the background pole. Make sure the locking screws on either end of the pole are loosened enough to mount to the LiteStands. Then attach one end of the pole to a LiteStand, secure with locking screw, and attach the other end to the other LiteStand.

Backdrop & Background Light

After we set up the BackDrop Support Kit, we slid a 10′ x 12′ White BackDrop onto the background pole, secured the edges of the fabric to the pole with standard spring clamps, and raised both of the stands up to about eight feet high. This would allow plenty of leeway when it came time to frame up the head shot.

Background Light Positioning

We then attached a FirstStar head and 250w halogen bulb to a LiteStand, raised it about 5 feet high, and positioned it to the right of the background. We then angled the light head so that the brightest point of light was hitting the background directly behind our subject’s head.

One of the requirements for the passport photo is that it be on an all-white or off-white background. Positioning the light this way allowed us to overexpose the background for a clean, pure white look.

One Light Image Review

Using this approach to lighting the background creates the smooth white background that is required for your passport photo. You can also see that we have cropped this image in a square format. This is another requirement for your passport images: they have to be cropped and printed at 2″x 2″.

We have a highlight being created on the sides of our subject’s face, but this should not be an issue since it is not being overexposed. This is happening because human skin is slightly specular so these highlights are a result of the reflection of the white background bouncing off the model’s cheeks and into the camera. We will definitely be keeping an eye out for that area in our next images to make sure it does not get out of control.

Adding a Second Light

Our approach to lighting our passport photo model will be a rather simple one. We want to have even lighting across the model’s face without any distracting shadows or highlights (as required for a passport photo). To do this we will light our subject in a style that is often referred to as clamshell lighting. We will begin by setting up our second light at 45˚ camera left.

Second Light Positioning

We set up another FirstStar head with a 250w halogen lamp and added a 45″ Silver Umbrella. This type of umbrella allows you to turn the light away from the subject, send light into the umbrella, and bounce it back to your model. This creates a softer, smoother quality of light.

We have our light positioned at 45˚ camera left, raised up to about six feet, about two feet from the model, and angled it down at our subject’s face at a 30˚ angle.

Two Light Image Review

Using two lights, you can see that we have nice, soft light spreading pretty evenly across the subject and background. The only thing that we can improve on is filling in the shadows on the left side of the subject’s face.

Adding a Third Light

To complete this passport photo we will add in a third light from camera right. This light will be set up in such a way that it will be basically mirroring the setup of the light on the left.

Third Light Positioning

We have our third light positioned at 45˚ camera right, raised up to about six feet, about two feet from the model, and angled it down at our subject’s face at a 30˚ angle. We have also outfitted this light with a 45″ Silver Umbrella.

Final Image Review

Here is our final result photo using three FirstStar heads, 3 250w halogen lamps, and two 45″ Silver Umbrellas. [figure 12] We have ended up with a clean image of our subject for his passport. There are no distracting shadows or highlights in the image and you can clearly see all features of this model’s face, which is another requirement for your passport image.

Using the Photoflex First Studio Portrait Kit in conjunction with the First Studio BackDrop Support Kit gives you the power to conquer a huge variety of lighting obstacles. From the mundane to the exciting these kits give the amateur to emerging professional photographer the power and room to grow and sharpen their skills.

Basic Lighting,

Indoor Portraits,


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